On the last day of ARMA ’09, the focus on SharePoint was clearly compelling, and the room was full. Through interaction with the attendees, it became clear that many of us are facing the same situation.

SharePoint is already in the organization, but hasn’t necessarily been deployed through a defined strategy.

Companies are first interested in SharePoint because it facilitates collaboration within project teams -- particularly if the team is geographically dispersed. Employees are drawn to its similarity with other Microsoft interfaces and a perception that it will be an easy tool to adopt. Licensing fees are relatively inexpensive.

The challenge, however, is often that companies try to use SharePoint as a full-blown enterprise content management system, when other tools may provide better functionality. Or, nobody considers developing corporate standards and guidelines for SharePoint use. And, the compliance and risk issues that we seek to reduce can be difficult to address in SharePoint.

Why Do You Need a Defined Strategy?

Marcia Douglas, director with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, says the answer is simple: without a defined strategy, you have chaos. What does chaos look like? SharePoint sites are springing up everywhere. The same content is duplicated on multiple sites. Nobody knows which site contains the content, or where the most recent version is.

It’s still hard to locate information or to apply retention and disposition rules. It can be difficult to administer legal hold requirements effectively. Confidential or restricted access information can leak to the wrong individuals. In fact, in a worst case scenario, the SharePoint sites can create the same issues we currently experience on shared network drives.

The main theme of this session is relatively simple -- the tool set is not as important as the strategy and goals. It’s well worth the time and effort to construct a strong governance structure for SharePoint, before anybody sets up a site or uploads the first document.

What Business Problem Are You Trying to Solve?

In one sense, SharePoint is no different from other technology tools we use to create and manage records and information. We should choose our technology based on a thorough understanding of the business problem we are trying to solve.

Deploying SharePoint because “we want to be as ‘hip’ as everyone else” is not a good reason. Don’t expect SharePoint to solve all your records management issues either. Don’t assume that SharePoint will solve every department’s issues -- one size doesn’t fit all here, any more than it does in other technologies. But, if you have a strong need for collaboration across multiple locations, you can benefit from SharePoint.

If the focus is clearly on solving business problems, it will be easier to manage employee expectations around use of the software. It will be easier to convince company leadership that it is worth the investment of time and money to establish a good governance framework.

And, a clear statement of the business goals will facilitate the uptake of SharePoint and allow you to reduce the compliance risk that comes with uninformed adoption.

Establishing the Governance Framework

A strong governance framework is essential to success. It’s the next step after you’ve clearly defined the problem you want to solve and have established project priorities. Douglas identified six key elements of a governance framework:

  1. Clear statement of the problem(s) being addressed and identified business objectives. This statement may be hard to get to as different stakeholders will have differing concerns. But developing a shared vision of SharePoint success will help keep the project team focused on what it is striving to achieve and should prevent project scope creep.
  2. Clear scope statements: Who are the stakeholders and how will they be involved in the project? What is required from each team member? Do some team members have greater responsibility? How are business needs and IT involved in the project?
  3. Defined roles and responsibilities for both the initial implementation and to govern SharePoint use on an ongoing basis. The business units’ needs will change over time and SharePoint may become more useful for some. SharePoint will develop new capabilities which may open opportunities for additional departments to use SharePoint. A governing committee or steering committee should be put in place to guide the organization’s use of technology tools over the long term.
  4. Change management strategies will ensure clear communication throughout the organization, appropriate training, and engaged leadership.
  5. Assessment of functional capabilities in the software: This assessment starts to match up the functionality of the system with the business problem(s). Conscious attention to this kind of assessment can prevent implementation of capabilities that your company doesn’t need and can prevent redundant tools targeting the same business needs.
  6. Technical evaluations and structure should address responsibilities for user administration and site administration, integration of SharePoint with other technologies, content migration, and overall system scalability, reliability, and performance.

Based on 20 years of experience in implementing ECM tools, Douglas says that appropriate governance frameworks will help reduce unintended proliferation of SharePoint sites and poor enterprise design practices.

It’s not easy, but a coordinated governance strategy and clearly defined objectives will carry you a long way toward successful use of the tools. Just remember -- the tool set is not as important as the strategy and goals.

About the Author

Diane Carlisle, CRM is the Director, Professional Resources of ARMA International. She can be reached at diane.carlisle@armaintl.org.