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Nearly 200 people joined us online recently at DWG’s SharePoint Special Interest group, opened up as a one-off beyond our membership. Participants heard highlights from our latest research report ‘SharePoint 2010 for enterprise intranets’ by author Martin White, followed by a lively debate in a panel discussion lead by Paul Miller, DWG’s CEO and chairman. SharePoint experts Michael Sampson, Richard Harbridge and Jed Cawthorne joined us to offer their views on what SharePoint 2010 means for intranets.

The report is now available for sale in DWG’s online shop – read an overview of what it covers and buy online.

If you weren’t able to join us you can listen again here:

The questions were coming in thick and fast during the discussion and we weren’t able to get to all of them. Our panellists have kindly answered these questions below (panellists initials have been used to indicate who is answering):

Q. I work for a not-for-profit and we are only just contemplating a move to MOSS07 for our intranet from our current SharePoint 2003 platform (which is hardly used by our staff).  We are obviusly not on the ‘cusp’ of technology – so should we go straight to 2010?

MW: If you are a small not-for-profit and just want to run an intranet then either MOSS07 or SP2010 will be more expensive and more complex than using either an intranet-specific CMS, or a more general CMS be it commercial or open source.  The way forward would be to define exactly what you want your intranet to do (and also find out why no one is using the current intranet) and then explore a range of options to get the best value for money. As a not-for-profit you may get a good license deal from Microsoft but there are still the development costs to pay.

JC: I have to agree with Martin, that there are less complex technologies, which generally turn out to have cheaper through life costs. As well as simpler WCMS products, depending on size of user base and security concerns a hosted / SaaS / “cloud” solution might work well for you.

I agree if it’s a small scenario but in the chance this is a larger not for profit it may still be financially viable to get SharePoint 2010 Foundation, SharePoint 2010 hosting or in a few months SharePoint 2010 Online as a solution for your organization. If your users have some familiarity with SharePoint 2003 at least some of the concepts are still similar in SharePoint 2010.

RH: I would also say that if security is a key focus then SharePoint might be a better fit at times. Often the simpler products have simplified security which while easier to apply but isn’t as flexible as SharePoint’s security can often be. All in all it sounds like we are all in agreement that we need to know far more about the organization, how they are using their current intranet, and what they intend to use it for in the future.

Q. SP lists are an amazing way to see and work with structured data, and to present it to users in attractive (simplified) ways using “views”. However, views couldn’t be personalized (restricted). Difficult create HR or financial applications! Better now?

JC: I don’t think personalization has changed all that much in Sp2010, the concept of Target Audiences still exists. However personalization is really about the My Sites / My Profiles view of things. I am not sure why you would need personalization to create HR or finance applications, as opposed to specific security groups so that only certain users can access and view certain information. Certainly both our HR and Finance divisions use SharePoint team sites, that are appropriately “locked down”. The new Business Connectivity Services in SP2010, and other elements of the “Composites” functionality should make it easier to build applications that display information from other line of business applications.

RH: “Views couldn’t be personalized”. Is this in SharePoint 2007? Personal views can be created for any list or library within SharePoint 2007. As Jed respondedthe following option exists in 07:
– In the Audience section, under View Audience, select whether you want to create a personal view that only you can use or a public view that others can use. (from http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint-server-help/create-or-change-a-view-HA010021577.aspx#BM2)

As to what the individual means by the last statement I don’t think I understand what they are getting at either. Certainly I cannot think of a single financial or HR app that couldn’t be created in SharePoint if desired (2007 or 2010, though 2010 would be easier in many cases).

Q. What areas of SP2010 can be replaced with 3rd party apps (google gsa instead of fast for example). There are very few green field sites so how easy does 2010 make integration? 

MW: Integration with SP2010 is much easier but to make it work well you may need to make changes to the 3rd party application. It takes two to integrate. So in theory any area of SP2010 can be replaced by a 3rd party app, but then the question has to be – what is the benefit. In the example cited remember that you are not getting FAST Search Enterprise Edition.

JC: There are very many 3rd party add on’s in the SharePoint “ecosystem”. Many search vendors provide SharePoint “connectors” to index SP content, similarly many WCMS vendors provide SharePoint integration (e.g. Ektron)  as do many ECM vendors (EMC Documentum, OpenText etc). If you consider SharePoint as a “portal” then it can provide integration at the “presentation layer” (of enterprise architecture) via the ‘Composties’ features, and by just displaying data from other systems via WebParts. 

RH: I second and stress Martin’s point. You need to carefully consider why you are considering an alternative. Note the replaced statement as the biggest point here. It’s not net new, it’s something replacing something in SharePoint 2010, or it’s direct MS counterparts (such as Office 2010). If you are replacing you really need to understand fully WHY.
 
Anything in the MS stack (including FAST) that directly ties into SharePoint is most likely going to have more integration, opportunities for leveraging SharePoint architecture effectively, and will have a higher probability of a solid upgrade and lifecycle simply because it is actively endorsed and implemented by MS and MS partners.
 
Certainly though replace is very different than net new or adding a feature/feature set that SharePoint doesn’t currently possess.

SharePoint is now built on far better web standards from a presentation perspective, so this is much better than it was previously. If you look MS participates in quite a few standards (many open) http://www.microsoft.com/standards/participation.aspx this is growing all the time as well. I would expect this area (integration or 3rd party apps) to get better and better over time. The architecture is maturing, deployment processes are greatly simplified and they are getting more consistent (vs 2001 to 2003 and 2003 to 2007).

Q. Another question for someone at some point on the Accessibility of SharePoint 2010. It seems to be significantly better, MS appear to have put a lot of effort in, but has anyone tried it yet with screen readers? Is it as good as it sounds it is?

RH: Many of the challenges with Screen Readers in the past (though many actually functioned fine on customized master pages etc) was due to the table structure that SharePoint rendered on. This has been revamped to use more accessible html elements such as lists which improves performance in Screen Readers. In the end though if the organization implementing it does not plan for  (missing alt tags, lack of transcripts, etc), and account for accessibility SharePoint can only do so much. Depending on your legal or dictated accessibility requirements it may or may not meet your needs without customization.

Q. We have concerns on governance requirements for SP2010 with supporters of no barriers to creation (request a site, receive it automatically) vs. 24-48 hour turnaround process focusing on hierarchy and consolidation.

JC: Just based on previous consulting experience, the no barriers creation never seems to work out very well for anyone in the long run, especially if there is no governance around security permissions and decommissioning sites – you just end up with thousands of silos.

RH: SharePoint 2010 doesn’t really change that much in Governance (though it has some nice new features). If anything more complexity in site design, taxonomy design, and more features leads to a more rigorous look at site provisioning. A longer process ensures there is adequate time to engage and understand the needs and reasoning behind the site creation (as well as plan for things like Jed mentioned such as security and decommissioning) so it’s often a benefit if used effectively. This individual already mentioned the dangers of not understanding hierarchy and consolidation so he obviously sees the value in a more thorough process.
 
That being said there is no reason you can’t have a little of both. You can prepare for exeptions where a site can be provisioned ‘automatically’ if certain criteria is met. The most obvious example of this in my mind is a “MySite”. These can be effectively provisioned automatically with quota’s and carefully defined settings/options. An alternative might be a project site (typically short term) which can only be requested by Project Managers and goes through a constant review process or something similar to ‘retire’ completed projects or archive them.
 
Whenever it’s about Governance the thing to remember is that it requires Shared Understanding with all the participants (including understanding and setting the right expectations) as well as constant refinement. There is never a ‘perfect’ solution because the needs of the business change over time as does their maturity and use of the platform.

MS: There are pros and cons with each of those two approaches … there is no definitively “correct” answer with this governance theme or any others. Thus you have to decide what you want to be true in your organization:
– With option 1 (request & receive automagically) … you will have proliferation of sites. As long as you have a corresponding Site Closure Policy to close inactive sites and deal appropriately with the contents therein, no problem..
– With option 2 (request and wait) … you will have fewer sites, fewer proliferation problems, tighter control.

If I was with you, I’d be looking to understand why each group wanted to do it in a certain way … and what they were hoping to have happen.

Q. How mature is SP2010 for scanning, storing and routing documents (like mail, letters, invoices)?

MW: It’s not a document processing application. You can probably make it work at low volumes but for an enterprise application you need a much more robust application with all the right workflow.

JC: There are plenty of enterprise partners with scanning add on’s for SharePoint, but Martin’s comments about volume apply!  

Q. Would you go to SP210 sooner if you’re a very large organization because it’s better for enterprise scale? If so, how big/complex before you see the benefit?­

MW: It’s not a function of size.  There is no ‘break point’. It comes down to seeing how good the fit is with your business requirements, and then comparing the fit with other options. SP2010 is certainly better at enterprise applications, but many organisations have found ways of making 2007 work well on an enterprise scale.

JC: I would look at the vendor neutral research including IBF reports, and those from The Real Story Group – many consider that SharePoint falls over in a true enteprise level deployment, and that it is better suited for large workgroup / divisional deployments, but in the end it depends what you want to do with it.

RH: There are CONSIDERABLE enhancements to SharePoint 2010 when it comes to scale over SharePoint 2007. The way services are architected is a big one.
 
Typically in SharePoint 2007 deployments tended to be centralized around a single data centre with a geographically dispersed user base. The other option of multiple data centres across regions/continents and clustered user bases close to the data centres resulted in significant challengs with synchronizing ‘farms’.
 
The SSP (or Shared Service Provider) is now really a series of services (User Profile Storage, Managed Matadata, Search and BDC/BCS Services) that can be hosted either on the same farm or on a remote or “Master” farm. This is a big change from the previous challenges 2007 created with synchronizing these.
 
They can be then configured for simultaneous access over load balancing (multiple instances) or customized per web application.
Not only that but now those remote services (published services) also can cache between farm instances.
This is the biggest change I can think of though there are probably other areas (beyond lists and libraries supporting more and various performance enhancements).
 
So I would potentially go to SP2010 ‘sooner’ as a result over 2007 (though large scale = bigger challenges with upgrade).

——-

Thank you once again to Martin White and our panellists Michael Sampson, Jed Cawthorne and Richard Harbridge for joining us and also providing these responses.

‘SharePoint 2010 for intranets’ is part of DWG’s Research Programme, available to DWG members via our extranet. Generally, members get exclusive access to our research, although occasionally we make a report or paper available to non-members via our online shop.

As we said on the webinar, it really felt like we were just getting the SharePoint 2010 discussion started on this call – we’re continuing the discussion both here on our blog and also on our Digital Workplace community on Yammer (get in touch if you want to join).

About the author

Nancy Goebel - DWG's Managing Director for Member & Benchmarking ServicesNancy Goebel is the Digital Workplace Group’s Managing Director, Member Services & Strategic Partnerships.

During her six-year tenure with DWG, Nancy has been involved in account management, benchmarking, research, blogging and executive producing Digital Workplace Live and DW 24.

Prior to joining the Digital Workplace Group, Nancy was a accomplished executive at JPMorgan Chase where she built and led a global team in desigining and implementing an award-winning intranet. She also led digital enablement and business re-engineering initiatives.

Outside work, Nancy is a wine maker, fundraiser, meditator, wife and mother of two.

Connect with Nancy on Twitter: @nancyatdwg or on Google +.

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