Vancouver firm tackles SharePoint pain points

A Vancouver firm is offering a code library and development framework to help companies trying to use Microsoft Corp.’s SharePoint product as a portal, records management and collaboration system.

Habanero Consulting Group, which has been working with SharePoint since Microsoft unveiled the product back in 2000, is using its expertise to solve some of the common pain points that come up in business deployments. In standard deployments, for instance, Sharepoint will copy a document into a records repository.

Habanero, however, can ensure that documents are simply moved, reducing the number of duplicate copies. It may sound like a simple difference, but according to Habanero collaboration practice leader Brian Edwards, some firms find such changes daunting.

“We’re consistently finding customers who are disheartened by (what they see as) weaknesses in the platform. There really is a way to get past that,” he said. “We’ve become the fit-it guys to help manage something that went a little bit awry.”

SharePoint, which now includes a server, a Designer to create applications and an integrated services suite, has quietly become one of Microsoft’s more successful products within its Office 2007 suite. A recent user survey by London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, for example, cited 92 per cent satisfaction ratings around things like user experience and functionality.

Industry group AIIM, meanwhile, released a survey of its members on Tuesday which said 33 per cent of firms have already implemented SharePoint in some part of their organization but only 15 per cent have a formal plan in place of how they will make use of their SharePoint investments.

Edwards said that while Microsoft offers its own best practice guidelines for using SharePoint, they can cause problems in certain environments.

“It’s a lot harder to sustain a solution using SharePoint Designer,” he said. “A lot of the solutions that we have in the framework are around making it easy for a large development group to share code and to build on a single SharePoint instance.” This is often an issue when companies struggle to coordinate development, staging and production teams, he added.

Tom Rizzo, director of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, recently told ComputerWorld Canada the company poured considerable effect in the first service pack for Office 2007.

“We fixed a lot of top customer demands,” he said. “We prioritized like a triage nurse based on the severity of issues.”

Among those issues, Rizzo said, are the hidden SharePoint projects that occur at the line-of-business level without the IT department knowing about it until something goes wrong.

“There are a lot of pockets of decentralized deployment,” he said. “We’ve released some tools to go and find SharePoint sites even if it’s not IT-owned. We’ll crawl the network for you.”

Edwards said Habanero is trying to build on those features and add some of its own. Doing a search on SharePoint sites, for example, can offer a relatively flat list of results. Its technology can create more multi-faceted searches based on metadata within records. Habanero isn’t offering its code library or framework as a product, he added, but more of a custom service.

“Even if they have their own IT groups, we would play a certain role in working with the code,” he said.

SharePoint has attracted a number of add-ons and complementary products from vendors such as Captaris, which recently launched a SharePoint scanning tool.

Others, such as Open Text, are creating their own products for collaboration and records management, but Edwards noted Open Text also offers technology bridges whereby SharePoint becomes a gateway to its LiveLink product.

“I’ve got to say I’m doubtful (Open Text) will be able to catch up to offer that rich platform of collaboration, business intelligence and records management all in one,” he said. “It would be a good idea for them to focus on SharePoint.”

Microsoft this week announced it has doubled the number of staff working on SharePoint customer support and plans to double it again in the next six months, along with a support Web site

and a Silverlight Blueprint for SharePoint that includes sample code and other support for customers who want to wrap a Silverlight component into their SharePoint pages. Enterprises that use SharePoint will also be able to employ a free enterprise search product from Microsoft starting this week. Search Server Express 2008 was announced late last year and is now available.



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