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SharePoint is bursting local boundaries, study says

Once thought of only as a means of group collaboration, an IDC study shows that IT managers now use Microsoft SharePoint to collect and organize data throughout the enterprise.

Microsoft's SharePoint technology usage is exploding -- not just as a tool for collaboration within a department but also as a means of organizing content across the enterprise.

This was the summation of the findings of a study that will be released this month by IDC, a Framingham, Mass.-based market research firm. IDC surveyed 300 customers who were using versions of SharePoint released in 2001 and 2003 to learn how they were using the technology and what their plans were for the future. The study, "Microsoft SharePoint Server Ecosystem and Customer Usage Trends," identified two key findings.

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The first finding is that SharePoint Server itself has expanded from being a portal server or departmental tool for team use and is now in wider use across the enterprise, said Kathy Quirk, an IDC analyst. With the latest release, more content management features were added to SharePoint. There are more plans for IT shops to integrate different applications, such as CRM or content management storage systems, into SharePoint.

Quirk said that 61% of the users surveyed said they were deploying SharePoint enterprise-wide, and 28% of those that are using SharePoint in departments today are expected to expand usage to the enterprise within the next 12 months.

"People are seeing the value of extending it to a wider audience," she said. "Part of it is that people have become accustomed to [SharePoint] and like it."

The second finding is around the phenomenal growth of Windows SharePoint Services, which is free with Windows Server 2003 licenses. End users have been launching shared workspaces for years, often in huge numbers, Quirk said. "Many of these were going on without IT knowing about it and that is an uncomfortable feeling," she said.

SharePoint can set up compliance

This phenomenon is creating an opportunity, not just for Microsoft, but also for companies that make tools to help discover just how many sites are out there and what is on the sites. New compliance regulations demand that IT account for all sorts of information throughout a corporation.

"Legal is having fits about SharePoint," Quirk said. "Given the current needs for regulatory compliance, IT shops have got to know what data is out there. People need to find ways to extract and organize their data."

The large- and small-size shops are the most aggressive about upgrading to Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS) within a year. Mid-sized customers seem to be waiting longer. IDC suspects that those organizations are waiting for their Office 2007 upgrades to get underway. Of that particular group, integration with Microsoft applications is important and to get the most of MOSS you need Office 2007, Quirk said.

One IT manager in a Windows shop sees SharePoint as playing a larger role in his enterprise – moving from being a collaborative and document management platform to a more sophisticated tool to add business processes.

"The 2007 version has workflow built into applications so it does not require managed code," said Robbie Roberts, an IT manager at Windrush Frozen Foods Ltd., which is based in Oxfordshire, U.K. "Lots of businesses want to tie business processes around SharePoint but don't have the developers to do so, but now it's easier."

When Windrush completes its migration, one of the first applications it wants to add to the workflow system is the purchase orders. The company has partners around the world. Today orders are placed into the system from an order made on an answering machine.

With the direct workflow [in SharePoint 2003] it was a pain because it cost a lot of money for us to get developers to do it, Roberts said. "Now [2007] has workflow and email built in and the fact that they have done that is a huge win for us," he said.

"I hope they keep making the business processes more available in SharePoint," Roberts said. "You can do it with the APIs but that's no good for me."

The growth of SharePoint is causing a flurry of partner activity, too. The software has a lot of components – a portal, document management, content management, etc., and there are a number of competitors in each group.

In October, EMC Corp. and Microsoft cut a deal to ensure that EMC's Documentum ECM document management software would work with SharePoint, for example. On the portal side, SharePoint competes with IBM's WebSphere and software from BEA Systems Inc. and Vignette Corp. All have some basic capabilities to integrate with Office applications.

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