SharePoint Starter No 1 – What is SharePoint?

A question I often get asked is “What is SharePoint?”, it’s a question that is hard to answer in a sentence, even Steve Ballmer found difficulty doing it during the keynote at the latest SharePoint Conference.
My best answer? It’s a Platform for building Enterprise Applications.  A number of you who know SharePoint may snigger a bit at that in the context of SharePoint 2003, I probably would too, fewer would snigger at it in the context of 2007, but when it comes to SharePoint 2010, I’d say it’s a dead cert that you’re probably not sniggering.  So why do I say it’s a platform for building Enterprise Applications and not a Document Management System, a Workflow Engine, an Application Delivery System or a Web Portal?  Well I never said it wasn’t did I? It is all of those things and more but ultimately it’s a Platform for building Enterprise Applications.
I was reminded of this even more yesterday at work during an internal Project Initiation meeting.  I was invited to the meeting as the guy who should be keeping a ‘sanity check’ on the progress of the project and on the technologies being used.  The requirements of the project were amongst others:
  • Provide an Authentication System against users which may or may not be in Active Directory
  • Provide different views of data based on Role
  • Provide input screens to input custom Tasks and store them in a Custom SQL Database
  • Provide Reporting Integrated into the Application
  • Make Reports available based on Role
  • Provide Workflow against certain input Tasks
  • Provide a consistent Branding Experience
Now it had already been decided because of the customer IT policies and controls that the technologies to be used were standard ASP.NET 2.0 with SQL Server 2005.  Perfectly adequate for the job, but I was somewhat frustrated as SharePoint either offers those requirements out of the box or, a framework for developing the custom aspects all within a single environment.
It could be argued that with SharePoint 2007 in some cases it’s easier to write a Custom Web Application from scratch.  I’m not entirely convinced that that is the case except in exceptional circumstances.  I’d say from my experience that in 80% of business cases SharePoint offers either an OOTB solution or with additional customisation a solution which is less effort than writing everything from scratch.  Yes there is the licensing overhead in certain cases, but that to my mind is often offset by the need for additional work to provide the functionality SharePoint offers OOTB. 
Furthermore and far more importantly it provides an extensible platform on which further development can be carried out and which can integrate with other business systems.  This is very much the case with SharePoint 2010 through its extended Application Services architecture, Business Connectivity Services and through its REST API.
So now, my first question on any project is “Why shouldn’t we use SharePoint?” and often the only reason is simply because corporate policy won’t allow it or if corporate policy can be changed it will take too long.
So if you get asked “What is SharePoint?”, repeat after me …. “It’s a Platform for building Enterprise Applications
So now you know.
Dave Mc
This article also appears on the NxtGenUG website.

About davemcmahon81
Software Developer & Architect, User Group Leader, Speaker, Writer, Blogger, Occasional Guitarist, Man-made Global Warming Sceptic, Climate Change Believer, General Optimist but most of all proud Husband and Dad ...

One Response to SharePoint Starter No 1 – What is SharePoint?

  1. Michael says:

    Excellent article Dave – many thanks. Looking forward to more articles in the Starter series!

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