Looking for Bigfoot: Opportunities in Enterprise Collaboration
Following up on my last post about collaboration in the enterprise, it makes sense to explore collaboration technologies in depth. With the SharePoint conference in Las Vegas soon upon us, SharePoint sits at the top of mind -- a powerful solution that for some reason clings to the poor reputation it has had since its birth in 2001, some deserved, others not.

While I’ll be the first to agree that SharePoint isn't perfect, its reputation is undeserved, especially today. The problem comes from IT deploying a solution for a business, with little understanding what it does and how it works. Now, more than 10 years later, SharePoint has some legacy issues that are not all its fault. Some even think that a useable, useful SharePoint site is the technological equivalent to Bigfoot. Have you ever seen Bigfoot?

To be fair, I have a deep connection with SharePoint. My company is one of the sponsors of the upcoming conference. But maybe my deep connections are exactly what it takes to unravel the mysteries of SharePoint -- and the unwarranted hostility surrounding it.

The problem with SharePoint is unfulfilled expectations. You expect it to be everything to everyone, but it’s simply not built that way. SharePoint '13 gives opportunities to be everything to everyone -- but it’s up to the enterprise to research and plan what are the right SharePoint opportunities to develop for the given audience. Not all are the right moves for every enterprise -- careful planning needs to be the first step in any deployment or upgrade to SharePoint '13 or Office 365.

Opportunity #1: SharePoint that Even Users Can Love

SharePoint '13 finally offers a way for SharePoint not to look like SharePoint. Now more than ever you can use solid design practices to greatly enhance the user experience. This means that users in your organization may actually find the site intuitive and actually look at it as a resource.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, it’s still a complex process to get your SharePoint designed the way you want it to look. Using Design Manager, SharePoint 2013 allows you to separate the designer and developer roles. Designers can focus on designing a site using the tools that they prefer -- like Dreamweaver. This design can then be imported as a package to be applied to a site, at which point the developer can add controls and other technical aspects to the page.

Complicated? Yes. Worth the effort? You bet.

Opportunity #2: Collaboration Everywhere You Go

We live mobile lives. Odds are, you’re reading this column on a mobile device right now.Our collaboration solutions need to match that.

Learning Opportunities

Previous versions of SharePoint left something to be desired when comes to support for devices such as phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. SharePoint '13's device-targeting features let you specify layouts specific to a user’s device to enhance legibility. That means you can choose to make those features available on the designated platforms. Great.

On the other hand, this presupposes you know your users well enough to know how they will use the site on mobile -- which may differ greatly from in-office use. The strategy and UX research process is essential with the explosion of mobile use across the enterprise. Done right, you've taken a leap forward in facilitating collaboration in your organization.

Opportunity #3: Business Without the IT Headaches

We all know many people still use SharePoint as an enterprise document storage system. However, when it’s launched on a solid grounding of a strategy and roadmap unique to the enterprise use it was selected for, and when implemented with user-centric design -- SharePoint gives concrete opportunity for today’s global enterprise to empower employees to collaborate across time and geography. It’s no Bigfoot. It’s technology you can believe in.

We are achieving better business processes via technology, streamlining in ways that were impossible to dream of before, via truly secure and easy-to-use document sharing and collaboration solutions that can automate workflows. These are being accompanied by better infrastructures and pricing models that promote expanded and continued adoption of enterprise collaboration. Preexisting expectations can prevent you from seeing the possibilities. What do you expect to achieve in the way of collaboration, and what opportunities can you uncover by ditching those expectations?

Title image by mertcan (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Read more from Kevin in The 'New' Promise of Corporate Portals: How Did We Get Here?