SharePoint and the Road to Nowhere

October 4, 2011   //   SharePoint, , , , , ,

No doubt about it – Microsoft SharePoint is getting a lot of press these days.  In all the conversations SWC has had with midmarket organizations throughout Chicagoland, it has become increasingly rare to find someone who hasn’t at least heard of SharePoint.  But, most people still struggle to understand what SharePoint is all about and why there’s so much fuss about it.  The most popular initial question has changed from “What is SharePoint?” to “How can SharePoint benefit our organization?”

Let me tell you a little story: Once upon a time, there was a Big City.  Lots of people lived in the city, and they need to get into and out of it as they went about their daily business.  So, the Big City made sure there were plenty of roads to and from all the places the people needed to go.  In its eagerness to facilitate easy travel (and happy citizens), the Big City wasn’t overly concerned with determining exactly where the roads should ideally be built.  So, a Fat Contract was awarded for the construction of a New Road, from the Big City to the Smelly Swamp.  The workers got busy and built the beautiful New Road, and then they packed up their tools and went home.

Since no one really wanted to go from the Big City to the Smelly Swamp, the New Road didn’t get any traffic.  All the time, effort and money spent building the New Road was wasted, since the Old Trail that previously went from the Big City to the Smelly Swamp was more than enough to accommodate the rare traveller.  Since the road didn’t go anywhere that people needed to get to, no one bothered to maintain the New Road.  After a while, it began to break down from neglect, it became overgrown with weeds, and eventually the once-beautiful New Road turned back into the worn-out Old Trail.

There seems to be a tendency, especially among IT folks, to think of SharePoint as a product whose business value is self-evident.  The marketing hype promises to “Collaborate More Effectively” and “Manage Your Documents More Efficiently” and “Streamline Business Processes.”  What organization wouldn’t want all of those things?  The problem is – how do you move beyond the promises and actually make those things a reality for your business?  How do you know when you’ve succeeded?  And even if you do manage to accomplish all of that initially, does it automatically translate into Happily Ever After?

The moral of the story should be fairly obvious – without a defined problem, there is no need for a solution.  If you can’t make a solid business case for the value of a SharePoint-based collaboration, document management or process automation solution – then you shouldn’t build it.  And if you do build it, you must recognize why it’s important to use SharePoint as more of a platform than a solution.  It needs to be configured and shaped into what your organization needs it to be.  It needs to take people where they want to go.

The other key point is that you must tend to and maintain your SharePoint-based solution in the long run.  Even if you develop a great initial implementation, it needs to adjust as people’s understanding and usage of it grows.  It has to evolve with the changing needs of the organization.  It is critical to identify the appropriate people to participate in the initial design and implementation of the SharePoint solution, but it is also important to ensure that the right people stay engaged over time.  Only then can you hope to have the SharePoint Happy Ending that you’ve always dreamed of.