Exploding the “expensive” SharePoint myth

There is emerging evidence that IT budgets are being protected from cuts being made across businesses in the current economic conditions. This is great news for those of us who work to ensure that IT is considered as an integral part of corporate strategy rather than the after-thought it can sometimes be.  Even so, IT departments must still deliver value for money.

One of the ways to deliver value for money is to improve collaboration across the enterprise. Collaboration has always been important, that’s nothing new, but collaboration becomes increasingly difficult when we consider distance (a team in New York could be working on a project with a London based team) and when we consider that people tend to arrange workflows and store critical data, documents and e-mails in ways that suit them, rather than in ways that suit a business or project overall.

Why Use SharePoint?

It is tempting to overlook Microsoft SharePoint. There is a growing glut of so-called SharePoint alternatives that do some of the things that SharePoint does at what may seem a fraction of the price, but it is always best to compare like with like. SharePoint can manage a wide range of activities – document management, project management, business workflows, and integration with existing systems. Then there are the Intranet, Web Site and Extranet content management and KPI dashboards. SharePoint has cross-browser support and even lets you check documents out, edit them offline and check them back in once you are online again.

SharePoint is able to scale up from a single-server installation to multiple individual database, application and web front-end servers. As business expectations grow, SharePoint offers future-proofing on an enterprise scale. Such a sophisticated feature-set – out of the box – is unlikely to ever be considered cheap.

SharePoint offers a wide range of features and can fulfil a variety of different needs all at once, and that’s before we’ve even introduced the possibility of building your bespoke applications which work within SharePoint using Microsoft .Net languages. It’s easy to look for a Content Management System, or a Document Management System, or a simple Intranet and thinking that SharePoint is “too expensive”. But that is to miss the point of SharePoint.

Use the tools you already know

Microsoft SharePoint can help to overcome barriers to smooth collaboration across an enterprise. Though Microsoft has been dwarfed by rival Apple in terms of the overall size of its business, it is clear that Microsoft retains dominance over the workplace desktop with its Operating Systems and Office suite of software. SharePoint is a key part of the Office family.

It’s likely that you already have network and desktop work environments based on the Microsoft stack of technologies. Perhaps you are already running Microsoft SQL Server as part of some back-office functions. If you are running these systems it’s very likely you already have a professional support team in place that is well versed in Microsoft technology.

In such a scenario, it makes sense to look towards SharePoint to extend your existing platform of services, rather than contemplating shifting towards technologies that are unfamiliar to both your IT and non-IT staff and that may not natively integrate with the Microsoft stack.

What about value?

Calculating the Return On Investment (ROI) to be achieved from using SharePoint is a science in itself, but suffice it to say that each individual SharePoint implementation will have a different set of payoffs depending on the size of the organisation using it and the range of activities they use it for.

We’ve already discussed (above) the value in extending the systems and utilising the skills already available within an organisation, as opposed to developing or using a system based upon technology which is alien to the IT support team and/or the teams of people who will be using it. It doesn’t need saying that driving more productivity from existing tools is a way to increase the value already being gleaned from those tools.

There are different levels of SharePoint. SharePoint Foundation, for instance, costs nothing and offers many great features. It’s an easy way to get up and running with a pilot or investigation of SharePoint. Many organisations find that extending an existing SharePoint deployment to meet changing business needs is more cost-effective than bringing in a new system.

It would be unusual for a newly minted small company to jump right into using SharePoint and all the features it offers, but for mature organisations looking to bring more structure to workflows, or to view and manage data from a variety of sources, or to encourage collaboration and improve individual and team performance, SharePoint is not a product that should be dismissed only in terms of the immediate cost to implement it.

This post was first published on icreon.co.uk

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