Custom and third-party SharePoint software: what you need to know

22 October 2013 image

Microsoft SharePoint software is more than just collaboration software. It’s a massive platform on top of which SharePoint software, either custom and written in-house or third-party and purchased off the shelf, can run and integrate with your organization’s IT infrastructure.  Of course, as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Here are the 3 basic types of software that run on top of or work in conjunction with SharePoint:

1. In-house, custom software

People around the globe have been developing custom software and workflows to run on top of SharePoint since SharePoint 2003 hit the market. Many organizations are still using SharePoint 2007 with custom web applications, like in-house order systems, content management systems for intranets and Internet web sites, and document management systems, riding on top of the in-the-box software. SharePoint 2010 made it easier for people to develop for SharePoint software, and SharePoint 2013makes it even easier. There are even tools that plug in to Visual Studio, one of the world’s best integrated development environments (IDEs), to make writing code for, testing that code on, and deploying to SharePoint even easier.

2. Third-party software

Software that solves a specific business need or issue in a way SharePoint does not address or includes weak support for. Many companies have flourished in the SharePoint ecosystem by embracing and extending the feature set of SharePoint, including companies like K2 and Nintex, which extend SharePoint’s workflow capabilities and also make custom workflow creation simpler for rank and file employees. AvePoint and Sharegate both make software that makes building reports to get data out of SharePoint easier. Put simply, there are lots of software packages you can buy to extend SharePoint’s functionality or get a feature you really need that doesn’t happen to be supported in the box.

3. SharePoint 2013 App Store apps

SharePoint 2013 basically opened up the App Store model to SharePoint software where companies and software providers can add functionality to SharePoint that can be bought and installed right over the web. These apps run inside a “sandbox” which essentially walls that code off from the rest of the system to protect the integrity of the whole environment from badly written apps. These apps can either be created for public distribution like Google Play or the Apple App Store, or they can be written by your internal IT teams and then side-loaded into sites over which you have control without making them available to the general public.

The ability to use SharePoint software is a fine thing. However, any time you add software to an existing software product, you transition into a gray area of operations, where things become confusing sometimes. Here is a quick list of issues and gotchas to watch out for when considering additional SharePoint software.

Consider your support options

Third-party software being present on your SharePoint installation absolutely gives Microsoft an opportunity to point a finger at that vendor when you file a support ticket and say, “we can’t help you until you remove that program.” Now truthfully Microsoft support is pretty good, and many times they will work with you to diagnose an issue even when a system is not in a fully supported configuration, but they always have the option of invoking the “kill switch” and making you return the system to a known good state. If you depend on that third-party software, that can be a “server down” event. Make sure your software is certified by Microsoft or, in the case of internal software, is written with Microsoft’s best practices in mind. For third-party software, make sure your vendor will work with Microsoft in the event a problem appears.

Moving to the cloud

If moving your SharePoint installation to a hosted environment is in the cards, make sure you have a plan for getting that additional SharePoint software to run in an environment you do not control. If this SharePoint software is business critical, you may be in a situation that requires you to run a hybrid deployment with your custom software running on SharePoint on premises and other plain vanilla workloads running in the cloud. This could be more management than you were hoping to deal with.