Take It? Leave It? 4 Perspectives On SharePoint

I’ve wanted to be a developer since primary school. I was fascinated with computers. When I was hired at Microsoft in 2006, it appeared that I must specialize in a certain product. I chose SharePoint because it was closest to web development.

I tried SharePoint in many flavors. 2007 and the first release of Solutions, 2010 and the introduction of Managed Metadata, 2013 and the integration of Fast Search, 2016 and Hybrid Search. It wasn’t an easy journey. SharePoint is merciless. It does not forgive.

No matter if you are an end user, an admin or a developer – SharePoint is a love or hate scenario. Sometimes I wonder if Stockholm syndrome is not involved 😊 I have many talks with people who say that using SharePoint doesn’t make sense. So, let’s talk about it – meet my friends.

 

Anna – The End User

Anna would like to work on documents with her colleagues. She has many options (actually, too many, and this is the main problem here). It’s possible to share documents and information on SharePoint, including versioning, different workflows, setting item level security, retention, and search. If you use Office documents – most of them can be edited in a browser.

 

Seems like heaven, huh?

Not really.

The basic features I mentioned are quite OK, but the user interface and some options are a nightmare, and so Anna and other users often feel lost. Right now, you can create three types of workspaces for collaboration in Office 365:

  • Site – the good old SharePoint site. Please notice the word “old.” The user experience here doesn’t live up to employees’ expectations. Microsoft is working on it, and Modern Sites were introduced. However, not all components are ready yet. It’s a mess for end users because they are still shown the old UI in many cases.

There are still a lot of places in SharePoint with the old UI, it causes a lot of confusion for the end-user

 

  • Office 365 Group – this is a lost chance for Microsoft to fix things. Some time ago the Office 365 Groups feature was introduced. Groups should give you one place to access all Microsoft collaboration services such as Skype for SharePoint, Exchange, SharePoint or Yammer. Unfortunately, it seems that many product groups developed it individually – and it was always a problem for Microsoft. For example, you now have two UIs for accessing files (one lives in Outlook Web Access, the other in SharePoint).
Group View

SharePoint file view in Office 365 Group

 

O365 Group

OWA file view in Office 365 Group. Because of the two views, end-user can feel lost – it hurts service adoption for sure. Microsoft – please remember that generally, less is better!

 

  • Team – a brand new feature. Still hot. It’s a direct competitor to Slack and it achieves what Groups couldn’t do. At last, there is one window where you can access chat, files, notes and other goodies. It’s mobile-friendly and it works fast. Physically, Office 365 Groups mechanism is used under the hood, but with a much nicer UI.
SP Team

Conversation view in a Team

 

SP Team

File view in a Team

 

SP Team

Wiki view in a Team

 

Recommendation

Does it make sense for the end user to use SharePoint for working on documents? Yes – just use Microsoft Teams as a way of accessing it. Also, when using SharePoint Online, the problem with storage space magically disappears, because every user has 1TB of storage on their OneDrive for Business. Remember to provide proper support and guidelines for your end users to keep them safe and happy.

 

Agnes – The Intranet Editor

According to Intranet Annual Reports done by Nielsen Norman Group, SharePoint dominates Intranet marketplace. Most of the awarded solutions are SharePoint-based. For many years, SharePoint has been a leader in Gartner Horizontal Portals report.

This is important from the Intranet perspective. Intranets evolve in Digital Workplaces and sticking only to Content Management solution is no longer enough (it never was, actually – that is why SharePoint is a good solution here).

Agnes is managing SharePoint Intranet now. She knows all the good, bad and ugly things about it (actually, it’s a good idea for another article – SharePoint: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly – let me know in the comments if you would like to see one!). She is thinking about building a new solution. What are her options? See my recent article where I described them in detail.

 

Recommendation

To make the long story short: If you are willing to use standard SharePoint features, then just stick to Modern Sites and SharePoint Framework. Check if your requirements are met because some options are still limited. And if you want a tailor-made solution, find a very good architect and a development team, and build it as a SharePoint Add-in.

 

Michael – The SharePoint Developer

The story with developers is the most exciting one because there are a lot of emotions during discussions about SharePoint. Michael is a .Net developer and he did some projects on SharePoint. He thinks that SharePoint is evil and he wouldn’t like to develop any SharePoint solutions in the future. Is he right?

Well – as a consultant I must answer – it depends. SharePoint solutions model (a way of implementing SharePoint customizations) uses an old version of .Net and Asp.Net forms. It’s hard to find young people who know how to use it. And experienced developers are not keen on developing with it. Also, if you’d like to use Angular or another modern web framework, it’s not possible. From that perspective, I believe that any new implementation done in that model is a waste of money.

On the other hand, there are new ways of customizing the platform: SharePoint Add-ins and SharePoint Framework. You can create a nice multi-tier application with really modern frontend and backend. Remember to check Office UI Fabric components before starting implementation.

Office UI

Office UI Fabric documentation – remember to check these components as they can be useful and time-saving. https://dev.office.com

 

So why do many customers and developers have such bad experience with SharePoint development?

Just like any other platform, SharePoint has its limitations.

The main problem is that developers are trying to use it as a relational database and assume that after reading the most basic documentation, they can easily create an application. It’s not true.

SharePoint doesn’t forgive, and a mistake at the beginning of the project – especially with data structure – is very expensive to fix later. Very often applications are not tested, and the customer discovers strange application behavior after a year.

 

Recommendation

Michael – learn SharePoint. It takes a lot of time, but it will give you great experience if you want to be an architect in the future. Does it make sense to use SharePoint as an application platform? Of course! Find a good team, an experienced architect and stick to the SharePoint Framework or Provider Hosted Add-ins model.

 

James – The SharePoint Admin

As every admin, James would like to have a modern, well maintained and unproblematic platform. He doesn’t want users crying that something doesn’t work. It would be nice to have all the applications that developers created in one place with the same backup and maintenance policies.

Actually, SharePoint does that. And with 2016 improvements such as MinRole, Zero Downtime patching, performance improvements and UI improvements in Feature Pack, it really delivers a single platform for various business requirements. And you must only manage that one platform.

 

Is SharePoint admin life easy?

Of course not. There is always a lot of work with migration between versions.

Wait, what – what about the evergreen SharePoint Online – there are no migrations there?

Yes – but Microsoft is constantly changing the platform, so ongoing training is required, especially when Office 365 services integration is tighter than ever. A good place to stay up to date is this website.

 

Recommendation

Does it make sense to use SharePoint from the IT Pro perspective? Definitely – you get one platform that addresses many users in the organization, and you must manage only one environment. Just remember to check for changes at least every six months and incorporate them into your SharePoint Governance plan.

 

So, does it makes sense to use SharePoint?

Yes, yes, yes and yes. No matter if you are an end user, editor, developer, or admin. Every role will benefit from using it.

But you can ask – is there an easier alternative? Well – it depends on your scale and requirements.

There are other Horizontal Portal solutions from Oracle and IBM, so if you are not invested in Microsoft, then you should probably check other platforms. On the other hand, Microsoft always did a great job on developing community and partners, so project resources such as developers or admins are relatively easy to find.

and use SharePoint

Using other solutions from Microsoft might seem tempting:

  • Let’s use good old file shares for documents – but you won’t have versioning, metadata, search, recycle bin, web preview, mobile support, sync….
  • Let’s use .Net and SQL for our apps – then you will end up with every application with different policies, databases, every app will have to be maintained separately and if you require security or storing documents – every developer will implement it differently.

 

Final thoughts

You can blame me for saying that SharePoint is the best platform ever. No, it’s not. It requires a lot of time to master it. There are scenarios that are very hard on SharePoint.

For example, creating a data structure with many relations on SharePoint is very difficult – I would recommend going with SQL Server here. The same goes for creating responsive applications (that work on PC and mobile) using older SharePoint components. A similar story applies to very large repositories – you must plan and test them carefully from the beginning.

But it all depends… And with a good architect who is able to map your requirements properly and design the application – you can protect yourself from common SharePoint pitfalls and problems (another topic for an article 😊).

Still not sure if SharePoint makes sense for your project or scenario? Just contact me, I will be glad to help.

Happy SharePoint-ing!

Comments

See also

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Bring It On, Monday! My Career At Predica

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