A SharePoint Custom-Development Strategy Is More Crucial Now Than Ever

John Rymer
Vice President, Principal Analyst
October 3, 2011

I prepared this research with Rob Koplowitz.

The stage is set for a big upswing in custom application development on Microsoft SharePoint. First, SharePoint Server 2010 adoption is very strong, and this version of the product has the strongest features yet for custom development. Second, with application backlogs growing, many organizations will find themselves taking on SharePoint "customization" projects to meet business demands. Custom application development is the riskiest of the six SharePoint "workloads." For organizations adopting SharePoint, this situation demands a careful strategy now to avoid problems later. This post delivers our latest assessment of SharePoint adoption and discusses its implications for app delivery professionals.

Our latest survey on customer experiences with Microsoft SharePoint shows a successful product moving crisply through a major upgrade, from Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) to SharePoint Server 2010. SharePoint usage is strong in organizations of all sizes and in most industry sectors. The product's continued success has two conflicting facets for application development and delivery pros:

  • SharePoint can be a productive platform for business applications. SharePoint can help your teams deliver applications fast in three ways. First, with a little customization of the human interface, SharePoint's out-of-the-box applications can work for many situations. Second, SharePoint's basket of developer services for applications involving collaboration, social media, website creation, workflows, document management, information distribution, search, and reporting dashboards can speed completion of projects. Third, you can delegate simple sites and workflows, as well as content updating, to businesspeople.
  • Customization challenges stability, performance, and upgrades of your shared service. The more custom code in your SharePoint farm, the greater the risks to the integrity of that farm. A SharePoint environment is a shared service, providing applications to many departments, teams, and groups. One group's decision to enhance its SharePoint site with custom code can compromise availability and performance of every other group's applications. Also, as customers using MOSS 2007 are discovering, some human-interface customizations are impossible to port to SharePoint 2010.

We find this tension between fast delivery of abundant applications and maintenance of a stable shared environment in conflicts between app delivery pros and the content and collaboration professionals who most often own the SharePoint strategy. The SharePoint "management police" patrolling the farm suddenly clamp down on customization projects that seem obviously useful to app delivery pros.

There's usually a productive middle ground between the application-delivery opportunities and risks of SharePoint. Finding this middle ground is the purpose of a sound enterprise SharePoint strategy. Given the spread of SharePoint through enterprises, the need to create a balanced strategy is now urgent.

We surveyed 511 professionals with responsibility for SharePoint installations. We found, in summary:

  • Customers are quickly adopting SharePoint 2010. Fifty-seven percent of respondents using SharePoint had already upgraded to SharePoint 2010, a fast pace for a platform product available for only 14 months. Adoption is strong across industries and sizes of enterprise.
  • Most of our survey respondents start with SharePoint’s most familiar “workloads” before proceeding to more comprehensive use of the platform. Customer-facing websites and custom applications were used the least widely. For about half the respondents, SharePoint took longer than expected to implement for a variety of reasons.
  • About three-quarters of respondents said that IT and business sponsors are satisfied with SharePoint. This indicates to us that most customers are willing to tolerate some issues for strategic initiatives like a SharePoint implementation. SharePoint’s business value for these respondents outweighs its hassles, and SharePoint’s future looks bright.

If your organization has adopted SharePoint or plans to do so, make the product an explicit part of your application development and delivery strategy. Many organizations still assign ownership of their SharePoint environments to content and collaboration managers, not their app delivery groups. Still, it is just a matter of time before these organizations begin using SharePoint's "customization" features to build and deliver custom applications. When it comes to application development, SharePoint is a slippery slope.

  • You must collaborate with your colleagues in content management. Content- and knowledge-management groups have a huge stake in SharePoint. Finding a middle ground between fast application delivery on SharePoint and integrity of the SharePoint farm will depend on you finding a productive partnership with these colleagues on strategy setting and execution. App delivery will be the junior partner if SharePoint's primary role in the organization is as a content and collaboration environment. The same is true of your relationship with interactive marketing pros who rely on SharePoint.
  • Design SharePoint technical and information architectures for the long haul. Much of the information and many of the applications you manage will have long lifetimes. The key to sustaining your sites and other applications in SharePoint over many years: database and services architectures that can grow gracefully and an information architecture that can grow to support both high volumes of sites and applications and the addition of new SharePoint workloads and features.
  • Define an application-development role for SharePoint, and get ahead of the game. Assuming SharePoint is strategic to your organization, define its role as a custom-development platform. Many organizations start with a modest role for SharePoint as a platform — and then watch the customizations grow. Get in front of this progression by defining a serious role for SharePoint in your organization's custom-applications strategy.
  • For custom development on SharePoint, choose your third-party partners. Assume SharePoint's out-of-the-box features will fall short of your needs when delivering substantial business applications. You'll need third-party products to avoid either writing a lot of custom code or your own management tools. This is especially true of mobile applications, an area of weakness for SharePoint.
  • If you employ lots of third-party code, test its integration into your platform and workloads. We learned in this research that the scores of SharePoint third-party products don't all play together well. The only way for you to avoid problems is to test proposed new products in your full environment with all of your other extensions and add-ons.
  • Get in front of Office 365. With Office 365 in the market, the time has come to create a serious cloud computing strategy for SharePoint and Office. Microsoft's direction is clear — cloud, cloud, and more cloud. It is time for you to plot your organization's path, starting with an understanding of the possibilities and the risks.

Forrester clients, follow this link to obtain the full report.


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