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SharePoint, Microsoft's enterprise collaboration platform designed for content management, collaboration and productivity, has had its share of ups and downs over the years. Among the downs have been usability challenges, which have led other vendors to develop SharePoint alternatives and opened the door for a new line of business for the channel.
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Tools like Huddle and Alfresco have emerged that claim to offer better integration, scalability, fewer training requirements and project management features. These SharePoint alternatives are giving channel partners an opportunity to build new products.
Alfresco, an open source SharePoint alternative
Mike Mahon, president and CEO of Zia Consulting, an Alfresco Software Inc. partner, said his firm has been able to build high-value business offerings on top of Alfresco to solve specific vertical problems. Since Alfresco is an open source platform, Zia Consulting can integrate with whatever a user wants to do, he said.
For example, Zia Consulting has built a product called Adhere for Alfresco, which provides document, records management, and search and email capabilities. The open source features that Alfresco offers has made it easy for channel partners to create value in terms of money and business products, Mahon said. Zia's tools can also be used with SharePoint as well as Microsoft Outlook -- anything that "looks and smells like file share," he said.
SharePoint is a "phenomenal collaboration platform" but "doesn't handle search, security or storage" or records management, he said. Customers have to buy a secondary product to duplicate everything they have online with another SharePoint instance with records management.
Bob Crissmanvice president of global channel sales, Alfresco
A single instance of SharePoint "doesn't give you the compliance you need to meet federal government standards unless you double your storage and SharePoint costs, because content needs to be in two places," he said. "It's a compliant solution but only by doubling up." Adhere for Alfresco stores the asset in Alfresco and creates a stub or link to the file in SharePoint 2013 or SharePoint Online, which eliminates the duplication of content, Mahon said.
Many vertical industries still use legacy systems, and the openness of Alfresco enables integration with systems from AS/400 to the cloud, he added.
Bob Crissman, vice president of global channel sales at Alfresco, said about 60% of Alfresco's revenue comes through the channel and the company has about 200 partners worldwide. He noted he plans to build the channel practice out to eventually make up 80% of the company's revenue.
"SharePoint tends to be a deployment game for partners. They don't tend to build really robust solutions around it," Crissman said, adding that as a result there is not a lot of revenue generated for partners.
Huddle vs SharePoint
Another SharePoint alternative making headway in the channel is Huddle, an online collaboration platform from a company of the same name, designed to help teams work together and share files in the cloud. "[Huddle is] much like a modern-day [version] of SharePoint," said Alastair Mitchell, co-founder, president and chief marketing officer of Huddle.
A Huddle workspace lets users create, discuss and edit documents, Mitchell said. It offers a wide range of project management features and an audit trail, has "basically everything people need to work on and share internally with colleagues and clients," and sits on a secure cloud. SharePoint is designed for internal use, he said, and companies use Huddle as their SharePoint alternatives or to complement it.
Echoing Mahon, Mitchell said SharePoint requires an additional license if a user wants to collaborate with someone externally, which "becomes a very expensive exercise." In addition to the license cost of about $48 per month for SharePoint, he said there is also the cost of IT support.
"Ease of use is a real barrier to entry and tied back to the Microsoft stack," Mitchell said. "If you want to access a piece of the Microsoft stack, you have to have a Microsoft user ID or you can't work with them."
He said there is a "huge opportunity" for the channel to help in two ways: with migration and by developing alternative product add-ons. Like Mahon, Mitchell said there is "very little margin for partners" with SharePoint. "They were making money from hosting and selling, but the margins are so thin."
Collaboration is becoming a big category buy for CIOs, Mitchell said, and it remains to be seen whether companies will upgrade to SharePoint 2016 or move to alternative platforms. Regardless of whether they choose to continue working on SharePoint and use a complementary tool or migrate to a new platform altogether, the amount of enterprise content is only going to continue to grow.
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