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?

AC: As alluded to in the previous response, I think governance needs to be addressed at a number of levels: Strategic, Operational and Day-to-Day. Although the big hairy governance decisions absolutely fall to the strategic governance board, I think governance as a whole is basically your “SharePoint success factors” and therefore the ongoing responsibility of everyone (end users, stakeholder, project team and suppliers). I think at a practical level, a SharePoint Center of Excellence is an excellent focus or hub for SharePoint governance responsibility.

Q: How can organizations with poor governance practices turn things around?

AC: This is a difficult question to answer as governance is entwined with technology, people, culture and process challenges and facets, so when an organization has poor governance practices, it is not easy to break out and turn things around. When I am faced with this scenario, which unfortunately is very regularly, I tend to approach the “turn around” with the following high-level steps:

  • Why -- The stakeholders, execs, project team etc. need to have a shared understanding and commitment as to why they need governance; getting them to articulate the difference it will make to the organization and the use of SharePoint is a key first step.
  • Exec Support -- Gaining exec support is as essential as applying good governance, as mentioned before, will permeate through the whole of the organization and not just the tech project.
  • Framework -- Pick (or develop your own) a clear, business led governance framework that you can use to frame your ongoing governance activities.
  • Audit -- Based on the framework, run a governance audit to gain a clear picture of where you are and create an action plan to help you start to move in the right direction.
  • Do It! -- Talking about governance doesn’t help, the sooner you start applying governance in your organization, the sooner things will come under control, it’s a continuous improvement activity not a one shot silver bullet.

Then it’s a case of embedding this into project and company culture and continuous improvement initiatives (easier said than done). Remember governance means “to steer” so without defining the “why” (i.e. where you are going and doing the audit i.e. where are we), you have no hope in steering your SharePoint project in the right direction!

Q: What excites you most about SharePoint 2013?

AC: Weirdly in some ways nothing much, as I am spending more and more of my time focused on understanding what value organizations are trying to deliver; so SharePoint 2013 will absolutely enable new possibilities, new use cases will emerge and it will no doubt reduce implementation costs to deliver organizational value, but it is still basically just a technology platform …

Looking at the platform so far, what “excites” me about the new feature set is the significant functional improvements around “Social” and “Search”; I don’t foresee very many SharePoint solutions being developed in the future without a huge reliance on the awesome functional capabilities of these two areas.

On a different angle, the cloud aspects of Office 2013 really solidify (and make a reality) the Microsoft mantra of “cloud first.” I truly anticipate a significant wave of organizations next calendar year looking to SharePoint in the cloud for delivering their collaboration, intranet and knowledge services with the increased parity of functionality between on-premise and cloud. This also supports my passion for changing the way organizations do business and adopting concepts such as The Hybrid Organization / Anywhere Organization that Microsoft has published significant research around and Open innovation coined by Henry Chesbrough.

Q: Do you think things will change with SharePoint 2013? Or will the same governance and Info Architecture issues still be there?

AC: Same crap, different version …

Seriously, from what I have seen so far, my expectation is that Governance will still be a huge challenge for organizations, after all the technology governance (or assurance as I refer to it) is only a small part of the overall holistic governance approach your organization should be taking.

Information Architecture challenges with 2013 I think will reduce overall, but the SharePoint platform is still a way of being able to support a very pure (academic) IA approach and I think with core changes such as the move to being app-centric, SharePoint 2013 will spring up its own new IA challenges that we haven’t even thought about yet.

Editor's Note: This isn't the first time we've turned to Ant Clay to discuss SharePoint Governance. To read an interview he had with Christian Buckley: Understanding the Pillars of SharePoint Governance with 21apps Ant Clay.