Search, Social Networking Key in SharePoint

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Over the next few years, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) will continue to invest heavily in social computing and enterprise search on its Office SharePoint Server 2007 platform.

“We believe social computing is the next wave of collaboration,” Kirk Koenigsbauer, Microsoft’s general manager, Office Business Platform, said in a Webinar providing an update on SharePoint 2007.

“This is, and will continue to be, a big area we will innovate on,” Koenigsbauer said.

Enterprise search will also become very important to business and is “one of the key reasons we invested big in SharePoint 2007 and in the acquisition of Fast,” Koenigsbauer added.

Microsoft acquired enterprise search solutions provider Fast Search & Transfer in April, and Fast CEO John Markus Lervik will lead Microsoft’s enterprise search business.

People born after 1980, whom Koenigsbauer calls the “millennials,” are “familiar with blogs and wikis and the Internet, which really puts a lot of pressure on business,” Koenigsburg said.

Echoing statements by analysts and other vendors, he said the danger is that the millennials working in enterprises will “turn to outside services on the Internet,” which may breach compliance regulations and spur fears about information leaking outside the organization.

Corporate IT is “increasingly thinking about how to build an internal social networking platform,” Koenigsbauer said, adding that SharePoint Server 2007 provides native support for wikis and blogs, and lets users push content to mobile devices.

Customers are already using SharePoint’s social networking features.

Canadian bank Scotiabank has 60,000 user profiles using SharePoint Server’s MySites feature, which Koenigsbauer described as “Facebook for the enterprise, a rich way for folks to collaborate,” and 3,000 users leveraging its blog and wiki features.

Consulting firm Accenture has “about 70,000 users in their practice using MySites” to find experts within the corporation, and has more than 7 terabytes of data stored in SharePoint Server, according to Koenigsbauer.

In addition to social networking, enterprise search capabilities will change the way people interact with information, Koenigsbauer said.

“The same things that have happened on the Internet, where people have shifted from a browse-based to a search-based metaphor, are happening in business,” he explained. “It’s too clumsy to have portals today, and search will be everywhere — in portals , CRM systems, in the browser.”

It’s going to be very important that organizations have “a great search experience for users” because the average user spends nine to 10 hours a week searching for information, Koenigsbauer said.

Microsoft will “invest a bunch more” in search, he added.

There are three tiers to Microsoft’s enterprise search solution, Koenigsbauer said.

Search Server Express, released in March, is the entry-level product. Aimed at SMBs and departments of enterprises, it is free.

SharePoint 2007 is the mid-tier solution. It’s for companies that deploy broad-based collaboration or portal systems, which need tight integration between enterprise search and a business productivity infrastructure.

For the high end, there’s Fast ESP, the “best in class enterprise search.”

“Search is especially important given the content deluge everyone’s facing,” Illuminata principal IT analyst Jonathan Eunice told InternetNews.com.

“Finding what you’ve done before, what your organization knows, that’s a strong reason to put such systems in place,” Eunice added.

Koenigsbauer also predicted that navigation and content will be pulled and used to generate portals in SharePoint Server 2007.


Next page: Alternatives to SharePoint


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Alternatives to SharePoint

Alternatives to SharePoint Server 2007 are available.

One, HyperOffice, is offered in software as a service, or SaaS, mode. It lets users create intranets and extranets and allows document collaboration, which companies can manage with version control, commenting and access permissions.

HyperOffice also provides Microsoft Exchange features such as business e-mail and shared contacts, calendars and tasks.

Users can access them from any Apple Mac, PC, mobile device or Web browser, as well as multiple clients including Microsoft Outlook.

Another alternative, Central Desktop, offers Web-based wiki software that lets users connect to shared calendars, documents, spreadsheets, e-mail alerts, instant messaging and Web conferencing.

Founded in May 2005, Central Desktop gets about $2.5 million in sales annually, has about 2,000 customers and plans to grow sales to more than $100 million within five years.

Other vendors offer functionality that goes up against SharePoint.

“SharePoint is very popular because it’s tied in directly to Microsoft servers and Office applications, but yes there are things in both the EMC [Documentum] and IBM software portfolios that provide basically the same services,” Illuminata’s Eunice said.

“Alfresco, Zope and Plone are systems in the open source world that could be considered in the same ballpark,” he explained.

According to Eunice, open source options are key because SharePoint Server is not that open. “You can’t use Documentum or Alfresco’s content repositories with anything like the same tight integration,” he said. SharePoint is highly integrated only with Microsoft services, Eunice added.

The real drivers

Microsoft has to invest heavily in social networking capabilities or lose ground to archrival IBM (NYSE: IBM).

Already, IBM has beaten it to the punch with the integration of social networking and search capabilities into a product — it recently released a revamped version 2.0 of Lotus Connections, which has enhanced social networking capabilities.

“We’ve been watching what’s been happening on the consumer side of the world with Web 2.0 architecture and some of the things that have made social software easier for people to consume,” Program Director for Social Computing Heidi Votaw told InternetNews.com.

IBM “took those features and translated them into innovative capabilities for our Version 2.0,” adding a new home page that aggregates services, adding extensions within the product’s profiles services and providing a flexible architecture, Votaw said.

Version 2.0 also offers widgets on its home page, based on the iWidgets standard developed by the Lotus Mashups Team. The standard uses “a lot of the public REST APIs,” Votaw added.

Microsoft “has some social software characteristics buried in SharePoint — the concept of a social page, a blog service, but it doesn’t offer out-of-the-box social bookmarking, which we have, a home page model, which we’re introducing, or our activity service,” Votaw said.

The activity service is a space where business professionals can work on projects and have to-do items associated with those projects. A summary of these will appear on the user’s home page.

IBM has also introduced tag clouds, which allow users to search inside and outside the organization and tag information to use on the intranet, Votaw said.

For additional reference, users can also bookmark information outside the intranet, he added.

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