Podcast: Marriage of Microsoft and Skype a Win-Win

Ann All

It's been about half a year since I wrote about the sometimes slapdash adoption of Microsoft SharePoint, which apparently is often brought into organizations without a clear strategy in mind. My post cited some good advice from Martin White, managing director of consulting company Intranet Focus Ltd and author "The Intranet Management Handbook," who advised creating a strategy document to help determine if SharePoint is the best option for the company intranet and sitting down for a discussion about SharePoint's benefits and possible shortcomings.

 

I also included some tips from Rob Helm, managing VP of research at Directions on Microsoft, who told me companies that want to maximize the value of SharePoint should consider investing in third-party tools designed to improve the SharePoint experience and the services of a systems integrator who has experience with SharePoint deployments.

 

It doesn't seem like much has changed in the six months since I wrote the post, based on a new report from AIIM called Using SharePoint for ECM. Forty-six percent of respondents tapped a lack of strategic plans on how to use SharePoint as their biggest ongoing issue with the software. This lack of strategy seemingly hasn't hampered adoption. The survey found half of smaller companies and 70 percent of larger ones had already implemented SharePoint. Just 21 percent had no SharePoint plans, down from 35 percent in 2009.

 

The IT department is the biggest user of SharePoint, followed by line-of-business departments, marketing and HR. It's being used most often for collaboration, portal and intranet. IT is also in charge of SharePoint in all but 28 percent of organizations.

 


I find this a little worrisome, and I'm not the only one. Lee Bryant, co-founder and director of Headshift, writes that, during a SharePoint workshop, he asked attendees whether any of them had evaluated different technologies and platforms before selecting SharePoint. His answer:

None had. In most cases, it was chosen by people in the IT department with little or no involvement from potential users.

Not gathering user input is a no-no when evaluating any software, especially a platform with such broad potential usage as SharePoint. Among the reasons Bryant lists for SharePoint's popularity with IT organizations:

  • Desire for control
  • Ignorance of alternatives
  • "Safe" choice, as it's based on the Microsoft stack

 

Like some other authors I've read, Bryant believes Microsoft's SharePoint-does-it-all approach results in a product that is adequate for many functions but not the best choice for any of them. Despite the interest in collaboration seen in the AIIM study, Bryant says SharePoint has especially weak collaboration features. He finds SharePoint implementations often fall into one of three categories:

  • Out-of-the-box installations, which tend to result in low usage and SharePoint being used as "a place to dump documents, and perhaps even to publish a 1990's-style intranet."
  • Highly customized deployments, which end up being inflexible and expensive to maintain and can cause added problems when Microsoft makes changes to the software as it inevitably will.
  • Deployments under tight IT control, which can result in users looking for free or cheap alternatives rather than going to IT for frequent assistance.

 

His advice is to use SharePoint as a base platform, one that provides under-the-hood Office integration, authentication, document management and portal services, but then add third-party products for user-facing functionality. His main point, however, is to get users involved and to look beyond the simply technical considerations to address broader cultural concerns.

 

Bryant's advice matches up with AIIM's recommendations. Both Bryant and the AIIM report urge organizations not to neglect advance planning, change management or user experience.



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