Using SharePoint for Your Intranet? Get a Strategy First

Ann All
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SharePoint Brings a Wide Range of Benefits

Our partners at Info~Tech Research Group did an extensive survey of businesses to determine the value they are finding in SharePoint, Microsoft's enterprise collaboration, portal and content management platform.

When I interviewed Rob Helm, managing VP of research at Directions on Microsoft, about Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 back in July, he said the newest version of SharePoint will involve a steep learning curve for existing users, telling me:

Administrators and architects will need a lot of ramp-up time to understand the new product version. In some areas, it's an even bigger jump than we saw moving from SharePoint 2003 to SharePoint 2007.

If the learning curve is steep for SharePoint users, imagine what it might be like for non-users. Martin White, managing director of consulting company Intranet Focus Ltd and author of the soon-to-be-published "The Intranet Management Handbook," is concerned this learning curve will adversely impact intranets at a time when internal information management is becoming more important.

 

Writing on CMS Wire, White says many intranet managers have delayed decisions to upgrade their content management systems and will be pressured to do so this year. As he puts it:

In 2011 there is no place for intranet managers to hide.

Since SharePoint is a popular and well-known intranet platform, White seems to assume many intranet managers will be pressured-the unwritten implication is by senior executives-to adopt SharePoint 2010. (As he writes: "Making a business case that this will not meet user requirements and that other products should be considered is probably a challenge too far for most intranet managers.")

 


White lists five challenges SharePoint 2010 will present, all of which involve some combination of SharePoint's well-known governance shortcomings and the need for adequate implementation resources:

  • Combining SharePoint's lack of governance tools with the inattention to data governance found in most corporate intranets (and, let's be honest, elsewhere in organizations) will result in "much higher risks associated with users not being able to find information that they feel able to trust as definitive," writes White.
  • The blurring of lines between collaboration, social media and intranets will cause "substantial organizational friction," again exacerbated by a lack of governance. In theory, intranets should be a logical place to centralize employee communications, including those that involve collaboration, but that's not the case at most organizations today.
  • Going back to what Helm told me in our interview, migration to SharePoint "will be resource-intensive both from a content and a development viewpoint," says White. This problem will be compounded by the fact that many organizations already don't dedicate adequate resources to intranet management.
  • An unfamiliar SharePoint interface will entail lots of training and support, especially for content contributors.
  • Few IT departments, or even Microsoft partners according to White, possess the expertise and experience necessary to optimize SharePoint search.

 

White suggests creating a two-year strategy document for the intranet "which is clearly based on user requirements and also reflects the strategic direction of the organization." He writes:

If this has been agreed it can at least act as a baseline for discussions about the value of migrating to SharePoint 2010. If there is going to be a trade-off between requirements and technology push then at least it is clear to all concerned what the benefits and risks will be.

Creating this kind of document is a smart idea for any technology implementation and would probably help avoid at least some of the problems that wreck projects, such as the kinds of mismatched expectations that result from a lack of user input.

 

If, after creating this document, companies do determine that SharePoint is the best choice for an intranet upgrade, they'd do well to heed the advice of Helm and 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 Business Edge contributor Mike Vizard listed a few of the third-party applications available for SharePoint in a post from last spring. The good news is, many vendors are working to tighten integration between their applications and SharePoint.



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