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Don't blame SharePoint for poor SharePoint adoption

Companies often blame SharePoint for poor user adoption. But the reality is more complex.

While SharePoint has market share in the world of enterprise content management, it is hardly well-loved by its...

user base. Despite the fact that a majority of enterprises have SharePoint installed, it is also ancient in software terms, having initially been released way back in 2001. And while ECM has become increasingly important for storage, compliance and the "findability" of corporate data, there is still lack of understanding about how to get meaningful value from SharePoint as a content and records management tool.

AIIM International recently published the study "Connecting and Optimizing SharePoint – Important Strategy Choices," which noted that SharePoint has been the" vehicle that took content management across the enterprise," spreading out across organizations large and small, well beyond the restricted license base of earlier systems." But then comes the observation that SharePoint adoption "has always been something of an issue" and the supporting statistic that nearly two-thirds of its survey respondents reported SharePoint projects that have stalled, are struggling, or failed outright (see Figure 1).

Pie chart showing SharePoint project development
Figure 1

Conventional wisdom holds that SharePoint's failure to capture the hearts and minds of the content community is because of its reputation for adequacy in many areas but superiority in few, if any. This may be true, but it's not why SharePoint still struggles to achieve broad and unqualified acceptance. In many cases, failed expectations with SharePoint can be attributed to human factors, such as poor up-front planning, lack of executive enthusiasm for the platform and more.

The fault is not in our stars

Having reported, analyzed and consulted on SharePoint's market progression since before its introduction, I can tell you that, especially for most mainstream applications, the technology is often not the problem. Rather, we -- the people charged with making it work the way the marketing brochures promise -- are to blame. Organizations demonstrate several errors with SharePoint:

  • We leave SharePoint's development and deployment largely to IT, so it gets installed without the knowledge or buy-in of the business managers who are supposed to use it or the senior executives who set organizational direction.
  • Many deployments come up short in the planning phase. We don't research, articulate or measure our business requirements well enough to know if SharePoint (or any other tool, for that matter) can even do the things we expect it to. Figuring out how SharePoint will solve specific problems beforehand puts you in a much better position to teach users how it can improve process and information management techniques.
  • SharePoint is designed to be user friendly, but there is a learning curve. Employee training should include a clear explanation of the platform's purpose in the organization and a demonstration of how it will make life easier. With training employees should recognize how SharePoint can enhance processes and make work more efficient.
  • Post deployment follow-up is important, but often neglected. Many employees are slow to embrace SharePoint, fall short of best practices or become frustrated with issues that are relatively easy fixes. Showing an interest in your users' experience can provide vital perspective for keeping a deployment on-track.

AIIM's numbers bear all this out (see Figure 2):

SharePoint projects stalled and failed pie chart
Figure 2

Perhaps the most damning statement, however, is the fact that users "don't plan/purchase/deploy SharePoint in the context of an overall information governance strategy."

How well-aligned is SharePoint with your information governance policies pie chart
Figure 3

Figure 3 above shows how more than 85% of AIIM's respondents concede this shortcoming, and it explains a lot. Metaphorically, it means we are like drivers who don't ask for directions and get upset when other navigators miss their destination.

A SharePoint deployment is a major undertaking and when obstacles arise the desire to rail against the technology is understandable. But the survey indicates that organizations need to think more deeply about why SharePoint deployments aren't working to fix the situation. While user training may be part of the problem, organizational hurdles such as lack of executive support, lack of IT investment, and poor up-front planning are also significant reasons for a failed SharePoint implementation. Addressing those shortcomings up front, and focusing on user training, may be the best recipe to ensure SharePoint adoption.

Next Steps

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This was last published in May 2015

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If your SharePoint adoption has stalled, what was the reason?
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Our SharePoint adoption stalled primarily because of a political situation in which, at the time, the team’s management only wanted to build sites for high-profile people or groups within the company. There were numerous requests from other people and groups for sites they needed or wanted, but they were given a messages along the lines of “we don’t think there’s enough value in that.” So, people started looking for and using other solutions. Now, even after many changes and a few big successes for the SharePoint team, people are reluctant to abandon the solutions they found and/or implemented for solutions implemented with SharePoint.
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I’ve never been a big fan of SharePoint because I felt that every time I needed it to do something it would *almost* do what I wanted, but not quite. But, I’m not a SharePoint developer. Still, I don’t think that’s any reason to blame SharePoint for poor user adoption. As I mentioned in another post, the problem with adoption where I work was with the way SharePoint projects were selected.
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Sharepoint was never a tool that adapted to mobile users, people not always wanting to be on VPN, and fungible groups that would form and de-group rapidly. There are just too many good SaaS tools that are better than Sharepoint, and don't require a bunch of IT setup or business policies to try and avoid. 
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