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Free Yourself from the Tyranny of Sharepoint

Sharepoint is a plague upon the American workforce. This ubiquitous piece of collaboration software has taught millions of people that Intranets are destined to be places where you can’t find anything.

It doesn’t have to be this way, despite what Microsoft may have you believe. There are alternatives to Sharepoint that actually work in ways that ordinary humans can understand.

One of these alternatives is WordPress. You can set up your own Intranet using WordPress with a minimum of technical knowhow.

It’s certainly better than learning the maddening intricacies of Sharepoint, as developer Ben Balter discovered. Given the dreaded task of updating the Sharepoint site, he instead decided to spend three hours to see if he could come up with an alternative.

The result was WP Document Revisions. This is a WordPress plugin that allows teams of any size to collaboratively edit files and manage their workflow. In other words, the core of what you probably would use Sharepoint for if it was actually usable.

Ben wasn’t done. He’s since gone on to craft additional plugins, as he described in WordPress as a Collaboration Tool, a talk he gave at the monthly WordPress DC meetup. The tools he created essentially improve upon all the functions of Sharepoint, but in WordPress, so you don’t need expensive licenses or pricey database experts to keep the whole thing from crashing.

By using WordPress, you turn “add this information to the Intranet” from a frustrating task into something as simple as blogging. And just think how good your Intranet could be if people actually wanted to contribute to it.

Improving internal communication does more than just lead to happier employees. It contributes to the bottom line by saving the time of staff. Do you want people spending hours trying to figure where their document disappeared to on Sharepoint or do you want them to do, well, something productive?

Most of us, however, have no control over what software we use at work. I asked Ben what to do in this case. He replied with the truism that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. He also demonstrated what WordPress could do and developed internal support for it. When presented with a credible alternative, rational decision-makers will make the right choice, if they can.

There’s a lot of caveats in that last sentence. I know. Big organizations choose big software for reasons that defy reason.

Life’s too short to use bad software. Investigate the alternatives. Anticipate objections. Present your case. Just something is ubiquitous doesn’t meant it’s right or destined to last forever. The way we work is changing, and software should change with it.

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23 Comments

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Steven Santoni

Ok, bait taken… so you want to move from SharePoint (which admittedly gets UGLY when no one is maintaining/organizing the content) to what is essentially a blogging platform. Have fun patching WordPress, PHP and MySQL when they have vulnerabilities (and they do). I’m not saying WordPress is bad or couldn’t be used in the enterprise. I’m just saying if I had to choose the two, I’m taking SharePoint. The biggest problem with SharePoint is the users are not trained, and unchecked, things just grow out of control. A well maintained system works well and is easily searched. SharePoint also has many features… document storage and versioning, blogging, wiki sites, etc… People poo-poo it, because they fear it… Don’t fear the SharePoint.

The real trick is finding software that best meets your needs…

I disagree with your first statement, but agree people should ALWAYS investigate alternatives.

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Steven Springer

I don’t use WordPress so I can’t comment on whether it’s a good alternative to Sharepoint, but I do know this: Sharepoint may well be the least user-friendly program I have ever experienced. In that regard it belongs in Microsoft’s Hall of Fame for Counterintuitive Products. I welcome any change that would allow for ease of use.

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Joe Mooney

I’ll admit that SharePoint 2007 and prior was dependent on developers to give you a solution that was workable. But before you go moving to freeware and to another flavor of infoglut, you need to investigate SharePoint 2010. I was never an advocate of SP in the past and I have an army of developers here who refused to let me play with their toys because of it. But the new platform, and yes it is a bona fide platform now, is user friendly, has a much improved search engine, and workflow tools that do not require developer intervention.

I’ve used WordPress, and it is a nice blogging tool, but I would not suggest it for enterprise use. SharePoint 2010 has moved past the “nice collaboration tool” stage and current features enable integration with the vast majority of ECM solutions, support the development of GIS applications, provide for effective dashboard development, and finally have ease of customizations that enable the design of sites with visual appeal.

http://www.wssdemo.com/Pages/topwebsites.aspx

Select the tool that’s best for your use, but in the long run, it is easier for SharePoint to fit into an enterprise IT governance model and with the new usability features, end users win in the long run.

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Chuck Georgo

Joe,

As both a WordPress (four sites) and SharePoint user/designer (more than 12), I would like to share a few thoughts:

  1. Each are powerful tools for CM, and each requires extensive experience to configure capabilities beyond “out of the box” setup.
  2. WordPress still lacks a sufficient security architecture for AAA to call it an “enterprise grade” application.
  3. SharePoint is not just a CMS, it is a living software application that includes CM, virtual collaboration, workflow, connectivity to external data sources, and application integration capabilities.
  4. If all an agency needs is a CMS, WordPress or another CM paltform may be all they need; however, if they want a common look and feel across enterprise applciations, with tight integration to the Office stack, then SharePoint is a pretty good (and now cheap) solution.

I also echo Steve Santoni’s points about content management and user training – WordPress can get just as messy as you characterized a SharePoint site.

r/Chuck

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Justin Longo

A benign tyranny, maybe? I recently finished interviews with government policy analysts on the topic of knowledge sharing and the most surprising thing was they all mentioned Sharepoint (when I never asked about it). In some ways, Sharepoint is an improvement over my experience in government several years ago where file sharing was all done through email. But their comments revealed that in their work Sharepoint only acts as a file server – no one had any experience with any use of collaboration extensions. They also said it (usually) worked well if you know the filename you were looking, but was useless at finding content site-wide. Lastly, because they operate in a watertight Microsoft environment, most seem resigned to a “that’s the way it is” standard. In my consulting work I still tilt at that windmill but with very limited success.

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Joe Flood

“Benign tyranny”LOL.

All the comments are really interesting. My experience with SP, like so many other people, has been a bad one . It just seems like a system designed more around the needs of IT departments to lock down users than an easy to use tool for sharing and collaborating. It’s still a mystery to me why such a clunky product has become the standard when there are other alternatives out there. This alternative doesn’t have to be WordPress either. If I worked in a small office, I’d want to use Basecamp. I think Google Sites would be a good option, as well, especially given the growth of Google in government. It’s very to use.

My point is that users should have more of a say in the software that they have to use every day. Selecting software that people are excited about and want to use would lead to greater adoption and success.

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Eric Melton

Not sure we have a choice… good discussion at any rate.

Some hit on the crux of the problems with Sharepoint, which are user training (or lack thereof) and user-friendliness (or specifically lack thereof).

Certainly it should be more intuitive.

I find it a good tool overall, though the check in/out is too time consuming. …and when things take too long, we (users) go back to what works (email it to me). …defeating the point.

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Bill Brantley

Wow! An entire discussion about alternatives to SharePoint and not one mention of Alfresco.

Just download Alfresco Community Edition 4 and use Share. You will never miss SharePoint again.

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Stephen Christiansen

Interesting post, with common complaints I hear frequently. Personally, I blame Microsoft marketing for not adequately describing SharePoint as a platform rather than a tool. It is a development platform, a collaboration platform, a business intelligence/dashboarding platform, a workflow/business processing platform, a social networking platform, a document management platform, an enterprise search platform… and wholly integrated with Office, Exchange, Lync, System Center, SQL Server… it’s a beast. Obviously it’s not going to be something you can unwrap, click “setup”, and 10 minutes later be raring to go.

And because of that it may not be the best choice for small IT shops (I say tongue-in-cheek)… unless you’re looking at SharePoint within Office365, which assumes much of the infrastructure/operations headaches.

BUT…

If you are a “Microsoft shop”… if you have the skilled resources in the technologies… if you can provide training to end users… if you want the biggest bang for the buck with an full-fledged enterprise toolset… nothing comes close to a well implemented and well managed SharePoint environment. Speaking from the experience of having worked on some of the largest SharePoint implementations in the world.

Most important in my mind… a thoughtful design, well managed implementation, and adequate training for both administrators and end users.

And a love of challenges that occasionally borders on lunacy… :)

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Alex Glaros

What’s missing here, and where I think this is going, is a methodical analysis of open source alternatives to each of SharePoint’s capabilities, and a way of integrating them.

It’s true that WordPress replaces only one of SharePoint’s functions even though there are a lot of plug-ins for it.

It seems that Django or Alfresco would be candidate components. Alfresco is on a tear lately, integrating tons of functionality. The best Alfresco vs. SharePoint analysis I could find: http://www.alfresco.com/media/coverage/2011/11/an-open-source-ecm-alternative-for-sharepoint/

My guess is that Django would also be a part of a solution. It’s not a CMS but a framework that can build anything including a CMS. A great site that specs out the architectures of start-ups is http://highscalability.com/. I noticed that a lot of them use Django. For example, Instagram which sold to FaceBook for $1 billion was started only 18 months ago, using only 3 developers whose app had 30 million users processing 150 million photos.

There are tons of open source efforts going on in all directions, e.g., http://ofbiz.apache.org/. I would be surprised if there is not an integrated open source alternative now or in the near future. It’s my understanding that because of this, Microsoft is working hard to improve SharePoint and make it cheaper, which will work for a while until open source eclipses it.

Alex Glaros
Center for Government Interoperability
http://www.gov-ideas.com

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Stephen Christiansen

SharePoint Foundation is free (with a Windows Server license) and SharePoint thru Office365 is “free” (bundled with the monthly subscription cost) and gives it a very simple set of capabilities. The problem I’ve always had with open source is the support model. The true TCO on any software product lies in management and support. The Microsoft ecosystem of vendor support and partner support is unparelled.

Aside from support in the case of each and every component of SharePoint functionality I can find a better niche product, either open source or enterprise. So if you only need one or two capabilities… go with a WordPress or Yammer and you’ll be world’s happier. But as soon as you start needing more… and they try to start integrating… then managing… the value proposition starts swinging back to a single, packaged product like SharePoint. Or the offerings from IBM or Oracle. Or, *shudder*, Salesforce.com.

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Dannielle Blumenthal

What is interesting to me is that we can’t easily admit when a popular program is not useful. I used to defend Android till got an iPhone. Also took hits over Google+ which is completely useless and annoying.

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Savannah Brehmer

So I am in the process of moving all our content to a new SharePoint site, and I’m ready to pull my hair out. I teeter between trying to tell people it’s a good thing, and fully understanding why, when we started using it years ago (when most of the files we have on there are from), no one is using it now.

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Chuck Georgo

Ok folks, here is the secret to a successful MS SharePoint implementation…and you r-e-a-l-l-y have to take this to heart, don’t just give it lip service….

MS SharePoint is to an agency, what MS Windows is to a computer.”

SharePoint is/can be the “operating system” or operating environment in which an agency conducts its business. To do this though, an agency has to have a pretty clear idea of:

  1. What it’s business processes are, and document them;
  2. The input info it needs to conduct its business, to support the business processes;
  3. Who needs to share the output info that they produce, it is knowledgework; and
  4. The IT capabilities it needs to execute the business processes – NOT products, but capabilities.

If an agency is serious about implementing SharePoint, they must go through the process of documenting all of this…if they don’t, they’re proabbaly wasting their time, will get very frustrated, and should probably give up.

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Stephen Christiansen

Great advice, Chuck. I’d also add, if you’re a small team trying to manage this, take baby steps. Implement only a few features and disable the others. Train yourself and your users on how to best use those few features (say, document libraries), and once you’ve got the hang of it, look at what other features might make sense (like form automation). There’s a lot of low hanging fruit… but too much of anything can be overwhelming for anyone.

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Profile Photo Jay Collier

What matters is defining your organization’s true needs and evaluating each platform against them. For example, here is the 9-sheet list of evaluation criteria we created last year:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0AnN5FWMlt7YEdFRXaHBaUTY5M01VMktYZFVyTUlUNUE#gid=8

Even without BuddyPress and WP-Document-Revisions, WordPress was a contender, especially since user experience and 508 accessibility were top criteria.

Unless you conduct an evaluation against prioritized criteria, you’ll be in the middle of a religious debate with no winner.

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