Every time I speak with companies that use Microsoft SharePoint, I hear the same complaint: “we don’t’ use it like we should.” 

For many companies, SharePoint is a document management system. It is a file share with versioning. Some companies will have workflows built on SharePoint but, let’s face it, these are mostly document workflows.  

How unfortunate. SharePoint has so much going for it these days, especially the Office365 version. It is really a one stop shop for collaboration.

Moving Beyond Document Management

The limited vision of how to use SharePoint is — to some extent — to be expected. 

Sharepoint’s roots lie in document management. End users can deposit documents in a SharePoint site and then add fine grained access control, version control and metadata. This helps knowledge workers secure documents, find documents and make sure that they keep an audit trail of changes to documents. This is where most organizations began their SharePoint journey – documents, documents, documents! 

Unfortunately, too few companies venture beyond document management and if they do, it’s still about documents. Typically, more adventurous companies will build document-oriented workflows such as publishing and other forms of document approvals. 

Paying For Features You Already Have

Meanwhile, these same companies spend money on other collaboration platforms because they need forums, ideation, microblogging, wikis, file sharing and blogs. They buy software from great companies such as Jive, Jostle, BloomField or even Microsoft’s own Yammer. 

What makes this astonishing is that most of the features that companies pay for in other collaboration products are already available in Microsoft SharePoint. In fact, the overlap between Yammer and SharePoint is so great that it makes no sense that Microsoft would have both of them as products

On top of all that, a special individual SharePoint site, OneDrive for Business, provides end users an experience similar to Box, Dropbox and similar file sync and share software.

Breaking Out of the SharePoint Rut

Why don’t more companies leverage these features to enhance collaboration within their organizations? 

Three big reasons: First, SharePoint is hard to configure. The inline site creation tools are limited at best. Microsoft SharePoint Designer, the advanced site builder tool, is more of a developer product than something even a power user would want to get familiar with. More advanced sites eventually require that developers write code.

The second reason is that mobile support, an important element of collaboration, is mostly non-existent. For example, the mobile application for Android is still only in preview. That’s unacceptable for corporate IT. 

Expecting knowledge workers to collaborate without mobile is like driving a car without gas: you can keep pushing it, but it defeats the purpose.

Finally, and most important, too many companies are stuck in the past. Patterns of behavior emerge when companies deploy software for long periods of time. 

In other words, people get stuck in their ways. 

Companies are so used to using SharePoint as a fancy shared folder that they don’t properly explore the power under the hood. It’s like driving a Ford Fiesta for years, buying a Porsche 911, and still driving like you are in the Fiesta. Breaking out of these patterns of behavior is tough.

As SharePoint continues to evolve and absorb more of the Yammer DNA, the ability to spin up team sites should become much easier. It’s pretty clear that Microsoft is working to address the mobile issue as well. 

Overcoming the inertia, however, is only going to change when organizations begin to find the uses of SharePoint to enhance collaborative processes in companies. Uses that help knowledge workers get their jobs done. That’s a change in attitude and mindset that no technology can change.

Title image "Yikes!" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by smadden