The SharePoint in the Cloud – SharePoint as a Service

The cloud debate continues to rage in the offices of many business and IT executives.  They look for it as a way to control or reduce costs and to better focus on their core business functions instead of managing complex IT systems.  As a technologist though I see the cost benefit not just in dollars but in opportunity and the potential for the system to enable the organization to innovate and collaborate in ways they were not able to in the past.

I see plenty of value in SaaS for commodity systems, with email being a great example of that.  Email systems both large and small can be expensive to run and there can be very little difference in the service if it is run in house or in the cloud.  Is SharePoint a commodity system though?  Certainly some organizations are doing their best to not customize it.  Last year’s AIIM survey results reported many organizations underestimating the cost and effort to customization and integration which I’m sure will scare executives of any new implementations.  As a developer and integrator I have seen tremendous valued gained from implementations that are extended to work with other enterprise tools whether it is an ERP, HRIS, CRM, ECM or 3rd party BPM/Workflow systems.  The level of effort to implement and maintain those environments does need to be included in the decision process.  The cost is significantly higher than a vanilla SharePoint implementation so the value derived should also be measurably higher. 

If it is a plain vanilla environment then it is a great candidate for SaaS including MS Online.  The new “Sandbox” feature of SharePoint 2010 may help to provide a mechanism for minor customizations and an “App Store” that could benefit users of a hosted SharePoint environment.  This should definitely simplify the process for making some customizations possible. 

It will be interesting to see how the SaaS and hosted solutions evolve over the next few years and how they are perceived by organizations.  It will also be interesting to see if the Sandbox feature is made available to those services and what kinds of solutions are made available through that interface.

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