The Big Elephant in the SharePoint Room

After all the “SharePoint Saturday The Conference” excitement has died down.  I looked at both the agenda and attendance and came to the obvious conclusion.  We’re still more enthralled with technology than content.   I will not say that is necessarily a bad thing, however, for a technology that professes to help manage content as a community we’re still more focused on widgets, parts and branding than on getting a handle on actually helping the end-user manage content.

I hear lots of pushback on this topic both at the conference and work.  We’re here to provide a tool; it’s the end-user’s responsibility to use it correctly.  The only problem with this answer is that if you don’t assist the end-user community in seeing how the technology enables one to accomplish a task better and in a new way you’ll end up with the same problems with just a new face on them.

How many SharePoint implementations are just Web front-ends to G-Drives?  I’ve done several snap surveys and audits to see this trend continuing.  In an effort to deploy the latest and greatest technology we’ve lost the rational for its usage to start with.  In order to be successful in delivery, we’ve sandbagged its capabilities.

Helping end-users understand their role in information management is not an insurmountable task, but it does suggest SharePoint community members need to move out of their comfort zone of lists, sites, and web parts and into the more abstract area of content strategy, information architecture beyond UI design and into how content’s lifecycle needs to be managed beyond slamming a quick and dirty article into a content management system (CMS) or I.T. launch process.

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About briankseitz
I live in PacNW in a small town and work for Microsoft as a Enterprise strategy and architecture SME. I enjoy solving big complex problems, cooking and eating, woodworking and reading. I typically read between 4-8 business and technology books a month.

10 Responses to The Big Elephant in the SharePoint Room

  1. From our previous conversations, you know I completely agree with you. I see this everywhere I go in SharePoint land — people are deploying SharePoint without a strategy, treating like a productivity application rather than the application development platform that it really is. Giving business users a development platform and asking them to figure out how to best use it to get their work done better is an approach doomed for failure. For those who have embraced SharePoint as a platform begs for business apps to run on top of it, you will be more likely to deliver something that makes users happy and enables them to be more productive.

  2. Ben McMann says:

    In my experiences, SharePoint is deployed without a proper usage mapped to the top level corporate strategy, which basically means you have not found the areas in your business that can benefit the most from improved collaboration. I think this is a result of two things:

    First, the people tasked with implementing and running SharePoint don’t know the corporate strategy (which speaks to a leadership issue).

    Second, a lack of business acumen and tools to help people improve that acumen. Collaboration can have a significant impact on financial returns through 3 mechanisms: increased sales, cost savings, and improved asset efficiency.

    On the tools part, I am beginning to focus on different ways to help people take a “holistic” view of their use of SharePoint and integrate it to their organization’s business model and strategy. IT (the usual owner of SharePoint) must learn to speak in the business language.

    I have been working with clients resently to help them create a SharePoint business model that reflects how they currently are using SharePoint to begin that dialogue. I have been using the Business Model Canvas – a free resource that makes it very easy to walk through a business model.

    You can see the blog post here: http://bit.ly/o2OkVl.

    The canvas makes it very easy to speak to a business executive in a language they can understand. Once you can present this, you can then take the next step and ask how can we better leverage this platform to support our oganization’s business model and strategy.

  3. Brian,

    Good post – I have to agree with you that SharePoint land is still very much about technology and not about real business value. You can’t blame the gold partners too much – this is exactly how Microsoft work and they support and promote the people who help sell technology and licenses – if you also add business value, hey thats just a bonus.

    What you will find is that their is a growing movement of people who have been banging this drum for a long time, at 21apps ( http://www.21apps.com/ourmodel ) this is something that forms the basis for the company strategy – helping people deliver real business value.

    I like the work (and blogs ) that Ben is doing, he is very much aligned to our thinking. The business model canvas being just one of the approaches we use to help people focus on the business needs before the technology. Ant Clay ( @soulsailor ) did a great post that covers some of the other approaches we use http://www.21apps.com/21shift/outcomes-overview/ in our work.

    I recommend you also take a look at the great work done by people like Paul Culmsee ( http://www.cleverworkarounds.com ) to see that although most of the SharePoint world is focused on technology – there are small shoots of hope that will eventually become the only way to achieve your goals.

  4. Kerri says:

    As someone from the business side, (I actually consider myself a bit technology challenged) I battle this with IT in every meeting we have as we discuss how to restructure our failing deployment. The concept of users developing their own resources is so foreign to them that they are soon wrapped up with managing resources and the overall cost of supporting the development should they actually get end-user adoption and allow development to occur.

    I was recently challenged as to the value of my services supporting SharePoint development,(mind you nearly all OOTB) and if it was cost effective – many in our division are SharePoint dependent to get their work done, yes, they think I’m worth it! IT just doesn’t get it, I’m not sure they can see past the file share they have created currently but I also wonder if they are so in dark that they can’t see how OOTB can work for them? Are all these tracks focusing on the higher skill set actually causing IT to withdraw further from the platform – especially in the failed deployment scenario? Do they think that SharePoint can only be successful with a heavy developer’s hand?

    I can prove they don’t, but my voice comes from outside IT, and even if I were the loudest in the room…IT can’t seem to hear me. Nice article.

  5. Sharing Kerri’s (well-said!) perspective…

    The business wants IT to tell them how to use SharePoint; meanwhile IT wants the business to tell them what SharePoint needs to do. There’s no WHY involved- SharePoint was added as just another “service” and no one is in a position to tell us what results we’re supposed to be helping to achieve. A goal of “supporting collaboration” is unmeasurable. Yet often that’s all the direction the business has provided.

    No one wants to acknowledge, let alone DO, the significant amount of work it takes to get measurable value. “Once you get your taxonomy, you can…” Um, hello? Created an enterprise taxonomy lately? “Just get your content types set up, then you can…” Same here. Agreeing across the business on what content types to use, and what columns they should contain, is a major undertaking- one which requires agreement & buy-in from a lot of people. The parts of SharePoint that really make it COOL are the ones most businesses run screaming from.

    Demos show awesome functionality, but don’t forget what it takes to get there. Deploying first and asking questions later is a recipe for disaster.

  6. Brock says:

    Sharepoint Saturday and the sharepoint conference are very technically focussed. Perhaps go to Share2011 for a more business focussed conference. There are many very intelligent IM professionals working with sharepoint right now and delivering amazing business outcomes.

    • briankseitz says:

      Brock,
      I will be at SharePoint 2011 in Anaheim and have been invited to speak at Share2011 in Atlanta. I do not dispute that there are point areas where amazing results are delivered. The question I have is what amazing results:

      – Are they the ones the line of business was expecting or automation the I.T. departments wanted?
      – Are these results emblematic of Sharepoint market? I would contend they are not based upon the sampling I’ve been doing.

      If you are delivering those amazing business results, I commend you; you’re a standout and model for others.

      In an effort to bite both hands…I will be posting later today the other side of this story, End-users Culpability.

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