Smacking SharePoint into shape

Shops often need to add functionality to the core software.

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A study of 153 enterprise SharePoint users by Forrester Research in August 2012 found that 65% augmented their original deployments using third-party add-ons, according to analyst Rob Koplowitz. Of the 100 who were using third-party extensions, 43% said they had expected to bring in such help all along, while 40% said they brought them in because SharePoint didn't meet their initial expectations. Another 13% said expanding SharePoint wasn't part of the original plan, but they did it as their SharePoint strategies changed.

In the survey, workflow and administration were the most popular third-party add-ons.

"Microsoft invests in the areas in SharePoint that are used by the highest number of users," Koplowitz explains. "They've always left a lot of white space for third-party companies to fill a niche. It's very much a part of their strategy."

And that's where third-party add-ons or extensions come in. "This product is not just an application or a platform -- it's both," Koplowitz says.

That flexibility is what makes SharePoint a good platform on which to build, he says. "If you want a specific document management process for specialized employee evaluations, SharePoint isn't going to do that niche thing on its own," says Koplowitz. "On the other hand, it might be the perfect place to build it on -- and you already have SharePoint deployed."

Bring on the extensions

At Eastman Chemical Co., a Kingsport, Tenn.-based specialty chemical firm, SharePoint has been a key application since the company first implemented it in 2005, says Jim McGuire, supervisor of the global collaboration and portal architecture team.

   Jim McGuire,
At Eastman Chemical Co., "most of our extensions are in-house and come in as advanced development requests," says Jim McGuire, supervisor of the global collaboration and portal architecture team.

Eastman uses SharePoint for asset management, workflow management, application development and other tasks for its approximately 13,500 global employees.

Since that first deployment, Eastman moved from SharePoint 2003 to SharePoint 2007, then to the 2010 version, each time adding new capabilities but still looking for other key features that weren't available right out of the box.

"Most of our extensions are in-house and come in as advanced development requests," McGuire explains. "As more people are being introduced to the framework we have, more people are understanding that it's not just a place to place documents but that it's also a place where they can get more work done."

Rebecca Dietrich, an Eastman senior systems analyst and SharePoint developer, says the company's users can often extend the application on their own by using extensions created by Eastman developers that are made available to employees, usually without the need for outside help.

   Rebecca Dietrich
Rebecca Dietrich, an Eastman Chemical senior systems analyst and SharePoint developer, says the company's end-users can often enhance the application via extensions created by Eastman developers that are made available to employees.

Much of the customization is done with the SharePoint Designer tool, which comes as part of the basic SharePoint package and is used to write code for many workflow and other processes that aren't included in the basic SharePoint application, she explains. "The ability to create small applications using lists and workflows has been huge for us," said Dietrich. "Our users are able to create applications without the need for IT intervention."

One area where Eastman did bring in a third-party product to extend SharePoint 2010 was in workflow management, where K2's Black Pearl helps with advanced projects that can't be added via SharePoint Designer, says McGuire.

"Anytime you make a change in a workflow there are many approvals that need to take place," she explains. "We use some of these extensions to enable us to do that."

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