We’re Goin’ on a Bear Hunt is a fun song when sung by a group of excited schoolchildren. But it seems as though it may have been actually composed by an IT manager to secretly cope with his frustrations about Microsoft SharePoint.
We’re goin’ on a bear hunt.
I’m not scared!
Oh no, it’s a cave.
We can’t go over it…
We can’t go under it…
We gotta go through it.
Wait, what’s that?
Two big fuzzy ears and two big eyes…
It’s a bear!
The vast majority of large companies with whom I’ve worked to deploy an enterprise social network depend upon SharePoint. In fact, SharePoint integration in some form seems to be a requirement for most companies when they select a vendor and vet social software.
During the employee quest to accomplish work, end users and IT trek daily into the cave that is SharePoint to get work done. In fact, millions of employees do this — SharePoint generates billions in revenue from 125 million user licenses and 65,000+ customers.
The Reality of SharePoint Today
But as we've seen with new, user-friendly enterprise social networking tools, actual adoption and engagement rates are far lower than the licenses sold. While IT managers may not come out and say this bluntly to the public or to their employees, the reality of SharePoint today for the customers with whom I’ve worked to launch an enterprise social network is as follows:
- SharePoint is the home base for desktop employees every day. To get to the web, to find colleague contact information or to work on a shared document, they have to jump out into the SharePoint abyss. It’s like Groundhog Day — a constant repeat of logging on and navigating the messy unknown.
- Most enterprise content lives inside SharePoint. You can’t find it, because searching for it is like searching for a needle in a virtual haystack. But it’s all there somewhere, and companies are afraid of losing their content, so they just keep building on top of the existing SharePoint haystack.
- You can put lipstick on a pig, just like customers can customize SharePoint to look prettier and match their branding. But ultimately, it’s just lipstick — the not-so-attractive reality still sits there underneath.
- Unfortunately, that lipstick tends to come in the massively expensive form of professional services and agency consulting, making the investment in SharePoint higher from both a financial perspective and from a dependency on others to keep the experience robust.
- The mobile experience is nonexistent, and customers have little faith that mobile will be available any time soon.
So yes. SharePoint is the deep dark cave of nursery rhymes and usability nightmares. You can’t go around it. You can’t go over it. But you gotta go through it. And when you do go through it, you encounter something so frightening that you run in the opposite direction.
It’s not an optimal user experience by any means, which is why Microsoft has high hopes for the addition of Yammer and Office 365 into the mix. If companies just can’t give up their legacy SharePoint installations, but can’t fathom working how they work today, then adding social capabilities, document collaboration and other app integrations might be enough to meet user demand for a seamless working experience.
The Challenge: Social is Not a Free Gift with Purchase
So you’ve come to the realization that your SharePoint cave isn’t going anywhere, but at least the scary bear, a permanent squatter in your IT stack, can be tamed if you make the user experience more social. It’s a good thing that Microsoft is now bundling Yammer with SharePoint and Office 365, right?
My concern with the bundling of Yammer — an activity-stream and group-based technology that facilitates a more social enterprise — with more established “required” technology like SharePoint, is that it signals that truly “social” technology is just an add-on and unworthy of its own consideration. Even though yes — I absolutely advocate that an enterprise social network should be deeply integrated into other technologies and existing employee workflows — real-time social technology needs to be treated as a special cultural and communications program just as much as a technology program. And with these new bundles, the following problems arise:
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