Lack of Governance Can Cause SharePoint Headaches

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A post about Microsoft SharePoint from last September included a comment from T4G Limited consultant Fred Yeomans that really stuck with me. In urging companies to come up with solid business reasons for implementing SharePoint, Yeomans said he was often approached by potential clients who ask for help in rolling out SharePoint when "they cannot clearly articulate why they want to implement it."


OK, that was a whole year ago. Companies have gotten a better handle on SharePoint since then, right? Not so much, based on results of a survey conducted by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM). It found less than 50 percent of SharePoint implementations were subject to a formal business case, and just half of those required a financial justification.


This can be attributed partly to inexperience. According to the survey, half of the smaller businesses implementing SharePoint are information management newbies. Even in the largest companies, a quarter have no previous experience with enterprise content management (ECM) or document management (DM) systems. Given that, it's not really surprising that just 22 percent provide any guidance to staff on the use of content types and classification and even fewer, 15 percent, have retention policies and legal discovery procedures.


Yet many companies with ECM or DM experience seem to share this lack of clarity. According to AIIM, nearly a third of of companies with existing ECM or DM systems have yet to define how SharePoint fits with those systems. The most popular option is to use SharePoint for collaboration and intranet publishing, while relying on existing systems for document and records management. SharePoint is often used as a portal or front-end to the existing systems. Just 8 percent of survey respondents intend to phase out existing ECM software in favor of SharePoint, while 7 percent will invest in new ECM or records management software to complement SharePoint.


Two months ago when I interviewed Rob Helm, managing VP of research at Directions on Microsoft, about Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, he told me SharePoint was becoming a "critical product that's getting sucked into other Microsoft products." For example, he said, or example, the latest version of Project Server requires companies to also purchase SharePoint Server. He said:


Microsoft is going to continue to pull SharePoint through as an infrastructure. It may never be as dominant as Office, but it may be like SQL Server, Microsoft's database product. If you're on the Microsoft stack, you almost can't avoid it.


Echoing what I'd heard and read in other places, Helm told me small SharePoint installations could grow like kudzu, quickly overwhelming IT. Management is simpler with the assistance of a good systems integrator with SharePoint experience and/or a set of third-party tools, he said.


But before they get to that stage, companies need to devote time to determining how they will use SharePoint and establish a governance structure. Some comments from the appendix of the AIIM report that includes the survey results, "SharePoint Strategies and Experiences," are especially telling:

  • SharePoint is rather easy to roll out and is attractive to end-users, so the risk is that everybody becomes an administrator and governance is neglected.
  • Need a governance plan FIRST. It is an absolute must and the step CANNOT be skipped under any circumstances.
  • Plan, plan, plan. Really work through governance and content type issues.


SharePoint 2010 will challenge even companies already using SharePoint, Helm said:


... Even for existing users, there are differences.The way supporting services are managed is different. 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.