You have probably heard of SharePoint. It is one of Microsoft’s billion dollar businesses, and it is growing double digits per year.

It is a popular solution that you will hear about and probably be pitched on in your business. “Don’t you want to SharePoint?” you will hear. “Oh, Microsoft SharePoint could do that!” would be a common refrain.

But SharePoint 2013 as a product also has disadvantages. (What doesn’t?) In the marketing materials and consultant presentations you are not likely to come across much discussion of some of the obstacles around deploying SharePoint. What are some pitfalls surrounding investing in SharePoint that most people should know, but do not?

SharePoint is monstrously complex

I have often argued that SharePoint 2013 is more of a web development and programming platform these days, much like ASP.NET, rather than a pure collaboration environment like it was in versions 2003 and 2007. That is not to say that collaboration features have been removed—they have not—but more platform-esque features and capabilities have been added to the collaboration set that was already there. In SharePoint 2013, there is even a focus on including business intelligence functionality in the product and making SharePoint the preferred “point of contact” for hosting analytics of business data. In this case, this addition of all of these developmental capabilities has added a lot of the infrastructure requirements of the product.

To deploy an on-premises version of SharePoint 2013, you need web servers, database servers, perhaps a cluster for highly used environments, virtual machines to segregate all of this per best practice, and of course, you need the network bandwidth to support all of this too. For some shops that need to use SharePoint’s collaboration feature underneath a custom line of business application, this can make sense. For example, I work with a publishing company that uses the document sharing and management features of SharePoint, along with a custom application to manage information on all of the books the company releases that runs on top of SharePoint. The integration is valuable in that case. But for organizations that only use collaboration features, or use a line of business application that does not need to hook into all that SharePoint 2013 offers, it may pay to consider other options.

The SharePoint 2013 you get in Office 365 is not necessarily the SharePoint 2013 you expect

“Fine,” you may say, “it’s a complex product. So I will just buy a subscription to a hosted version of SharePoint for a low monthly fee per user and that will take care of business.” There are many features—some obscure, some mainstream—that are available to customers who deploy SharePoint 2013 on their own hardware in their own datacenters that are not present in the hosted subscription service, Office 365. Some of these features include advanced business intelligence features and other bits and bobs that typically integrate with other systems you run on premises, including Active Directory and other infrastructure applications.

You simply will not be able to use these features on the Office 365 version. (Other hosters may indeed support some of these features, but any capability that requires substantial communications with your existing on-premises applications is unlikely to work well, if at all, with any hosted version of SharePoint.) And while Microsoft is promising constant updates to the Office 365 and SharePoint Online services, you are then left with the ongoing task of deciphering which features will work and when, which becomes a moving target among the constantly shifting releases.

The proper use of SharePoint 2013 requires an abundance of training

If you walk into many offices that have chosen to deploy SharePoint in some form or another, you will find many sites that were initially created and used once the installation was complete, but have become stale and outdated from disuse. To use SharePoint effective, as a tool that augments information workers’ daily lives, you have to invest in training—training that is almost never included in the SharePoint license fee, training you have to secure from other sources, whether they are private technology schools or SharePoint consultants offering “train the trainer” programs. SharePoint 2013 is not like competency in the widely used Microsoft Office programs, where you can expect most employees to have prior experience using the software. Integrating SharePoint into your organizations requires a different working style, and that requires investment in retrenching and retooling skills to properly implement that new style, and that sort of education does not come cheap.

SharePoint 2013 is a product that may solve a number of business problems including document management, web content management, records management and so forth. But be fully aware of exactly what you are buying, the investment required, the training burden that will be required to fully use your new software, and more. Ask yourself: what exactly do I need SharePoint for, before making a rather costly decision.

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