SharePoint a golden app?

A shiny, Web-based front end to just about any Microsoft server app, as well as whatever third-party applications your Business Connectors can grab onto

Far more flexible and powerful than the our test centre anticipated when we first took it into the lab, MOSS (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server) 2007 oozes customization. With that name, you may be thinking basic Office extensions -- some networked content, update control, and more advanced file sharing. Not so.

Based on SharePoint Services Version 3, Office SharePoint is largely a development platform -- a shiny, Web-based front end to just about any Microsoft server app, as well as whatever third-party applications your Business Connectors can grab onto. The Business Connector is the only SharePoint feature that requires dedicated programmer-level intervention -- a Visual Studio job, no doubt.

But building a front-end look, hooking to apps that support SharePoint, deciding which feeds talk to the front end, determining which data points they're sending, building a workflow around those data points, and assigning alerts and permissions within users' Office 2007 clients -- that can all be done by power users. That much muscle in the hands of anyone willing to wade through MOSS for Dummies gives most IT managers pause.

"It's shades of Lotus Notes," says Larry LeSueur, vice president of infrastructure and security at Avanade, a Microsoft IT consultancy operating beneath Accenture. And the similarities are obvious. Notes may have suffered from a more complex, dedicated programming language, but it still had the nasty habit of spawning unsanctioned mini-apps across large enterprises. IT and help desk personnel often found themselves supporting problems in customized apps they had no part in building.

"In a way, it's more dangerous than Notes was because it's easier to use," LeSueur continues. "But at the same time, it's a manageable risk as long as customers devise a strategy before deployment."

Managing an unsanctioned proliferation of code across the network means devising new ways to keep users in check. Some of this can be handled via permissions and access controls. But much of it can also be done via better communication with users.

"We're going to lock down MOSS a little," says Mike Connelly, vice president of IT at FranklinCovey. "But the real need is to have the IT people dedicated to specific business units talking more closely to those departments -- finding out what they need and handling those needs for them. That way, these apps get built through us, and we don't have the problem."

LeSueur agrees. "It's not going to hold Office SharePoint back," he says. "That's going to be the golden application for Microsoft for the next 18 months, and the early deployments we've done with customers bear this out. They've been huge successes."

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