Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Third Party SharePoint Tools

The recent increase in adoption of SharePoint 2010 in a wide variety of environments has led to the development of a number of third party tools, said to enhance or accelerate the abilities that exist natively within SharePoint.

How much value can these third party tools provide?

The first thing to understand is that, in most cases, third party tools are built on top of the SharePoint platform, they used code based and configuration based changes to perform tasks that SharePoint then completes itself. So the value the third party tool usually adds is not ADDITIONAL abilities to the platform itself, but instead:

1. It may have an interface or way of presenting data, such as workflow planning, that is more intuitive than that that comes with SharePoint. SharePoint designer is the primary development tool for SharePoint, but you do have to be a technical user to leverage its ability. One advantage may be a simplification of tasks within SharePoint through a more user friendly interface.
2. It may ACCELERATE the process of setting up specific areas of functionality. So, if you are planning an enterprise content management system through SharePoint, without third party tools, you have to create every repository, set up all content types, determine classifications, customize searches, as well as many other tasks needed for ECM. With third party tools, you can enter in taxonimical and classification information, and have the third party tool generate all of the necessary supporting structures, including content types and repositories, automatically.

The important point here is to see where the value of most third party tools lie. It does NOT typically increase the actual abilities of SharePoint, as the tools are themselves are actually built upon the SharePoint platform. The advantage lies in the way they present information and the acceleration of specific tasks within SharePoint.

If the barrier to using a new technology or setting up an environment in SharePoint is both bandwidth(available time) and ability to use the tools that come with SharePoint, then a third party tool, properly investigated, may be a good solution.

However, the abilities of SharePoint and SharePoint designer "out of the box" are extensive and deep. It is important to understand what those abilites are and how they function before making a third party tool decision, to ensure you are getting good value for the purchase and not simply replicating functionality that already exists and is readily available in SharePoint.

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