I recently fielded a question from a potential client who wanted to know if Microsoft SharePoint or Google Docs with Google Sites was a better fit for their organization's document management and collaboration needs. Although this question is pretty straight-forward, the explanation can get a bit complicated.
The short answer is Google Docs/Sites is great tool if you do not have an enterprise collaboration platform at your disposal, and you need to to get a document sharing site up quickly. However, Google Docs/Sites falls way short in providing the breadth and depth of features that Microsoft SharePoint offers.
SharePoint is a true enterprise platform with capabilities that extend beyond document management and collaboration (e.g. Search, Workflow, and KPI Dashboards). If you have a dozen or more computer users in your organization who need tools other than email and network drives to collaborate, you should strongly consider an investment in the SharePoint platform. Microsoft even offers a free version of SharePoint for small and medium sized organizations (less than a few hundred computer users), along with premium versions for larger organizations - learn more).
I'll try to keep my analysis short and simple by not debating the merits of cloud-based versus premise-based solutions (both Microsoft and Google offer cloud-based solutions for a monthly fee). A comparison of cloud-based document authoring tools (Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs) is also beyond the scope of this particular blog entry. Instead, this blog entry will focus on providing a functional comparison of the document management and collaboration features of these offerings.
From a document management perspective, Microsoft SharePoint and Google Docs have compelling offerings. Both provide a browser-based user experience for managing documents in a central location and keeping track of a document's version history.
SharePoint includes a wider variety of document management features than Google Docs, including:
- Metadata tagging to help you organize and find documents quickly
- Check-in/Check-out to prevent multiple users from editing a document at the same time
- Document sets which allow a group of related documents to be treated as a single piece of content that share metadata and version history
- Records management for managing the lifecycle of documents and providing for the ability to place documents into a legal hold state
- Provides for the ability to trigger workflow processes (e.g. approval/publishing of content) whenever a document is added, changed, or removed
Google Docs may be a better fit than SharePoint in some circumstances:
- Google Docs is quite a bit easier to setup and configure than SharePoint, so you should be able to get started in less time
- Organizations with only a simple need to share documents may find Google Docs easier to use
- Google Docs is often a good fit for organizations with ad-hoc teams that must be brought together quickly (especially when team members hail from different organizations)
- Google Docs will likely cost substantially less to implement than SharePoint
If you are looking for a document management solution that supports day-to-day employee and interdepartmental document sharing as well as special projects, then SharePoint will be a better fit for your organization in the long-run. If you just need a quick and dirty solution for an ad-hoc project, then Google Docs is probably a better way to go.
SharePoint and Google Docs with Google Sites are pretty far apart on the maturity scale - SharePoint has been around for over 10 years and is a pretty stable solution for the Enterprise; Google's Docs with Sites were released less than 4 years ago which is evidenced by a few bugs that bite from time to time.
Both SharePoint and Google product suites include document management systems and the ability to create collaboration sites, but SharePoint includes quite a few additional features. SharePoint is often referred to as a Swiss army knife of collaboration and office productivity features.
SharePoint features that are absent from Google's offering include:
- Flexible collaboration site templates and structures provide the ability to meet varying business needs of different departments and teams
- Workflow to automate and manage business processes
- Enterprise search capabilities to index content on your network drive (as well as the content you store inside SharePoint)
- Configurable lists to capture metadata when storing documents
- Centralized task lists to replace spreadsheets (great for managing projects)
- SharePoint dashboards can integrate data from other systems to track your Key Performance Indicators
- Tight integration of Documents, Tasks, and Calendars with the Microsoft Office Suite (e.g. updates made in Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint will automatically update the central copy inside SharePoint)
SharePoint and Google offerings also differ significantly when it comes to permission management. Google has limited permission management, allowing you to only define who can view content and who can edit content on each site. In SharePoint you have a lot of flexibility regarding the granularity of permissions – within a SharePoint site you can allow people to view some of the content, but not all. Similarly, you can allow people to modify some pieces of content, but not all content. Permissions are also easier to maintain in SharePoint. Access rights for Google Sites and Google Apps are maintained separately, which can sometimes overlap and lead to some confusion or surprise over who has the ability to access or edit content.
The organization adoption level for Google sites is pretty tiny when compared to the adoption level of SharePoint. Google Docs had a few notable customers switch from MS Office (Word/Excel/PowerPoint) to Google Docs, but Google Sites hasn’t really taken off yet.
Overall, SharePoint is still a category killer and the clear winner when it comes to document management and collaboration solutions. For good reason, there are over 100 million users of SharePoint world-wide!
Learn more about DMC's SharePoint consulting services.