Think fast: As you begin reading this article, turn to a colleague or a trusted pet and define an “enterprise application.” As you articulate the definition and your position on what an enterprise application is all about, you will likely realize something: SharePoint is not an enterprise application out of the box, or perhaps even when customized to the hilt.
Of course, this classification depends on how you constructed your definition, which is the combination of a) your exposure to enterprise applications, and b) your understanding and knowledge of SharePoint. It is not a simple 1+1 equation, unfortunately. Like me, you probably struggled as you worked through the answer to the question. The exact same thing happened here at Concatenate when we mulled this topic over; it is not a simple answer.
The question itself is a two-parter: What is an enterprise, and what is an application? When answered individually (and within the appropriate context), an enterprise is the organization as a whole, and an application is a piece of software.
To me, an enterprise application is a system of combined applications and tools that solves an existing enterprise-wide problem. If the application only solves a departmental problem, it is not deemed to be an enterprise solution, and herein lies the problem.
When SharePoint was unveiled to the world back in the early days of 2001, it was deployed to solve simple, departmental problems, those of search and document management, wrapped in an appealing portal. As a departmental solution, it wasn’t enterprise, but it was a different way of seeing corporate data, and therefore it was deployed with excitement. Today, the same classification exists; however, more organizations are falling into the trap of deploying a point solution for the enterprise, and this is the cause of much of the SharePoint stress today.
All too often, clients ask me about what it will take to “fix” SharePoint in their organizations. Once some analysis is done, it doesn’t take long to realize that the solution has been deployed based on the needs of one group, yet rolled out to many different departments. This breaks many of the cardinal rules of not only design, but also requirements, document management, governance, adoption and security. Don’t even get me started on how this ignores the decision-making and data needs of the organization; line-of-business connectivity and workflows that enable business have long been ignored.
In my definition of an application, I talked about a system of combined applications. Combined applications are a grouping of programs that, together, make one usable product. It is clear to me that this concept is not entirely understood. For example, when I polled a recent audience about the number of applications that make up SharePoint, I got responses that range from one to 25. The range itself is concerning!
I asked the same question about the number of applications in the Office Suite (Outlook, Word, etc.), and got a similar response. By my count, there are more than 18 applications that make up SharePoint, and 11 for Office.
The best advice I can give you when planning your deployment is to focus on as many of these applications as possible. Interviewing your stakeholders and end users at a departmental level is a critical step in getting these first requirements together. Do not focus your entire project on just one; you will limit not only the capabilities of the organization, but also of SharePoint. The comparison to be drawn here is buying a fancy sports car only to drive it back and forth on your driveway—hardly a good use of its capabilities.
The purpose of this article was to get you thinking outside the proverbial box as far what a true enterprise application looks like (or can look like) in your organization. The answer to my initial question is yes, SharePoint is an enterprise application, but it must be deployed as such in order to be appropriately utilized. As you begin to socialize this concept internally, remember to tie enterprise business needs to the entire SharePoint suite. Do not just hang your hat on a single capability, or you will sell yourself and the organization short.
Eric Riz is the Executive Vice President of Concatenate, creator of the RealTime suite of products. You can reach Eric by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @rizinsights. Read his other SharePoint thoughts on his blog at www.ericriz.com.