I had the opportunity to chat with Bill Evans, Quest Software's VP and GM of SharePoint and Chris McNulty, SharePoint Strategic Product Manager, on the governance issues SharePoint orgs are faced with and how Quest can help manage the chaos.

The Problem with SharePoint

The problem with SharePoint is that organizations get so excited there's an app in house that workers can use so easily, that they sometimes forget they need to plan how it really should be implemented. Stephen Fishman says in his recent article that we shouldn't blame users and governance models for SharePoint's poor siloed design. And while I agree that users should never be blamed for a system not working the way it needs to, we can't blame the software either. Poorly customized/configured, implemented and managed software is the trouble maker and that's the joint responsibility of the business and IT. And I do think governance strategies go a long way towards making software more user friendly.

In a recent SharePoint user survey, Quest found that only 17% of organizations implementing SharePoint had a governance committee. That's a pretty small number for a platform that everyone seems to know can be a challenge to implement properly. With SharePoint starting to be used for much more than basic document collaboration (think social and business intelligence), there is a lot more of the "now what" to consider.

Govern with the Right Tools

Evans told me that Quest's goal is to get everyone in to a room to discuss what they want to do, with the outcome of developing a living governance plan. And in terms of product support for governance, Quest offers a number of solutions that cover what Evans called the five pillars of governance:

  • Security: Manage permissions with products like Site Administrator and Server Administrator.
  • Auditing: Using Security Auditor to address the 5W's of an event (where, what, when, why and who). This is used with Site Administrator.
  • Recoverability: Recovery Manager for SharePoint offers both a full farm recovery and swift recovery of items accidentally deleted.
  • Usability: Probably the top challenge of SharePoint, Evans said that orgs need to ensure SharePoint is rolled out in a way that people get value. Here Quest offers around 19 different web parts to help build apps without coding, to support consistent branding and styles.
  • Supportability: aka Reliability. Need to know when the system is up? Need to move changes through environments? Then you are looking at tools like the Deployment Manager for SharePoint among other tools. This pillar bleeds into the Auditing pillar, and provides longer term, more robust auditing and roadmapping.

Note Quest has sold copies of some of its products for both hosted and on premise SharePoint implementations, but its also working on an Office365 version of Site Administrator.

Governance in 2012

Evans says that part of the reason organizations find governance so daunting is the size/scope of the implementation. With SharePoint 2010 IT finally has the ability to bring it into a central environment to manage. But governance standards are going to evolve.

Evans and McNulty acknowledge that many organizations are not throwing money at governance just yet, the real focus has been on migration. But For 2012, governance is one of the top 3 areas organizations are going to need to cover (next to migration and customization). And we should see a big push on governance start to emerge.

McNulty said that proper governance is required for adoption and adoption drives the need for governance. It's just not possible to drop SharePoint in and have everything be great.

What happens if Microsoft releases the next version of SharePoint in 2012? Will governance strategies need to change again? McNulty doesn't think so. He believes that core IT governance practices will stay consistent because the core architecture isn't likely to change.

Final Thoughts: Cross Platform Governance

I think one of the interesting challenges (and the opportunity) that vendors like Quest face in the next year or so, is implementing governance products that support not only what comes natively out of the box with SharePoint, but also what comes via third party integrations.

There's a huge SharePoint partner ecosystem out there and it's probably rare to find a SharePoint environment that doesn't have one or more third-party solutions in the mix. Cross-platform governance is critical, but it's not possible right now. Not that I've seen. Yes, if the add-on uses the SharePoint data stores, some governance is automatic (and Quest can support that situation), but for those that don't leverage SharePoint's data store to that extent, separate governance tools are required, potentially resulting in more trouble for IT than it may want right now. This is an area I think we should be thinking about much more in 2012.