For years, the challenge with many information and content management systems has been the lack of discipline. I’m not referring to missing knowledge or processes but to the lack of control people have faced in keeping the scope of the effort under control. It is too easy to try and take full advantage of any product right out of the gate. In many ways, SharePoint might actually be a savior and help people to properly scope their initiatives.

When Good Enough Matters

While I know that associating SharePoint with the word “savior” is not something most people would normally equate with reality, much less with me, before we go any further, let’s be clear. SharePoint will not solve all of an organization’s problems. It is a tool and a platform, not a solution. It is missing many “hard-core” features that established vendors in each space that SharePoint competes within have provided for years. SharePoint has limitations and it is important to research and understand those before you do anything else.

That said, SharePoint, as you hear repeatedly, is quite often “good enough.” It has enough features that, if properly deployed, will typically provide increased business value over the previous way of doing things. Of course, it helps that for many organizations the previous way of doing things is email.

Years ago, I deployed a feature-rich system that would enable collaboration for a widely dispersed organization, plan events and automate processes among the central office and those in the field. They had procured all the right components to implement their vision and had made sure to save money for implementation services.

Flash forward to today and you have a system that is primarily used for file sharing and information distribution. It has grown in reach and is considered vital to many groups within that organization. In many ways it is a records management system, though there are no rules applied. It is just a place to go to get information from today, last week or last year.

While you can point to many reasons why the vision was never achieved, the most basic was that they tried to do too much at once. They should have started at simple file sharing and with a few approval processes. Then they could have added the auto-categorization, advanced workflow processing and any number of the other features that they had planned. It was just too much change for the organization to absorb at once.

There were also too many parts that had to be implemented precisely right out of the gate.

SharePoint is Not Discipline

This is not to say that if they had implemented SharePoint that things would have been different. They likely would have run into the same problem. What using SharePoint would have done was provide additional moments to step back and reconsider the scope.

That project was built on a single product suite. It was easy to sit there, fantasize about the final system and then casually add “just one more” component to the system. With SharePoint, many of those features would have involved additional vendors. Each of those vendors would have represented an opportunity to sit back and think, “Maybe in six months.”

Of course, it is just as easy to add just one more vendor as it is to add one more component, but the decision of engaging another company helps shine a light on the fact that you are actually adding an additional layer of complexity.

The Proving Ground

What SharePoint provides is a great starting point for any initiative, a proving ground. While it is naïve to assume that SharePoint can just be replaced by a more feature rich system once users have identified its shortfalls, it does provide a way of measuring your true needs.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • Records Management: After implementing a sound information architecture, complete with a few revisions once users began using the system, it is decided that records management need to become a priority. Because everything is captured already, a design that simply enhances the existing architecture is implemented with the average user noticing no change.
  • Process Automation: It is determined that many processes need to be automated. A simple analysis determines that 87% of them can be readily implemented in SharePoint for no additional license cost and minimal effort. The remaining 13% of the processes impact only 20% of the workforce, resulting in a software purchase dramatically smaller than what would have happened if they had purchased up-front.
  • External Collaboration: It has always been known that collaboration with external parties was important. After using SharePoint for six months, it is determined that there are only 20-30 people that the organization is regularly working with that would be simpler with direct access to SharePoint. The rest of the external collaborators do well with simple email communication. Forty licenses are purchased, along with a simple list to track those users and manage requests, and they are granted access.
  • Invoice Processing: There are thousands of invoices created every year, and procurement wants to manage them in SharePoint. Some analysis reveals that the size of the scanned images, PDFs and faxes will restrict how the images are stored and managed. It is decided to buy a separate system to manage the images and integrate the search and viewer into SharePoint. Only 20 licenses of the system had to be bought, and the selected vendor had a SharePoint integration.

In these examples, these features were further defined through experience gained in SharePoint. People became acclimated to using the system, and the true scope of additional features was revealed by people’s observed gaps.

Embracing SharePoint

SharePoint is here and it isn’t going anywhere for quite some time. Even after it falls out of favor, which will likely happen this decade, there will be installation lingering for much longer. While everyone is talking about governance and how to implement SharePoint, those aren’t new concepts to the overall industry. These have been core precepts in information and content management for years.

What we need to start doing is thinking about how to successfully incorporate SharePoint as part of the overall strategy instead of the entire strategy. There are lots of features that SharePoint doesn’t provide and aren’t likely to provide. That doesn’t mean you can’t use SharePoint in a meaningful way.

Focus on what SharePoint does well: basic information and content management. Setup your governance and attack your “low hanging fruit” issues. Learn from the experience, identify the gaps and pick the right tools to provide those deep capabilities that other vendors take for granted.

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