Our European Catalyst conference is coming up in April. It’s a beautiful time to be in Prague. The “Collaborate or Perish” track (on Wednesday, April 21st) should be especially interesting. We’ll be casting a critical eye on the Microsoft’s 2010 releases while also discussing non-Microsoft alternatives.
I have a discount code to use while registering (“INSIDER”) that gets you a discounted price of €995. I’m not sure what €995 is worth these days, but it sounds like a good deal to me.
Please let me know if others out there are interested in a “birds of a feather” teleconference on internal business use of virtual worlds. I’ve had a request from a client (in the financial services space) to host such a session to hear what other companies are doing, thinking of doing, or are prevented from doing in virtual worlds. This wouldn’t be a presentation, but rather a facilitated meeting where we go around the virtual room and ask what each participant’s company is doing with regards to enterprise virtual worlds and then go into more details. One potential topic could be the importance of regulatory issues. I believe we could handle anonymous participation.
Just reply to this thread or email me if interested.
Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.
2009 was the year that governance really took off in the SharePoint community as evidenced by SharePoint conference presentations, user’s group presentations, and bloggers. It’s been a major part of my conversations with clients and presentations to audiences using SharePoint since 2003, but I’ve never seen the energy around this topic that I have in the past year. That’s wonderful since I’ve observed that SharePoint installations that address governance upfront tend to have a much higher success rate.
Most governance conversations and presentations start from the definition to anchor the subject and then use it as a structure to drill into its portions. The community has mostly settled on some combination of the 3 goals and 3 tools in my definition, as outlined in our SharePoint Planning and Governance workshop:
Website governance uses people, policy, and process to resolve ambiguity, manage short- and long-range goals, and mitigate conflict within an organization.
Over the years I’ve been happy to see my approach picked up by the SharePoint community via Microsoft and Joel Oleson. It can now be found in places as diverse as Tech Ed Africa, SharePoint Magazine on Facebook, IronWorks , Robert Bogue, Michael Sampson’s blog, and Sean Stecker of Ensynch.
And other guidance from our workshop (like how “SharePoint often overlaps with other installed applications in particular capabilities”, how use policy is about “what constitutes abuse or misuse of SharePoint” and provides “clear instructions on how and when users should work with SharePoint”, my definitions of the centralized/decentralized/federated models) has now crept into the standard decks Microsoft provides to the SharePoint community (usually without acknowledgement, but I’m sure there’s silent appreciation there!).
The definition has even taken on a life of its own by evolving in a few directions, and – aside from the shameless chest thumping above – that’s what I’d like to provide my thoughts on today.
One evolution I’ve seen is to add “to define a service” to the definition. I really like the application of service methodologies to SharePoint and have been doing quite a bit of research in this area. My 2007 workshop applied ITIL v3 to SharePoint and my paper on using ITIL to define “SharePoint as a Service” comes out in January. Still, I’ve decided to focus on service definition as a management issue rather than a governance one (more on that here).
Another evolution I see as more dangerous. A fourth tool snuck in at some point: technology. There are plenty of other SharePoint documents that will focus on technology, such as maintenance manuals, administrator’s guides, tuning guides, etc. Technology is a third rail of SharePoint governance. I tried injecting it for a short time and quickly backed off after seeing the energy it sucked out of the other 3 tools. It provides a slippery slope that enables those uncomfortable with the political and diplomatic challenges of defining people, policy, and process to focus on technology instead. Also, you have different audiences and authors for technical docs versus the statement of governance so it’s best to leave that separate.
In April of 2008, we released our advanced SharePoint workshop that describes how to offer “SharePoint as a service” by applying ITIL v3 to SharePoint. Alas, it’s taken a while to start publishing this methodology in document form, but I just submitted the first paper on this subject. It’s called “ITIL for SharePoint: Defining SharePoint as a Service using ITIL Service Strategy” and is due out in January.
Writing this document forced me to dig deeper into ITIL’s best practices. Many of them transfer directly to SharePoint (like much of the operations and service desk parts), so I didn’t want to waste time just restating them with the word “SharePoint” in front. And some don’t really apply at all, since SharePoint isn’t the type of service that ITIL was originally created for. But by picking carefully through the best practices (and sometimes reshaping them to fit) a few real gems emerge. Those are the ones I concentrate on in the paper and workshop.
In the process of writing my paper, several points became clear that go against the countervailing wisdom I’ve seen among SharePoint implementers.
Trying to squeeze the most from your SharePoint investment is probably not good for the company
What could possibly be wrong about trying to get the most return from your investment in SharePoint? What matters is the ROI of the company, not the ROI of a product. Just because SharePoint can do something doesn’t mean it’s the best tool the organization has to accomplish that task. As a parallel, the ROI on my $40 cordless screwdriver would increase if I used it for drilling all the drywall holes for my basement remodeling since it’s squeezing more benefit for the same investment. But that’s still silly if I have a corded electric drill nearby that’s much more efficient. When organizations get too excited about SharePoint, they risk cannibalizing value from other systems to the detriment of the overall collaboration portfolio.
Value is different than ROI
Conventional wisdom has convinced many SharePoint implementers that no metric can prove its worth better than the return on investment (ROI). After all, it’s actual dollars made compared to dollars spent – how much more real can it get? However, ITIL’s approach reframes the value equation quite elegantly by avoiding common SharePoint ROI problems (like the difficulty of proving the numbers and the distortion that perception introduces). What ITIL reveals is that SharePoint service providers need to focus on the portfolio’s combination of utility (what it provides) and warranty (that it is available to provide it) to ensure that value is achieved.
Management is different than governance
Governance is very important. I’ve dedicated significant portion of the last 6 years instructing everyone from Microsoft to government institutions to large corporations on how to apply governance to SharePoint. But management represents a separate pillar that is just as important. Executed properly, governance will provide the organizational and procedural structure that management requires to succeed. While practitioners conventionally blend management guidance into governance docs and use the terms interchangeably, there is a clear line separating them and two distinct efforts are required.
Offering SharePoint as a business service is fundamentally different than offering it as a set of technological capabilities
SharePoint demos like an app and it is tempting to treat it like an app, but more organizations are finding it’s really infrastructure. Steve Ballmer at the SharePoint conference finally used the “P” word: platform. So SharePoint is collaboration and content infrastructure. But users use applications. A service delivery methodology bridges that gap by packaging technical services into business services.
Users of SharePoint shouldn’t know what SharePoint is
Why does a business user need to know what SharePoint is? Conventional wisdom pushes the importance of “lunch and learns”, training plans, and rollouts. These are all fine as long as they are not for SharePoint. Proper service delivery will yield business services carefully crafted for particular uses. Those services are what the users need to understand. If an end user is asked if their company uses SharePoint in my ideal service delivery organization, they would answer “I don’t know. Never heard of it. But we do have a great Lab Research Tracking tool …” (where the tracking tool is a customized SharePoint list and template). Even though end users should be able to help themselves with SharePoint, that can mean end users initiate their own instance of the Lab Research Tracking workspace, not that they create it from scratch. And the service delivery methodology can stretch to include local service delivery points so that business services can be provided without having to contact IT or wait in their queue.
“Driving adoption” is a band aid for poor demand management
Conventional wisdom touts the importance of driving adoption before, during, and after rollout of SharePoint. “If you don’t drive adoption, you’ll fail to achieve the full potential of SharePoint”. Nonsense. A study of ITIL’s demand management process forced me to rethink this wisdom and realize that it is all backwards. If you took the time upfront to understand what the business needs and deliver it, you wouldn’t have to convince, cajole, or lure them to use your system. And the education required would be less as well since it would be targeted to business services rather than general purpose usage. End user self help can work once you attract users with specific business templates, after which adoption comes naturally rather than require “driving”.
Internally, SharePoint always has competition; users always have a choice
ITIL demand management recommends evaluating competition as a best practice. While it is written to apply to other external service providers, reframing it as internal competition yields important insight. E-mail will remain a substitute good for much of what SharePoint does. Competing – but disconnected – SharePoint installations can occur. And SaaS options abound.
The process of applying a service methodology has value for the organization beyond just the end result
Conventional project plans have governance and management as “something that needs to be done”, when actually they are “something that needs to be learned”. The process of implementing ITIL has many side benefits including better communication with the business, higher value, and knowledge that can help with other domains.
At his keynote address at the SharePoint Conference, Steve Ballmer acknowledged that 10 years ago, if they had written up a list of what SharePoint is supposed to be on paper, that wouldn’t be what it is today. “Your feedback and input … the way you’ve driven us” has made SharePoint what it is today, thank you very much. For example, Internet-facing sites were not an original design point. In the same vein, Tom Rizzo said that SharePoint has been such a success that Microsoft has been overwhelmed.
Why is it the case that something far beyond a shared folder replacement couldn’t be envisioned in 1999 when Lotus Notes had already been around for years? Why did that feedback take ten years to result in better top down management and control that every serious portal product mostly had in 2003 and certainly in 2007? Why weren’t internet sites a design point, particularly when many of the stopping blocks (like limits on list sizes, farm management, and scalability) were also hassles for large intranet deployments as well? And why wasn’t Microsoft more optimistic ( = prepared) for SharePoint’s success given the history of Notes and early Plumtree success? This lack of optimism probably resulted in the 2003 and 2007 releases of SharePoint getting less R&D effort and sales attention than they deserved.
It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I was in the press box for the 2001, 2003, and 2007 seasons and most of my fellow analysts were calling the same plays back then. I don’t recall anyone saying SharePoint wasn’t going to go anywhere, or that IBM would stomp it out, or that they shouldn’t make the product appropriate for business-to-consumer (B2C) deployments. All these things should not have been a surprise and absent from SharePoint planning.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m pretty happy with what I’ve seen of SharePoint so far. And it’s grown even faster than I personally thought it would. But I don’t look back at the winding path with nostalgia either. If I’m teary eyed thinking of what it took to get here, it’s not necessarily for the same reasons as Steve Ballmer and Tom Rizzo.
I have mixed feelings about applause lines at vendor conferences. These occur when a new feature is announced or demoed and the audience breaks into applause, causing the executive on stage to beam triumphantly.
On the positive side, the applause means “I’m happy, good job”. It shows the vendor has been listening to its customers and responded. That beaming is deserved.
On the cynical side, the applause also means “It’s about time.” The applause lines at this type of conference represent areas of frustration that have been removed.
Wouldn’t it be great if there aren’t such major areas of frustration that their removal causes relief? Is that too idealistic? I don’t think so. In each case, scores of users could have told the vendor the barriers or limitations that were removed should have been addressed in the last release. For example, in Arpan Shah’s session he talked about how the new business data catalog (now business connectivity services) now allows writing data back as well as just reading it (as in BDC). He worded this as “we heard you when you said you like reading, but writing is better”. C’mon, you couldn’t guess people would want to update business data once they see it displayed? It shouldn’t have taken too many user interviews and improvement requests to figure out people would want that.
One of the contributing factors to applause lines is the way that SharePoint releases are tied to Office releases: on a glacial 4 year cycle. In fact, this was a great question that an audience member raised for Steve Ballmer during the Q&A. Steve’s answer, for the record, is that just because deployment is faster doesn’t mean software can be written faster and they’ll continue to release apps on top of the platform quickly. Hmmm … can’t respond in less than four years? As I’ve said before, Office is an anchor and Microsoft should consider breaking SharePoint away from it since this forces releases to be too slow to respond to the market.
Here are the applause lines from the keynote morning:
- Standards support: REST, Atom, JSON. Clearly the fact that SharePoint releases are tied to the Office schedule caused Microsoft to respond more slowly to the rise of these standards than it would have as an independent product.
- Visual web parts: Seems pretty obvious to anyone used to Visual Basic that one should be able to click and drag to create basic controls on a page without coding.
- Limits have been raised to allow 1 million+ items in a list/folder, 10 million in a library, and 100s of millions by syncing libraries.
By the way, one item that was described and demoed, but didn’t get applause during the provided pause was taxonomy and folksonomy. That’s too bad, because it should have gotten applause. Unfortunately, I think the reason is that organizations aren’t doing enough of this today, so it’s not relieving any frustration.
Surprisingly, the social software improvements didn’t get applause either, even though it was an area of great frustration to those who really know blogs and wikis. But I guess there aren’t enough of them to fill a keynote hall with applause. Kudos to Microsoft for improving them before they become a tremendous applause line in SP2013.
Once we’ve had a chance to play with SP2010 and see what’s in it, let’s see if we can figure out what the applause lines will be 4 years from now.
It’s amazing how often the question “Is SharePoint Inevitable for My Organization?” comes up in conversations with clients. Usually not that bluntly or directly, but the question underlies their questions and assumptions. For example, in a conversation with a client today they were looking at another portal product. But there are some pockets of SharePoint and after some back and forth on comparisons, they stopped and asked if the evaluation matters since they’re not sure they can stop SharePoint anyways due to a lack of central control and some enthusiastic groups.
Of course, the question is vague in that it doesn’t specify whether SharePoint is going to exist for tactical uses or be a strategic portal and collaboration solution that pushes out all others. An organization with lots of other products in place can fit SharePoint in if it’s tightly scoped, possibly limited to one or two functions.
I have indeed talked to some organizations that don’t have a drop of SharePoint in them (that the person I was talking to knew about anyways). If someone is trying to keep SharePoint out – or just wants to understand what it would take to make such a decision – it’s worth examining the companies that have done so. I see two models.
The first model is companies that have kept SharePoint out through brute force. Architectural decisions have been made based upon principles and best fit for the organization and the decision was not to use SharePoint. For example, they may have a mostly Java skillset and applications are expected to be able to run on Unix. Compliance is strong at these organizations, so no project with SharePoint passes the necessary architecture review and data center and LAN security processes ensure that no servers can be deployed with it. These organizations often claim to have no “rogue” servers due to strict compliance and security measures.
The second model is companies that have correctly addressed the needs of the business by providing non-Microsoft content management, collaboration, and portal solutions that meet their needs. Their collaboration and content architecture not only meets capability needs, but is easy for end-users to self-provision sites without bothering IT. Accordingly, there is no desire for SharePoint because it would not provide anything the business needs that they don’t already have in house.
I admire both of these types of companies. After many years of working on web architecture and governance, I can appreciate an organization that has established a proper top-down architectural strategy and sticks to it. But I admire the second type even more since it doesn’t leave a frustrated, grumbling underclass of business folks that aren’t having their needs met. In the second model, IT is properly fulfilling its role as a service provider to the business.
What this line of discussion leads to is essentially the question “Is it worth the political capital it would take to keep SharePoint out?”. A weak central IT group (or at least weaker than the advocates for SharePoint) would have to expend significant political capital to shut SharePoint down, including escalating compliance violations, stopping partially completed projects, and endless debates with SharePoint’s proponents. This may be possible, but not worth the costs of failure or even success (festering animosity) that could result in some organizations.
In an ideal world, architectural principles that optimize long-term, enterprise-wide value would guide IT decisions. And those architectural principles, in turn, would reflect the needs of the business. But years of speaking with clients about their real-life situations have demonstrated the reality of how those decisions are often made. Decision making in a sub-optimal or unbalanced environment requires a bit of extra foresight. Politics is the art of the possible, so in these cases, central IT decides to just let SharePoint in rather than fight it.
Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.
It’s been a while since I blogged as Burton Group analysts had a week-long offsite meeting last week. We’re a pretty virtual company, so it’s nice to see everyone in person without a conference to distract us.
But that’s not to say virtual meetings aren’t useful as well. In fact, I just blogged about the new release and renaming of virtual meeting vendor Qwaq to Teleplace over at the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog. Here’s what I wrote:
In the virtual world, even your name is virtual. Like a furry reskinning to a businessman’s avatar, Qwaq has renamed its product and company to Teleplace. Good move – enterprise virtual worlds (EVWs) have an unusually steep hurdle to getting taken seriously so a practical, descriptive name is a good thing.
The new version adds business-friendly features such as support for AD and LDAP, archiving sessions as mp4 (“meeting DVR”), and a SaaS model with private options.
My upcoming Quick Start document on Enterprise Virtual Worlds (release date 10/21/09) states that uses for EVWs go far beyond “people work harder when they’re having fun” or “kids out of college won’t want to work here if we don’t have this stuff.” When applied for specific situations in which EVWs are the best alternative, they can have real business value. And enhanced conferencing – as well as rehearsal and serious gaming – are prime use cases. Enhanced conferencing has the advantage of being available in a secure, SaaS model so it’s the lowest risk way to try out EVWs.
The spigot on the information coming out of Microsoft about SharePoint 2010 was cranked up from a drip to a trickle on July 13th with the debut of the SharePoint 2010 web site. Microsoft has been promising to open it to a full-blown fire hose at the SharePoint Conference in October, but until then it’s worth going through what has been released. (there’s also an invitation-only technical preview).
First, before we get to features, there’s a new conceptual view. The old 2007 “SharePoint donut” got tons of usage since most everyone is at a loss to describe what SharePoint is without it. Sure, it’s a “collaboration server”, but what does it do? Well, let me whip out this diagram and walk through it …
Here’s my best guess so far on how the old donut maps to the new one. “Sites” is the most vague (statements like “Sites allows you to expand across environments” that describe capabilities rather than a definition). I think Sites is just a generic, catch-all bucket for anything involving creation of websites, so it overlaps with all the others.
Here are my takeaways from the main video (with marketing-speak omitted except where I found it interesting or telling). I’ll be clear where I’m injecting my own point of view by using [brackets], although the rest is paraphrased so what you see here is filtered through my own perspective. I encourage you to view the videos yourself as well.
Sharepoint 2010 Overview (Tom Rizzo)
- Mentions how they are supporting all browsers (although he tellingly stumbles when trying to say “Safari” … )
- Promises great strides in social computing
- Went around the SharePoint 2010 donut:
- Sites are all about sharing information
- Mentions a further push into extranets and internet sites
- Plans to support a hierarchical structure of communities
- “Regardless of how they come together” [implies to me embracing end user creation and maintenance of their own communities rather than just enabling administrators to create communities]
- People-centric, LOB-centric
- “We’ve been Working hard to manage content from creation to disposition and destruction … ”
- Will enhance ability of users to discover content
- [our analysis of SharePoint 2007’s enterprise content management showed weakness at the later stages of the process , so beefing up capabilites around disposition and discovery seem to show positive action from Microsoft to close the gap]
- FAST will be combined with existing SharePoint search.
- More investments have been made in uncovering hidden assets
- People search will be (better) blended with search.
- At 8:22 he says “You’ll be able to find rich people across your organization”. [I guess that’s handy if Bill Gates works at your company and you need to borrow money for lunch]
- There’s a plug for the business connectivity services (formerly business data catalog) in terms of searching structured data
- Combining the rest of SharePoint with the business intelligence stack. [not really any detail here, or nothing new to talk about]
- “Rapidly create dynamic bus solutions” [At the SharePoint conference in 2006, none other than Bill Gates said building composites is the #1 capability of SharePoint. If they’re going to get away from the “portal” word which is increasingly watered down then this is a good choice. Composite applications encompasses portals, but also other important styles of web apps made from piece parts including any type of assembly of web services or RESTful services, mashups, or business process management]
- Features shown in the demo
- User interface
- The Office ribbon now shows up all over SharePoint and is removable, customizable, contextual
- He showed live editing of text in a website, and as you mouse over different font sizes you get preview of fonts just like in Word 2007
- He showed a very fat client-like resizing of images, adding a border, etc.
- You can add Silverlight with an out of box Silverlight web part
- There’s the ability to apply PowerPoint themes to sites (colors, fonts, etc.)
- Business connectivity
- You’ll be able to put a Visio diagram directly in SP, and since Visio can have links to get live data from business systems that means live data too [neat!]
- Forget BDC: it’s now BCS. There’s a new acronym: Business Connectivity Services (BCS) to replace the business data catalog (BDC)
- Instead of just sites in SP designer 2010, it has lists, workflows, etc.
- Also has an item in SP designer called “entities” for creating connections to bus data
- Demoed a SQL connecter that auto-creates CRUD (create, read, update, delete)
- You cal see a BCS data set in SharePoint and it looks like a list, but it’s a SQL database. Demoed filtering.
- You can also click “edit item” and update the item. [I hope they improve the interface. It refreshes and fills the whole screen with a data dump of the row. Not at all like editing in a cell]
- Demoed creating a new doc from SharePoint in Word which has a bunch of fields defined in BCS. You can select a customer name from the list and it fills in all the fields from that record in the document information panel
- Work with data in richer ways
- Microsoft finally clarified that Groove (new name=SharePoint Workplace) is the rich client for SharePoint. [wow, that took a long time for something we knew was going to happen]
- Workplace can sync info from a SharePoint site
- Showed in SP workspace how he can edit info offline, and then synced back up by selecting “Connect to server” and “Sync supplier list”. [Not sure why its so manual. In Notes you don’t have to hit “connect” then “sync”. Maybe there are automated, scheduled options too that weren’t shown. I hope so]
- Tom emphasized that these are just some of the features – not an exhaustive list.
- User interface
SP 2010 for IT professional video (Richard Riley)
- He mentioned on premise or as SaaS
- Beta later this year, general availability 1st half of 2010
- Goal is to scale up and out with high reliability [just as Bill Pray noted in his thoughts on Exchange 2010, it seems many of the administrative enhancements for SharePoint 2010 are to help it support SaaS rather than to just help current on premises installations]
- [bookmark] IT professional productivity
- Central admin: he mentioned “easier to find” and ribbon UI [he didn’t mention any actual functionality changes]
- There’s a best practice analyzer
- It analyzes health, performance, and has reporting
- Rules can regularly run and send pop ups with issues encountered. Admins can build rules and automatically apply fixes
- There is a new logging database, extensible with custom data and custom reports
- Scalable unified infrastructure
- Large lists will not hang the system anymore [yahoo!]
- The admin can set thresholds for how many rows max will be returned. And there’s a “happy hour” when you can get larger responses from queries.
- Unattached content database recovery
- Admins can browse content in repositories, create an export, and upload to list
- Flexible deployment
- You can detach a 2007 database and attach it to 2010
- When you migrate to 2010 it keeps UI the same, but you can select an option to switch user experiences
SP 2010 for Developer (Paul Andrew)
- Developer productivity
- Paul talked about the Visual Studio 2010 SharePoint tools
- There is a new visual Web Part designer and team foundation server
- You can look at lists and other server items from the server explorer within VS without having to go to SharePoint
- Can specify deployment configuration such as a package WSP file that can include custom installation steps
- Demoed click and drag creation of a Web Part with a button that calls LINQ query
- Rich platform
- There is the ability to use LINQ to access SharePoint lists including joins
- Paul also mentioned the Silverlight Web Part and business connectivity services
- Flexible deployment
- Paul talked about solution deployment [but frankly I got distracted at this point and don’t have notes here. I believe this is an attempt to address SP2007 weaknesses around staging from test to QA to production]
Data connectivity services
- In the demos, DCS still showed as BDC in VS 2010 since it’s not finished yet
- Paul showed how it supports creating methods for BCS CRUD
- In SharePoint you can create an “external list” now, which means data from the BCS
- There are new “list” menus in the ribbon bar in the SharePoint web UI
- Demoed using Silverlight to fill a data grid with data from a SharePoint list. With Silverlight, it’s running on the client so things like sorting the list are done without calls back to the server
That’s a summary of what I took away from the latest information on SharePoint. At our SharePoint Workshop (SharePoint 2007: The Current Governance Nightmare—and Will It Get Better?) on July 28th at Catalyst we have added a module on what’s new in SharePoint 2010 that includes our statements on what we thought was missing from 2007. Seeing new stuff is great, but lining it up against the weaknesses in 2007 provides a better view of the progress being made. All said though, it’s still too early to stand up and applaud. There’s a lot more information left in the tank that has to trickle out first.
Oracle’s analyst summit in mid-June provided a good look at their plans for Fusion Middleware 11g and WebCenter (released July 1st for download; see summary of features here). Now that we’re out of non-disclosure mode (and into “please disclose!” mode) I’d like to share my high-level impressions. They covered a ton of stuff, but my view is biased towards my coverage area of portals with connections to search, productivity, and collaboration. Other Burton Group analysts were also in attendance from our Identity and Privacy Strategies team and our Application Platform Strategies team (see Anne Thomas Manes’ thoughts here).
First, although Oracle owns 4 portal products, all the portal-related time was spent on WebCenter. Sure, other portals were mentioned in bullets as examples of how they can plug in (or consume WebCenter’s social software), but it was clear WebCenter is the leading actor here (and supporting actor in the stories of the SOA, identity, and enterprise application teams). This confirms what I (and Oracle) has been saying: that WebCenter is the primary portal and that the other 3 (Oracle Portal, WebLogic Portal, and WebCenter Interaction née Plumtree) will be supported and have their die-hard fans but will not be best for new portal projects.
It was helpful to hear Oracle frame its collaboration/portal/search/productivity/social software ambitions in relation to Microsoft SharePoint. For all its plusses and minuses, SharePoint provides a common point of reference against which to measure. They described how they line up with SharePoint as an alternative, can coexist with it, and where they surpass it. This is what IBM should have done with Quickr+Connections at Lotusphere.
As with SharePoint, WebCenter provides an impressive set of functions in one box. There is often better integration between WebCenter and other Oracle assets (like their applications and development tools) than Microsoft where other groups can sometimes get away with ignoring what the SharePoint and Office group does.
There are numerous SharePoint analogies in WebCenter. From conversations with the execs there I found that some are intentional and in other cases they say SharePoint copied them (well, copied AquaLogic User Interaction)!
- Business Dictionary as a role based catalog of information assets. Seems like SharePoint’s Business Data Catalog. This should be an interesting battle since SharePoint’s BDC is clearly a version 1.0 work-in-progress and Oracle has a lot of expertise to bring here being a database company at heart.
- Federated search. ‘Nuff said.
- Office integration. Clients I speak with expect Microsoft will always have the best Office integration, but there are cases where Microsoft’s internal silos or some good ideas can expose openings. Oracle showed a nice Word sidebar for document management that had people, versions, etc.
- Slide sorter. This was a neat feature that SharePoint offered, but Oracle’s version seems to leapfrog it. They demoed picking all the slides for a sales deck. Oracle calls this a “folio” or compound document. Oracle acquired a neat little company called “Outside In” that has sophisticated filters for productivity files. Blending this into Web Center can provide for some good Office integration.
Oracle did a fine job of acknowledging the need to work with SharePoint and others. But the meat boils down to their WSRP producer running on .NET, selective metadata consumption, and Ensemble (a reverse proxy solution). Hopefully this gets beefed up with more programmatic integration, discovery tools, and guidance so it requires less reliance on WSRP.
Of all the competitors, WebCenter is the newest architecture from the ground up. Being the youngest has its advantages. Since WebCenter is newly architected it feels like it more seamlessly integrates new concepts like tagging, linking, social connections, and REST services than IBM and MSFT where it’s more bolted on. So they’re better at utilizing these features across the suite that Microsoft and a little bit better than IBM.
But will Oracle – the whole company – give WebCenter the resources it needs to win the marketplace(not just the resources required to be a good and useful product)? In the Q&A session, Oracle President Charles Phillips said there are “No plans to have middleware broken out in reporting. We have lots of product lines, we’re getting more with Sun… ” This hits at the perennial knock on Oracle’s efforts around knowledge infrastructure – lack of push and commitment. Oracle did talk about how much revenue Fusion pulled in, the growth rate, penetration, etc. That would indicate the company would have to care. But still, Microsoft manages to report on four breakouts (Client, Server and Tools, Online Services Business, Microsoft Business Division, Entertainment and Devices Division). Oracle sticks to two (Applications, Database and Middleware). Sun will add at least one more (servers and hardware). If Oracle is dedicated to the enormous space between enterprise apps and the database, breaking out middleware from the database would be a great way to track and prove this commitment.
Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog