Note: This article is an extract from the book: Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Business Performance Enhancement- Taking the basics to the Business - with No-Coding Solutions for SharePoint 2010 End Users. By Peter Ward and Michael McCabe
Most of you will now be familiar with SharePoint’s functionality and where it can be applied in day-to-day activities. This article outlines what SharePoint is not, what is special about SharePoint and why there is considerable value in using this technology, and the user requirement challenges that a deployment will cause.
What’s special about SharePoint?
Often, senior level management within an organization has already made a decision to make SharePoint the de facto corporate web platform, and users have to live with this decision and figure out a way for it to work for them. In many ways, this is what is special about SharePoint: the user base can define SharePoint’s destiny within the company by embracing it or not.
SharePoint is a platform for the solution, and is not the solution itself. This is often a challenge for management to understand. We recommend that some kind of SharePoint business architect should be employed to be the SharePoint owner, and a point of contact for its processes and upcoming collaboration initiatives from the business. This person should be accountable to ensure that the technology is working within the organization, and that it is meeting the business needs it was implemented for. This person does not need to be doing everything from the backups to the Site build-outs, but should have the following credentials:
- Some understanding of SharePoint’s capabilities and limits
- Good knowledge of the business and its IT requirements
- Ability to speak to senior management about such requirements, and state if SharePoint is a good fit or not
If this person is the Exchange administrator or junior in the organization, there is a high likelihood that the SharePoint deployment process will not be successful because their role is focused not on the business needs of teams, but rather the technology side of the business. This is why business analyzers scope the requirements of a project.
In America, where job title inflation is rampant, the person’s job title can be glorified to Internal Collaboration Director, VP of Communications, or CCO – Corporate Collaboration Officer.
What SharePoint is not
As we’ve already touched on earlier in the book, SharePoint is a product that can be a challenge to define, and the reality is that SharePoint has different meanings to different people. This is why we have described SharePoint as the "Ginsu knife" (an icon of "hard sell" marketing, as a knife that can do almost anything) of web platforms because, depending on its application, individuals will perceive the product differently. While SharePoint can perform a lot of functions, the following descriptions of SharePoint are not a good fit for its true capabilities and prescriptive use, and thinking of it in any of the following ways should be avoided.
A generic "best of breed" technology
There is a lot of buzz within the IT world surrounding SharePoint, and it does not help to have a keen person always stating, ‘SharePoint can solve this’ to understand if this is the appropriate technology. If SharePoint is customized enough, it can meet your required business needs. But, this is not the best use of people’s time and effort, and in reality, without some customization SharePoint will not provide the benefits of an advanced Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application. So, before you open up SharePoint in your browser, think about what your specific business problem is and how it can be solved.
If your company is looking for a very sophisticated document management system or a CRM application that is unique to an industry, SharePoint may not be the best tool without customization or a third-party add-on.
Yes, SharePoint does have very good document management functionality, but its functionality is geared towards the majority of users’ needs in an organization, rather than one or two individual’s specific requirements. This is so there is broader appeal to the technology within an organization.
The whole SharePoint architecture is based on customizable templates such as Sites, Lists, and Libraries. The moment that SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio is required for a project or task, the deployment should be viewed as an actual project, and a project manager will be required for help with development, staging servers, documentation, and perhaps a maintenance plan.
A defined end solution with an end point
Because functionality can be performed by an end user, there is often the notion among business users that ‘this is the web so anything is possible’. This creates the tendency to endlessly refine and make changes to the look and feel of field types and displayed information.
A department does not request that IT change the UI colors for Outlook so it is branded with the corporate colors, or insist that the interface is redesigned so the tool bar is at the bottom of the page and menu links can go three levels deep. This is a common request for a SharePoint site, so managing these expectations is key to delivering projects within specific time frames.
With implementations such as a CRM or ERP system where there is a hard release date, and once the application has gone live, there is a freeze on requested functionality. Released SharePoint functionality in most organizations is constantly tweaked even after the go live phase.
This is not a good approach to an IT project. However, this is a common practice with SharePoint functionality releases and should aim to be minimized as far as possible.
An online transaction website
Information can be tagged and selected together, but this is not the right tool for shopping cart transaction user activity with credit card actions without a lot of development customization.
A standalone Business Intelligence tool
SharePoint provides the presentation layer for graphs and charts, and with its out of the box functionality, it can connect to a data source that could be an SQL cube or a list. SharePoint will not build or refresh the cube, or design the report.
People will often say, ‘That’s in SharePoint’, referring to a graph displaying information from another database. In most cases though, SharePoint acts as a presentation layer to capture a graph from another application. An end user can easily capture web pages displaying cubes and graphs with the Page Viewer web part. For the more advanced user, Business Intelligence Center is more appropriate.
SharePoint will complement the BI functionality that is provided with other tools, rather than provide the functions of these tools itself.
Excel files can be rendered in your browser on a SharePoint page using SharePoint’s Excel Services, which is part of SharePoint Server. In this case, the Excel file is the data source, stored in a library that is being published to the SharePoint site.
An online Excel book in a list
The Edit in Datasheet functionality of a SharePoint list provides an Excel-like look and feel, which does work for basic information in a cell-like format. This is not a replacement for Excel’s cell formulas and flexibility to manipulate data and forecasting models.
A public-facing company website
You may be surprised by this particular statement, but if your company is small and with mostly static content, and has not purchased the public connector licenses required, then SharePoint may not be a financially viable web technology.
When a public facing site is designed on the SharePoint platform, there are a lot more unknown variables such as browser formats, mobile devices, and search engine optimization, which can require a skilled team to maintain. However, with a company intranet environment, browser standards and devices can be enforced by the organization.
Significant customizations are required to make a SharePoint site look like a typical website.
Another challenge with public facing websites is that when pages do not load properly or functionally does not work, the website visitors generally do not notify the company that something is not working, unlike an intranet that has a content owner, or a help desk ticketing process to assist with feedback and troubleshooting.
Furthermore, if your company already has a company website set up with something else, why do a rip and replace of the technology?
Clearly for internal websites, SharePoint is the perfect tool.
A turnkey switch on solution
SharePoint is a web platform that will require manpower and effort to configure, but if there is a business process or something unique to a requirement, it will take some effort to have this functional in SharePoint. As you can see from reading this book, much can be done by the user without development, but this will require both learning SharePoint’s functionality and understanding how to makes changes to it.
There is a perception by senior management in companies that SharePoint is a turnkey solution, and that once it is installed, benefits can be achieved in minutes. This may have something to do with the sales process, or that technology companies tend to focus on their solutions with SharePoint, rather than the process of implementing them.
An application that everyone will use on day one
While an accounting system upgrade will have a go live date where on a defined day all the invoices will be processed in the new system, SharePoint does not generally work like this, partly because people can use existing processes such as e-mail or the phone to perform their current tasks that SharePoint can also do.
So, during and after the go live release, users must still be constantly nurtured and educated to use the application, and will be questioned as to why they are not using it.
The biggest challenge for people in adopting a new system is for them to change their daily habits in going about their work.
The SharePoint platform
Because SharePoint is a platform for end user solutions and other third-party SharePoint applications to reside, the costs of ownership can dramatically decrease because installation costs and administration is spread across multiple business functions, and end user training is reduced because users are already using the application. This makes deployment of applications easier since the technology is already installed, and cultural acceptance within the company is in turn made easier because the users are already using the technology for other purposes.
This is why a lot of third-party applications have an interface deliberately designed to look like Microsoft’s Office because it is easier to learn as people are more familiar with it, making the transition to using the technology go all the more smoothly.
Because there are multiple applications working off the same platform, integration of workflow, security, and file management is easier to manage as there is a single interface for administration, user authentication, and user management. This is a major win in breaking down the information silos of a company.
First impressions of SharePoint and what it can do for a department and the individual are very important. If these are not favorable then enterprise deployments can be difficult.
In the past, IT departments have deployed bit boutique applications for different business requirements that usually provide short term benefits and additional overhead for both users and the IT department. Because of an extended learning curve, more technologies are needed for support, as are additional licenses.
A hosted solution
SharePoint can be installed on premise or purchased as a hosted option from a third-party hosting company. Obviously, with the hosted approach, the IT department can be completely by-passed with a deployment. We recommend that if there is a business need that requires SharePoint, and the IT department is reluctant to deploy it in a desired timeframe, the hosted option should be considered with the IT department’s involvement. This way, IT governance, security, and policy can be incorporated into the deployment.