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 straightforward, the explanation can get a bit complicated.
The short answer is Google Docs/Sites is a 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. Intranet, Extranet, 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. Office 365's SharePoint Online subscription is a terrific value (a business with fewer than 300 users can get SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, Skype for Business, and OneDrive for Business all for $5/user per month). Microsoft even offers a free on-premises version of SharePoint (SharePoint Foundation) for smaller organizations, 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
- Workflow processes may be triggered (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 set up and configure than SharePoint, so you should be able to get started in less time (although SharePoint's Active Directory integrated same sign-on capabilities are probably well worth the extra setup 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 (Microsoft's Office 365 Groups offering is also very nimble and provides this capability)
- Google Docs will likely take less time to implement than SharePoint; you will likely need a Microsoft Partner to assist you with a SharePoint implementation
If you are looking for a document management solution that supports day-to-day employee and inter-departmental 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 since 2001 and is a stable platform for small & mid-sized organizations, as well as large enterprises; Google's Docs with Sites was released in 2008 and has seen limited adoption, primarily with smaller organizations.
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:
- 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 Sites now have similar capabilities when it comes to permission management. Prior to recent updates, Google Sites allowed you to only define who can view content and who can edit content on each site. Since 2007, SharePoint has allowed administrators to identify groups or individuals who may view some portions a site's content, but not necessarily everything. Similarly, SharePoint allowed you to specify groups or individuals who modify some pieces of content, but not necessarily everything.
The organization adoption level for Google sites is pretty tiny when compared to the adoption level of SharePoint. A few notable Microsoft customers switched from MS Office (Word/Excel/PowerPoint) to Google Docs a few years ago, but generally speaking, Google Sites will only be found in some smaller organizations.
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 190 million users of SharePoint across 200,000 organizations worldwide!
Learn more about DMC's SharePoint consulting services.