Why are you still not focused on the business when implementing SharePoint?


Over the past week I have been reading a couple of recent SharePoint-related papers, and thought I would share some of my thoughts.

The first paper is entitled SharePoint – strategies and experiences from AIIM. This document presents the results of a survey of 624 AIIM members last spring regarding experiences and plans with SharePoint. I strongly recommend downloading and reading the entire report, as I do not intend to cover all of it in this post, only those items that seemed interesting to me (which is actually difficult, because there is a fair amount of interesting stuff in there!).

The findings I found most interesting were:

  • Lack of business-case justification for implementations
  • Governance challenges
  • Perceived ROI
  • Implementation challenges
  • The number of organizations planning to upgrade to SharePoint 2010
  • The ranking of most popular uses of SharePoint

For me, the most startling result in the report is

Half of SharePoint implementations went ahead with no business case being made to justify the
investment. Only 23% were required to make a financial justification. Where a business case was
made, improved collaboration and better knowledge sharing were the main benefits assessed.

Is it just me, or is this insane? As I said last year in my column Danger! Do not implement SharePoint in your Organization!, the focus of your SharePoint implementation should be solutions to real business problems, bringing real business value. A business case is not just something you do in order to get funding. It is something you do so you understand what functionality you are implementing and why. Not doing a business plan is setting the project up for failure, but for a failure you may never know about. After all, if you have nothing against which to measure success, how can you even know if you have failed, or at least failed to live up to potential? I guess I am optimistic, but I thought everyone understood this by now.

The second point is equally astonishing to me. While the first links I saw to the AIIM document had headlines implying some weakness in SharePoint governance was found (here for example), the real finding is that many of the organizations implementing SharePoint simply do not put appropriate governance in place. A great many organizations have a lack of definition of governance of features, sites or content.

Surprisingly, despite the lack of business case and governance, most of the organizations surveyed were happy with the ROI achieved (which is amazing if they had no definition of what they were trying to accomplish!). Only 9% said that the ROI was worse than expected. Then again, maybe this is just a reflection of having no real idea of what you expected the ROI to be.

The results also identified some of the challenges faced when implementing SharePoint. Among the key issues identified were:

  • Managing process change
  • Took longer than expected
  • User resistance to new UI
  • Technically more difficult than expected
  • Cost more than expected
  • Poor performance/infrastructure capability

All of these, in my opinion, are reflections of lack of planning and lack of business case. While many of these challenges are common even in the best of circumstances, a lack of a clear, business-focused vision and plan will invariably make them worse.

There were also a couple of positive results from the report (more than a couple, but 2 I will mention here).

The results indicated that 13% of the respondents are planning to upgrade to SharePoint 2010 almost immediately, while half are planning to within a year. I see this as positive, anyway.

It was also interesting to look at what SharePoint features are most popular in these organizations. While I always tend to think of SharePoint primarily as a portal platform, and a solution development platform (hey, I am a developer), the most popular usages found in the survey were:

  1. Collaboration
  2. Document management and file-share replacement
  3. Portals
  4. Intranets

These are just some of the points I found interesting in the report. Again, I strongly urge anyone looking at SharePoint to real the whole report.

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About

I have been working in the world of technology for 25-odd years. I am an entrepreneur and consultant, focused on software solutions, social networking, and innovation processes. Currently, I am a Principal Consultant with T4G Limited, specializing in Portal Technologies (including SharePoint), software/systems development, service oriented architectures, and many other things which I will probably not remember until I need to use them. Prior to that, I was VP of Technology at Whitehill Technologies, Inc., where I spent almost 9 years helping to grow the company from a start-up to one of the most successful private software companies in Canada. Prior to that I worked on internet conferencing using early VoIP, and on large military communications projects. Before even that, I worked in satellite control, and remote sensing. Going way back to university, my focus was on theoretical physics and astrophysics. Currently my interests revolve around most aspects of software development, from technologies to management, and in the area of defining sustainable, repeatable processes for innovation within technology organizations. I also have a particular interest in Tablet PC technologies – I have been using one for several years, and I love it. On the personal side, I still have a strong interest in all aspects of science, especially physical sciences, as well as philosophy and comparative religion. In addition, I am into music, playing guitar (badly, I am sorry to say), and reading almost anything I can lay my hands on. I am also a member of the IEEE/IEEE Computer Society, and of the Association for Computing Machinery.

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Posted in MOSS, Review, SharePoint, SharePoint 2010, Trends
5 comments on “Why are you still not focused on the business when implementing SharePoint?
  1. Jake says:

    Hi Fred,

    I agree with the lack of planning and benchmarks being a big drawback while installing sharepoint in organizations. I started looking at Sharepoint about a year ago. Its pretty impressive for what it can do OOTB. You alluded to being a developer which is what I am too.

    I started my investigation with the high hopes that a lot of our internal applications could be recreated in SP pretty quickly. However, after several months of investigation, my discovery is only a certain breed of applications are suitable for SP. And when I say application, I mean applications built using the SP API and not external applications that are just sourced into the page using a Content Viewer WebPart.

    Applications that are list/library centric and have moderate workflow requirements are best fit candidates. For applications that are more relational database oriented, or have complicated workflows or require special page to page routing – Sharepoint is too hard to use to model these. You are better off writing them in an external ASP.NET application and just providing a window to it in SP. Yes, you can configure some BDC stuff…but really all this does is surface another existing application that may already have its UI in place.

    I talked to another SP administrator at a local .NET user group yesterday and they were of the same opinion. IMO, heavy customization of SP to do tasks that are easier to complete with regular ASPX should not be attempted in SP. Upgrades will be a nightmare and users will not be satisfied. Just my 2 cents.

    Jake.

    • Fred says:

      That applies to any technology, not just SharePoint. Always know what business goals you are trying to achieve, what the requirements are to achieve those goals, and then pick the right technology or technologies to fulfill those requirements. I have been having these discussions for 25 years, whether it was Fortran versus C, C/C++ versus VB versus Java, Java versus .NET, Web Applications versus Desktop Applications – it feels like I have had the same conversation for my entire career. And the answer has always been the same – be familiar with as many tools and technologies as possible, so that you can make intelligent choices as to which ones to use in a given situation.

      One of the biggest reasons for failure of SharePoint projects has been the tendancy to use for EVERYTHING, and especially for things it is not good at. Part of this is Microsoft’s fault as well, as their marketing tends to imply that it can be used for anything and everything.

      I do believe that SharePoint is viable as a development platform as well, for the right applications. THis is especially true of SharePoint 2010, where the development tools have improved greatly (they sucked badly in 2003, and sucked somewhat in 2007). It does, however, impose its own model on you.

      • Jake says:

        Thanks for the response. And I agree with the marketing hype surrounding it since its sold as the golden bullet that will solve all problems in the world. And reality is that its great for certain things and not the best environment for some. Like you said, knowing your tools and their strengths is important else for a hammer all things start to look like a nail.

        Thanks,
        Jake.

      • dyednwool says:

        Fred – Been reading this post with interest, as we are evaluating whether to proceed with Sharepoint as a business solution for our organization. We agree that we need an informed consultant to work with us and best determine if Sharepoint is the right tool and guide us through the evaluation. We are having difficulties finding any consultants in the New England area – could you provide any guidance as to how we might contact some recommended consultants?

        Thanks —
        Gina

      • Fred says:

        Hi Gina – As a matter of fact, I am a Principal Consultant at a company called T4G (www.t4g.com). We are based in Canada, but have an office in Saco, ME which does considerable work in New England and elsewhere (drawing on expertise throughout the company). If you wanted to send me an email briefly describing your organization and what you are trying to do, along contact info, I could have the appropriate person from our Saco office get in touch. You can email me at fred dot yeomans at t4g dot com.

        cheers

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