CMSWire: SharePoint Is Already Legacy

A version of this post originally appeared on the CMSWire blog.

SharePoint is already legacy. It was built in a world that needed a better enterprise solution for basic document management capabilities than the big enterprise content management (ECM) vendors were offering. And it spread like wildfire because it was easier to deploy and was more end user-focused than the large ECM tools.

It was laughed off by the providers of the big ECM tools because of all of the functionality it lacked. But the lack of functionality was exactly what made SharePoint so dangerous. It provided document management functionality that was good enough for end users and IT with a much lower cost of deployment.

Enter EFSS

But today the enterprise needs to access what it wants, when it wants it, from any device available. Now the enterprise file sync and share (EFSS) market is more radically focused on user experience than SharePoint has been – at least to date.

EFSS takes document management into the cloud and delivers a simple, multi-device experience for a world where knowledge workers work on laptops in meetings, smart phones while traveling, and tablets while watching TV at night.

And despite the strides made by Office 365, SharePoint Online is still only a shadow of the on-premises version. (Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard, Part Deux, anyone?)

Do You Hear a Whimper?
The EFSS marketplace seems poised to unseat SharePoint as the end-user content management system du jour. Microsoft has lumbered into this market slowly and has seemingly brought a knife to the full-on arms race now raging between Box, Syncplicity, Dropbox, and others.

This is analogous to when Microsoft offered SharePoint 2010's MySites as a competitor in the E2.0 marketing place against the likes of Jive, Cisco Quad, and Lotus. MySites was a step forward for the SharePoint community. But it was hardly the revolutionary enterprise social platform of the hour.

And yet, here we are 4 years later. Cisco has discontinued the Quad product, there has been no renaissance of Lotus, and even Jive has had a less than revolutionary impact on the enterprise. As many IT organizations evaluated the needs of their users, they found SharePoint could get them to "good enough" document management.

To paraphrase poet T.S. Elliot, this is how Microsoft wins: not with a bang, but a whimper.

Just Good Enough
Microsoft will win the battle as the de facto content management interface because SharePoint is sufficient, not because it has the most capabilities, or the most revolutionary vision, or even the best user interface (UI) or any other measure you can grade it on.

It is the “C” student. The middle child. No one is excited about using SharePoint. But it gets the job done. And at the end of the day, that's what matters.

You might disagree with my assessment of SharePoint. But Office 365 is a portent of things to come. We are facing a future that will have at least three layers of content management capabilities:

  • Sync and share
  • SharePoint
  • Legacy ECM

And within each of these categories you will likely face fragmentation. Some parts of your organization will go out on their own and subscribe to Box, SpringCM, Dropbox, or some other sync-and-share solution. IT might declare Office 365 the standard. SharePoint will continue to live on in multiple instances: 2007, 2010, 2013 and so on, ad nauseum. And, last but not least, in many organizations, legacy “big ECM” deployments will likely survive in some form, possibly as the heavy-duty repository for longer-term information lifecycle management.

Easier to Maintain Status Quo
Smart firms are recognizing that the way they manage content will continue to be diverse and redundant for the near term. It won’t serve anyone to try to do a full replacement of SharePoint with an EFSS provider.

For better or worse, SharePoint will continue to provide a service that is good enough for many use cases. But the content management landscape does require that we provide the flexibility of a true sync and share system.

This means that it is more important than ever that organizations seeking to take a strategic approach to content management build or empower governance committees to provide guidance on what kinds of content should be stored and managed in sync and share, in SharePoint, or in legacy ECM repositories. They should establish policies for rolling out new applications that can support the value chain, while at the same time working with records and compliance to reduce the risk exposure of the organization.

SharePoint might be legacy and lack many of the capabilities touted by the vendors of the cloud solutions. But for IT organizations, this is a disruption that is cumulative, not a disruption of consolidation.

Eventually we can hope that the application portfolio will consolidate. But in the meantime, the fragmentation needs to be managed through solid governance programs.​

Rich Medina
Lane Severson
I’m a Practice Leader, managing relationships with Doculabs’ West Coast clients to improve information management and security.