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7 SharePoint problems that spur customers to leave the platform

SharePoint is a well-known content management and collaboration platform. Despite its popularity, it can introduce many challenges to businesses, like permissions and governance.

Over the years, Microsoft SharePoint has gained a large following. From its FrontPage origins through Windows SharePoint Service, SharePoint Foundation and SharePoint Online, it has accumulated more than 200 million users, including many in Fortune 500 companies.

However, despite the platform's popularity and maturity, SharePoint problems persist. Each of its incarnations has been convenient and easy to use out of the box, but expensive to manage and customize. The latest versions, SharePoint 2019 and SharePoint Online, are not exceptions. The online version includes templates that let admins without coding knowledge adjust the look and feel of their sites, but customization of SharePoint on premises requires skilled developers, which can be costly.

Modern organizations have more alternatives to SharePoint than ever before. Therefore, some content managers might want to rethink the platform.

SharePoint's place in the modern era

In its heyday, SharePoint was an all-in-one system of unprecedented convenience: a content management system, collaboration suite and business intelligence hub, bundled with point-and-click website generation. All that functionality in a single platform was irresistible. Additionally, as organizations increasingly adopted Microsoft Teams during the COVID-19 pandemic, SharePoint became harder for organizations to ignore because it serves as Teams' back end.

Despite SharePoint's integration with Teams, organizations can more easily facilitate collaboration, and granular apps make more sense than monolithic collections of them. The once-indispensable platform that could do it all might now cause more trouble than it's worth.

7 SharePoint problems

SharePoint offers a comprehensive set of tools, but this broad functionality leads to the following problems with permissions, governance and customization:

1. Security and permissions

SharePoint admins who oversee many sites often struggle with permissions because the tool offers highly complex access controls. For lists, the platform offers 12 permission types, including manage lists, override list behaviors and delete items, whereas its site permissions include 18 separate types. This complexity can make admins lose track of users' permissions settings over time, leading to security risks.

In addition to SharePoint, Microsoft lets admins manage SharePoint permissions from the Microsoft 365 Groups admin portal and from within Teams. All these points of access add room for errors, such as accidental inclusions and exclusions.

2. Governance and management

SharePoint users -- no matter their technical skill levels -- can create sites, libraries and lists. This makes the platform attractive, but it can also lead to an out-of-control expansion of sites, popularly known as SharePoint sprawl. As the platform ages and the number of sites grows, admins might struggle to effectively govern SharePoint due to its vastness.

An all-in-one platform, especially one all departments of an organization use, requires a tremendous governance effort.

An all-in-one platform, especially one all departments of an organization use, requires a tremendous governance effort. To manage content sprawl, content managers must create standards around site creation and usage, generating and using content, interfaces with other systems and collaboration practices. Typically, admins can more easily manage smaller, dedicated platforms.

3. Customization complexity

If organizations only need out-of-the-box functionality, SharePoint works well. But if site features and workflows require significant customization, the platform might demand custom code. While Microsoft has improved the platform's out-of-the-box configuration tools, it still offers a limited range of customization options.

Serious additions to site or workflow functionality often require the effort and expense of developers because that level of customization requires coding within the .NET framework. In SharePoint Online, organizations usually don't have this option, as in-house developers can't access Azure servers directly. They need third-party tools and even those often can't deliver all the desired customizations.

4. Enterprise search

SharePoint's enterprise search capabilities lack depth and effectiveness. At first, the search feature wasn't enterprise-wide, meaning users couldn't extend search functionality to all in-house data sources servicing SharePoint. When Microsoft finally made the search function enterprise-wide, it required complex customizations that overwhelmed users. Elasticsearch, Coveo or Attivio might work better in this regard, because developers designed them with enterprise-wide and source-agnostic capabilities.

5. Cost

Even though SharePoint often has a strong ROI, license and maintenance costs have always been high. For example, an on-premises server is more than $5,000 and running it can be more costly, depending on the number of users. SharePoint Online starts at $5 per user monthly, but the cost across a large organization rapidly becomes exorbitant.

6. Redundant features

Since Microsoft integrated SharePoint features -- like cloud-based file storage, document collaboration and Viva Engage -- into Teams, people find SharePoint less relevant. Instead, many organizations use Teams for use cases that were once exclusive to SharePoint.

Standalone tools like Microsoft Lists for lists, Forms for data collection, Power Automate for workflows and Power Apps for custom intake forms all offer functionality that overlaps with native SharePoint capabilities. Many people find these standalone tools more user-friendly than SharePoint's native versions, diverting attention from the platform.

7. Performance and thresholds

Organizations with large-scale deployments and heavily customized sites often struggle with page performance, which refers to the speed and responsiveness of a webpage. For instance, complex customizations often cause high loading times. Additionally, some organizations experience errors or warnings if users make too many requests to certain SharePoint pages.

Weighing the pros and cons of SharePoint

Many alternatives to SharePoint -- such as Wix, Stack Overflow, Box, Nuxeo, Jostle, Confluence and Liferay -- offer free or less expensive subscriptions and require less effort to manage and maintain.

Content managers who love the all-in-one platform or don't want to keep track of several enterprise apps have options, including Glasscubes, Samepage and Huddle, depending on their requirements. These platforms don't offer the same breadth of tools as SharePoint, but each offers a bundle of applications and features.

SharePoint's recent introduction of Copilot, Microsoft's generative AI (GenAI) assistant, might incentivize some content managers to stick with the platform. Users who want GenAI automation might find SharePoint still outweighs alternative platforms that don't yet offer this technology.

Editor's note: This article was written by Scott Robinson and expanded by Reda Chouffani.

Scott Robinson is an enterprise data architect at New Era Technology, a global digital transformation firm. He is a 25-year IT veteran, a social scientist and the author of Modern Data-Centric Architecture.

Reda Chouffani runs the consulting practice he co-founded, Biz Technology Solutions Inc. He is a healthcare informatics consultant, cloud expert and a business intelligence architect who helps enterprise clients make the best use of technology to streamline operations and improve productivity.

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