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.

Ok, so now what?

I will let you know, right up front, that this is going to be a largely self-indulgent post. I am basically just thinking out loud, and doing it in public. Kind of like standing on a street corner talking to myself, I guess.

You see, I am on the verge of a life changing moment. Or maybe I am in the middle of it – it is a long moment. It started when I received notice on October 11 that my services were no longer required. Maybe it started even earlier, when the acquisition of Whitehill by Skywire was announced, and I was pretty sure that my time here was coming to an end. No matter, since I do know when the moment ends – December 15.

This transition period has been very complex, emotionally. I have, after all, spent close to 9 years at Whitehill – a considerable portion of my working life. I have invested a great deal of emotion and energy into it. And of course there is the people side of things – I have worked closely with a group of people for many years now.

On the other hand, I have been feeling for some time now that it was time for me to move on from Whitehill, and do something new. For the past year or so I have been semi-actively working on other ideas, plans, schemes, etc. I have been held back, however, by inertia, fear, complacency – all the usual things. So, in a way, being laid of could be viewed as a good thing – forcing me past these issues which I may never have overcome on my own.

So, I am now presented with an opportunity to do something new. I can do something a little bit new, like finding a similar role in a different company. Or, I can go all the way and completely reinvent myself again (I have done this twice before in my working life). I am taking this situation as an opportunity to re-evaluate what I do, how I do it, and most importantly why I do it.

As is typical for me, this evaluation has involved a great deal of reading. Even before the transition at Whitehill became concrete, I had been reading a number of books on starting my own MicroISV, including Eric Sink on the Business of Software and Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality, both of which were extremely useful. Recently I have been reading Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, which is a very interesting read and has some cool ideas, though not all of them I see as being good ideas.

In addition, there are the various blogs I follow, such as Escape from Cubicle Nation (which has had a couple of interesting, relevant posts recently – Excellent reading for those paralyzed by fear of leaving their job and Tips on cutting the ties and saying goodbye from Psychology Today) which in turn led me to 10 Remedies For “I’m Starting My Own Business And I’m Paralyzed With Fear!”, which of course has a 10 links to some other interesting posts.

I must admit that even now, when I know I am leaving, i still feel paralyzed with fear a lot. I swing from be optimistic about the future, to wildly ecstatic about the possibilities, to absolutely terrified that life will collapse in six months. Part of this, I know, is because I am moving outside of my comfort zone. This will be the first time in 20+ years that I will not be employed by someone, for even one day. That is a bit creepy!

So, getting to the title of this post, what now? I really do not know at this point. I have opportunities out there already, and I have no shortage of my own ideas. I have been asked by various people what I want to do. About the only thing I can say for sure right now, is that I want to do something “new and interesting” – I just have not decided what yet.

I have decided that as of December 15, I am going to take a few weeks to “decompress”, and to unclog my brain from all the Whitehill clutter that has built up. The last thing I want to do is to jump into something instantly. I know with certainty that once I am away from here for a few weeks, my thinking will change dramatically.

All in all, it promises to be a very interesting new year!