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Any Idiot Can Implement SharePoint - but should they?

Portal Technologies: Fact and Fiction, Part 2

One of the great things about SharePoint (note that in this column, when I say SharePoint, I am somewhat generically referring to WSS and MOSS) is its ease of use, ease of implementation, ease of administration, etc. In many ways, a parallel can be drawn between SharePoint and the early days of Visual Basic. Visual Basic made it easy for anyone to create a Windows application. An unfortunate side effect was that a lot of people did in fact create Windows applications which were ill-planned, ill-conceived, and badly implemented. Did this mean the VB itself was bad? No, it just needed to be used intelligently (I know, many will argue that it was and is a bad language, but that is a different discussion).

SharePoint is much the same. It is easy to set up ad hoc sites, throw together team sites, do some collaboration, store some documents, etc. However, it is also easy to get into a lot of trouble when these ad hoc sites grow and multiply. As with many things, it is easy to do the easy stuff, but much more difficult to do the hard stuff well.  It is even more difficult to implement SharePoint in such a way that it brings real, lasting value.

Add to this the breadth of functionality in SharePoint, and it becomes obvious that in order to get the most out of an investment in SharePoint requires a significant amount of research and understanding of SharePoint’s capabilities, and what they mean for your needs.

In upcoming columns I want to look at some of the features of SharePoint, especially those which go beyond basic portal capabilities. Here are a few areas I want to talk about in future columns (be warned that my attention varies depending upon what I am working on, so other things may pop up that I just have to write about!)

As just about everyone knows, one of the biggest enhancements which came with SharePoint 2007 was the inclusion of Windows Workflow Foundation (WF). Workflow Foundation is a very powerful platform for implementing, well, workflow (automated workflow, to be precise; you always have workflows, whether you know it or not). The big questions people ask are around how much can you do with WF out of the box, how much work does a full-fledged workflow solution take. Also, there are a fair number of third-party tools out there which “enhance” the workflow capabilities of SharePoint – at what point does it make sense to look into these tools. These are things I will be looking at in the next few columns.

Excel Services provide a way to centralize the Excel-based calculations used throughout an organization onto your SharePoint site. Workbooks can be shared and versioned. Pieces can be exposed through web parts for display purposes. In addition, custom calculation libraries can be implemented as .NET assemblies, and used within formulae. All of this can help an organization to stabilize its Excel-based computations, improving consistency and helping to move towards “a single version of the truth.”

Business Data Catalogue (BDC) provides a way for SharePoint to integrate data from Line-of-Business systems with your portal. This allows you to display, mix and match this data within your portal. A key question is “how far can I go with this?” There are a lot of third-party tools out there which claim to do what BDC does, or to extend BDC. So when and where can I use BDC? What are its limitations? How much work is it to implement?

Similarly, SharePoint Search (or more accurately, Enterprise Search) allows you to search your SharePoint assets along with other data integrated and indexed with search server, and present the results within your portal. Again, what are the possibilities? What are the limitations? When and where do the third-party players come into the game?

So, stay tuned. Next time I will be digging a little deeper into Windows Workflow in SharePoint.


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