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SharePoint 2010, SharePoint News, Reviews

Customizing SharePoint: Start with the Solution or the Business Problem?

Before you begin adding customization tools to SharePoint to create a solution for your business, you must understand your company’s business problem. In this article, I cover a few important areas you need to address before you look at technology.

Developing an Information Management Strategy for SharePoint

In this, the month of everything SharePoint at CMSWire, we’ve started looking at SharePoint in some detail and with some interesting results. Last week, Jed Cawthorne, a Senior Strategy Consultant for enterprise content management, looked at uses for SharePoint. Here we will look at some of the challenges with deployments in the enterprise.

The Art Of SharePoint Success: A Quick Start Guide

SharePoint is a phenomenal success. Despite its market success, many organizations struggle to realize the full value from investments in SharePoint. For example:

  • At a large central government agency, an IT led project to a SharePoint Collaboration platform was halted by another group working on a Document Management project who felt that SharePoint was a threat. The £150,000 investment only delivered a pilot.
  • At an international insurance business, the use of SharePoint was crippled by disagreement between different factions in the IT function. In one project, over £500k was invested in developing a Portal application as an aggregated interface to several other systems and applications. Only 8 of 100 potential users regularly used the new portal; the remainder continued working as they had before. An investment of £2.5m in SharePoint over three years delivered no significant, widespread business benefits or financial return.
  • The IT function within a global manufacturing organization deployed a SharePoint-based collaboration service. At first, the service was a huge success and enjoyed rapid adoption across the business and within months there were over 7,000 sites created. Users soon began to report difficulties in locating sites, multiple copies of documents began to appear, and the help desk was swamped with requests to recover deleted sites.
  • A marketing organization reported that, “SharePoint exists in our business but no one uses it.”

Over the past five years through engagements with hundreds of organizations, I’ve developed a framework for ensuring that SharePoint becomes both a business and a technical success. This article provides a quick start introduction to the framework which consists of four key elements: Governance, Strategy, Transition and Architecture.

SharePoint Governance

Despite what anyone tells you, SharePoint Governance has got nothing at all to do with technology!

Absolutely nothing at all.

In a nutshell, SharePoint Governance aligns the use of SharePoint technologies with objectives and strategy, and defines accountability for ensuring a return on the investment.

Most of the material produced under the heading of “SharePoint Governance” is actually related to IT Operations. Does it matter if we call IT Operations, “SharePoint Governance”? Yes, because if we call operations, “Governance," then what do we call Governance? And how do we know that we are doing it?

The most successful approaches to SharePoint Governance address the relationship between Governance, Management and Operations. One way is to create three teams or groups which relate to these three levels. Figure 1 illustrates the concept:

Figure 1: A model for SharePoint Governance

SharePoint Governance Model.png

The SharePoint Strategy Team are the Executive Steering committee comprising six to eight people with representation from IT, HR, and Marketing or Internal Communications. This group is accountable for the return on the investment; they set the vision and the policy. They answer the questions, “What are we trying to do?” and “Why are we doing it?” and “How will we know when we’ve done it?”

The Business Impact Team are the people responsible for implementing the strategy set by the Strategy Team, including changes to processes and driving user adoption. There may be multiple teams at this level, each responsible for a different business solution hosted on the SharePoint platform.

The SharePoint IT Services Hosting Team are responsible for the IT platform, typically with representation from data storage, database administration, platform services and software development.

SharePoint Strategy

If you don’t have a strategy that you can print off, pick up and wave around, then you’re going to struggle! Your SharePoint strategy should be owned by the SharePoint Strategy team (there’s a clue in the name).

There are two broad approaches: enabling specific processes or delivering general capabilities.

For example, a major bank and a UK not-for-profit organization use SharePoint to improve Project delivery process. An asset management company has improved its client on-boarding process, and a private bank has improved its credit application process. These are all examples of process improvements. A European central bank has implemented a Collaboration service that allows any employee to create SharePoint sites for any purpose, and a number of organizations have implemented SharePoint for Enterprise search. These are examples of general capabilities. It’s worth noting that targeting business processes makes creating a business case much easier, because the business case for IT is only as predictable as the use.

Here’s a simple example of a first draft SharePoint Strategy that could be produced at the first meeting of a SharePoint Strategy Team. It may be a very simple, but have you got anything at all? Over time, a set of statements like this can be developed into a more sophisticated benefits dependency map. But one step at a time!


SharePoint strategy draft


I’ve found that one of the most successful approaches is to present SharePoint as a set of business services. Each service should be given a different brand or identity to help the users understand that it is a particular tool, intended for a particular use and delivering particular value.

The following model illustrates a set of five services: Search, Portals, Teams, Communities and MySite. Each organization will want to adapt this model, changing the names of the services, adding new services and changing the service features. But this is a great place to start. The techies amongst you should be able to see how this services model can be translated into technical architecture of web applications and site collections….

Figure 2: SharePoint as business services

SharePoint as Business Services.png


There’s no such thing as a SharePoint project. There are only organizational change projects. I use the term “Transition” to describe change at two levels: the organizational level, and the level of individual behavior.

Firstly, the secret to success at the organizational levels is to take an iterative approach. Start small and grow SharePoint into your business. The business services architecture supports an iterative approach. Each service can be developed as a separate project. The following diagram illustrates an iterative approach:

Figure 3: Iterative approach to organizational change management

Iterative Approach.jpg

At the individual level, if you don’t have a Transition plan, you’re probably doomed to failure. A transition plan is a written statement of how you intend to move people from old processes and tools to new ways of working with new processes and tools. I work with clients to create transition plans with four key stages: Awareness, Availability, Usage and Adoption. Table 2 presents a simplified example of an adoption plan to illustrate the concept.

Table 2: A simplified example of a Transition Plan

Phase Adoption Measures
Awareness Pens, posters, intranet bulletins, user workshops
Availability Prototypes, pilots, launch day events, floor walking
Usage Easy First Steps, sandpit, end user training
Adoption Support desk, service updates, new employee orientation

Final Thoughts

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to SharePoint, but my experience shows that the framework presented here is a flexible approach. It addresses all the key issues and helps organizations structure their thoughts and plans. Each of the four areas is a huge topic in itself, but I hope that this quick start guide will provide you with a starting point.

Good luck!

Editor's Notes: You may also be interested in reading:

Interested in reading the entire series? Go to The Art of SharePoint Success


This Week: SharePoint as an Enterprise Solution...For What?

SharePoint is in 80% of enterprises today, but not always implemented successfully. This month we provide expert SharePoint guidance and example SharePoint strategies to help you effectively plan and implement Microsoft's platform in your organization.

In the news, we covered a review of Hippo Web CMS, the latest version of Telligent Communities and how Novell is killing the Vibe cloud.

We also took a closer look at key information management topics: business process management and e-Discovery, and checked-out the leading vendors -- Jive and Lithium, to name two -- in Gartner's Social CRM Magic Quadrant.

This month's Tweet Jam takes place on August 17th and will focus on SharePoint in the Enterprise. See details here and please join the discussion on the 17th.

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Challenging Collaboration: Using SharePoint as a Collaboration Tool

Although Microsoft sells SharePoint as a collaboration tool, it really isn’t. It is a process and storage tool, and actually does a reasonable job at that. Many of our larger clients have thousands (if not millions) of documents stored in SharePoint. But in terms of supporting collaborative interactions between team members, SharePoint has some bolt-on technology at best.

Join the CMSWire Tweet Jam on August 17th: SharePoint in the Enterprise #EIMChat

This month we are taking a closer look at SharePoint's role in the enterprise and its capabilities as an enterprise platform. Where does it fit? What should you be thinking about? Where would other solutions/platforms work better? This is a perfect opportunity to get your perspective in the upcoming Tweet Jam on August 17th.

State of the SharePoint Community: Blog and Twitter Survey, Your Input Required

CMSWire recently wrote about the important community that supports the SharePoint platform. But just how active and popular is it?

So Just What Do We Mean by 'Information Management'?

Does your organization follow most of the principles that help define “information management”? If not, then how can it expect to make an impact on its business performance by implementing SharePoint 2010 or other suites?

The Root of All Evil: SharePoint Information Architecture and Happy End Users

So you may have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly around SharePoint information architecture (IA). In this post, I’ll address common concerns surrounding SharePoint IA and discuss how a better understanding of IA can help you to improve the effectiveness of your SharePoint environment.

The 'SharePoint and <insert technology here> ' Strategy

The Law of the Instrument states "...if the only tool you have is a hammer, you treat everything as if it were a nail."

When you examine the content management world's zeitgeist, the tool that has all the buzz is the shiny hammer of SharePoint. Yes, SharePoint, a fascinating "free product" that supports an $8 billion a year -- and growing -- ecosystem. By fully embracing Microsoft enterprise site licenses, IT administrators have used SharePoint to justify stable budgets for IT and doubled down their bets on on-premise software. I admit, there is some appeal in having a single vendor to work with, a single price to pay and being able to physically hug your server, should you so choose. But given the benefits of cloud computing like redundancy, cost savings and speed of deployment, is it worth the trade off? Is SharePoint really the only strategy you need?

SharePoint: An Enterprise Solution for What?

Are you considering SharePoint for your enterprise? For what purpose? And what's your definition of enterprise anyway?

Essential SharePoint Sandbox Solutions

The release of SharePoint 2010 introduced a new way to develop and deploy SharePoint customizations called "Sandbox Solutions.” Sandbox solutions encompass both a new deployment model for no-code elements like master pages and page layouts, and a new least-privilege code execution environment.

Sandbox solutions have gotten a bad rap in some circles, largely related to the restrictions placed on developers, and the limitations on supported customizations. However, sandbox solutions offer some compelling features for developers and administrators that make them essential knowledge for anyone developing and deploying custom solutions for SharePoint 2010.

SharePoint as a Shared Business Service

Businesses today all want SharePoint from IT departments. Different business units and their many departments and teams all have, at some point, been given the sales pitch on the value of using the technology, and inevitably the IT department is challenged to drive down costs. But just how many implementations does an organization really need? SharePoint was made to be shared. So instead of providing technology to the business, provide them with a service.

SharePoint -- Good at Controlled Access, Bad at Process

Because Ars Logica specializes in helping clients choose or assemble content management products (CMS, DAM, CXM, portals), we often get asked how – and if – SharePoint should be integrated into an overall solution stack. Since no two customer implementations are ever identical, our advice is never exactly the same. But similar themes underpin most of our guidance on SharePoint usage.

Metalogix Archive Manager 5.0 Tracks SharePoint, Exchange, User's Files

metalogix_logo_2010.jpg With all the problems associated with keeping track of information, particularly now with the multiplication of SharePoint deployments, archiving tools are always welcome -- particularly if they work. Metalogix (news, site) has done a good line on this over the years, and today has announced the release of Archive Manager 5.0 that focuses on Exchange, SharePoint and files.

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