I recently spoke with a client of mine on a new prospective project using SharePoint to deliver a records management solution. The solution was to replace an existing, outdated product that was in major need of a facelift.

“Great!” I said. I prepared my finest consulting slides and brushed up on a few records management topics that I had become rusty on, and I was on my way to winning a new project.

But during the call, it quickly became clear that this was not at all what I thought it was going to be. It turns out that the client didn’t even have a true records management product to begin with. And they had no intention of using SharePoint as a corporate records management solution.

This sort of thing reminds me of that ESPN commercial depicting an ordinary guy, named Michael Jordan, who ends up being a severe let down to everyone thinking he’s the real deal. You’re excited in anticipation of something big only to be let down by reality.

So You’re Not Michael Jordan? Oh.

And this is where the story begins. A typical consultant’s nightmare is one as illustrated above. You prepare for some presentation or discussion about a particular solution, and you realize that there’s a chasm between what’s really going on and what you thought was going on. Many times the discussion is thwarted by this revelation, and the client and consultant part their separate ways, disappointed at missed expectations.

But here’s where SharePoint can literally save the day. When I realized that the client never had the intention of implementing a full-featured records management solution, I intended to get to the bottom of what the true business need really was.

The real need was for an automated records retention policy management tool that would simply remind department heads that a certain records retention policy needed to be adhered to. The solution itself didn’t care about the actual records at all. It only cared about tracking compliance with the policies, so that they could prove that a particular user agreed to comply. Bingo! You don’t need a records management solution; you need workflow!

Identity Crisis or a Case of Multiple Personalities?

This is the real beauty behind the concept of what SharePoint has become. There are few avenues in technology where you have the flexibility to completely change course without altering the underlying framework required to make it happen. Stories like this one happen all the time with SharePoint, and I don’t think they’re celebrated enough.

I find it hard to believe that anyone looking at “nuggets” (you know them as web parts, today) in the Tahoe days envisioned how much it would transform the way organizations deliver content to their users. And yet today, there’s not much you can’t do with web parts. This is the primary reason why I got so attached to SharePoint during the 2003 to 2007 years. The amount of innovation happening during that time was impressive to watch. It got much more impressive between the 2007 and 2010 releases.

Notice a Trend?

So the lesson is not so much, you can do anything with SharePoint. It’s really about SharePoint doing something different for you, when you’re not expecting it.

I got your best practice right here!

Say the above heading in your preferred New York dialect, and you’ll catch my drift. If you’ve read some of my others articles, you know that the words “best practice” rarely come out of my mouth when talking about specific solutions that work for everyone. Most of my colleagues share the same ideal.

I still believe SharePoint to be a fantastic choice for many of the challenges facing today’s IT pros. But it’s not always the “best” one. But consider this. When the next “Michael Jordan” shows up at your door, you just might be sitting on the next game changer, albeit misunderstood.

Editor's Note: To read more on getting started with SharePoint: