In my most recent article at CMSWire, I had the opportunity to make some wild and crazy predictions for the future of Microsoft’s SharePoint platform.  While not claiming access to any crystal ball or inside information, I did make every attempt to ground my possibilities in the realm of actual, factual reality.  One of those predictions concerned SharePoint, Sitecore, and the future of public-facing websites on the Microsoft platform.

In short, I suggested that public-facing internet sites built on SharePoint would become a curiosity, and I presented Sitecore (and specifically, Sitecore’s Customer Engagement Platform or “CEP”) as a more compelling direction going forward. 

When SharePoint Makes Sense… and When It Doesn’t

This might be a fairly surprising statement from a guy whose public Twitter handle references SharePoint directly.  I love SharePoint and I’ve built the last eight years of my career on it.  Why would I say such a thing?

Well, simple—because I see it coming true.

Let’s consider the reasons a company typically chooses SharePoint for a public-facing internet scenario.  The most valid points in this decision process always include the following:

  • We have a significant existing investment in SharePoint infrastructure.
  • We have a deep organizational understanding of SharePoint, and the people to maintain and build on top of it.
  • We already own SharePoint licensing on our Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, so it is a cost-effective solution.

If these three things are true for a given organization, then SharePoint is still a solid choice for its Web Content Management (WCM) needs. SharePoint has a great set of services for that. In a scenario where only one or two of these drivers exist, however– or in cases where none of them exist– Sitecore is the better option.  And even in some cases where all three are true, when there are significant digital marketing business drivers, Sitecore still deserves a look because it does things SharePoint doesn’t.

What is Sitecore’s Customer Engagement Platform?

In layman’s terms, Sitecore is a platform—for on-premise deployments but also the cloud (more on this below)—that can be leveraged to deploy public-facing websites. Using that framework to build an internet site, skilled developers can take advantage of not only powerful web content management features (which are, when completed, probably friendlier for end-users than SharePoint’s WCMS interface) but especially digital marketing functionality.  That particular set of services is proving extremely popular with CMOs—the people who typically own the customer-facing websites that Sitecore powers.

Digital Marketing functionality allows organizations to interface directly with the users who arrive at their websites, learn about them via their behaviors, and better target them with meaningful offerings based on those findings.  Sure, SharePoint can do WCM, but SharePoint isn’t Sitecore’s peer when it comes to Digital Marketing.

Tellingly, Microsoft has realized that.  The group that used to evangelize SharePoint as a WCMS solution— the Digital Product Marketing Group— was disbanded not too long ago.  Microsoft itself is much more interested in Sitecore as a partner of late, which is good, because Sitecore is built on Microsoft’s .NET platform and Microsoft’s SQL database servers.

Additionally, Sitecore provides a fantastic play for moving your web infrastructure to the cloud—whether directly with Microsoft’s hosting via Azure PaaS (Platform as a Service), or with third-party hosting providers like Rackspace and Savvis.  One very interesting option in this space is Sitecore’s own specialized Azure offering (called “Sitecore Azure”, simply enough).  Along with the general benefits of Azure PaaS, Sitecore Azure offers certain specialized benefits on top of what you get with standard Azure licensing.

Making a Recommendation

The bottom line is simple: If you’re looking to build a public internet site on the Microsoft platform (which is a darn good one– we can stack it up against the competition another time), SharePoint still makes sense if you meet a certain set of criteria.  But Sitecore provides an extremely compelling alternative that, from a business owner’s perspective, offers superior tools for engaging with the customer.  And hasn’t that always been the point of a website?