Microsoft SharePoint is a massive, multifaceted solution designed to help businesses work and communicate better. You’ve probably heard of it.
In 2011, at the peak of its fame (shortly following the 2010 update), SharePoint was allegedly used by 78 percent of Fortune 500 companies, some of which include the Associated Press, Toyota, UPS, and Monsanto. But as cloud innovation swept through business IT, dozens of other players entered the market, many of them offering sleeker, more cost-effective alternatives.
These alternatives have been pretty successful in tapping a share of the market, especially since they address and neutralize age-old SharePoint pain points (say that ten times fast). Some vendors even directly market themselves as SharePoint alternatives.
This Google Trends graph reflects search engine traffic for “SharePoint” from 2004 to the present:
To better understand how these vendors are subverting the SharePoint client base, we first need to understand what SharePoint is: what it offers, who it’s for, and where it fails to delight.
The platform is available primarily through two deployment models:
- SharePoint Server (2013): on-premise version; client access license (CAL) required for each person or device on the server
- SharePoint Online: cloud-based access to SharePoint; available through Office 365 for Business, or as a standalone service; licensed per user, per month
Billed as “team collaboration software,” SharePoint offers the following features, depending on edition:
- User dashboards
- Document management and editing
- Web publishing tools
- Content management
- Compliance management
- Enterprise wikis
- Tags and notes
- Enterprise social networking (through Yammer)
- Workflow and basic project management
- Business Intelligence integration (through Power BI)
Reasons to Consider a SharePoint Alternative
Seldom is a major software platform downright “bad.” In most cases, it’s simply a matter of incompatibility. E.g. a business purchases SharePoint, attracted to some of its marketing promises and one or two core modules, but fails to realize how broad and complex the product is — too broad for their needs. Six months into their contract, they’re drowning in IT maintenance costs and lack the resources to properly use their new system.
To avoid this mistake, make sure the collaboration software you choose (or intranet, or content management system, or whatever you call it) is a good fit for your needs. Businesses who switch from SharePoint to other solutions typically cite one of the following reasons:
- Too expensive: When you factor in upfront price, plus maintenance costs, provisioning, and upgrades, the server-based version of SharePoint can cost a business thousands of dollars for a single license. Companies that successfully use SharePoint often hire a dedicated SharePoint specialist to configure, maintain, and update the system, which is quite unrealistic for the average small or medium-sized business.
- Too complicated: SharePoint is less a single product than an ecosystem of product modules. This is good in terms of versatility, but doesn’t always translate into “user-friendly,” or even “buyer friendly,” for that matter. It’s probably why, if you Google “SharePoint,” the second result is a post by Microsoft Support called “What is SharePoint?”
- Too high-maintenance: Because of its complexity, especially in the server-based version, SharePoint requires a lot of time and IT resources to maintain. According to a survey of mid-market IT executives by Osterman Research, 43 percent of businesses find the initial rollout difficult or very difficult, and 46 percent say the same of managing content updates.
You may also be interested in alternatives if you’re looking for a cloud storage service, but don’t need the robust features of an intranet platform and don’t want to pay the high(er) price tag. If that’s the case, there are plenty of cloud storage solutions on the market, many which offer enterprise-level encryption and access control for business accounts.
In this article, we’ll focus primarily on alternatives that offer similar feature sets to SharePoint, meaning employee collaboration and content management suites. With that in mind, here are six solutions to put on your shortlist, whether you’re moving from SharePoint or buying a platform for the first time.
If you’re familiar with Google’s suite of productivity apps, Google for Work essentially takes these apps and optimizes them for business use under your company domain. The core package includes Gmail, Hangouts, Calendar, Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, Groups, Sites, and Vault.
More than 5 million businesses use Google for Work to stay productive and collaborate across the enterprise. The Google ecosystem offers a diverse, affordable alternative to other commercial platforms like SharePoint. Google provides tools for email, file sharing, real time document management, and communication, all which can be accessed from any location and any device. Its administrative controls let you easily manage users, file security, data archival, and a range of other functions.
- Email and chat archiving
- Drive file search
- Built in calendars and scheduling
- Video conferencing
- Simultaneous document editing
- Intranet sites
- Survey and form creation
Huddle is one of the leading solutions for team collaboration and project management, and the self-described “#1 SharePoint alternative.” Their platform is geared toward large enterprises and government agencies, as evidenced by some of their recent customers: NASA, EPSON, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
Huddle helps businesses share files, collaborate on projects, and organize their workflows. Users can edit files from directly within the application and enjoy complete version control, similar to what you’d find in a Google Doc. Huddle works through mobile and desktop apps and offers native integrations for Salesforce, Zimbra, Centrify, and (ironically) Microsoft Sharepoint. As far as per-user cost, Huddle is actually more expensive than SharePoint Online and Office 365 for Business. But then, it was never intended for the small budget company.
- Intelligent content dashboard
- Customized cloud workspaces
- Social Collaboration
- FedRAMP, FISMA, and IL3 certified compliant
- Task management
- Intelligent sharing
To the consumer, Box is a basic cloud storage service. But to businesses, it’s a powerful collaboration platform. Beyond basic file sharing, Box offers enterprise security, mobile synchronization, version control, project management tools, and more.
Through the IT console, administrators can set up retention policies (for example, to retain specific files types for HIPAA compliance) custom access controls, and security measures. A quick single sign-on gives users access to all modules of Box without compromising data security. Since it doesn’t provide native document editing, Box integrates with Office 365 (and various third-party apps).
- Custom branding
- Mobile security controls (including MDM integration)
- Project/task management
- Password-protected share links
- Access stats and reporting
- Compliant with HIPAA/HITECH, SEC 17a-4 (FINRA), and PCI DSS
Confluence is a team collaboration solution owned by Atlassian — a vendor most known for their software development tools. But Confluence isn’t just for developers. It’s a cloud-based platform designed to help any kind of agile team “create, organize, and discuss work.”
The software lets you create unique spaces for each of your teams to store their work and collaborate in real time. Each space contains multiple “pages,” which use templates to capture meeting notes, project requirements and designs, and other assets. Through comments and @mentions, users can stay informed about changes to content and respond quickly to pressing issues. For greater elasticity, Confluence integrates with over 600 add-ons through the Atlassian Marketplace.
The system has a heavy project management bent, and if your teams aren’t used to agile methodology (requirements, sprints, stories, releases, retrospectives, etc.), Confluence may not be the best fit.
- Knowledge base
- Shared calendars
- Task management
- Agile development workflows
- Document editing
- Team sites/spaces
- Advanced search
- Team decision pages
Intranet Connections (IC) offers simple intranet platforms to help companies automate business processes, collaborate on work tasks, and keep employees engaged. The system is designed for easy implementation, but also to scale as businesses grow by offering a wealth of out-of-the-box features.
You’ll get the standard fare: document management, team sites, calendars, enterprise search, and so on. But Intranet Connections also has some capabilities you might not expect — such as its e-learning module, which lets HR managers create onboarding workflows and online training courses, or its social-style employee directory.
Unfortunately, this vendor doesn’t offer on-demand pricing, which makes sense, given the infrastructure of an intranet platform, but could be a big drawback for small-budget companies.
- Corporate social networking
- Mobile intranet
- Extranet portal (for secure third-party access)
- Shared calendars
- Help desk ticketing
- Alerts and subscriptions
- Employee milestones
- Document editing
- Company blogs
- Company polling
- HTML editor and design builder
Similar to Intranet Connections, Igloo provides an intranet platform for businesses of various sizes and industries. They’re currently responsible for over 10,000 collaboration sites, including those of IDC (International Data Corporation), Deloitte, and NetApp.
Their core product offering is built around blogs, calendars, file sharing, forums, task management, and wikis. It’s also positioned as a lower-cost, easier-to-use alternative to SharePoint, complete with a “SharePoint alternative evaluation kit.” They offer all-inclusive subscription pricing, per user, per month, which makes it an attractive option for smaller businesses looking to grow into an intranet.
One significant drawback is Igloo’s lack of in-app document editing. It can track version uploads and let users preview documents, but you’ll need to have separate program (i.e. Microsoft Office) to actually create and edit your documents.
- @mentions and notifications
- Moderated folders
- Links to related content
- Internal and external blogging, including WYSIWYG editor
- Shared calendars
- Discussion forums
- Microblogs and Wikis
- Task and subtask management
Making Your Final Decision
Although these six represent some of the stronger players on the market, this is by no means a comprehensive list. There are dozens of team collaboration and file sharing solutions to consider, and even more if you include project and workflow management apps like LeanKit or Planbox.
Just remember, picking the right solution isn’t about “bad” or “good.” It’s about finding the right fit — for your needs, for your budget, and for your workflow.