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Mission Critical Collaboration – SharePoint or GoogleSites?

Some of the most prominent players in the CMS market (OpenText, EMC/Documentum, seem to have all but surrendered collaboration to SharePoint. Microsoft’s market position with collaboration content creation tools (Office) gives them a natural advantage which they have capitalized on in every way. Even extending their message well beyond “free range” collaboration.Now entering the fray is GoogleSites, arguably the best positioned player to take on Microsoft’s recently acquired high ground. This excellent examination of the two by Sarah Perez covers many of the core issues. When I saw the announcement, the first place I went was the terms of use from Google. I won’t recap them here as they are covered in the Perez post but suffice it to say you assume enormous risk using this as a solution for anything remotely important to operations. Is that really a concern? You bet it is.

Just because you think your collaboration site isn’t mission critical, don’t be so sure your users haven’t started to see it that way. Collaboration systems tend to give extraordinary power to the end users as compared to other models. This is why productivity and adoption are so strong and incidentally why I am big fan of their proper use. Unfortunately, the ability to stand up sites and automate processes with little or no oversight can lead to businesses depending on it for functions beyond its capability.

It does not take long for important processes to drift from custom, hard to change internal systems to flexible collaboration without the knowledge of IT. This drift is neither the fault of IT or the business as both are well intentioned. It is typically the result of a break down of communications between the two. Nevertheless, dozens of underfunded needs would benefit greatly from a collaboration system and the business will make use of it if they can. Problems occur however when collaboration infrastructures established for business productivity are not designed with sufficient redundancy, uptime or even stability for these types of conditions.

If managing your own collaboration infrastructure (especially on SharePoint) seems daunting, an approach like GoogleSites seems ideal. The low (or non-existent) cost of entry into GoogleSites make it appear to be a no-brainer financially speaking. Unfortunately, your corporate IT guy has no control (or even influence) over the application’s stability, backup, file recovery from accidental deletion, performance, security, etc.

Do you really want to run a business on something over which you have so little control AND so little recourse in the event of a system failure? For small businesses without IT support, it may seem more attractive but bear in mind that in a shared infrastructure, bad behavior of one tenant can and often does have an impact on the rest. Evaluate the risk before committing to this kind of solution. GoogleSites may be a lower cost path of least resistance but you owe it to your shareholders (and yourself) to put your content somewhere that is appropriately secure and under your control.

Collaboration (perhaps under the guise of Social Networking) will continue to gain importance in the enterprise. SharePoint has architectural limitations that will likely be addressed eventually but if your organization is embarking on collaboration content initiatives, be forewarned that you must look past the front end and design for a level of operational support beyond simple productivity.

So for mission critical collaboration what’s the answer? SharePoint or GoogleSites – Despite the marketing hype and positioning, the answer simply may be to ignore the hype and keep shopping.

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