EMC Flipping SharePoint On Its End

EMC realizes that it can't possibly compete head-on with Microsoft's SharePoint in the market for workplace collaboration tools -- and surveys show that Microsoft has an unassailable market share in this space -- so, EMC is trying to pull a jujitsu move on Microsoft, using the the document sharing platform's weight in the market against it.

In this vision, which EMC laid out to a conclave of writers and analysts it hosted in New York last Friday, SharePoint implementations are like the passing enthusiasms of an overachieving teenager -- train sets and model airplanes scattered wily-nily in the basement, entirely unconnected to each other and therefore of limited use. And this vision has some grounding in reality; Bryant Duhon, an editor with industry trade group AIIM, noted that most customers don't even know exacty how many SharePoint implementations they have in place.

So rather than competing with Microsoft directly, EMC hopes to attach itself to all those SharePoint implementations by presenting itself as the serious grounding for all the spontaneous and serendipitous collaboration that SharePoint is supposed to foster. Mark Lewis, president of EMC's content management and archiving division, said customers can extract more value out of their intellectual property by tying together information residing in instances of SharePoint, databases containing customer transactions and call center records, and other information stored both on-premise and in cloud-based applications. "It should connect back to a consistent system... All those other applications will exist, with EMC as the repository," he said.

"SharePoint is a great [user interface], but it's not a content management system," he added. In other words, fine, use SharePoint, but turn it into a pretty face for EMC, which will do the heavy lifting behind the scenes.

Since its acquisition of Documentum in 2003, EMC has worked to diversify from its origins as a storage device vendor to offer a more complete set of document management applications, including data deduplication, document search and retrieval and a collaboration suite (soon to be re-baptized CenterStage). But SharePoint has been a runaway hit for Microsoft (it's present in 69 percent of enterprises surveyed by AIIM, with another 45 percent of those who don't currently use SharePoint planning to do so), IBM has enjoyed a head start with Lotus Sametime, and Google is enjoying a Wave (pun intended) of popularity that EMC can't really hope to match.

And EMC certainly isn't going to compete on price. Microsoft has successfully created the impression that SharePoint is inexpensive, although Carl Frappaolo, principal analyst with Information Architected, noted that since customers end up pay handsomely for other parts of the Microsoft stack (like Office and Exchange), the cost of integrating SharePoint adds significantly to the cost. "There's not a whole lot out of the box with SharePoint," he said. Probably the only vendor with a real chance of competing directly with Microsoft on the SharePoint front is Google, which may be able to ride a wave (pun intended) of Web-based platforms and applications that tie in nicely with its recently-introduced Wave. And while SharePoint is viewed by customers as inexpensive, you can't get much cheaper than free.