Of late I’ve been out and about visiting new clients who are either looking at SharePoint for the business or have installed SharePoint and don’t know what to do next. I recall a well known saying in the SharePoint community that was once said to me:
“The answers SharePoint, what's the question?”
This is sums up a lot of my engagement’s I’ve been involved in recently and there is a valid reason for it in as much that SharePoint is part of a lot of clients Microsoft Enterprise Agreement (an EA) so its been paid for so the view is lets use it. This is a like walking into a forecourt full of cars with a blindfold on and randomly pointing at a car that you want to buy only to realise its only got 2 seats when you needed 4 or its a manual gearbox and you can only drive automatics. I think you kind of get the picture of what I’m trying to say here is that if you go in blind you can’t expect to get the results you were looking for.
This is where the problem comes in because SharePoint as a product is a complex platform and understandably clients who have had little exposure to to date struggle to understand how to use it effectively and how to sell it.
SharePoint isn't another Exchange deployment where once its configured it just sends mail (and very well it does too), not to devalue the importance to Exchange implementations but if you’re implementing Exchange you’re requirement is pretty clear right? Email? That's not to say SharePoint doesn't need the same support from IT but its involvement from the business which will make it a success.
So with little knowledge of SharePoint's capabilities its wrongly being pitched as a solution when no evaluation has been carried out on the product to see if it meets specific requirements. SharePoint unfortunately comes in for some unnecessary criticism because its only after SharePoint has been decided as the solution they find out it only meet 60 – 80% of the requirements and at this point time, money and resource has been invested meaning the client either begrudgingly carries on with SharePoint having to request additional budget or bail out.
I also see that SharePoint is still being pitched as a point solution e.g. its an intranet and that's all and not a strategic platform with direction, which brings me onto my next point.
My advice at this stage is you need a strategy, a plan, a vision of where you are going and think bigger picture. Thinking short term will more than likely end in failure as you make the wrong choices it becomes harder and harder to unpick.
So some takeaways from reading this and advice I can give is to not expect internal staff to all of sudden become SharePoint experts, it takes time. In the short-term if things need to be done quickly look at external consultancy options or recruit experienced proven SharePoint people (this takes time I know!). Longer term look at internal staff strengths and identify who’s good at such things as development, leading, administration (especially those keen to learn new things), analysis, project management and then align these skills to how they fit with the roles that are needed to maintain and grow a successful SharePoint implementation.
So the key is what's the strategy? Then once there is a strategy defined evaluate the products capabilities and review where it meets the requirements and where it doesn't. If it doesn't do something well in one area look at the strategy of the business and review other areas and see if it has strengths there and look at its overall performance and make an overall decision.
To conclude with those I have engaged with over the last few weeks / months / years I am in no way criticising their approach, its tough to get it right and that's why investing in planning upfront is the best place to start to avoid wasted money, time and effort whilst expectation has not been met.
As always I welcome your views…