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August 18
5 must have SharePoint Add-On Products

As a long time veteran of the SharePoint industry, I’ve seen quite a few SharePoint add-on products come and go.  And like any platform-centric industry – our industry is somewhat volatile when it comes to products (and vendors).  Some products become wildly successful, while others just don’t “stick” and either go away on their own, or are eventually replaced by an out-of-the-box feature in a future SharePoint service pack or version.  There doesn’t seem to be a secret combination of price or feature-set either.  In fact – I can’t come up with any measurable statistic on what makes a product in the SharePoint market ‘stick’, since the ‘sticky’ products out there come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. 

As a SharePoint VAR and Systems Integrator – I am left with only the anecdotal evidence given to me by our many customers, who have formulated their own opinions on how ‘great’ a product is (or isn’t).  So based on feedback and some ‘gut’ – I’ve created a list of products that I believe can add value to nearly ANY SharePoint implementation.
My list below includes a mix of administrator tools and end-user focused tools, and ranges in price from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars.  Again, the one (and only) thing in common with my list of five products below is that I believe EACH of these products can improve any SharePoint implementation, regardless of its shape, size, or purpose. 


So – without further ado – here is my list, in no particular order:
·         Enhanced SharePoint List Bundle, by KWizCom.  This bundle of list-related features covers a wide spectrum of ‘obvious’ gaps in the SharePoint baseline product.  Site owners will love the additional features provided by the Forms Extensions component.  Everyone can use the list aggregator and filtering capabilities.   And for advanced implementations where Lists are used similarly to database tables – this bundle will definitely speed up implementation and enhance overall usability.  If you’re using SharePoint lists for data storage, i.e. as an alternative to Excel or Access – investing in this bundle is a smart move.

·         Nintex Workflow.  To sum it up in one sentence.  This product is amazing.  I actually think it should be named something else, because Workflow is only part of what this product does.  The first time I saw this, a thought immediately popped into my head…  hard core SharePoint developers are going to hate this thing.  Why?  Because Nintex Workflow can basically replace huge chunks of development time in virtually any SharePoint implementation which requires custom development.  Those who know the Nintex product can practically build entire web applications using only SharePoint out of the box + Nintex Workflow.  Nintex can almost always save money, even though its price is the highest on my list.  The trick here is to buy it and install it up front, before you are taken too far down the customization road.  A good vendor (like SusQtech) will help you do this.  Nintex is the most expensive product in my list, but it also does a lot more – and you can consider this product “the gift that keeps on giving”, since it’s more of an application framework and ‘engine’ than just a set of tools.
·         Bamboo WebParts:  Alert Plus, Chart Plus, and Calendar Plus Web Parts.  Ok – I cheated a little here.  This ‘must have product’ is actually three separate products.  But they are all from Bamboo Solutions, so work with me on this one.  Each of these three products fills the most obvious gaps in baseline SharePoint functionality.  I would bet that if you asked 100 SharePoint ‘power users’ to give you a list of 5 things they wish Microsoft would improve about SharePoint – Alerting, Charts, and Calendars would be on nearly every wish-list.  The bottom line is that if you buy these three web parts – install them and train users how to use them, your life as a SharePoint project sponsor or administrator is going to become a lot easier.

·         Idera SharePoint Enterprise Manager.  This was a tough choice between several other direct competitors with similar products, but I chose Idera because, in my opinion; the Idera interface is the best and most intuitive.  Again – this selection is based on customer feedback, with a little of my own opinion sprinkled in.  The truth is that the ‘Administrator Tools’ product market has some stiff competition.  This is a good thing, since tough competition keeps the innovation engine churning, and prices competitive.  Idera’s Enterprise Manager covers all of the basic Administration headaches; from security, to site structure (with list and item management), and some quality real time analysis and usage tools and reports.  Idera is a powerful tool, but it’s probably not something that a SharePoint Administrator is going to keep open all day every day, so in my book having an intuitive interface is crucial, which is why I put the Idera product out in front of its competitors. 

·         Ontolica (SurfRay) Search.   In my opinion, the SharePoint Search add-on market is totally ridiculous quite “challenging”.  (I’m only sorta joking here).  There are dozens of products on the market that ‘enhance’ SharePoint Search in some way or another, therefore the competition for SharePoint Search Add-Ons is intense.  As a SharePoint vendor, it’s actually quite difficult to keep them all straight.  What we do know is that (obviously) SharePoint’s OOTB search needs some help.  Most of this boils down to a few key areas of search.  First, the taxonomy ‘feature’ in SharePoint 2010 is pretty light, and it doesn’t add much value to the common request for advanced search filtering.  Second, SharePoint 2010 OOTB doesn’t offer a ‘preview’ function, which has now become an ‘expectation’ from most end-users.  These are the two ‘big’ deficiencies in the product, and what most of the ‘big’ search add-on competitors solve.  My experience (our customers’ experience) has been good with several of these add-on vendors, but we’ve seen most of our success with the Ontolica product.  This is because it seems that Ontolica has a leg up on its competition when it comes to ‘outside the firewall’ SharePoint implementations, in both licensing and feature-set.  Ontolica is also developing a new search analytics reporting ‘engine’ which looks promising, so for now, Ontolica gets my vote.  The ‘preview’ feature is more than just sexy – for a large scale deployment, and especially for an international deployment where an end user in say London needs to pull up a document stored in California – search preview is a huge time-saver. 

·         Bonus Item!  (Shameless Plug) – SusQtech SP URL Manager.  Yeah yeah, I know this seems like a setup – but the basis for SusQtech’s writing this product is because nearly EVERY one of our hundreds of customers asks us to help them shorten URL’s, especially for a public-facing website when there is a constant need to market a specific landing page.  This product accomplishes just that.  It does one thing, and it does that thing very well.  It shortens long SharePoint URL’s.  Who doesn’t need that?




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