Starting any Microsoft SharePoint project can be a daunting task, especially when it’s the corporate website -- it is generally a very high profile project. If you are thinking about using SharePoint for Web Content Management (Web CMS) or Customer Experience Management (CXM), here are my three top points to consider to ensure your project is a success:

Eighty/Twenty Rule

When I talk to clients about their new SharePoint website I often hear the question “can SharePoint do that?” and quite frankly, it makes me cringe. When I hear this kind of question so early on in a project, it usually means there is a danger of the "tail wagging the dog" unless dealt with swiftly. Website projects should be about generating revenues, raising product and service awareness, connecting with customers and elevating brands. Not about how you can fit a website around SharePoint (or any Web CMS platform for that matter). I’m not suggesting you completely disregard the technology -- after all, the business has made an investment in the platform and therefore needs the ROI -- but there is a healthy balance between technology and delivering a digital experience that meets the business objectives. As a rule of thumb, when going through the initial requirements stage of a SharePoint website project I talk about the business requirements and business value 80% of the time and SharePoint/technology only 20% of the time.

Out of the Box Won’t Do

SharePoint can be deployed out-of-the-box in many scenarios: whether for document management, light project management or a basic intranet. But, it should not be for your public facing website. Face up to the fact from the beginning that you’re going to need to do some customization work. A good example of this is out-of-the-box web parts -- I’ve lost count of the times where people think they are going to be able to use all of the out of the box web parts on their shiny new website and are disappointed when they realize it’s simply not going to work.

Out-of-the-box web parts are not suitable for web. As cynical as that may sound, it is true. Out-of-the-box web parts were originally designed and developed for behind the firewall applications, are generally not optimized for front-end performance and don’t give the fine control over look, feel and interaction that is required for a public facing website. It’s also often the case that content managers want to manage most of their content on the page template level rather than on the page level where web parts are typically used.

The biggest challenge to heavily customizing SharePoint for your website is the financial one, especially in the current economic climate. The key factor here is that the website will use the core platform services that SharePoint provides, including the publishing infrastructure, providing all the foundations and hooks upon which a website can be built. The publishing infrastructure itself provides all the core features required in an enterprise content management platform -- including version control and history content approval, page templates WYSIWYG editors and reusable content.

Content is King

If content is king, then content managers must be pretty important. But it’s incredible how easily they can be sidelined. A poor editing and content management experience will lead to low user adoption, which will ultimately result in content not being published as quickly (if at all). Because SharePoint isn’t a point Web CMS solution, it’s really important to consider their needs and make sure it works from a content management perspective as early on as possible. Practically, this means: making sure pages are actually editable in edit mode, that content can be managed through taxonomy and tagging and that content managers and editors have a central place where they can go to complete all the tasks they are required to keep the content relevant and fresh. In my experience, there is no substitute in getting content managers engaged with the website project as early on as possible and keeping them involved throughout the entire project. This will not only ensure that their requirements are catered to, but will also build a sense of ownership around the project from an early stage which typically results in a high user adoption going forward.

In Summary

It’s important for anyone about to embark on a SharePoint Web CMS project to know that they are not going to be able to switch SharePoint on and build highly engaging websites out-of-the-box. But this is true of practically all Web CMS platforms. In my view, the success of most web projects ultimately comes down to the people working on them and their drive, innovation and enthusiasm, rather than the underlying technology.

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