Microsoft Sharepoint versus IBM Workplace

April 10, 2006

This content details how we would draw comparisons between the competitive product sets for collaboration environments between ourselves and IBM – SharePoint has become the de-facto Enterprise Collaboration tool in this, the ‘digital decade’ to coin a Bill Gates phrase. It’s by no coincidence that there are over 45 million current SharePoint licenses the world over, capitalising on the familiar and extensible Microsoft user interface. This particular area, the user interface is traditionally where Microsoft has excelled and we continue to see unbelievable adoption of collaboration tools because of the familiarity aspect and the modular approach we have taken to market.

I also included information for you on integration and open standards in the section titled ‘Team Integration,” specifically in section 2 of this posting

For clarity; Workplace Team Collaboration is comparable to Microsoft’s Windows SharePoint Services for team workspaces, Live Communications Server for Presence Awareness and Instant Messaging, and Live Meeting for web conferencing.

Comparing the TechnologiesLotus Team Spaces (formerly called QuickPlace)Lotus Team Spaces (also/formerly known as QuickPlace) has been listed as a leader in the Gartner Team Collaboration Magic Quadrant as well as in the visionary quadrant in the Smart Enterprise Suite Magic Quadrant.  It is positioned as a “self-service web tool for team collaboration.”  Product strengths include Portability through the browser, Offline support via DOLS (Domino Offline Services); and Ease of use since IT doesn’t need to intervene and create new sites.  Weaknesses include Outlook Integration, Survey or Poll Support, Data Views, Office Integration, Windows Integration, Scalability, and Lack of integration with information worker tools.  It requires Domino Server install, e.g. Domino Clustering, an added barrier and expense to adoption.  QuickPlace server is a Domino server.  It lacks native Notes client support and only support Notes from a browser.  Workflow support is lightweight.  QuickPlace is a pure team collaboration play; there is no document management support. Microsoft’s Approach:  Windows SharePoint ServicesWindows SharePoint Services delivers a team workspace for the purpose of enhanced collaboration, desktop application integration and enhanced communication with Web-based information sharing, discussions and subscriptions, roles-based security, document publishing, and tight integration with the Microsoft Office System.  Key selling points are price (substantially more inexpensive than IBM), personalization and customization, ease of use, great integration with Office 2003, and setup.  Weaknesses include offline functionality (our partner Groove provides this) and workflow support. 

Using Office 2003 with Windows SharePoint Services “lights up” several additional benefits for team collaboration, including document workspaces, meeting workspaces and the ability to send email to all members of a team site with the click of a button, allowing individual and team productivity come together seamlessly for the user.  Users can easily create document workspaces and/or meeting workspaces from Microsoft Outlook 2003; they can also create a document workspace directly from a Word, Excel or PPT document.  Using Information Rights Management, they can control exactly who has the ability to make edits to specific sections within a document in their document workspace.  Additionally, the seamless integration of Live Communications Server 2003 with Windows SharePoint Services enables presence awareness within a team site so that users can easily see the online/busy status among their teammates for a particular project at any given moment.  2.     Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing (formerly called SameTime)Lotus Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing include three core components and three optional components: Core components(1) The Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing Server provides the platform that manages the flow of information between their IM clients; including text messaging, streaming audio and video, a shared whiteboard and shared applications. (2) The Lotus IM client (previously referred to as “SameTime Connect”) to resides on the user side and (3), the Developer toolkit provides for extensibility of presence, awareness & conferencing into any custom/packaged applications.  Optional componentsThese fall into the category of expanding the reach of the Instant Messaging and Web Conferencing Server by allowing it to scale and connect with Instant Messaging users outside the firewall. (1) The Lotus IM Gateway provides for secure inter-connection with other instant messaging communities using the SIMPLE protocol (SIP variant for IM & presence). (2) The Lotus Enterprise Meeting Server which allows companies to host and administer enterprise-wide Web conference environments by providing fail-over and load-balancing. And lastly, (3) Lotus Instant Messaging Everyplace which is their mobility story and the way for Lotus to extend presence awareness and instant messaging capabilities to users with any mobile phones or wireless PDAs.  Microsoft’s approach: Office Live Communications Server and Office Live Meeting Office Live Communications Server literally “lights up” and enables real-time collaboration from within familiar enterprise-wide applications such as Outlook, SharePoint and Windows Messenger; providing employees with secure Instant Messaging, Application Sharing, Whiteboarding and real-time Voice or Video conversations based on the industry standard SIP (same as IBM).  Office Live Communication Server or LiveCommSvr is the successor to Exchange Instant Messaging.  LiveCommSvr also complements the targeted audience for Windows NetMeeting users which also had focused on behind the firewall collaboration amongst the IT inclined work force.  Instead, LiveCommSvr extends these capabilities to the rest of the enterprise.  Key selling points: Presence enablement and IM capabilities offered at a true platform level.   Office Live Meeting enables scheduled and impromptu real-time web conferencing amongst potential customers, partners & employees.  As a Microsoft hosted service, Live Meeting is much better positioned than Lotus web-conferencing for cross-firewall web conferences.  The Lotus offering is primarily a premises-based offering which limits its target audience to fellow co-workers within any given enterprise. Key selling points:  The ability to launch Live Meeting seamlessly from within familiar applications such as Outlook, PowerPoint, Windows Messenger, MSN Messenger. Team Collaboration:  Key issuesWe believe there are three primary areas of consideration for customers looking at Team Collaboration solutions: 

End-User Experience: Does the Team Collaboration experience provide information workers with all the tools they need to share information and interact with colleagues as well as outside parties like suppliers, partners and customers?  Many portal deployments fail due to low user acceptance.  Missing functionality, extra steps and unfamiliar tools that affect work habits can all drive down anticipated productivity benefits. Integration: Team Collaboration is part of a larger set of information worker services, and the Team Collaboration solution should fit seamlessly into an infrastructure that can support those services across the entire enterprise and beyond.  Integration is almost always possible with the help of expensive services organizations.  But to get maximum value, customers should look for solutions that are well-integrated out of the box, deploy quickly and reach broadly. Customization:  The most productive Team Collaboration environments are those that give users the flexibility to customize their experience and add the capabilities and features they need to rapidly adapt to changing business requirements.  Customers should examine how competing vendors implement customization: is it a fast, easy user-centric process, or one dependent on IT and external services? End User Experience

In Workplace Team Collaboration, IBM offers a portal-based environment that lets users manage membership in team sites, share documents, perform enterprise search for people and data, and participate in instant messaging (IM) sessions or meetings with team members. While all of these capabilities are integrated in a single view, there is no inherent connection between the Workplace Team Collaboration portal environment and the primary information worker productivity applications that enable users to deliver the high-value content and analysis organizations require to stay competitive.

Workplace does provide portlet-based applications for text editing, basic spreadsheets and presentations, but these do not come close to the richness, integration and familiarity of Microsoft Office. IBM seems to expect customers to disrupt the work habits of their highest-value information workers (introducing a high risk of failure) and substitute a lower level of functionality and usability of a portlet-based application just to gain the advantages of collaboration. Fortunately, customers have a better choice.

Microsoft’s Approach: “Rich and Reach”Rather than sending information workers to the portal to collaborate using bare-bones tools, Microsoft brings the integrated portal environment directly and seamlessly into the rich productivity suite.  Here, users have access to the full palette of communication and collaboration services: document libraries, team members, instant messaging, Web conferences, email, and search – alongside the familiar and productive Office applications they use every day to create, consume and analyze content. In the words of PC Magazine: “Fortunately, Office 2003 users don't need to run to their browsers every time they need to work on documents stored within a workspace. Word, Excel, and PowerPoint now contain a Shared Workspace task pane.” 

Microsoft makes it easy for users to create a collaborative document workspace without leaving the document authoring environment (for example, Microsoft Word in the figure below).  This benefits users by extending the familiar productivity environment rather than creating a new set of work habits and skills, and it reduces the time spent switching screens, cutting and pasting, and looking for documents and information by combining information work and collaboration in a single experience. 

Of course, Microsoft also makes the collaboration experience available via a browser for workers who do not require the full Microsoft Office environment (such as call center workers or others in structured workflow processes), or where hardware limitations require a thin-client experience (e.g., terminal services or mobile devices), as well as parties outside the enterprise with whom collaboration is critical — customers, partners and suppliers — that may not use the full Microsoft Office environment. But the key difference between Microsoft’s approach and that of IBM is that Microsoft gives you the choice of “rich or reach,” while Workplace requires customers to adapt their work processes to the limitations of a portal-based environment. 

Some Early ResultsEarly adopters of Microsoft communication and collaboration technology in Office 2003 have already experienced measurable improvements in productivity. Research conducted for Microsoft by Navigant Consulting Inc. (NYSE “NCI”), showed that information workers using the solutions gained an average of two hours in productive time each week without working longer hours, that the companies realized a median net present value of $4,000 per worker, and that the solutions paid for themselves in an average of just eight months.

IBM Workplace Team Collaboration claims broad cross-platform integration, including integration with the Microsoft Windows server family. However, for customers who use Microsoft Office for productivity, Windows SharePoint Services has the richest integration available.  SharePoint Portal Server, when combined with Microsoft’s other communication and collaboration technology, offers a seamlessly integrated system of programs, servers, services and solutions for information. It includes a powerful search engine that can crawl information in Microsoft Exchange Server, web sites, file stores, Team Sites, and is extensible to any relational database.  IBM sells its advanced search technology as an add-on product, whereas, advanced search is included with SharePoint Portal Server.  Customers can realize additional integration value when using SharePoint Portal Server when combined with Microsoft’s rich product suite.   

Microsoft’s Approach: Integrated Innovation; A key elements based on the content from today’s callWith Microsoft, collaboration is enabled through a set of centrally-managed web services based on the XML standard and the Microsoft .NET framework. By tightly integrating collaboration with the Windows Server System platform, Microsoft empowers IT to manage security, rights management, identity management and other core functions across the enterprise, leveraging customers’ current investments in hardware, software and expertise while augmenting them with rich collaborative capabilities. Microsoft collaboration is also readily interoperable in heterogeneous environments through industry standards such as SOAP, XML, LDAP, ODBC, plus Voice-over-IP and other real-time protocols based on SIP and SIMPLE to leverage customers’ current investments and allow for rapid development of new integrated applications in the future. 

The partial list below is provided to emphasize that choosing Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server and Windows SharePoint Services not only unlocks a rich platform and development environment, but allows integration with many other line of business programs and servers: Integration with Microsoft Office 2003 applications: Team workspaces, team members (via presence, instant messaging, group calendaring, contact information, email and integrated telephony), document libraries and enterprise search are all available contextually through the Microsoft Office task pane. This new feature in Office 2003 allows users to collaborate without leaving the application where they are creating, reviewing or analyzing information. It also automatically links documents to team workspaces to seamlessly invoke collaboration services when documents are opened in Office.  Integration with Microsoft Office Live Communications Server: Microsoft’s collaborative platform integrates with Live Communications Server providing presence-based awareness.  Site users can see that other team members are “online”, “busy”, or “away” if they are logged into the instant messaging client and can choose to collaborate in the mode of their choice – e.g. IM or phone if a team member is “online”, but using email, a portal or with scheduling if the colleague is “busy” or “away”. Actions can be initiated directly from a team site as well including change alerts and emails to team members.  The integrated communications builds on enterprise-grade security, encryption, logging and manageability.  Integration with Outlook: SharePoint Portal Server allows users to add team sites to the cc line in emails, and the ability to create meeting workspaces directly from Outlook.  

Integration with Microsoft Project Server:  Windows SharePoint Services is tightly integrated with Microsoft Project Server.  A collection of Project Server web parts provides visibility into key areas of the project management process, allowing team members to participate and collaborate via the portal or team sites and monitor consistent business metrics through a customizable, scorecard view of projects across your portfolio and drill into the details as needed via web parts.   Integration with Microsoft Content Management Server: Microsoft Content Management Server 2002 connector for SharePoint Products and Technologies enables workers to assemble and publish content to internal and/or external Web sites through a formal process. In other words, when a user edits a document in a SharePoint collaborative workspace and that document is approved, the document will automatically be updated on an external Content Management Server.  This integration helps users to avoid leaving stale content on their web sites and helps to avoid publishing duplication, while enabling basic workflow capabilities.  3.   Customization Team workspaces are most useful and productive when they can be quickly and easily adapted to the needs of each individual user. The ease and richness of customization features can have a significant impact on the successful adoption and usage of team workspaces, and the requirement for additional technologies and support can impact total cost of ownership. IBM Lotus Team Workplace has a wizard-driven form-creation system that enables simple data collection from team members, but the data that's collected from forms is stored in a Notes database file and is inaccessible outside the platform unless a developer ties it to a database.  IBM has been moving applications to DB2 and this strategy will likely result in a costly data migration at a later date. 

IBM makes no mention of how developers and end users will be able to customize this environment in their existing literature, but since this solution is a combination of both recent acquisitions and existing technologies like Quickplace and Sametime, it is likely that developers will have to employ multiple tools, interfaces and SDKs to customize applications.   
Microsoft’s Approach: Multiple Customization ToolsMicrosoft solutions offer rich drag and drop customization functionality to end users out of the box and tiered customization options across the platform from FrontPage to Visual Studio.NET.  Workplace appears to offer no comparable alternative here.  
Microsoft’s modular portfolio of collaboration products gives customers a cost-effective solution to gradually implement advanced communication and collaboration capabilities in their organization with fast out-of-the-box productivity, improved ROI, and increased value with each additional investment. We believe customers are better served by an approach that augments and extends their existing, proven information worker productivity infrastructure rather than introducing new and complex technologies into the data center, as Workplace does.  

SummaryIBM Lotus Workplace Team Collaboration offers a single model for collaboration in portal environments that does not meet all the needs of information workers, and lacks the ready integration and customization to make it valuable as a complete solution. Microsoft’s approach to team collaboration combines the richness of Microsoft Office with the reach of portals and real-time communications to enable productive collaboration for the entire enterprise.

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One Response to “Microsoft Sharepoint versus IBM Workplace”

  1. haxa said

    thank you for sharing this comparison. i find this paritucarly helpful at this time when we are migrating from quickplace to sharepoint. after toying around with some downloable WSS templates on Microsoft site, i am more convinced on the customization capability of WSS. next item on my DIY list is to use FrontPage (FP) and develop pages from FP to WSS.

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