Before I begin, I promise that you won’t have to trudge through a few paragraphs of marketing jargon to get to my point. I realize the title is very salesy. It’s that way on purpose because I believe there to be some credence to this mantra. The only downside to this challenge is that unlike Purina, you will not be receiving a free bag of dog food or a credit to your software assurance agreement if you’re unhappy. 

The inspiration for this article comes from a clever vendor that was introduced to me in October. Mainsoft, a relative new-comer in the SharePoint add-on market, recently released their product, harmon.ie for SharePoint, that promises tighter integration between Outlook and SharePoint.

To my surprise, the product does in fact do what it promises and they even offer the core functionality for free as a client application. In this economy, it’s really difficult to pass up on a free product that makes your life easier, so there really are no barriers for giving it a spin.

What’s the SharePoint Challenge?

During SPTechCon 2010 in Boston, Mainsoft set out to challenge attendees on finding out how much time they could save by utilizing this software. The simple test involved moving an e-mail message from Outlook into SharePoint. The point of the challenge was to gather the total time saved by using harmon.ie for SharePoint, so that potential buyers could see the value.

After a decent amount of data had been gathered, Mainsoft released the results with some tangible meaning. Their study found that by using their product, a user can move e-mail into SharePoint 5 to 6 times faster than without it. In real world terms, that means that an organization with 1,000 users, who sends 5 document attachments per day, could save over 15,000 hours per year. Assuming you are using a vanilla installation of SharePoint with no other add-ons, this data is pretty accurate based on how typical employees are using SharePoint.

The Bigger Picture

As I was contemplating the results of this project, I realized how this idea relates to SharePoint in general. Whereas Mainsoft has shown that their product improves on very specific functionality in SharePoint, most firms are still at the point where they haven’t realized how SharePoint can help them achieve their goals.

With most of the core features being included in the free versions of SharePoint, there’s little reason to pass it up as a contender for many collaborative business requirements. But this also poses a classic software consulting problem that I see everywhere -- software doesn't run itself. 

Software Doesn’t Run Itself

No matter what product you’re talking about, enterprise solutions have the ability to fall into similar traps. And SharePoint can often be the chief offender. First, you’re hooked by the SharePoint wheel that has ever-so-slightly been altered throughout the life of the product, yet seemingly remains fresh. Then you warm up to the fact that you can pretty much try everything you need for free! Who doesn’t like that? And it integrates with Office with no real effort?

As a technology-focused, decision-maker, you’re thinking that you’ve found the mother of all solutions. You finally get it installed and running in your environment, load up your default web application for the first time and then you stop. What now?

A Challenge to Know Your Problems First

This article is really a call to truly know your problems first. Form an intelligent business solution to those problems and then consider SharePoint as your platform. Too many firms are installing SharePoint before they ever consider what business problems it will address.

When that happens, you will many times be in one of two scenarios. Either SharePoint becomes just another disparate silo of information or it becomes an overwhelmingly useless beast with heavy storage costs. Eventually the software itself will be blamed for miscues caused by a lack of understanding and due diligence.

In most cases, the answer to the “SharePoint challenge” really has nothing to do with SharePoint at all. SharePoint has become an all-encompassing business framework. It really can do just about anything if you have the resources. But a manager has to have the vision before SharePoint can ever hope to be a viable solution.

If you haven’t analyzed your needs outside of the SharePoint bubble, then how can you truly benchmark the solution? Discover the needs first. Write an action plan. Now you’re prepared to take the challenge.