As 2010 comes to an end and I start looking at the intranet business in 2011 there is no doubt in my mind that the topic at the top of the list of a substantial number of intranet managers is what strategy they should adopt towards using SharePoint 2010 as an intranet platform.

Waiting for SharePoint 2010

Over the last three years they have been able to put off the decision because the CMS that they implemented at some time during 2004 - 2007 still had some life in it. It was also clear that SharePoint 2007 had some substantial issues. For an intranet manager one of these was the poor search functionality, as well as lack-luster social media and collaboration support. Aware that many of these issues would be addressed in SharePoint 2010 it was fairly easy to make a case for waiting to see what would be released in mid-2010.

The answer was a substantially improved development platform which in principle addressed many of the concerns around SharePoint 2007. Not only has search substantially improved but of course so has the collaboration offering, and for intranet managers the metadata management functionality also offers some important benefits.

In a far-sighted move the Intranet Benchmarking Forum commissioned me to write a report on SharePoint 2010 for Intranets as early as July 2010. Although I take a very vendor-neutral approach in advising my clients, I was very encouraged to see a good fit with intranet requirements. However it was also very clear that if a SharePoint 2007 implementation could stumble along with poor governance that would certainly not be the case for SharePoint 2010.

The Pressure to Migrate

In 2011 there is no place for intranet managers to hide. There will be substantial pressure on them to migrate from their current CMS to SharePoint 2010. Making a business case that this will not meet user requirements and that other products should be considered is probably a challenge too far for most intranet managers. However adopting SharePoint 2010 is going to present them with other even more intractable challenges, of which five are;

  1. Most intranets operate in a governance vacuum because the organization does not see information as an asset that needs to be managed. Add this vacuum to the dire state of governance in most SharePoint implementations (go on -- be honest with yourself!) and the end result will be much higher risks associated with users not being able to find information that they feel able to trust as definitive.
  2. The blurring of the lines between collaboration, social media and the intranet will present significant management problems which, with no coherent governance, are going to cause substantial organizational friction.
  3. The process of migration from the current CMS to SharePoint will be resource-intensive both from a content and a development viewpoint, and yet most intranets work at way below the good practice level of one full-time manager for every 3000 users, a level that assumes business largely as usual. Because they have not already migrated to SharePoint there will be quite a learning curve in trying to speak SharePoint.
  4. Users are almost certainly going to be faced with a very different user interface, which will require a lot of training and support (especially for content contributors) which again is resource-intensive
  5. For an intranet, quality search is absolutely essential, and yet my experience is that few Microsoft partners (and fewer IT departments!) have the expertise and experience to get the best out of SharePoint search, much less FAST Search for SharePoint 2010.

Information Management & SharePoint 2010 in 2011

At a time of economic uncertainty and almost certainly staff cutbacks, effective access to enterprise information will be enormously important in 2011. My concern is that in moving to SharePoint 2010 many intranets will lose their operational and strategic focus in 2011, the impacts of which will not be apparent until 2012 when it will be too late to take remedial action.

This is not a criticism of SharePoint as an intranet platform, though it is at best an 80% solution for most intranets. The problems are associated with direction, resources and governance, as was obvious from the questions raised at a SharePoint session I chaired at the Online Information Meeting in London in early December.

My advice would be to ensure that there is an agreed two-year strategy document for the intranet which is clearly based on user requirements and also reflects the strategic direction of the organization. If this has been agreed it can at least act as a baseline for discussions about the value of migrating to SharePoint 2010. If there is going to be a trade-off between requirements and technology push then at least it is clear to all concerned what the benefits and risks will be.