How Companies are Overcoming SharePoint Limitations

While SharePoint is well-entrenched in most enterprises, usability issues, speed to deployment and adoption, lack of workflow flexibility and project and process management capabilities are raising questions from IT organizations on the future of their on-premise installations. Decisions are being made whether to move to SharePoint cloud or investing in new lightweight third-party tools to increase time to market.

It is well known that SharePoint is not the best of Microsoft’s business productivity products, but the product has been able to skate by riding on Office’s coattails. In her recent article on the TechTarget Search Content Management website, Lauren Horwitz notes that the majority of enterprises still rely on SharePoint as their primary Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system.

But is SharePoint always the best option when it comes to empowering business users or non-engineering project or program managers who haven’t written code for a living? Here are just a few ways SharePoint is still a bit too clumsy to meet the needs of today’s agile businesses.

Process Management

Many workers need a better way to manage and track their work through improved workflows, not to mention easier and automated ways to report out on goals and status. According to a research survey of SharePoint users by AIIM International, nearly 30% of users have no processes or workflows in SharePoint. SharePoint’s lack of flexibility, time and expertise required to customize, and lack of skilled SharePoint developers within many organizations makes it increasingly hard to use for important value-drivers of the business. Providing end users with rapid prototypes of business applications and quickly iterating on them to solve users’ unique and changing business needs is an effort most are unwilling to tackle using SharePoint.

© AIIM 2015,

Administrative babysitting

SharePoint requires A LOT of care and feeding. As Lauren suggests, it’s not a set-and-forget it type of application. Users have to manually organize everything, spending endless inefficient hours categorizing, uploading, and retrieving files, and building a sensible structure so that others can find and view them. As the amount of content increases exponentially, so does what Lauren calls SharePoint sprawl – and the tendency for project administration to spiral out of control.  “Sprawl is often rife among companies using SharePoint, in which documents reside in far-flung, hard-to-identify locations, with little governance or ownership of those files,” she says.

Complex search and non-intuitive site building functionality

If you don’t tag your metadata correctly in SharePoint, the search functionality won’t deliver the files you need. And correct tagging is no small feat. You must have intimate knowledge of your business and industry in order to map SharePoint architecture without mistakes, so it’s impossible to outsource and users must be trained in-depth. Also, people who design websites for a living understand basic usability principals, but what about everyone else? SharePoint expects that all users will have this knowledge, but much of the time, they don’t.

Inconsistent navigation

According to Wendy Neal in her article for CMS Wire, one of the first rules of website usability is that primary navigation should be consistent no matter where you are on a site. As long as the site owner configures the global navigation this way, the site will adhere to this rule. But when you create a sub site in SharePoint 2013, by default the navigation inheritance section defaults to “No.” If you don’t change this setting when you create your sub site, you’ll be left with a site that appears to be orphaned because it doesn’t contain any global navigation links and there is no easy way to get back to other areas of the site.

A second usability problem related to navigation, Wendy points out, involves the site logo.

A common web practice is to have the site logo act as a unified link that always takes users back to the home page. In SharePoint, the site logo links back to the sub site’s home page and not the top level root site home page.

Hidden breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs, reminds Wendy, help users see where they’ve come from and provide a trail back to the pages they have recently visited. In SharePoint 2013, the breadcrumbs have been disabled by default. Although you can make them visible by modifying the master page, they may not have the exact look and feel you want for your SharePoint site.

Are you experiencing SharePoint limitations around business process and workflow or project management?  Join AIIM International Research Director, Bob Larrivee, as he moderates an expert online panel with EMC and FedEx on Thursday, March 26 at 1:00 PM EDT, “How EMC and FedEx Overcame SharePoint Limitations – Improving the Speed of Today’s Business and shares highlights of the most recent AIIM SharePoint survey.

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  • Chris Meggs

    SharePoint is a tool. The tail should not wag the dog. I suspect that the introduction of a fool like SharePoint is a tacit management admission that there needs to be an amount of collaboration and discipline in the development/support organization, but they can’t be bothered to enumerate it as such. The quick path is to adopt what thought has been provided by the solution designers behind SharePoint’s introduction.
    What to use in its place? Well, nothing! Not until the organization has spelled out and approved its requirements. You, dear Reader, will be heartily fed up by know of me banging on about requirements. Well, shade your eyes and ears, here comes another bout/rant:
    How can something as fundamental to an organization as it’s management and development practice by allowed to be given to a third party who, while possessing a strong knowledge of management styles in general, may have absolutely no idea of what you as an enterprise need? Who carries the can if the oversight goes wrong? Who administers compliance with and justifies use of this generic set of requirements from outside your organization? Are you then prepared to be hoisted on another’s petard?
    There a numerous alternatives to SharePoint – Same Time, SamePlace and meny,many others; each will carry with it a generic (read industry-approved) set of principles, but will add on a bunch of features largely inspired by the products capabilities rather than the users needs.
    Get the requirements spelled out and do a quick 80/20 gap analysis against the available tools that fit into your technical platform. Job done.

  • Peter Barron

    We have been using IntranetConnections for over 15 years…never even considered SharePoint because of the above issues. IC tackles all the issues you mention beautifully! We have been able to use their tools to create process-tracking and routing tools, and more. I am not paid by them…just a long-time, really happy customer!

    P. Barron, PMP

  • Eric Skaggs

    The title of this article does not accurately represent the content.

    That aside, many of the points here are valid, but it would be helpful to actually discuss how companies overcome these limitations. I’ve worked with several content management systems and each has its own initial time investment for planning and ongoing investment for effective management and maintenance.

    SharePoint is typically frustrating because users are told “it just works” and the implementation is rushed. By the time it gets to users, it’s not ready to “just work.” SharePoint can be extremely useful when implemented correctly (based on the specific customer). You can’t just install it (or any other such software product) and say “ok…now go collaborate” and expect everything to work out.

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