Collaboration is really what everyone bills as the strong point of SharePoint. And it is true—of all the functions SharePoint collaboration purports to perform, sharing, and teamwork is what the product has done the longest. Collaboration was really the product’s raison d’être in its initial version.

The market, however, has changed, and SharePoint collaboration features out of the box do not support all of the different ways in which users today collaborate.

Support for editing in realtime, with other users

In the SharePoint collaboration model in versions 2007 and 2010, editing was done one user at a time. One user works on a document or file, most likely checking it out of a document library, performing his or her edits, saving the new version back to the library, checking in the new version, and then e-mailing or calling team mates to let them know that a new revision of the file was available (or by using the Alerts feature in the library so that SharePoint will do this for them). But what if your team wants to all be in the same document at the same time? What if you want to see changes as they are being made by your other colleagues, and be able to comment, reject, and add to edits as they are happening? That is a new level of full fidelity, high bandwidth productivity that is difficult to achieve in most SharePoint collaboration environments. It’s impossible with SharePoint 2007. It requires deployment with SharePoint 2010, as well as everyone using Office 2010 applications on the Windows platform, and only gets close to seamless once you are using the Office Web Apps in SharePoint 2013. The bottom line is that for concurrent editing support for SharePoint collaboration, you will most likely need to look elsewhere, unless you’re running the latest bits from Microsoft or subscribed to their cloud service, Office 365 or SharePoint Online.

Support for collaborating, sharing, and revising on the go with mobile applications

While SharePoint is great for so called “full fat” clients, meaning users who are using full versions of Office on their corporate desktops and laptops to collaborate on Word files, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint slide decks, and so on. But in this new world of travel and working from anywhere, and with the prevalence of reasonably full-featured smartphones and tablets, we often see users wanting to get work done while on the go and yet not wanting to break out a giant ThinkPad that connects to a wireless hotspot, dials into a virtual private network (VPN), sometimes uses a SecurID or other two factor authentication token, and so on. It would take ten minutes or more to set up and has a good chance of being an excruciatingly slow experience. It’s simply not possible in some instances—like riding on a subway or metro train, or even waiting for takeoff and landing—now that we can all use personal devices below 10,000 feet. In these cases, a way to edit files on the go in a lightweight, but still capable client, as well as a quick way to let your coworkers know when you have made edits or approvals, is highly desirable. The Office Web Apps product fills some of this void but also requires deployment and expensive volume license versions of Office in order to be legal. There are better solutions available if a large portion of your workforce finds themselves regularly away from their desk.

Collaboration with SharePoint tends to mean uncontrolled growth

Or at least uncontrolled growth without a good governance plan, and there are not many of those judging by the number of SharePoint governance consultants and experts out there offering to cure all of your woes for a few tens of thousands of dollars. How do you get uncontrolled growth? By creating document libraries and document and meeting workspaces for many discrete projects. Your users, if they are typical, will engage with SharePoint by creating new workspaces and new libraries for what seems like each and every thing that crosses their desk. This monumentally increases the number of places a particular document or file isn’t when users need to find it and creates a waste of resources that is also hard to manage and track from an administrative perspective. The usage model of SharePoint invites this type of wasteful, expansive toolset creation. Other solutions may very well work better in your environment.

The bottom line

For traditional collaboration, as it existed in the 1990s and 2000s, SharePoint certainly filled a role. But in today’s world, where everyone works from everywhere on smaller and smaller non-desktop devices, SharePoint collaboration may not be the best choice.

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