Should Your Organization Embrace SharePoint Online – From a Developer’s Perspective

SharePoint On Premise vs SharePoint Online

This article discusses some of the myths associated with SharePoint, pitfalls that small and medium enterprises need to avoid while deciding to opt for SharePoint Online as a technology. I hope it would help you decide as to whether SharePoint Online should be considered, if so where!

More and more organizations are embracing SharePoint Online every day. Some of the frequently heard statements or “facts” regarding SharePoint includes:

  1. SharePoint Online reduces cost
  2. SharePoint Online reduces development effort
  3. SharePoint Online reduces go live effort and maintenance cost



A friend working with a Logistics company recently told me how they invested in SharePoint Online to ensure some of their applications were on cloud and the decision backfired resulting in losses.

Let me tell you what happened before analyzing why this happened! This will also help in understanding where SharePoint Online can be implemented and where SharePoint Online is a strict no-no.

The Logistics company in question is a well known organization. It decided to hire an IT firm to implement some of their business processes on the SharePoint Cloud (also called SharePoint Online).

What Happened When Development Started with SharePoint Online

The IT firm formed a team of 2 to handle the project through agile methodology (another buzzword where half the world never follows the correct process, let this be for another day).

Soon into the starting months of the project the business owners smell a problem. Some parts of their business processes were not implementable! Not Implementable – Functionality or business process can not be implemented through SharePoint Online.

The client (read business owners) had  invested quite a significant amount of money in buying licenses for all the users of the organization, etc.

They started pressurizing the development team into implementing things that for a significant part was not possible, and a larger part was very complex to implement.

For example, the client requested for the following –

  1. Reading excel attached to a List item (for business readers – attaching an excel while creating a new record and reading it) to store value in same and multiple lists.
  2. Creating complex forms and fetching data through Oracle DB.
  3. Reading and writing to SAP
  4. And other requirements…

After much deliberation the developers could implement only a part of it.

The business owners still refusing to believe the developers scheduled a call with Microsoft (and Microsoft charges for this too) only to hear what the developers were telling them from the beginning.

The project was scrapped midway through. The client lost money – they let go off SharePoint Online, and they had to pay the IT Firm as well!

I would certainly not dwell on who should accept the bigger pie of the blame – both of them deserve to be in the dock, but certainly the Logistics company lost more, without an iota of doubt!

What Went Wrong with SharePoint Online

Any SharePoint developer would tell you that each of the numbered requirements are unfit for SharePoint. Better, the other way round – SharePoint is unfit for each of these requirements.

SharePoint Online cannot fulfill all your requirements – as is the case with all platforms.

Just because SharePoint has an easy to use UI to enter data into something (read Lists and Libraries) that looks like an enhanced version of SQL Table, thinking that it can fulfill your business demands can be suicidal.

For a developer when he is building something into SharePoint Online (excluding building Apps for SPO) he has limited tools and tech at his disposal like –

  1. SharePoint Designer – that I hear is something Microsoft looking to do away with soon.
  2. Javascript and Jquery
  3. HTML and CSS
  4. InfoPath Forms (already deprecated)

So what if SharePoint is a Modern Platform – it can’t do everything

Firstly, the decision maker need not be rigid with a very common thought which goes like this  – “SharePoint is a modern platform”.

When I say so, I mean to hard press the fact that clients saying – “well, I hear SharePoint is one of the latest technology available. So this should be done easier than was possible before” seems to put the developer in a spot.

SharePoint is built on top of the Dot Net framework but there are many things in dot net that can be achieved easily. The same on SharePoint takes loads of effort.

So it is very important for the decision maker to evaluate the requirements and do a comparative study between effort and cost  required for using SharePoint and dot net.

SharePoint Online makes life easier for a lot of things and I can surely not list it here. If your requirements can be easily achieved through SharePoint Online, discuss and go for it. Else spare yourself future headache!

Server Side not Allowed

In SharePoint Online, the biggest challenge faced by a developer is that he has no access to server side coding.

Server side coding is relatively easier and more advanced than client side code. The advent of apps will certainly make life easier but that would again require more investment by your organization.

Debugging and GUID

SharePoint error messages are weird. More than the actual message being displayed on the screen, what you get is a long sequence of digits which we developers call as GUID.

It’s impossible for the developer to make out anything from the GUID.

For that, you need to raise a ticket with Microsoft, pay for it and get details. And this is time taking!


SharePoint Designer workflows are your default mode of implementing workflows in SharePoint Online.

I have heard murmurs of Microsoft doing away with it and I am not yet sure. We will know soon.

SharePoint Design 2013 Workflows are advanced – they help you call HTTP web services. I have implemented them and once you need to get all values using a loop from a different system (say SAP) your workflow runs slower.

As the business owner, it might irk you at times to not use it. So if you have got simpler workflows like sending an email, doing simple calculations, a couple of approval workflows – go for SharePoint Designer workflow.

In Short

SharePoint Online is a revolution for sure – businesses should try and make a generous effort to check if SharePoint Online is implementable for their processes. Your judgement will either save costs for your organization or ensure that the investment is a waste.

If you have got any questions or points to add on to this, feel free to reach out to me through comments!






Should Your Organization Embrace SharePoint Online – From a Developer’s Perspective

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