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5 SharePoint problems that spur customers to leave the platform

SharePoint is a popular content management and collaboration platform across businesses; however, there are drawbacks that leave some companies looking for a new system.

Over the years, Microsoft SharePoint has gained quite a following. From its FrontPage origins through Windows SharePoint Service, SharePoint Foundation and now SharePoint Online, it has accumulated more than 200 million users and is deployed in more than 400 of the Fortune 500 companies.

However, despite both the popularity and maturity of the platform, SharePoint problems persist. In each of its 10 incarnations, it has been a mixed bag -- convenient and easy to use out of the box, but expensive to manage and customize. And the latest -- SharePoint Enterprise 2019 and SharePoint Online -- are not exceptions. Despite improvements in the point-and-click page-building and site configuration functionality, true customization requires .NET surgery under the hood -- an expensive developer resource.

In the era of clouds and mobile devices, organizations have more alternatives to SharePoint than ever before. And for some, it may be time to rethink the platform.

In its heyday, SharePoint was an all-in-one system of unprecedented convenience: a content management system, collaboration suite and business intelligence hub, all bundled together with point-and-click website generation. All of that functionality in a single platform was irresistible.

Today, that all-in-one thinking is passé; collaboration is more easily facilitated in a world full of cloud technology with many digital channels. The contemporary mobile universe is a place where granular apps make more sense than monolithic collections of them. The once-indispensable platform that could do it all may now be more trouble than it's worth.

Here are five more SharePoint problems that may prompt businesses to leave the platform:

1. Isolated social networking

There are several that offer SharePoint functionality with less headache, including GlassCubes, Samepage, Huddle and HyperOffice, depending on priorities.

The SharePoint Community Site feature started off with a bang, as the idea of an easy-to-generate social network was a huge attraction. Yammer integration quickly overtook it, but there are some governance issues when it lives in SharePoint. Its ease of use works against it, permitting discussion thread segmentation and loose tagging that require active -- and persistent -- moderation for any real business utility.

The user experience is less than ideal, because sharing or reading feeds through SharePoint social requires navigating off the main intranet. For some organizations, it might be easier to go with a stand-alone Yammer program, Chatter or Facebook Workplace. Social interaction between team members then becomes as uncomplicated and passive as conventional social media.

2. Governance and management

The bottom-up, user-empowering nature of SharePoint makes it very attractive in the adoption phase, but that same end-user orientation often leads to an out-of-control, standards-free deployment -- popularly known as "SharePoint sprawl" -- as the platform ages and becomes increasingly ungovernable.

An all-in-one platform, especially one used in all departments of an organization, requires a tremendous governance effort. There must be standards around site creation and usage, generating and using content, interfaces with other systems, and collaboration practices. Smaller, more granular platforms are easier to moderate.

3. Customization complexity

If out-of-the-box works just fine, SharePoint is often the best alternative. But if site features and workflows require significant customization, the platform rapidly falls from grace. Though customization has grown somewhat easier over time through improvement of out-of-the-box configuration tools, the range of customization is still limited.

Serious additions to site or workflow functionality often require the effort and expense of developers, because that level of customization requires .NET coding. In the SharePoint Online version, this is often off the table, as in-house developers can't access Azure servers directly. Third-party tools are then required, and even they often cannot deliver all the desired customization.

4. Enterprise search

The most disappointing of SharePoint's unfulfilled promises might be Microsoft's failure to create a configurable, user-friendly enterprise search feature. At first, the disappointment was that SharePoint search wasn't enterprise-wide. Search functionality could not be extended to all in-house data sources servicing SharePoint.

When it finally became enterprise-wide, the customization required to make it practical was overwhelming. Elasticsearch, Coveo or Attivio might be less stressful and better-performing, as they are designed to be enterprise-wide and source-agnostic.

5. Cost

Though the ROI argument in SharePoint's favor is often strong, it has always been expensive to license and even more expensive to maintain. An on-premises server costs more than $2,500, and running it can be more than twice as costly, depending on the number of users. This has become more painless with the introduction of SharePoint Online -- $5 per user, per month -- but the cost across a large organization rapidly becomes exorbitant.

Many of the granular alternatives -- such as Wix, Stack, Box, Nuxeo, Jostle.me, Confluence and Liferay -- are free or less expensive and not as labor-intensive to manage and maintain.

And for those who love the all-in-one platform or don't want to keep track of several different enterprise apps, there are several that offer SharePoint functionality with less headache, including GlassCubes, Samepage, Huddle and HyperOffice, depending on priorities. These platforms aren't as all-encompassing in functionality as SharePoint, but each offers an impressive bundle of applications and features.

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What SharePoint problems has your organization encountered?
Typically, the cost of SharePoint Client Access Licenses is about 10x the cost of the servers, although this cost is usually buried in a suite that includes other CALs, such those for Exchange, and Skype. While subscriptions per user are "simpler" they are also much more expensive than CALs in the long run. And if you do move to the cloud version--after ditching a lot of your customizations--it may be difficult to move that content back. Your on-premises SharePoint expertise is retired/gone/decayed, so you're stuck with the cloud version and with whatever MS decides to charge for it. Your main point, that SP is a "Swiss Army Knife" of functionality, cobbled together from numerous acquisitions, is an important one. If all you need to do is put together an intranet and a doc-sharing point, there are far simpler, more available, and cheaper solutions.

Problems 1 thru 3 have occured and the most cumbersome was problem 3 as you have to pay for every customization once again with the next version change. Sharepoint always tempted people to do customizations that its application model did never really support. Sharepoint Online does limit this more or less to use the apps from the market place, but limited customization simply is the price you have to pay for abandoning migration costs. But I couldn't disagree more on Problem 2: Going from all-in-one SharePoint to more versatile and granular tools will most certainly turn the "swamp" into an unimaginable nightmare. Keeping things in a lot of places instead of one has never helped keeping things tidy though it might look so as you might never again even just see all the mess you created.
And license and hosting cost is nothing to be considered if you pay for Office 365 anyway then Sharepoint Online comes for free. And if you decide to go to M365 you can even keep your on-premise servers running without need to pay for them.

How is paying for Sharepoint in M365 "not paying for" SharePoint servers?
By far the most common way to overspend on 365 is to maintain on-premises staff to run servers that you are also paying Microsoft to run. Salaries are IT's biggest cost in many ways, and the smaller you are, the more of the IT budget they consume. That's why I often support cloud migrations for my smaller customers, while opposing them for larger customers, where economies of scale kick in. There are few end-customer economies of scale in cloud services. Only the supplier benefits from them.