You Can Collaborate Too – SharePoint Alternatives for Small Businesses

The Need for a SharePoint Alternative

According to Gartner Group, Forrester, companies will spend $ 200 billion a year by the end of the decade on intranet and collaboration hardware, software.

MS SharePoint – A Big "No No" for Growing Businesses?

In the hyper-competitive 21st century, executives are pressed from all quarters. On the one hand, they need to be flexible, always on the move, and on the other hand, there is also a greater need for teamwork and information exchange. This underlines the importance of collaboration technology – document management, intranet, extranet portals – for running an efficient business. This is just as true for growing businesses, faced with tough competition and limited budgets.

The SharePoint Burden

High Upfront Investment

Pricey Hardware

Specialized IT Staff

Ongoing Maintenance

No Email

Inappropriate Feature

Unfortunately, growing organizations have had to contend with an ill fitting solution. The most prominent solution, MS SharePoint, was crafted for an entirely different segment – big businesses with very different needs and huge IT budgets. SharePoint requires pricey hardware, huge implementation, technical expertise, & has features often wholly appropriate for the small to mid sized business context.? Even worse, it offers only a partial deal, lacking email capability, which forces companies to purchase communications and partnerships tools piecemeal.

This backbreaking burden often proves to be a major distraction, channeling energies and resources away from important areas. Thus the quest for a viable SharePoint alternative.

The SAAS Model – Win-Win for Growing Business

"Most of the start-up application vendors are selecting SaaS as their primary model, and increasingly as their sole model for delivering applications."

Dave Mitchell

Director, SAAS Strategy IBM

Although it would have been true 8-10 years ago that growing businesses did not have many alternatives to SharePoint, the landscape is much changed now. Modern day technologies and approaches have spurned a new breed of solutions which open incredible collaboration possibilities even while offering a much better cost-benefit deal. Moreover, many such solutions are targeted specifically towards the hitherto neglected small to mid sized business segment.

In recent times there has been a discernible movement towards the hosted, software-as-a-service (SAAS) model. This holds true not just for the SharePoint hosting market, but for just about any software technology, with web based office suites, video editors, telephony solutions, operating systems and what have you. There's talk of "death of the desktop" and behemoths like Microsoft lagging in the race.

The SAAS Advantage – Bettering SharePoint Vices

The SAAS Advantage

All SharePoint Features

No Hardware

No Upfront Investment

Business Email?

Added Features

Outlook Integration

Universal Access

Low Monthly Fee

The SAAS model offers certain basic benefits which make it the best alternative to MS SharePoint, and especially suitable for growing companies. Firstly, the solution is hosted at the solution provider's, saving the customer the effort of setting up, configuring and maintaining servers, and hiring specialized support staff. These solutions are ready to be used from day one, requiring little more than the user getting on a browser and signing up.

The hosted model also scores from a security point of view. These solution providers often have security expertise and technologies not available to smallish firms.

Secondly, almost no upfront monetary investment is needed. The cost structure is usually a low monthly user based subscription fee. This ensures that companies pay only for what they use, and there is no obligation of carrying on with a bad solution to recover initial investment. Companies have the flexibility of opting out whenever they please.

Get All That is Good About SharePoint?

Almost all of the good alternatives to SharePoint duplicate its own feature set. Like the ability to store and organize documents online, and share them across the board, along with rich document management features – versioning, access permissions, change notifications, comments etc.

Or the ability to publish dedicated intranets / extranets for employees and groups within the company or clients and partners outside it. These solutions also allow for a great deal of customization where intranet / extranet look and layout can be intricately managed; and select collaboration tools be added, like shared documents, calendars, contacts or project management. In some cases there are added layers of customization where information access to people at different levels within the same intranet or extranet can be managed. Some solutions even allow users to build own websites.

Beyond MS SharePoint

Some of these solutions even go beyond SharePoint, and offer a whole tool box of features for nearly the entire range of small business needs. For example, one sharepoint alternative has an email system inbuilt in its toolkit and also allows customers to set up custom business email for their companies. Exchange like features such as the ability to share contacts, calendars and tasks are also included. Extra features like polling and forums are thrown into the mix. This saves companies the need to purchase solutions sectoral for different needs.

Flexibility

Flexibility is another hallmark of SAAS software. Since all you need to access them is a web browser, you can use the entire feature set from any internet enabled device – mac, windows, desktop, laptop or handheld. This allows team members to stay connected even when they're traveling, and saves time and costs setting up dedicated VPNs for external parties. Anyone who has internet is on the "network".

Moreover, plugins allow these solutions to communicate seamlessly with other software. These solutions can be used in tandem with popular softwares which are a part of every company, for example Outlook.

The hosted model also renders unnecessary the need to download and install updates regularly. The provider simply keeps updating upgrades, patches and new features at its own end and these are immediately available to the users of the software.

Conclusion – Decision Criteria

Even within vendors who provide SAAS software, a decision is to be made. A comparison of various SAAS SharePoint Alternatives is provided in the next page. Some important criteria that need to be considered while making the selection are: –

o Do they provide the basic SharePoint feature set?

o What kind of initial investment is involved in terms of effort and costs?

o What are the costs?

o Is the solution scalable as the organization grows?

o What kind of security do they provide?

o Are there additional features? (relevant to needs)

o How well are features integrated within the solution

o Can their system communicate and integrate with commonly used software like Outlook?

o Do they provide support and training?

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