So why do we use tools like Sharepoint?

  • Because we paid for them
  • Because they’re ‘safe’
  • Because that’s (the product brand) is what the boss is familiar with
  • Because they’re supported (theoretically)

Funny… each time I check my blog stats I find that most of the traffic on my blog is attracted by the rants I’ve posted on Sharepoint.  This can only mean one of two things: Microsoft does regular searches for disgruntled users on the web and they’ve decided to monitor my blog (wishful thinking, but less likely) or other people have usability issues with Sharepoint as a collaboration tool too (more likely than not).

While I was testing the new Sharepoint out, I had a resurgence of painful memories come back from both my beta-testing days and from my daily usage this past year. These were memories of corrupted files which had to be rebuilt from scratch, of unrecorded changes to documents (which resulted in hours and hours of rework), of server space issues and sharing limitations. And I wasn’t the only person who faced these problems. Others I worked with experienced them as well. There was a point where we actually needed to back up the versions of a critical spreadsheet we were sharing to our own hard-drives because the version control on our Sharepoint site was not working!

So it seems that Sharepoint continues to have a myriad of problems which make it a not so ideal tool for business collaboration.   But then why do companies and IT managers continue to determine that we manage our documents and projects using tools like Sharepoint?  Besides the points I listed at the beginning of this post I can only think that, it’s because IT departments (IT department managers/leaders) know that MS products are supported by MS and that if we have problems with it as part of the service level agreement that comes with purchasing the suite of tools we get support and assistance from MS.  Also,  it doesn’t matter if employees have to spend extra time figuring out how to wrangle with the tools’ un-usability, or that they have to spend hours figuring out how to troubleshoot limitations with the tools – because after all most of them are on salary.  This learning and troubleshooting time ‘should’ be built into their job responsibility.

So Sharepoint isn’t exactly usable, so some of the key features such as document versioning aren’t working properly. If IT departments are going to continue to support use of tools such as Sharepoint, they should also start listening to their employees’ issues with the tool, because these issues directly impact employee productivity and hinder employees’ ability to deliver truly great product results.  As a result of listening to their employees and capturing some of the biggest usability and functional issues, they should leverage their partnership and customer standing with Microsoft to truly work out the problems with the tool/software design.

I came across this article in Collaboration Loop by Irwin Lazar about the waning trends of Corporate Web 2.0 tech usage.  The article noted that most companies (“large global enterprises”) will turn to known collaboration software packages from Microsoft or IBM rather than use the web-platform stuff.  It’s easier for these large entities to accept and continue to use tools from ‘known’ suppliers rather than branch out and test and use the newer and unfamiliar apps. “Go with what you know,” apparently is their mantra.  More, from my observations it seems that most of the folks who choose the products we use don’t assess their usability (listening to the counsel of Human Factors Engineers) or the impact of tool problems to employee productivity.

As I observe from many people within my organization who are the early adopters and enthusiasts of Web 2.0 tech, many of them are frustrated end-users who want to find better ways of collaborating and sharing information.   But I’m also noticing that our leadership needs to continue to grow in their understanding of the impact of 2.0 and how it can help us become more productive. As Mr. Lazar points out:

The trends we’re seeing continue to demonstrate a possible disconnect between the visionaries of the Web 2.0 “Internet as the Platform” world and the enterprise IT manager. 

And if we do continue to use products created by the “Big Guys” they really need to understand how to influence these suppliers to provide us with software, tools that live up to their hype and expectations.  In previous posts I did note that Microsoft is trying to apply some of the Web 2.0 features to it’s software. This is evident in MS’s attempt to include blog/wiki featues in Sharepoint. My question continues to be… are the features the way their built truly fit for enabling end users to collaborate, share and find ‘implicit knowledge’ items as seemlessly and easily as possible? Or is Microsoft just putting the blog and wiki features into the tool so that they can claim that they are following allong with the “Web 2.0” trends? 


3 Responses to “So why do we use tools like Sharepoint?”

  1. 1 shannonoz December 19, 2006 at 12:01 am

    Great post. Thanks for visiting my blog and thus helping me find yours! I can think of one other reason that I can add to your list: because we’ve already invested in Microsoft infrastructure (read Office, Windows, Exchange and now SharePoint) that we have to keep on with Microsoft products regardless. This is kind of ironic for our company since when we do software development for our external clients it’s always in LAMP architecture and from a strict user-centric POV. But internally, it’s Microsoft all the way.

  2. 2 nkilkenny December 19, 2006 at 7:11 pm

    Yes, crafty but tried and true business model those MS people have. It would be interesting to ask… so what should small companies like 37 signals do to strategically carve a niche for their products. What will Google do? Their ability to create web platforms for office usage could make software obsolete. Do security issues might pose a problem for web platforms?… but then they do with MS products in any case.

  3. 3 eduardedu February 18, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    SO why our univericity is using SharePoint? The answer is very simple 🙂

    Cause Microsoft is doing a very smart strategy for educational univercities: they provide SharePoint for free! 🙂

    Though then even educational uni should pay for add-ons 😦 – like the one we have recently bought for distance training of our students “”>LMS (Learning management system) for SharePoint though we have received a discount of 50% for educational establishments.

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