With the widespread adoption of SharePoint across the enterprise, and the steady growth of the small to medium-sized business deployments of both SharePoint on premise and in the cloud (with much of that coming from the success of Microsoft's Office365 platform), organizations are tempering much of their IT-centric push for anything SharePoint.

Understanding the business value proposition and how the platform aligns with corporate and IT governance planning has become more common. Organizations want to get the most out of their SharePoint investments, and the alignment of policies and procedures surrounding SharePoint is essential to understand the true costs and benefits of the platform.

I recently caught up with Ant Clay (@soulsailor), Chief Strategy Officer and Consultant at 21apps based in the UK. Ant is one of the leading voices in the SharePoint expert community, providing business analysis, strategic frameworks and facilitation, and is an Innovation Games® Qualified Instructor, helping organizations uncover deep insights into their products and services.

Christian Buckley: Ant, why do you think governance is suddenly such a hot topic in the SharePoint community? There has always been a need for sound governance policies to help define and shape our SharePoint deployments, but it seems like it's really only come to the forefront in the past year or so. Why is that?

Ant Clay: One reason is that a lot of organizations are now on iteration 2 or 3 of implementing SharePoint projects and have had lots of bad experiences. “SharePoint Celery” if you will. They think that technology projects aren’t that hard to deploy and manage, and so they don't understand why there's so much pain with SharePoint. They're looking for “new answers” which they think governance will deliver. 

The other aspect is that with the current economic climate across the globe, organizations have a greater focus on costs. So ROI and delivering value are coming to the forefront within IT departments, rather than just delivering cool technologies in the hope of some positive return. Again, governance is thought to be the answer. 

CB: I like the analogy of "SharePoint Celery," which I interpret as meaning multiple stalks, lots of growth, but without much nutrients. Oh, and it tastes better with peanut butter (ok, that last part may not be relevant). But seriously, there is a lot of back and forth about where SharePoint should be owned and managed. There are many stakeholders, but who “owns” governance of SharePoint?

AC: First, there should be a shared understanding and shared commitment to SharePoint Governance across the organization.

Specific responsibility for ownership should be through a formal governance board. I see people making the mistake of doing once at a very strategic level, but my view is that there needs to be different levels of governance controls -- multiple governance boards throughout the organization, from IT support through to strategic business. Roles and areas of ownership should be clearly defined, and these teams held accountable for those areas.

Another great idea that we at 21apps have had first-hand experience with is introducing a SharePoint Center of Excellence (CoE) as the hub for all SharePoint activities. Having one centralized location and organizational structure can make a huge difference to governance and adoption on an ongoing basis.

CB: For larger organizations, the CoE model is a great way to share best practices across different divisions. Corporate knowledge is less likely to be lost that way. But even with smaller organizations, a CoE can be what the internal SharePoint community centers itself around -- which will also help as the business and the SharePoint deployment both grow.

This is great advice. But as you work with customers, what specific questions are companies asking about governance? Do you see any patterns across your customers?

AC: I would honestly say that most companies aren’t asking enough questions, or in some cases any questions about governance!

Yes there is significantly more awareness in the SharePoint Community, but in most cases the SharePoint Community isn’t who is buying SharePoint, it’s the businesses out there and apart from a small number of enlightened individuals it’s eerily quiet.

The questions that tend to be asked are still 60% IT-related, 30% information-related, and only about 10% are asking about “what else do we need?"

CB: So you're seeing the expert community driving more of this dialog than customers? I suppose that makes sense, since the majority of these experts are the ones out there deploying, configuring and supporting SharePoint. Even among the experts, are there important questions that nobody is asking?

AC: As said previously, far too many people aren’t asking any questions at all. What people should be asking are two fundamental questions:

  1. How do I ensure that I govern my SharePoint project so it delivers value to my organization?
  2. How do I ensure that once I have delivered my business-aligned SharePoint solution that it is adopted, and continues to deliver organizationally-aligned value? 

Of course, much of what we do at 21apps helps customers to answer these questions.

CB: Ant, you've written and presented regularly on what you call the "Pillars of SharePoint governance" ? 

AC: We define the five pillars as follows:

  1. Technology Assurance -- Delivering assurance that the technology platform supports the needs of the project requirements, both in the short-term and in the long-term. It is one thing to have a "performant" platform that works well today, and another to design a solution that will meet your needs as the business grows and adapts to a changing business climate.
  2. Project Governance -- Utilizing your established IT project methodology, ensuring that everyone involved has a shared understanding of what needs to be done, and how the task or solution will be delivered. Having a SharePoint Center of Excellence is a great way to stay on top of project governance.
  3. Information Governance -- Understanding of what is created, facilitated and managed within SharePoint. Information governance ensures that any content that is created and stored within SharePoint has defined value, and how it fits into SharePoint is understood.
  4. Business Technology Alignment -- If it does not have a measurable benefit to the organization, simply put -- you should not be doing it. Business and technology should be aligned, with a shared vision of what is to be delivered.
  5. Continuous Improvement -- This should facilitate ongoing efforts to implement feedback and manage change to the platform. Governance, like SharePoint itself, is not a static activity, but must change as the organizational needs change.

CB: What advice do you give to SharePoint administrators who are struggling to help their management team understand the need for more time and resources to focus on governance?

AC: Make it a business priority. A SharePoint Administrator is unlikely to have the influence to make this happen, therefore they need to tell a “cause and effect” story to the business stakeholders and support them in taking the message (and the business case) to the management team. 21apps have a huge amount of experience in telling that story, and work with most of our customers on this issue.

For more on Ant's Pillars of SharePoint Governance, you can check out the 21apps blog, or view some of the great content on their YouTube channel. You can also catch Ant live (or recorded) during a March 12th, 2pm GMT free webcast entitled Rebooting SharePoint Governance - 5 Pillars to Guarantee Success.

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