COLLABORATION | As the technology partner (head of IT) at global law firm Bryan Cave, John Alber saw increasing resources being devoted to keeping multiple information systems integrated and the data flowing among them. Over time, the law firm brought in what it considered the best tools to handle tasks such as document repositories, e-mail management, conflict-of-interest databases and calendar management, to help attorneys and support staff research, collaborate and stay abreast of case developments. And keeping those tools working together was a necessary price to be paid. But now, Alber is implementing a different approach: He's using the new Microsoft SharePoint 2007 platform as the common system for many of these tasks.
Until the new version's October 2007 release, Alber wouldn't have considered SharePoint, since its previous incarnation didn't have the management chops he needed. Windows SharePoint Services and SharePoint Portal Server 2003 was widely considered a departmental tool good just for non-critical intranet sites and project-based file sharing, says Rob Koplowitz, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. But the new version brings in much of what an enterprise needs to manage documents, create project workspaces, manage information repositories and tie into content management, analytics and search tools - all with IT-based control over security, access management and data structures.
"We're all used to Microsoft getting it wrong, wrong, wrong and then getting it right," notes Alber, "but SharePoint 2007 is a much better advance than you would expect even in that usual Microsoft pattern." Bryan Cave is not a Microsoft shop, so Alber was open to options from a variety of providers. But he found that SharePoint 2007 was much less expensive - and often more capable - than legal-information management offerings from SAP and Oracle, and he judged it much more capable and user-friendly than IBM's Lotus Notes-based collaborative tools such as Domino and Quickr (a Notes wiki tool).
But there's also a lot of confusion about SharePoint 2007, notes Karen Hobert, an analyst at Burton Group. Part of that is confusion over the SharePoint name, which used to refer to the Windows SharePoint Services that come with Windows Server 2003 and let people set up intranet sites, document-sharing workspaces and project schedules for individual projects.
These services remain part of SharePoint, but new under the SharePoint umbrella is Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS), which handles the central management of sites, data repositories, access and security policies, workflows, search and other functions. MOSS is what shifts SharePoint 2007 into the enterprise class, Hobert says. "Together, these provide an information-management middleware for enterprises to use across departments, not just within them," she says.
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