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SharePoint is Not a Field of Dreams

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For years, SharePoint has been one of the classic examples for “Field of Dreams”[Endnote 1] enterprise software — if you build it, they will come. In part, that’s been true because SharePoint has filled a gap for most enterprises. Document management, search, collaboration and ease of entry have made SharePoint one of the most rapidly deployed Microsoft enterprise technologies ever. At Microsoft’s last annual SharePoint Conference, the Redmond, Washington-based company touted how quickly they had climbed to over 125 million enterprise users. Wow. Why?

Well, going back to the original release of SharePoint Portal Server 2001, it’s always had the Web-based document-management realm to itself. Typically, IT groups would spin up SharePoint and, since its internal competition was a Windows File Share, users would start keeping files there.

In SharePoint’s first decade, considering the lack of competition, IT just had to send around a URL and, voilà – user adoption. Can’t go wrong.

However, just since 2010, new colors have deepened our view of the landscape. Over the past few years, SharePoint has broadened and deepened its capability. On one hand, Microsoft has added additional enterprise workloads — such as content management, social search, applications, and business intelligence (BI) — to expand those original functions. We’ve also seen SharePoint expand its capacity to allow it to service thousands of users and support terabytes of content. So SharePoint has taken on more.

On the other hand, the ongoing evolution of consumer technologies — especially for cloud storage and social networking (e.g., Dropbox, LinkedIn) — has finally given users alternatives. Alternate technologies need not be superior to Microsoft; but they expand the vocabulary for user requirements and expectations.

Rising expectations also carry the yin-yang opportunity of improved return-on-investment (ROI). For many organizations, document collaboration justifies the investment on its own. And ROI is maximized when enterprises adopt some of those other workloads. For instance, adopting SharePoint for business intelligence maximizes the return for little or no extra platform investment — you already have SharePoint.

Adoption isn’t just usage. A classic definition of  “adoption” is “to choose as preferred.” User preference, satisfaction and emotion – all major contributors to adoption. And SharePoint is already highly adopted; over 66 percent of global enterprises use SharePoint, according to Microsoft’s survey data from November 2011.

But SharePoint adoption has slowed over time too. Industry analysts have identified a number of roadblocks that slow down the pace of SharePoint enterprise rollouts – technical issues, lack of governance, and skills training are paramount among these. In Quest’s surveys, enterprise sponsors and architects have reported high levels of satisfaction with SharePoint’s document management — typically 60-70 percent. Those satisfaction levels, however, drop to 20-30 percent with SharePoint’s newer functions such as social or BI.

As a result, IT can no longer just push SharePoint out the door and expect users to discover their own satisfaction with the platform.

Without a clear adoption strategy, SharePoint is likely to be “abandoned.” IT engineers, by nature, are a persistent bunch — they hate to admit failure. The dilemma is that a failed SharePoint rollout looks a lot like a successful rollout. Servers are running, some content is added and there may be departmental “islands” of usage. IT itself is usually an early adopter — which can mask the failures of zombie SharePoint farms.

Now many SharePoint implementations are successful, even for the more challenged farms. The good news is that SharePoint can almost always be brought back to life. There are nearly endless tools and techniques documented online, in books, conference presentations and the like (http://blogs.kma-llc.net/microknowledge/2010/06/sharepoint-adoption-strategies-microsoft-teched-2010.html ).

Good governance is one of the necessary prerequisites to adoption.  Let’s look at Microsoft’s own definition of governance from TechNet:

“Governance is the set of policies, roles, responsibilities, and processes that guide, direct, and control how an organization’s business divisions and IT teams cooperate to achieve business goals.”

So if adoption requires governance, and governance is a cooperation between business and IT, why does SharePoint adoption “belong” to IT? Well, someone has to move first, and that someone is usually IT. IT is often the first champion of SharePoint in the organization and is uniquely positioned to help. Here are the major reasons:

1. Compliance and security are at stake

Collaboration is no longer limited to office desktop and corporate facilities. Obviously, we live in a decentralized information world. Data needs to be accessed around the globe across multiple networks, using traditional PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Information workers, left on their own, will seek any convenient information stores for ease of collaborative access.  Without guidance, they’ll use every possible mix of cloud storage, email access, offline sync tools, and “unowned” systems, a.k.a. bring your own device (“BYOD”). The BYOD movement offers great flexibility in allowing workers to tailor their collaboration patterns to work styles and lifestyles.

But IT is still charged with establishing and maintaining information security. It’s easier than ever for users to install new-generation collaboration tools. As soon as users pick a “rogue” tool, IT loses control of the data. Keeping the data “inside” a SharePoint domain is the first step to sustaining information security; guiding users to preferred channels for swapping data among multiple controlled platforms is the second.

Fair or not, IT is assumed to understand what’s happening “in the cloud” and on the phone.  Acting as gatekeepers for data as it goes on and off the network is a fair mission.  But to pull it off, users need to be taught clear patterns of acceptable usage – meaning, they need a holistic approach to system security. By offering preferred tools and techniques, IT can assure that data stays under control – not on an open Internet system overseas that someone “found” for their project — or worse.

2. Governance and adoption is a partnership

SharePoint may start with IT as a technical endeavor. Conversely, IT is naturally predisposed to regard adoption as a “business user” issue. But the time for pointing fingers at users who wanted to deploy a collaboration tool is over. Frequently, the enterprise perception is that IT owns and is responsible for SharePoint — even if that’s not entirely the case. Governance is supposed to be a partnership to achieve business goals. So, too, should IT feel comfortable working on usage patterns with the business. Dropping the ball or scapegoating a business sponsor can permanently fracture those nascent partnerships.

Additionally, SharePoint also frequently begins as an IT budget item. The ROI discussed above is the justification for those expenditures. Organizations with established, sustained budgets tend to have more mature and more highly adopted SharePoint farms. [Endnote 2]  SharePoint usage is of direct importance to business outcomes. But it also has direct impact on IT finance and budgets.

3. IT commands the “network”

Finally, SharePoint adoption is an enterprise-wide challenge. But IT is the only faction within the organization that already touches every device and user daily. Not finance. Not HR. Not marketing or learning-and-development. Because user experience happens through technology, IT is uniquely positioned to shape it — and SharePoint is no exception.

IT commands the data network. But they can also expand the usage network. SharePoint provides a system where each successive user adds value to the environment — the “network effect.” If SharePoint resembles a semi-abandoned waterfront amusement park, users stay away. Sites grow stale, and the impact of seeing the same “Welcome to SharePoint” announcement month after month starts to wear on even the most loyal user.

On the other hand, if users come to believe that they will not be alone and that they can find new information, other users and unique applications, they stay.

SharePoint adoption is a complex endeavor. At its best, it encompasses user interface design, training, marketing, psychology, performance engineering, coaching and motivational speaking.  It’s too important to assume that it’s only a business user’s responsibility. But if you build SharePoint with IT’s full engagement, then governance is established, user adoption follows and business outcomes are sustained. People will come.

Endnotes:

1. In the 1989 film Field of Dreams, an Iowa farmer hears a voice in his fields that implores him “If you build it, he will come.” He builds a baseball field, and things happen. Watch the movie.

2. See http://amatterofdegree.typepad.com/a_matter_of_degree/2012/07/annual-budget-for-sharepoint-most-affects-readiness-competencies.html

Chris McNulty is the general manager for SharePoint, Quest Software (now part of Dell). He’s a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS), Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE), and a member of the Microsoft Solutions Advocate and MVTSP programs. A frequent speaker at events around the globe, Chris is the author of the “SharePoint 2010 Consultant’s Handbook” and other books. He also blogs at http://www.chrismcnulty.net/blog and http://www.sharepointforall.com.  Prior to Quest, Chris led the SharePoint consulting practice at KMA. 

Comments

By Sean O’Leary

Initially SharePoint didn’t have the competition that it now has. Since people have alternate options SharePoint must do everything in its power to keep current users happy.

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