As the collaborative workplace becomes more complex, SharePoint can be a boon to enterprises of all sizes, enabling users to set up blogs, personal or team sites and a variety of other online venues for business unit and interdepartmental collaboration. But for all of SharePoint’s benefits, implementation failures are common.
According to consultants and analysts who specialize in the technology, most of those failures can be attributed to a lack of up-front SharePoint 2010 implementation governance. When SharePoint is deployed without a solid plan for establishing who can create sites, how they should be set up and what types of information should and shouldn’t be shared on them, management headaches and chaos often follow.
Runaway SharePoint site creation can also lead to adoption resistance among business workers, the analysts and consultants warned. To avoid such problems, they said, organizations need to develop an enterprise-wide SharePoint 2010 governance strategy to establish a collaboration routine with firm guidelines.
“Lack of governance is the No. 1 reason for SharePoint failure,” said Craig Roth of Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn. Roth, who is managing vice president of communication, collaboration and content research for Gartner, said the types of failures typically fall into three main categories:
- Ambiguity, which is both a result of and cause for people following their own unspoken rules and assumptions.
- Undefined short- and long-range business goals, which typically results from “going in fast to just get it done.”
- Conflicts between business users and internal power struggles.
SharePoint’s capabilities also can overlap with those of many other business systems related to enterprise content management (ECM), social media management and other functions, so it makes sense to establish the boundaries of a SharePoint 2010 implementation in advance. “Ideally, you would work that out before implementing and work these things out with the people in charge of those other systems,” Roth said. “If you wait, it no longer becomes a logical argument. It becomes political and it becomes very much … a human issue, not a technology issue.”
Think of governance as an insurance policy against those risks. To not have governance is to completely ignore those risks -- an extremely bad business decision.
Richard Harbridge, Allin Consulting
When a SharePoint deployment fails, it can mean everything from outdated and redundant content to a loss of control of corporate secrets and even litigation. There’s also the potential for abandoned team sites, search capabilities that don’t work because of inconsistent or non-existent metadata, and a lack of consistency in sites that makes browsing them difficult or even useless. It all means trouble, said Susan Hanley, founder and president of Susan Hanley LLC, a SharePoint portal and collaboration consultancy in Bethesda, Md.
“And if you’re an international company, you’ve got multiple national legal issues to figure out,” she said.
But the potential missteps can be mitigated by an effective governance plan, said Richard Harbridge, senior SharePoint evangelist for Allin Consulting, the consulting and IT services arm of Pittsburgh-based Allin Corp. “Think of governance as an insurance policy against those risks,” he said, explaining that given SharePoint’s complexity, “to not have governance is to completely ignore those risks -- an extremely bad business decision.”
Harbridge and other analysts offered the following tips on how to build a sound and sustainable process for governing a SharePoint system:
Define the business issues. “Understanding the business problem is step No. 1,” Hanley said. “Before you even get to the point of deploying, take a step back and be sure you understand [what] you are asking SharePoint to solve.”
A clear organizational vision is the foundational framework for a successful SharePoint deployment that enables employees and business partners to collaborate effectively, she said, explaining that to get there, an organization first must answer basic questions about its business objectives for the SharePoint system.
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Answering those questions should start the entire deployment process, Harbridge advised. “The further you are into it without those framing discussions, the harder it is to develop that governance,” he said. That’s because stakeholders begin developing their own ways of using SharePoint.
Business needs and objectives will be different for every organization, Roth noted. Those goals will help determine what SharePoint sites will be used for and who should have a say in regulating or guiding the process to create them, so careful self-study is key. “There’s no governance template that fits everyone,” he said.
Set up a governance board. For the best chance of success, SharePoint governance should be driven by a team of likely business users, ideally led by someone with management or business analysis experience, Roth said. He added that the governance board should be set up by an executive steering committee because “there are judgment calls to make and you need to know that there’s an executive group that will stand behind those [decisions].”
The governance team might be made up of people from the IT and information management departments plus representatives of various other business functions, such as human resources and legal. As a group, they should be given responsibility for determining the types of information the collaboration platform will be used for, establishing management processes and deciding on retention and disposal rules to make sure that important information is kept in the system and that old data and sites can be eliminated when no longer needed.
But start with a reasonably sized governance board and a reasonably sized SharePoint 2010 project, said Marcy Zweerink, a senior consultant with Chicago-based Cohasset Associates. “Don’t try to boil the ocean when you start out.”
Start small, agreed Harbridge -- then make the governance operation more robust as the SharePoint system expands and more people begin using it. He suggested, at a minimum, using a five-team approach to effective governance once SharePoint adoption really takes hold. That should include a business strategy team for defining objectives on an ongoing basis, a technical strategy team that determines how SharePoint can be used to meet those business objectives, and tactical operations, development and support teams.
Define roles and write guidelines. The first steps for a governance board are to define roles and responsibilities, determine how much flexibility and control there should be on SharePoint usage and then write guidelines for content, site design, naming conventions and more, Hanley said.
“A statement of governance is an important one,” Roth said. “It explains why you are going to set up other guidelines … and it kind of launches those other efforts that have to go off on their own.” Though a lot of guidelines or policies have to be written, he said the key in doing so is that “you’ve pre-decided the answer if someone wants to argue with you.”
Setting up a SharePoint implementation to be successful by establishing a solid governance strategy isn’t solely about solving business problems, according to Harbridge. It also creates an environment for reusing content later on and enriching it by connecting it to newer associated content, ultimately improving the potential return on investment of a SharePoint 2010 implementation, he said.
Roth made a similar point: “If you do governance first,” he said, “all the rest of it has a better chance of succeeding.”
Susan Hanley’s top-ten steps for SharePoint 2010 governance planning
Most SharePoint 2010 deployments fail because they are not governed correctly. But there are steps organizations can take to ensure that their implementation of the collaboration program goes smoothly and remains effective, according to Susan Hanley, a SharePoint portal and collaboration consultant in Bethesda, Md. Hanley identifies 10 steps that can help ensure proper governance.
- Identify an inclusive governance team.
- Start discussions with “framing” decisions about business goals.
- Determine your SharePoint deployment model.
- Define a clear vision for enterprise collaboration.
- Identify the roles and responsibilities of the governance team.
- Develop guiding principles for governance.
- Decide on your organizational comfort level with social computing.
- Define governance policies and standards.
- Document the plan.
Promote the use of SharePoint throughout the enterprise.
Key SharePoint governance steps to take -- and questions to ask
Creating a governance plan for a SharePoint 2010 implementation and enforcing it are crucial to collaborative success, according to Mark Gilbert, a research vice president and lead SharePoint analyst for Gartner Inc. Gilbert, who has spoken about SharePoint governance at collaboration and content management conferences, points to five key steps in the process:
- Establish authoritative content ownership.
- Create a content governance board.
- Organize business users to effectively manage content.
- Use ECM tools to enforce a content management lifecycle.
- Use virtual team spaces for shared project content.
In addition, he suggests that enterprises create a site request form for employees who want to create SharePoint 2010 team or project-related sites. Gilbert said the form should ask a list of questions to help focus a site’s goals for the employee requesting it and help a SharePoint governance team understand the purpose and intended use of a proposed site:
- What is the nature of the site?
- Who will own the site?
- What types of data will be stored there?
- Will some data potentially become corporate records?
- How many versions of the data should be kept?
- What is the expected life span of the site?
- Who should have access to the site?
- Is there a need for workflow?
- Is there a need for imaging?
- Is there a need for external collaboration?