Don’t Do Custom SharePoint Development

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posted by Khoa Quach
on Aug 12, 2019

Well, at least not before digging into all of the out-of-the-box features the platform has to offer.

Out of the many (MANY) requests we receive to develop new features in SharePoint, I’m always surprised by how a majority of them can be met with features that already exist within SharePoint or the greater Microsoft Office 365 suite of products. As Office 365/SharePoint consultants and enthusiasts, we usually recommend integration and adaptation of the current existing tools as opposed to the development of a new solution as long as the current tools can answer the business requirements.

Some clients have very precise ideas of what they want SharePoint to do for them, so they are quick to assume that a custom solution is needed. However, we believe that it is very important to help these clients consider the ROI of a custom solution and to present them options that do not involve custom development. My personal rule of thumb is that, if you can meet 80% of the business requirements at 80% of the estimated pricing and/or timeline with a particular solution, then it is worth presenting to the client for evaluation.

One of the advantages of going with the integration of existing features is the ability to quickly deploy complex solutions. Even if this is just a POC and ultimately the solution will be a custom SharePoint application or extension, at the very least the client will have a better sense of the solution, as well as a better understanding of the platform and its potential limitations.

Most of the time, the client is limited by a “we don’t know what we don’t know” dilemma, and showcasing available features might just be the trigger needed for them to reconsider their approach on a given issue that they are trying to resolve. Consultants should not just take “orders” from a client, but instead should enrich the client’s understanding so that s/he can make informed choices. It is important to remember that clients are paying for your expertise and understanding of the tool. Being able to inform on the best practices in the industry is as necessary as the delivery of the final product.

Here are some common requests/scenarios from our clients in the past:

“I need to develop visualizations/reports in SharePoint.”

Once users start to see the power of centralizing and digitalizing data using SharePoint, one of the most common follow-up requests is for reports and visualizations of data. Instead of jumping right into the development of a custom solution, take a moment to ask the client about his/her global strategy related to reports:

  • Is there a global vision from the organization in regards to the tool used for reporting?
  • What teams/departments/groups will be leveraging reports? Who needs to see the reports? Who needs to create the reports?
  • How important to the organization is self-sufficiency in terms of developing and maintaining reports?

These few questions can help determine whether you should direct a client towards using Power BI. After all, this tool is available in the Microsoft Office 365 suite and was created to answer this particular need. Although the freemium experience can be a little restrictive compared to the professional license, it is an option worth exploring if data generation and low-level maintenance is a priority.

The bonus here is that, with the SharePoint modern experience, you are able to display and secure Power BI visualization in SharePoint pages.

“I need to create video libraries and channels.”

Yes, you can do this with SharePoint, but that might not be the right approach. Instead, you should consider exploring Microsoft Stream.

One of the biggest advantages of Microsoft Stream is its simple interface. If you use YouTube as a contributor, you won’t find it difficult to navigate around Stream; not only does it allow you to centralized all of the videos relevant to the organization, but the streaming servers and technologies allow for a better rendering of video assets. Moreover, advanced features such as metrics, comments, and channel management come out-of-the-box with Stream; those same features would take significant development time with SharePoint.

How does it work with SharePoint? Well, you would have a web part called “Stream” that would allow you to embed videos that come from the Stream platform.

“I need to pull and manage message boards.”

Stay away from SharePoint for this request! Although it is completely possible to build something very basic with SP, you will be running yourself into a development pit. Instead, suggest that your client look into Yammer, which already provides most of the features your client will be requesting (and more). With Yammer, things like @mentions, secure channels, reply comments, hashtags, and topic clouds are already built-in.

Note that you can always bring a specific channel view back into SharePoint using the Yammer or Yammer feed web parts.

“I need to display a staff directory.”

This is a tough one. The simple solution would be to point the client towards Delve, which does exactly what most clients are looking for in a staff directory:

  • Find people in the organization
  • See information for a single user (email, phone, location)
  • Create a hierarchy tree
  • Show user schedule and calendar

Right now, there is no integration point with SP, unfortunately. The closest thing is the SharePoint People web part, and although it will get you information about a set of people, it will not provide that overall view of the organization, its departments, or its structure. However, creating a custom hierarchy tree by pulling information from the Microsoft Graph API is something that can be done with third party or custom code.

To summarize, custom developments in SharePoint are possible and popular, but they should not be a systematic solution to all business requirements. Reviewing the feature set of an out-of-the-box solution, considering the ROI of custom developments, and understanding the overall impact that a custom solution might have on an organization are important prior to integration.

Read more: SharePoint Modern Experience Page Layout Samples

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