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Why SharePoint 2013? Making the business case for SharePoint

If you're anticipating pushback from your executive team on implementing SharePoint, you need to build the business case so you can answer the question Why SharePoint 2013? for your company.

Constructing a business case for an organization is an exercise in carefully considered subjectivity, often so complex that there are websites offering step-by-step guides for building it.

But most guides omit the hidden costs that need to be articulated to make the business case for SharePoint 2013. The platform can pay its own way, and introduce huge efficiencies, economies and process improvements. But underestimating the time and expense of getting the platform in place can disillusion stakeholders, frustrate users and leave IT with a bruised reputation.

The price of a lengthy search

A common justification for SharePoint 2013 is its enterprise search capability. All of an organization's content, residing under the global security and administration umbrella of SharePoint, is now searchable, even beyond SQL Server: The new enterprise search can encompass the content management system (CMS), peripheral storage and file shares. Metadata taxonomy has matured, both expanding and refining the selectivity of content tagging. And beyond this, search is now faster, because a query can collate based on a specific user's most common file-type usage. And all these features are augmented by continuous crawl, which makes new content immediately available to global

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search.

With some of the improvements in SharePoint 2013, processes are simplified.

The justification here is obvious: faster and more accurate search results, which are a time and cost savings in almost any business process.

But the business case that highlights search features glosses over the cost. For enterprise search to work as advertised, it requires a middle tier of processing power. The search engine at the core of SharePoint search tool, FAST, consumes massive processing resources. So the business case needs to reflect the cost of middle-tier application servers to take on that load; otherwise, the CMS will constantly grind its gears, creating slow load times and latency. (Another consideration is the development of a global metadata taxonomy, which will require substantial up-front deliberation and ground work by business stakeholders.)

People, get ready

Just as common in justifying SharePoint 2013 is its potential to revolutionize a corporate culture for the better, with social computing. SharePoint now employs social media features that have become ubiquitous in everyday life on the Internet, and bringing that collaborative power into the enterprise pools resources and ideas, and enables broader input indecision-making at all levels.

The business case is also obvious: Easier access to in-house expertise and peripheral knowledge makes that expertise cheaper and faster to obtain when needed; and per the wisdom of crowds concept, a greater spectrum of input makes for more accurate and effective decisions.

But social media isn't made effective in the enterprise by just flipping a switch. While many enterprises use Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools, using those applications requires time spent sifting through a mighty river of content to get to what's truly useful. In SharePoint terms, that means training, and lots of it, in two key areas: moderation (content screening) in community sites, and enterprise-wide standards in tagging. This requires familiarity with an organization's metadata taxonomy and CMS organization; training SharePoint users to implement these standards is a considerable commitment of time and resources. Otherwise, site sprawl can result can result, which offsets the benefits of collaboration.

For more on SharePoint 2013:

A guide to SharePoint 2013

Migrating to SharePoint 2013

Features in SharePoint 2013

Do SharePoint licensing changes yield benefits?

All in one

One of the long-standing business cases for SharePoint is the consolidation of enterprise content into a single storage and management platform. From a security and administration standpoint, the benefits of having all content assets under one roof is almost self-evident: It's cheaper to maintain a single storage platform than several, and the use of the content is more convenient when there's only one mode of access to contend with.

Moreover, since SharePoint 2010, the SharePoint CMS is one-stop shopping for all enterprise content, not just the Microsoft-compatible kind. The introduction of Remote Blob Storage in SQL Server 2008 R2 enabled the inclusion of NT File System-based storage of uncommon file types (media files, very large graphics, etc.) in cheaper conventional file storage while maintaining it within the SharePoint CMS framework. As advertised, this means SharePoint can store just about anything the organization needs to be searchable. And migration of content from Sharepoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013 is nearly turn-key.

Nonetheless, content consolidation is often a justification for migrating from another platform to SharePoint. Migration from a third-party platform can be problematic; SharePoint 2013 is no friendlier to incoming content from foreign platforms than its predecessor.

Bringing hundreds of gigabytes of content from systems such as LiveLink and other file-based interfaces still presents challenges in restructuring the content that will consume many months and considerable resources. The trade-off is usually time for labor: If you want it moved cheaply, have your in-house people do it and accept the time cost; if you want it done fast, bring in a third party, and be prepared to pay.

SharePoint 2013 can be easily justified, from a business case standpoint. But count the cost.

This was first published in October 2013

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