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Here at Community IT, we’ve been touting Office 365 SharePoint as a leading contender for cloud file storage/collaboration. Most 501(c)(3) organizations qualify for Microsoft’s generous charity pricing for Office 365, making it an affordable and attractive solution. The SharePoint platform has matured a great deal in the last few years and seems to be getting better all the time as Microsoft continues to invest in services to the enterprise as its business model of their future. Many of us at Community IT have been piloting SharePoint for our own file storage – sharing and collaborating – and we’re sold. It’s great.
So it was not lost on me, when my colleague Matt Eshleman and I attended the Microsoft Ignite conference in May, that SharePoint was not mentioned by a single keynote speaker during the conference’s first day. For three hours we listened to Microsoft executives discuss and demonstrate the myriad ways that Microsoft was improving life for the enterprise and its users. The Office 365 cloud was touted as a key component of those improvements, but when a Vice President wanted to demonstrate a new file sharing security feature, he used OneDrive. This happened again and again. Where was SharePoint?

Sibling Rivalry

To be fair, after the keynote, SharePoint was very present at the conference. Matt and I attended many breakout sessions focused on SharePoint, all very well attended. I’m not particularly concerned for the future of SharePoint. (It’s made it this far, after all.) But it did occur to me that there is a strange kind of competition, even sibling rivalry, between SharePoint and OneDrive for Business. There is a lot of overlap between these two file storage services, and it’s not completely clear what vision Microsoft has for their co-existence.
Lack of clear strategy, of course, does not mean lack of an official statement. OneDrive for Business is for your personal files, for sure, but it’s also for files that you are sharing with just a few people on an ad-hoc basis. SharePoint is for files that are really owned by a group of people, defined by a SharePoint library’s context.

Each Has Its Own Strengths

photo of organized closetSharePoint has more sophisticated document management functionality. For example, if you have a document set associated with a particular project, at the project’s conclusion, the document set can be marked read-only and tagged so that its contents only show up for searches in which the “archived” metadata term is explicitly included. Sophisticated records management like this isn’t really possible with OneDrive.
OneDrive for Business is your personal closet, keep it as photo of pile of clothesmessy or as organized as you want, whatever works for you. SharePoint, on the other hand, is designed and controlled by the organization to make sense to everyone so that documents are where we expect them to be and both findable and discoverable.

File findability and discoverability are obviously key requirements for effective file collaboration. But this feature of SharePoint takes work – a lot of work – both in designing a SharePoint site collection’s initial architecture as well as in the ongoing maintenance of its living document libraries.

photo credit messy clothes: Pile of clothes via photopin (cc)
photo credit organized closet: Organized Closet via photopin (cc)

The Cost Of Being Organized

I personally like organization, design and control (it’s the project manager in me), so I’ve never minded the investments that a healthy SharePoint environment demands. For me those investments are kind of fun. But at Ignite I realized that the cost/benefit calculation for these investments has to be made.
Microsoft is running those cost/benefit calculations itself, watching its customers work and realizing that the balance does not always tip in SharePoint’s favor. Dropbox has been making strides into enterprise, whether as a formal service of IT in the Dropbox for Business form or just plain old BYOA (Bring Your Own App).  Indeed, the advance into business settings by Dropbox (which is much more like OD4B than SP) illustrates that sometimes the architecture overhead of SP-type solution isn’t necessary.
So Microsoft invests in OneDrive for Business as well as SharePoint. And it invests in Delve, the new machine learning application in Office 365 that might surface the files shared to you from OD4B accounts that are most relevant to your current work. And Microsoft Ignite breakout sessions talk about “Folksonomy” as an alternative to “Taxonomy.” Not everything needs to be designed and controlled. Not always is design and control worth the investment cost.


I believe only the smallest organizations who want to move their files to the Office 365 cloud (leaving the on-premise file server behind) should try to get by with only OneDrive for Business, without using SharePoint Online at all. At any kind of scale, effective collaboration benefits from at least some top-down organization that SharePoint can provide.
But I no longer view use of OneDrive for Business as threatening competition to SharePoint adoption. It’s okay if people use OneDrive; it’s a healthy alternative when users are aware of what SP libraries exist and which files the organization expects to be stored there. Plenty of files fall outside those boundaries, and OD4B may be a perfectly valid place to store them. There’s good reason OneDrive for Business service gets attention from Microsoft.

Community IT has explored both SharePoint and OneDrive on our blog in the posts on SharePoint as File Server and OneDrive vs Dropbox.
You may also be interested in free Webinar resources we have presented on Sharepoint, OneDrive, and Dropbox. See our catalog of past webinars here.