And that's where third-party add-ons or extensions come in. "This product is not just an application or a platform -- it's both," Koplowitz says.
That flexibility is what makes SharePoint a good platform on which to build, he says. "If you want a specific document management process for specialized employee evaluations, SharePoint isn't going to do that niche thing on its own," says Koplowitz. "On the other hand, it might be the perfect place to build it on -- and you already have SharePoint deployed."
Bring on the extensions
At Eastman Chemical Co., a Kingsport, Tenn.-based specialty chemical firm, SharePoint has been a key application since the company first implemented it in 2005, says Jim McGuire, supervisor of the global collaboration and portal architecture team.
Eastman uses SharePoint for asset management, workflow management, application development and other tasks for its approximately 13,500 global employees.
Since that first deployment, Eastman moved from SharePoint 2003 to SharePoint 2007, then to the 2010 version, each time adding new capabilities but still looking for other key features that weren't available right out of the box.
"Most of our extensions are in-house and come in as advanced development requests," McGuire explains. "As more people are being introduced to the framework we have, more people are understanding that it's not just a place to place documents but that it's also a place where they can get more work done."
Rebecca Dietrich, an Eastman senior systems analyst and SharePoint developer, says the company's users can often extend the application on their own by using extensions created by Eastman developers that are made available to employees, usually without the need for outside help.
Much of the customization is done with the SharePoint Designer tool, which comes as part of the basic SharePoint package and is used to write code for many workflow and other processes that aren't included in the basic SharePoint application, she explains. "The ability to create small applications using lists and workflows has been huge for us," said Dietrich. "Our users are able to create applications without the need for IT intervention."
One area where Eastman did bring in a third-party product to extend SharePoint 2010 was in workflow management, where K2's Black Pearl helps with advanced projects that can't be added via SharePoint Designer, says McGuire.
"Anytime you make a change in a workflow there are many approvals that need to take place," she explains. "We use some of these extensions to enable us to do that."
Adding integrations, customization
Another longtime user of SharePoint is Fitness International, which runs LA Fitness clubs in some 500 locations in 22 states and in Canada. LA Fitness uses SharePoint for its intranet, workflow tasks and collaboration. The company has been using every version of SharePoint since 2003, and is scheduled to complete its deployment of SharePoint 2013 by the end of May.
Over time, Fitness International has had to push SharePoint to extend beyond the capabilities it has straight from Microsoft, says George Bedar, CIO of the Irvine, Calif-based company.
Some of the areas where the out-of-box product fell short for Fitness International related to its integration with databases and with customizations of forms for employees in their fitness clubs, says Bedar. The software also needed assistance in handling workflow tasks beyond just creating lists, he explains.