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Taking a fresh look at content and collaboration

Burton Group collaboration expert Peter O'Kelly tells IT managers why now is the time to develop a serious content and collaboration corporate strategy.

Collaboration technologies, such as Microsoft's SharePoint and IBM/Lotus Notes Domino, are hardly new. The latest version of these platforms – particularly in the case of SharePoint – has undergone dramatic change with new search features and a consistent API for client, server, intranet and the Internet to cite just a few.

SharePoint Server 2007, released last fall, arrives at a time when corporations are focused on regulatory compliance and a new generation of blog and wiki users is entering the workforce. To date, most corporations use SharePoint for workgroup collaboration. But Peter O'Kelly, a senior analyst at the Burton Group, a consulting firm in Midvale, Utah, told that IT managers working hard to get control of their content should take a fresh look at today's collaboration tools for enterprise content management. SharePoint has been around for a long time. Why should IT shops pay attention now?

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Peter O'Kelly: The most important change is the level of integration that has taken place. Proprietary tools today work in silos – records management, Web content management, file management. So, if you're already committed to Windows Server, SQL Server and maybe Exchange, [then adding SharePoint] will give you good synergy. Also, it's not just about IT managers working with familiar tools and services but also end users being able to use a browser and [Microsoft Office] instead of being trained on specialized tools.

But [SharePoint] is not for everybody. If you need to run Linux, if you are primarily a Java shop from an application development standpoint, then you can't play.

Has SharePoint caught up to Notes in terms of its corporate entrenchment?

O'Kelly: SharePoint may be 'stealthy,' but it is well used. There are two elements to SharePoint: One is Windows SharePoint Services, which is free, although you do need a SQL Server CAL [client-access license] to do anything meaningful. Then there is the product you pay for, which until 2007 was called SharePoint Portal Server 2003. Now it's called Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. Microsoft says it has sold more than 85 million CALs. Notes is the most broadly deployed incumbent today with about 130 million [CALs], but Notes has been out there since 1989.

There is a series of major advances with [SharePoint] 2007. With [SharePoint] 2003, most people thought of it as a department-level portal. They use it for basic workspaces, document libraries and team discussions. With 2007, the product is more credible for enterprise content management. SharePoint is really the server side component for Microsoft Office. Instead of using file servers, you will capture content [in SharePoint].

So you can replace a lot of individual tools by using these platforms?

O'Kelly: There are things you can do with SharePoint, such as records management and workflow. Organizations use file servers to share files among applications. But file servers are not good for people. With people, it's better to go with a Web-centric view where you don't have to copy files to a file server. It's not a replacement for a file system like SQL Server.

There is a stark reality for a lot of organizations and that is large, publicly traded companies are out of compliance. Like Y2K, you have to inventory and fix this stuff. But the reality is companies don't have control over their content -- and not just documents.

There are things in database management systems, but historically those are more transaction-oriented document management systems. The vast majority of content today is on file servers, or local hard disks or email and email with file attachments. All of that needs to get under control. [Regulatory] compliance is helping.

What about the corporate cultural barriers that might keep companies from adopting these tools?

O'Kelly: This has been the biggest challenge. If you don't work in an organization that fosters collaboration, then you are wasting your money. You see this sort of thing in sales where the person who sits next to you would just as soon kill you than give you information. It's easier for people who are new to the workforce who are already doing this stuff. Some of them will find their way to SharePoint.

SharePoint is the server side component for Microsoft Office. Instead of using file servers, you will capture content.
-- Peter O'Kelly,
They come to work and want to use blogs and wikis and would rather not have a rogue open source project under their desk.

Will IT shops have to invest a lot of time in training end users?

O'Kelly: What they need to do is get people to unlearn some things. In the past they've had to copy and paste, but people naturally default to email and file attachments. That's why blogs and wikis are so popular. They are consistent with the way people work. It's a breakthrough of simplicity.

Compare IBM and Microsoft collaboration strategies. How do you choose between them?

O'Kelly: Start at the top. How much do you care about things like Java and support for non-Microsoft platforms? Do you care about non-Microsoft server platforms and non-Microsoft developer tools? If you do, you need to look at more competitive alternatives.

So take that out of the equation. What I'm looking for is browser-oriented content and collaboration, and I have an email strategy so I'm not looking for an email strategy with content and collaboration. So then it's SharePoint versus [IBM] WebSphere Portal. WebSphere Portal will soon be extended with QuickR [file sharing software], which is an easy to work with browser-based experience. There is also Oracle WebCenter, though it has almost zero brand and market awareness.

[Now, take] it further. I need to support multiple rich client platforms. I have Windows, Mac and Linux and I need to take work offline. Then you have to go down a path where Notes looks unique. Notes and [Microsoft] Groove are the only products now that can take things offline for content management.

If I'm leaning toward IBM, do I go with a WebSphere core or a Notes/Domino core? IBM's biggest challenge is market perception of its products. Notes is not seen as obsolete but a late-in-life product. With the release of Notes 8, IBM needs to get people to take a look so they can see it's not a 1990s piece of software.

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