Two Fundamental Approaches to Microsoft SharePoint
In the ten years that I’ve been working with Microsoft SharePoint, I’ve had easily over a thousand conversations with organizations that are either considering deploying the product or have already done so. In SWC’s SharePoint luncheon events, I always ask the question, “Who in the room has SharePoint deployed in some fashion within your organization?” Lately, almost everyone is raising their hands. When I ask the follow-up question, “Who would consider the rollout an unqualified success?” almost all of the hands go down. Why do you suppose that is?
I believe there are two basic approaches to deploying SharePoint. The first and by far the most common could be termed the “bottom-up” method. You could also call it a “departmental,” “grassroots,” “stealth” or even “if you build it they will come” deployment model. It usually entails repurposing an old, unused server, or perhaps creating a new virtual machine on a virtual server host. Someone (probably, but not necessarily from IT) does a “quick and dirty” installation of Microsoft SharePoint Foundation, which generally doesn’t require any additional licensing investment (or corresponding approval from management or accounting). A default SharePoint web application and site collection are created, and people merrily start using it…or not. They create some sites, add some content, and upload some documents – lather, rinse, repeat. It’s quick; it’s easy, and best of all its cheap. It starts providing value almost immediately. If people want to use it – great! There are no obstacles. If people don’t want to use it, that’s fine, too. No harm, no foul.
So, what’s wrong with that? Well, at first, nothing. The trouble begins once adoption and usage starts to ramp up. As more people make new sites, add more content and upload more documents, the environment begins to get cluttered and disorganized. It gets harder to figure out where to put things, and harder to find the things people have put there. Overlapping (or outright duplicated) sites, content and documents get strewn all over the place. There is no organization, so navigating and browsing the content gets more challenging. Permissions get modified and overridden in an effort to implement some access control. Without a defined process and structure, the permissions configuration quickly gets hard to understand, let alone manage. And what about those poor souls who decided they didn’t want to use SharePoint, once the content and documents they need to get their work done have moved there? And what about all the potentially business-critical information that now lives in a SharePoint environment that isn’t properly managed, secured or backed-up?
The alternative to the “bottom-up” approach is, of course, a more “top-down” approach. It entails a little planning and design effort, prior to actually putting a server up. It requires that you decide what you want to use SharePoint for and what business value you expect to get out of it. You have to identify the stakeholders, engage with them in defining the creative, functional and technical requirements, and then design a SharePoint architecture that will meet those requirements. Once you’ve built the “right” solution, you have to engage those stakeholders to help manage the environment over time, and of course you have to enable them to do so effectively. It’s easier said than done, no doubt.
What’s the benefit of the “top-down” approach? Well, I believe it’s the only consistently effective antidote to the pitfalls and perils of the “bottom-up” approach. It’s the only reliable way to get the most business value out of SharePoint. It doesn’t necessarily require that you scrap your existing implementation and start over, but it does mean that you have to take a step back, reevaluate your collaboration and information management strategy and actually tackle the (often hard) questions and decisions about the future of SharePoint in your organization.
If you enjoyed this post on Microsoft SharePoint, please take a moment and read some of Jeff Lanham’s other SharePoint blogs:
Designing Your SharePoint Architecture
How will Microsoft SharePoint Bring Value to My Business?
Why Your Business Needs a Microsoft SharePoint Governance Plan
SharePoint and the Road to Nowhere
SharePoint and the Used Car Lot