Danger! Do not implement SharePoint in your Organization! REDUX

This is a re-post of a column I wrote over on Legal IT Professionals a couple of years ago. Just posting it here so that I have a local version.

This column I want to deliver a warning to all of you out there – do not implement SharePoint in your organization! If you ignore this warning, and implement SharePoint anyway, beware. You run the risk of any number of problems, including:

  • User dissatisfaction
  • Maintainability and support issues
  • Data silos, making information hard to find, hard to share, and hard to maintain
  • Lots of rework
  • General chaos
  • Projects that take 10 times longer than you had planned, if they finish at all.

I do a lot of work helping organizations build solutions using SharePoint – is that all a lie?

Not at all. The problem here is the way you think about your projects. If you are consistently talking about “implementing SharePoint” you are going in the wrong direction. If you are talking about implementing any platform, you are setting up for failure. Many of the problems we run into with SharePoint and other platforms arise from focusing on the technologies.

SharePoint is a technology. It is a platform. It is a pretty good platform, in my opinion. Not without its problems, but a pretty good platform.

So what should you be focused on? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? The focus should be on implementing solutions to real business problems, bringing real business value. That was obvious to everyone, wasn’t it? If this is obvious, then why do I still have conversations with potential clients who come to me saying “Help us implement SharePoint”, when they cannot clearly articulate why they want to implement it? Sure, they can spout a lot of vague statements about documents, collaboration, communication, workflow, etc. but where are the clear statements about how this is all going to help their firm?

I think there are a number of reasons this happens. Firstly, maybe I am just talking to the wrong people (too many techies!). However, I have these discussions with many business people as well. Microsoft’s marketing is also a problem (though it is not Microsoft’s fault). People see Microsoft’s SharePoint marketing information, but they typically only pay very superficial attention. They see all these demos of interesting solutions that seem like they must be useful in their world. Then they go to their IT department (or decision makers) and say “Hey we need to implement SharePoint!”

Even worse, they go rogue and implement SharePoint on a small scale within their groups or departments. Then the IT group has to manage all of these emergent SharePoint deployments, so there is a decision to “implement SharePoint” firm wide.

Finally, there are those firms (hopefully very few these days) who really do not understand that they should not be thinking in terms of the technology.

So when is SharePoint not dangerous? Well, that is driven by how you got to “SharePoint” in the first place. I am not going to go into much detail here, because most of this should be pretty well engrained process (if not, call me – I can help ), but here are the big steps:

  • Identify clear business objectives/problems to be solved
  • Is SharePoint the right technology choice to solve them?
  • Don’t try to do everything at once – build a foundation and grow from there
  • Pick initial projects with high impact/visibility
  • Determine specific ROI goals, success metrics, etc. so that you know if you are meeting your goals
  • Make sure to consider the “human” side of things – introducing a platform that touches business processes and how people work requires detailed planning as to how to introduce it.
  • Get help! Hire it, rent it, grow it – whatever you have to do, get help. SharePoint is a big platform that does a lot of things, and if you do not know the platform well, you will end up building things that already exist. Also, as with most platforms, there are 6 different ways to do almost anything – some of them are better than others.

The first step, though – change your thinking and your terminology – and stop talking about “implementing SharePoint”!


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.

SPC09 Coming Up

So, it is less than a week to the sold out SPC09 in Las Vegas – hoping I feel better by the time I get there. Looking at the conference schedule, there looks to be an abundance of great content. My one complaint is that so much of it is concurrent – at least they will be recording all of the sessions so I can at least watch all of them.  

I will be blogging and tweeting live from the conference – so check it out (among the several thousand others who will be, as well lol)

What’s Wrong with SharePoint?

So, I am watching Twitter updates go by (as I always do, even on a Saturday night), including my search that shows me all the tweets with “sharepoint” in them. As anyone knows who watches any amount of SharePoint commentary go by, there is a fairly constant flow of comments of the “SharePoint sucks” variety.

So this evening this led me to ask the question “What is wrong with SharePoint?” No, I do not mean I want a list of every nit picking, annoying little defect – every platform has defects and annoyances. I also do not want to know why SharePoint is note good for everything – no platform is good for everything. I also do not give a crap if your opinion is “it comes from Microsoft therefore it MUST suck” – it that is as deep as your analysis can go, well, you’re a moron.

What I want to see from SOMEONE is an intelligent, well thought out description of why SharePoint sucks. Why is it a bad choice for anything? Why should you perform an exorcism on all servers running any version of SharePoint?

I did a web search (notice I did not say “google” – contrary to popular usage, google is not a verb) for “what is wrong with SharePoint?” The only relevant results I found on either Google or Bing were written in 2005 or before, and hence are not particularly relevant at this point. For example, the post Five Things Wrong with SharePoint from back in 2005 tries to talk about what is actually wrong  with SharePoint. Even though I disagree with a lot of what it says, I will not refute it since it is so old.

So – if SharePoint is so bad…if all the otherwise intelligent people implementing solutions over SharePoint are wrong – where the heck are the statements as to what is wrong with it. So tell me – WHAT IS WRONG WITH SHAREPOINT? I really want to know, and to share it with others.

Interesting response to my column on the “dangers” of “implementing SharePoint”

I find the response to my latest Legal IT Professionals column. As expected, the title drew some very interesting reactions – that is, afterall, the intent of a title – to say something that will draw people in and get them to read the content. In addition, it was intended to be a “whack in the side of the head” (borrowed from Roger van Oeck), to startle people out of their normal daily thinking as the began to read the column. While most of the response I have was neutral to positive, some (even those who responded positively) seemed to miss the intent of the title.

(I must admit, though, that I feel a little bit like a tabloid publisher – maybe I will call my next column “NASA Reveals – Bigfoot loves SharePoint”)

For those confused – the real intent is that there is not (or should not be, in my opinion) any such thing as “implementing SharePoint”. You may install SharePoint, configure SharePoint, develop over SharePoint, but you are not implementing SharePoint. You are implementing solutions to business problems of which SharePoint (or any other technology) is only a part.

Working with Association Data in MOSS Workflows

I received a couple of comments in response to me previous post on Custom Association and Custom Initiation forms regarding how to use the Association and Initiation data collected, from within the workflow code. I had answered in my responses that you just access the AssociationData and InitiationData members of the WorkflowProperties, which return the data as XML strings. You then just work with that XML as required.

Here I will present some sample code for actually working with the XML coming from the custom AssociationData.

First, I would like to step back though and look at designing the Association Data. Typically when working with any InfoPath form, I start from the data side, and develop an XML Schema for the data (ideally, this is done as part of the overall design of the solution being developed, and includes all of the data design for the solution). The code snippet below shows the schema I developed for this example.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<xs:schema targetNamespace="http://t4g.com/TestSchema.xsd"
   <xs:element name="AssociationInitiationData" type="AssociationInitiationDataType" />
   <xs:complexType name="AssociationInitiationDataType">
         <xs:element name="TaskDescription" type="xs:string" />
         <xs:element name="AssignTo" type="xs:string" />

Note that this schema represents both the Association Data structure, as well as the Initiation Data. It is necessary for these two to share a schema and namespace, though the Association form need not populate all of the fields.

A Custom Association Form can then be developed in InfoPath based upon this schema, and deployed as described in my previous post.

Now, how do we access this Association Data from within our workflow?

I implemented a simple serializable class matching the schema, as shown below.

public class AssociationData
   private String _TaskDescription;
   private String _AssignTo;

   public String TaskDescription
         return this._TaskDescription;
         this._TaskDescription = value;

   public String AssignTo
         return this._AssignTo;

         this._AssignTo = value;

I also implemented a helper class (creatively named) to support loading the Association Data into this class (note that this helper handles both the Initiation and Association data):

public class Helper
   public static InitiationData DeserializeInitiationData(string xmlString)
      using (MemoryStream stream =
         new MemoryStream(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(xmlString)))
         XmlSerializer serializer =
            new XmlSerializer(typeof(InitiationData), "http://t4g.com/TestSchema.xsd");
            InitiationData data = (InitiationData)serializer.Deserialize(stream);
            return data;

   public static AssociationData DeserializeAssociationData(string xmlString)
      using (MemoryStream stream =
         new MemoryStream(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(xmlString)))
         XmlSerializer serializer = new XmlSerializer(typeof(AssociationData), "http://t4g.com/TestSchema.xsd");
         AssociationData data = (AssociationData)serializer.Deserialize(stream);
         return data;

Given these two classes, it is then simple to access the Association Data from within the workflow. For example, add a private member to the workflow class:

private AssociationData _associationData;

Then from within the onWorkflowActivated activity, add the following code:

String AssociationDataXml = workflowProperties.AssociationData;
_associationData = Helper.DeserializeAssociationData(AssociationDataXml);

The association data can then be accessed from within our _associationData object as required. The Schema, and the AssociationData class definition, can be modified as required to add additional fields.

I was considering another post about doing the same thing for InitiationData, but it works exactly the same way. So unless someone really insists, I will not bother.

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