Sharepoint | Clearly The Answer to Everything, Sort Of!

The only word I may hear more than Cloud is Sharepoint. Much like the word Cloud, I find most people do not have a clear definition of what Sharepoint is. My general response to people that ask me what Sharepoint is? Sharepoint is one of the most well marketed commercial products ever. Most people know the name, many have a license yet very few know what it does, what it can do, what it should do or have any idea what it costs. This is near parallel to the word Cloud, and since I've done a pretty good job at steering my company, customers, and parts of the AEC Industry on Cloud, I figured I'll take on Sharepoint next.

For perspective, I'm generally approached by non-IT business application managers that are having to answer this question for the manager level and above in their company. I'm going to address this from several angles including; what is is, what does it do, what can it do, what should it do, and how much does all this cost.

Note: Keep in mind I am talking software only. For more details on why I say this, reference my other posts on separating Software and Services. I'm fully aware of the costs beyond software yet I'm a huge fan of breaking things down to a least common denominator starting with splitting software and services, non-human, human. That's an IT function insight that I firmly believe business people should be entitled to request and providers (including in house IT) should have or work toward a good answer for.

Away we go...

To visualize this, let's just revert to a childhood favorite, Leggos. Picture your living room floor covered with mushy shag carpet. This is your IT infrastructure. Now add one big blue Leggo plate which sits on your mushy living room floor. It's sole purpose is to give you a nice flat foundation on top of your otherwise unstable floor. With this you can now build all the cool vertical things your are dreaming of with the 1,000 other pieces that came in your Leggo set. And you don't need to ask the person that built your floor (or IT team) for anything, sort of. With this in mind, let's dig in.

What is it? Out of the box Sharepoint is a collaborative application development framework. It has no vertical (AEC Industry for example) business process awareness. There are three versions including Foundations, Standard and Enterprise. For the most part Foundations is intended to be the raw framework that you would use to build Sharepoint based applications on top of. It's that blue Leggo plate.

What does it do? From a business user perspective (IE...non IT) out of the box, not much. For simplicity let's say the things you get with the other versions are some vertical building blocks, like web sites, discussion rooms, document sharing/management & Microsoft office (in a browser) capabilities. But these are not industry specific nor is MS Office included. So while it's ready to do a lot (from a technical perspective), it doesn't do that much on its own and does nothing I can think of for the vertical or AEC Domain.

What can it do? Sharepoint in a general sense can become anything you want it to be. Just get more Lego blocks and build all you want. Oh, but the blocks aren't free. You either buy the blocks from software vendors that have built them (just like the existing Line of Business (LOB) products you own), or you hire some people skilled in the art of molding Leggos, otherwise known as software developers. This just boils down to a simple buy vs. build question (see my other posts). At the end of the day though, you can see how Sharepoint in itself will not replace all of your vertical applications. It's all the money you spend to add on subsequent blocks that will solve your vertical business problems.

So ask yourself; Do my existing LOB applications work with Sharepoint? If so how? If not, are there ones that do? If not, do I want to become a software developer?

What Should it Do? Sharepoint should be thought of as the central place to share. Hence the name. It should not be thought of as the ultimate all in one, the way to get all your business applications from one vendor, or the reason to build it all yourself. I'd be happy to have my company rebuild every line of business application on the market for you, but aside from legal issues, it's simply unethical and probably self absorbed to suggest this is better quality or more cost effective. Remember my SOHQ/SOLC mindset?

To illustrate, let's go back to the Leggos. Sharepoint is a great blue plate, but then I've got 25 other LOB issues to solve. Maybe some of those building blocks will be from Microsoft. For example Dynamics CRM, Dynamics ERP, and MS project. Great, so these can plug into the Sharepoint platform out of the box. But then I need AEC specific scheduling, project management, document management, field management, and safety tools. I'm not going to carve all these blocks myself, so this is where I go looking for Sharepoint compatible applications and or ways to integrate with applications I already own. Either way, this puts me right back to a traditional diligence process. Whether I end up with a Sharepoint native LOB applications or some variation, I'm no longer evaluating Sharepoint, I'm evaluating LOB software. This goes the same for Role Specific Applications (RSA or Apps). This is a key differentiation to understand while envisioning the vertical structure of your pile of Leggos.

How Much Does It Cost? To properly evaluate any software cost (or any other IT asset for that matter) I believe you need to pick a duration, (3 years for example), calculate the Total Cost over the period, convert it to a cost/user/mo price and baseline all your assets in this manner (For more details see my previous posts). If you want cost/project/mo that's fine too but most vendors don't do that so you'll be dong lots of converting.

Specific to Sharepoint (the blue Leggo plate portion) you have to consider all users. Company users are people that work for your company, Non-Company users are ones that don't work for your company. There is a gross misunderstanding by most everyone I've talked to (including some people at Microsoft) about Sharepoint being free. Few things are free and Sharepoint definitely is not one of them. The cost of the blue leggo plate alone is substantial, make 100% sure you understand this for all user types.

On to the vertical LOB blocks. None of them are free either and they generally do not include the cost of Sharepoint unless they are a SaaS offering. Make sure you evaluate every single one just like any other diligence you've done in the past. They will all have variations in license types and annual support & maintenance (SSM), or variations in bundles. As noted in prior posts, if its bundled, separate software (Applications) from service (Hosting/Consulting) and be very clear on the difference. Converting all things back to a common cost/unit/mo will help you greatly to navigate this evaluation.

That said, your software costs of Sharepoint are going to run about $5/user/mo to $7/user/mo. This is just the "blue plate" not the hosting service, your outsourced IT, or people in your IT group, etc... Then you have to add on all the vertical software costs. Again, these do not generally include anything other than software licensing, and if they do, you should ask to have it unitized and separated. Any vendor (including your internal IT) that will not show you the details is generally either hiding something or unclear on what they are managing for you.

Happy Sharepointing!