What is SharePoint ?

November 5, 2009

Having been priviledged enough to attend the second SharePoint conference this year and given the opportunity to see both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer deliver the keynotes at these two events, one point became very clear. What is SharePoint? I have known the answer to this for some time and pleasantly surprised when Steve Ballmer did not have an answer to this that impressed me. It took to long for him to get the point across and by the time he did I had lost my will to live.

The point being that the CEO of Microsoft did not have the words to properly define his best selling product, where do we as mere mortals and sales people even start with this concept that at every release seem to consume more and more functionality and products under the banner of SharePoint.

Well I’m pleased to say that Steve’s lieutenants did not have difficulty in bringing the point across. The answer is pretty simple really. It is an Information Operating System. This might make it easier to help identify the types of problems customers currently have and can be suitably resolved on the SharePoint Platform

SharePoint can be viewed in two primary dimensions:

SharePoint as a Product

One as a product where the opportunities are broadly speaking directly related product core features. An example of this might be Document Management, Records Management, Search etc. These types of solutions often find themselves competing with best of breed products, and when compared on this basis more often than not it seems to be a relatively costly competitor. Depending on your licensing arrangements in place.

The following often misleading concept is that of using SharePoint product features and finding that they have shortcomings. Primarily this could be attributed to the design principles of the product not to be a best of breed but to provide a stable platform for building these types of solutions on top of.

These gaps are filled by ISVs focusing on a variety of areas including disaster recovery, migration and functional enhancements such as CRM and Project Management to name but a few. Considering al of these elements when evaluating the suitability of SharePoint for your needs will help inform your decision.

When extending the scope of the implementation you may indeed find that better ROI can be achieved, the following section considers this viewpoint.

SharePoint as a Platform

When we see SharePoint as the Information Operating System the opportunities are endless. Consider the Windows Platform, can we truly begin to name the number of solutions built on it each with a specific need and each with a set of requirements defined by a segment of the market that created the demand. These applications all have one thing in common, without the capabilities of the Operating System it would be impossible to build these in a cost effective fashion as each product would have to build their own mechanism of instructing the hardware on the appropriate instructions.

When taking into account the common elements that the applications in your organisation currently have and how many those are duplicated. Not only on the same platform but also across other platforms. Now consider the time and effort it took to construct these application features and add to that the overhead of managing them on a daily basis. Considering these elements to inform the design of single platform for implementation of enterprise wide applications might yield more returns than can be imagined. Simple and easy, however we should not under estimate the time and effort to get to this “nirvana”.

It does help to take step back and define clearly the objectives , formulate a strategy and subsequently a migration plan. Keeping all implementations aligned with benefits realisation against a Clearly Defined Business Case.

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Free Microsoft Open Source Content Management

November 5, 2009

Microsoft is working on a set of free open-source content-management application and set of reusable components for it that is codenamed “Orchard.”

The company is slated to share details about its plans for Orchard at TechEd Europe next week.

I asked Microsoft officials for more information on Orchard and got back a no comment.

But here’s what is known so far about the project, courtesy of the session write-up from the TechEd site: [From Free Microsoft open-source content management app to get its debut next week | All about Microsoft | ZDNet.com]

SOA and Why it Matters

November 4, 2009

Services, clouds, and mashups: Why buy enterprise software?

In previous ZapFlashes, we talked about how the emergence of services at a range of disparate levels combined with evolutions in location- and platform-independent, on-demand, and variable provisioning enabled by clouds, and rich technologies to facilitate simple and rapid service composition will change the way companies conceive of, build, and manage applications.

Instead of an application as something that’s bought, customized, and integrated, the application itself is the instantaneous snapshot of how the various services are composed together to meet user needs. From this perspective, enterprise software is not what you buy, but what you do with what you have.

One outcome of this perspective on enterprise software is that companies can shift their spending from enterprise software licenses and maintenance (which eats up a significant chunk of IT budgets) to service development, consumption, and composition.

This is not just a philosophical difference. This is a real difference. While it is certainly true that services expose existing capabilities, and therefore you still need those existing capabilities when you build services, moving to SOA means that you are rewarded for exposing functionality you already have.

Whereas traditional enterprise software applications penalize legacy because of the inherent cost of integrating with it, moving to SOA inherently rewards legacy because you don’t need to build twice what you already have. In this vein, if you already have what you need because you bought it from a vendor, keep it – but don’t spend more money on that same functionality. Rather, spend money exposing and consuming it to meet new needs. This is the purview of good enterprise architecture, not good enterprise software.

When you ask these people to show you their enterprise software, they’ll simply point at their collection of Services, Cloud-based applications, and composition infrastructure.
The resultant combination of legacy service exposure, third-party service consumption, and the cloud (x-as-a-service) has motivated the thinking that if you don’t already have a single-vendor enterprise software suite, you probably don’t need one.

We’ve had first-hand experience with new companies that have started and grown operations to multiple millions of dollars without buying a penny of enterprise software. Likewise, we’ve seen billion-dollar companies dump existing enterprise software investments or start divisions and operations in new countries without extending their existing enterprise software licenses. When you ask these people to show you their enterprise software, they’ll simply point at their collection of services, cloud-based applications, and composition infrastructure.

Some might insist that cloud-based applications and so-called software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications are simply monolithic enterprise software applications deployed using someone else’s infrastructure. While that might have been the case for the application service provider (ASP) and SaaS applications of the past, that is not the case anymore. Whole ecosystems of loosely-coupled service offerings have evolved in the past decade to value-add these environments, which look more like catalogs of service capabilities and less like monolithic applications.

Want to build a website and capture lead data? No problem — just get the right service from Salesforce.com or your provider of choice and compose it using web services or REST or your standards-based approach of choice. And you didn’t incur thousands or millions of dollars to do that. [From You'll be far better off in a future without enterprise software | Dana Gardner’s BriefingsDirect | ZDNet.com]

SharePoint Online Price Drop

November 4, 2009

Microsoft is cutting its Exchange Online pricing from $10 per user per month to $5 per user per month. It also is cutting the price of the BPOS bundle — which includes SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, Communications Online and Live Meeting — from $15 per user per month, to $10 per user per month. [From Microsoft chops prices of its hosted enterprise cloud offerings | All about Microsoft | ZDNet.com]

Product Driven Development – Reduce the Cost of Implementation

October 21, 2009

So we now have a strategy, or have a strategy for defining one, and we have a project, all things being equal we are good to go. Maybe not. Before you go down the road of no return it might be worth evaluating how consultancy can be used to add value up front rather than at the tail end of delivery when things have gone, well lets just say not so well.

Through my various engagements at Microsoft and various other client projects have implemented a delivery framework targeted at product development paradigms. The Framework in concept is addresses the need for a structured approach to solution delivery harnessing the platform (product) features.

The framework enables teams to collaboratively develop application on the platform and through the application of process and technology I was able to create an environment that support the following aspects of delivery that is not natively supported by products that allows for runtime configuration aimed at power users:

·      Configuration Management

·    Automated Infrastructure Deployments

·    Continuous Integration

·    Integrated Unit Testing

·    Automated User Interface Testing framework.

The Framework delivers the following benefits:

·       Provides the opportunity for deployment artefacts to be created, maintained and continuously regression tested throughout the development lifecycle de-risking final deployments.

·       Enables the use of a modular approach to delivery and facilitates the reuse of artefacts between projects and deployments, enabling the organisation to create IPR.

·       Efficiency of resource through the capability of rapid team mobilisation using a standard framework ultimately reducing cost.

·       Time to Market (TTM) is reduced through the application of well established processes and practices.·       Collectively the Framework aim to maximise profits through reuse and productivity.

Below is the Project Delivery Outline and it identifies Composition and elements that requires focussed effort in terms of delivery.

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When we look at how the functional components are developed and the quality controls are put in place the following diagram depicts the process that forms the foundation for the framework.

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In broad terms the framework has proved its worth in terms of simply reducing the Cost of Implementation whilst promoting quality controls. Please feel free to contact me should any of the objectives in the article align with what you may want to achieve in your Project, Programme or more importantly Organisation.

Product Driven Development – Realising the Value

October 21, 2009

How often have you encountered a person saying “we need to use SharePoint for this Application”. That in most cases is a valid response however when it comes to doing the math and begging the CFO to release some of his well guarded cash, the story changes.

Why is this the case ? Well in simple terms buying a whole lot of infrastructure and investing the time and money to get up to speed with the new technology costs money, and when that gets allocated to a project to do Application X, the numbers simply does not add up and will sees you retiring back to your desk in the dark room with no windows.

How do successful organisations then make the most of these products ? Simple really, they have a strategy that is collectively defined by the business and IT allowing for innovation in technology to influence the strategic direction. As opposed to “here is your budget, see you next year”. In most cases organisations that differentiate themselves from the competition are proactive about what they do and see technology as enabler to be responsive. As this is a technology blog I’ll not say Agile in case we start sprinting and scrumming.

So back to the value argument, how does this work then? When we strategise IT has on its radar things that will move and change the landscape in terms of trends and technologies. If they don’t, well that is another problem that broadly involves HR and is not suitable for this audience ;-)

We take these trends and more importantly technologies and define a strategy for implementation. This includes a portfolio of projects that most likely will enable the organisation to take another step towards nirvana in terms of their strategy. Now we can do the numbers, inline with what we are trying to achieve.

Having identified the technologies and projects we can now assign the base cost proportional to a number of projects (Economies of Scale), and the implementation cost to each individual project (Realise the Value of each project)

Does this make sense? Well in most cases it does, the challenge is being brave enough to make these changes and planning for a portfolio rather than individual projects.

Ultimately SharePoint is one of those products that can be used as a product for say a Corporate CMS or as an Applications platform on which all the noise (other apps) can be aggregated into a stable provision that standardises implementations and makes life easier for operational support to name but a few long term benefits.

Making a decision on which one it is and then formulating an argument in terms of Return on Investment(ROI) and Total Cost of Ownership(TCO) will not only make the CFO love you(as he now understands what you are saying) but also make the CEO realise that you might be on to a winner. Good luck.