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SharePoint Projects: Ant Clay on the Importance of Vision

Everyone wants to believe that there is a single bullet solution to solve all SharePoint problems. While the answers are never that simple, the starting point is: asking the question "why?"

Ant Clay, Founder and CEO of Soulsailor Consulting Ltd, is one of a new breed of SharePoint business technology consultants. Known to ask clients repeatedly “Why?” until they breakdown and admit “they just don’t know,” we thought we'd turn the tables on him to ask a few questions about SharePoint, governance and the upcoming release of SharePoint 2013.

Question: What do think is SharePoint 2010’s strongest capability? Why?

Ant Clay: SharePoint 2010’s strongest capability is probably its downfall for most organizations and that is its “flexibility.” With a good SharePoint business consultant, developer, designer and architect you can create pretty much any awesome business functionality you want.

Being more specific, what I love about SharePoint 2010 when compared to previous versions and other platforms is Managed Metadata. I love having the ability to use both a formal structured taxonomy as well as a folksonomy and even promote items from the folksonomy into the structured taxonomy.

The real benefits for customers I think is that this opens up a world of being able to present contextual information (knowledge, people, content and actionable activities) based on who you are, preferences, where you are in the solution and what you are doing. Definitely an area that can deliver significant business value to both organizations and individuals alike.

Q: When it comes to implementing SharePoint, where do most organizations go wrong? Is it more about a good Info Architecture or a strong governance strategy?

AC: I think, actually that’s not true, I know that most organizations go wrong with SharePoint by focusing their time and efforts on what is complicated, but not truly complex and that is the technology implementation. There is a common tendency to not consider the following four areas which I see as being of utmost importance for success and business value:

  • SharePoint Vision/Strategy
  • Business Alignment
  • Holistic Governance Approach
  • Change Management.

The reality is that SharePoint projects are in essence people projects and therefore are not straightforward — we need to deal with this complexity and best practices just don’t cut it.

I see Information Architecture as a small but very important part of Information Governance which again is just a single “wave” in what I refer to as “The Waves of SharePoint Governance” which covers a range of areas key to good governance.

So to answer your question I see that Governance is most important, but that contains a number of elements that all need to be addressed holistically.

Q: Speaking of governance, what is the first thing an organization should consider when creating their SharePoint governance strategy? Is there a one size fits all approach to SharePoint governance?

AC: The first thing is not to kill too many trees! :) Seriously the amount of governance documents that are 10’s if not 100’s of pages long that get printed, never read and left gathering dust is amazing.

The first thing to consider about SharePoint Governance has nothing to do with governance at all, it’s understanding the platform or project's vision, its “why?” or the difference it is going to make for the organization. If you have within the project team and across the organization a shared understanding and shared commitment to that “why” then governance becomes that much easier.

There isn’t a one-size fits all approach to SharePoint Governance in my mind, but there are two focal points:

  • What it is
  • How to apply it

“What it is” refers to the governance framework that you adopt. There are lots out there, but I would recommend people adopt one that isn’t technology focused and leads with the business; I’ve developed a framework “Waves of SharePoint Governance” which I’ll be writing about in more detail soon (and will form the basis of the book I am currently writing!).

“How to apply it” refers to the methods of applying governance — typically organizations would immediately think of a governance document and maybe a strategic governance committee. They are to a greater or lesser extent part of the approach, but I break it down to be more subtle:

  • Governance Content — Maybe a document, but more likely a set of content (docs, wiki etc)
  • Governance Structure — Multiple governance boards working at both strategic and operational levels
  • “In-line” Governance — Focused on day to day governance including Governance within your actual SharePoint solution, SharePoint Center of Excellence and SharePoint Tummelers.

Q: Who should be responsible for governance in SharePoint? What does a governance team look like?

 

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