Mission Critical Collaboration – SharePoint or GoogleSites?

Some of the most prominent players in the CMS market (OpenText, EMC/Documentum,et.al.) 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.

3 thoughts on “Mission Critical Collaboration – SharePoint or GoogleSites?

  1. First, let’s get the “terms of use” straight. Today many companies install Google Desktop Search on their machines, but have they read the term of use? It says the EXACT SAME THING. That’s right, if you use Google Desktop Search you have agreed that everything you search can be reused by Google any way they want. Talk about big brother. Actually I think it Bob in legal that has never really tried to understand what Google is doing. Terms of use didn’t stop people from using Desktop Search and it won’t stop them now.

    Second, IT can’t stop this one any more than it could do so before. Let’s look back in history. eRoom started employee drive collaboration by offering hosted access to their product with a seat price cheap enough for a manager. Managers got tiered of hearing how it was going to take weeks of analysis to set up a collaboration site and found that they could use eRoom themselves. No IT needed. Of course when eRoom’s corporate strategy changed, they found it difficult to sell to the enterprise as they had made an enemy out of IT. So they quickly changed their tune with IT. Inevitably IT was back to locking down project creations and requiring weeks of analysis. What did the techno-savvy employee do? They used Groove. Groove of course was bought by Microsoft, but I’m sure you know the story.

    Finally, to be counting Google out is incredibly premature. SharePoint has been in use for years, ever since Microsoft announced Digital Dashboards in June of 2000 (their first iteration of SharePoint). Back then Microsoft stated that they would take over the ECM market in a matter of months. Yet here we are almost eight years later and we finally see a product that people think is worthy of being called version 1.0 document management. The first things I looked for in Google Sites was version control. While there is no file locking the site does track version, and lets you edit earlier ones. Microsoft ignored the need for versions in early releases instead opting for version control inside the Office document. Google shows it has an understanding of the basics and collaboration with Google Docs shows they understand where things are going.

    As the last quarter of this year’s Super Bowl showed, you put the right competitor on the field anything can happen.

  2. Spoken like a true vendor.

    First, if you don’t think IT can’t stop it – you don’t understand how corporate LAN’s work. It’s also really easy to say IT isn’t needed in this process when you’re not wearing a pager that goes off in the middle of the night because a technically challenged executive (your boss) changed his screen resolution and lost all the icons on his desktop.

    No one is counting Google out. Far from it. I think they will be wildly successful getting people to adopt a fundamentally risk laden model. It is about treating collaborative content as a corporate asset. Many IT departments have VERY well deserved reputations for being obstructionists but sometime the guy in the orange vest holding up the “Stop” sign at a construction site knows about dangers ahead you can’t see.

    I am increasingly concerned as well about site and content abandonment and our instinctive resistance to delete content. Every unmanaged site (read that one no IT involvement) runs the risk of at best eating up disk forever or at worse creating an eDiscovery nightmare.

    In the end, just because its easy to set up doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay manage it.

  3. As nerd’s we’ve all “carried a pager.”

    The biggest problem with IT is that instead of explaining things mystery out of things most of us want to make it look like magic. We remember being the ones that no one talked to in high school. Now it’s, “Mr. CEO, bow to my great and powerful knowledge.” In my first IT job, I used to put one hand on top of the monitor and shout out “healed” as the other hand plugged the cable back in or turned on the power. Not so surprising that the same monitor would be disconnected several times a week as the cleaning crew would bump it with the vacuum. But I would take 30 minutes out of my day to resolve it instead of showing someone once how to fix it.

    Look at who’s making SharePoint decisions. It’s not coming down from the top like other $100k ECM systems. Instead it is bubbling up. Managers are making the decision to go SharePoint. Why? It can take months to come up with a plan to get to a $100k answer, but it’s within the manager’s budget to put a temporary solution to the problem today. And being that budgets are tight, if they can get the same thing for nothing, then they will.

    The eDiscovery nightmare exists in large enterprise repositories as much as it exists in disparate systems. Of course the problems are compounding as repositories spread like weeds. IT needs to be there to help. Managers are recognizing the need to bring content together into collections for people to use. IT should be there to explain to them what this ultimately means to them. But we blame the easy access to technology not the lack of education.

    More and more we here about water restrictions across the country, yet we never hear about xeriscaping. 30% on the east coast and 60% of the west coast water goes to watering lawns. Xeriscaping looks at using regional plants as ornamentation as they don’t expend more than the region can give. But it’s just so easy to turn the faucet on. Think of how much that little bit of knowledge spread across the drought ridden south could do.

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