Plan carefully now to avoid SharePoint deployment frustration later

SharePoint users and experts agree: Don't sideline planning, or you'll be in for a bumpy deployment.

Many SharePoint deployment frustrations can be quashed by dedicating a little more time to the planning stage, according to users and industry experts.

Organizations are often so enticed by SharePoint's rich functionality and promise that they forgo the drudgery of planning in favor of quick implementations, said David Kruglov, managing director of Montrose, Calif.-based SharePoint consultancy ShareSquared.

"We see a lot of customers try to minimize the time spent on planning, architecture and solution design because it doesn't feel like you're making progress," Kruglov said.

Rushing the planning process can hamper SharePoint's usefulness and lead to high levels of dissatisfaction within the organization, said John Mancini, president of Bethesda, Md.-based Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM).

AIIM recently published a report on SharePoint implementations, which found that only 50% of the 551 organizations surveyed thought that SharePoint adoption was a positive decision. A quarter of respondents were only able to achieve basic deployment, and another 10% called implementation a "poor choice."

But Mancini doesn't think SharePoint should shoulder all of the blame for user dissatisfaction. Instead, he faults half-baked deployments and the organizations that carry them out.

SharePoint's robust capabilities cannot be fully tapped "unless you take a step back and think about the governance side of it and think about the planning side of it, and you think about what you have to add to it," he said.

The proper way to plan for SharePoint deployment

Kruglov attributes ineffective deployments to a lack of "shared vision" among those involved in the process and a tendency to overlook key information architecture considerations.

More on SharePoint deployments

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Read a guide on SharePoint content management and collaboration

When planning for SharePoint deployment, it's important to define a governance strategy, Kruglov said. The governance strategy should define what types of content will be available via SharePoint and how records and policies related to that content should be managed. This is also a good time to start adding metadata to relevant content, so it can be easily accessed and retrieved.

Failure to consider a governance strategy can lead to big problems. Just ask Steve Bioty, director of business operations for Guilford, Conn.-based CE3 Inc., a small clinical research organization that uses SharePoint as the main tool of communication for its 31-member staff and more than 30 contract workers.

Back in 2007, CE3 was on the hunt for a good way to connect its employees and a more efficient document repository than the shared drives it had been using.

Following the recommendation of a CE3 programmer, the company decided to deploy SharePoint and quickly used it to set up a clinical trial management system with document repositories divided into project sites. It also created some simple task lists within SharePoint to help individual projects along. A task list might include the details of several jobs that need to be finished before a project can be considered complete.

As the company grew, it found more uses for SharePoint and added them into the mix without considering how they'd fit into the broader management picture -- and the complexity spun out of control.

"That really caused some problems," Bioty said, explaining that five years after implementation, the company is "essentially going back to square one" and taking steps to redeploy SharePoint properly and take governance issues into account.

Marcy Zweerink, a senior consultant at Minneapolis, Minn.-based consultancy Cohasset Associates Inc., said she often encounters such deployments. One of the biggest issues, she said, is that users initially bypass the information and policy management aspects of the implementation.

"People set up sites and they think it's going to [make] everything better, but they haven't thought about how to organize the information or how people are going to use it, and pretty soon they've got a big mess," Zweerink said.

If sites are started and then abandoned, the remaining "junk" content accumulates, clogging records and confusing users. To avoid this, Zweerink suggests setting up simple lifecycle control policies for project sites that allow for quick set up but also provide a way to "sunset," or phase out, unused or unsuccessful sites.

Wells Fargo finds SharePoint deployment success

Armand Brunelle, managing director of technology at Santa Monica, Calif.-based Wells Fargo Capital Finance, has been using SharePoint since version 2.0 and is now in the process of beta testing SharePoint 2013.

He prefers to do the grunt work when deploying SharePoint and related functionality, and can often be seen uploading content databases into test projects and enlisting co-workers to try them out.

Brunelle initially began using SharePoint as an employee of Castle Pines Capital, a company that Wells Fargo purchased in 2011. Castle Pines initially implemented SharePoint to create an externally facing portal to share data with resellers and vendors. But, like CE3, the company soon decided to add other SharePoint capabilities.

"As we drank the SharePoint Kool-Aid and really liked it, we started to expand our use internally, too," Brunelle said. "Recently, we've really embraced it for document management."

Brunelle largely attributes Wells Fargo's success in adding SharePoint features to its work with Rackspace, a cloud hosting company, and to its support staff in particular.

"We're experts with SharePoint ourselves, but having [good support] really helped us make the right decision," he said. "That is definitely, I think, a huge factor for us."

Despite its record of SharePoint deployment success, the company's gung-ho approach did fall flat in one area: its foray into SharePoint Workspace. Workspace is a desktop-based tool that synchronizes data with a laptop, so users can access SharePoint content offline. The company planned on using the feature for managing customer relationship management records and got pretty far into the implementation process before realizing its limit was about 500 records -- far too low to meet Brunelle's needs.

"That was kind of a 'gotcha,' but it was the first release of SharePoint Workspace, so we probably should have treaded a little more carefully," Brunelle said.

Industry experts agree that it's a good idea to assemble a team prior to deploying SharePoint. The team should include any external consultants as well as representatives from any internal departments that will be using the technology. The team should work together to define governance policies and workflows that suit everyone's needs.

Brunelle added that it's also a good idea to take a phased approach to SharePoint deployment.

"That's really how we did it," Brunelle said. "We started with [the externally facing project] because we had a requirement there, and then we looked at internal process flows and how we could leverage [SharePoint] to make us more efficient there."

This was first published in January 2013

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