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SharePoint governance plans doomed without business buy-in

SharePoint governance plans require technologists to rein in the information chaos of business units -- a doomed prospect without business buy-in.

BOSTON -- For many IT professionals, a central SharePoint challenge isn't migration or even management. It's effective information governance. SharePoint implementers are often stymied when attempting to bring discipline to business processes so that SharePoint can be an effective tool in the first place.

It's about bringing order to chaos, noted Sue Hanley, founder and president of Susan Hanley LLC, in her session on developing SharePoint governance plans at SPTechCon 2013 this week. Failure to design information governance into SharePoint implementation plans can lead to deployments that resemble the "Wild, Wild West," Hanley said.

Governance has a lot of baggage, to the point where I can't even refer to it as governance at all.

Susan Hanley,
Susan Hanley LLC

But for technologists, reining in chaos is a challenging prospect, especially when the processes, terminology and information assets of the business seem like a foreign language to IT.

Developing an effective SharePoint governance plan requires bridging the gap and gaining an intimate understanding of the business side of the organization. Individual processes need to be standardized, policies and processes need to be documented, and information assets need to be locatable and searchable. And users accustomed to their own ways of doing things need to be willing to move to a standardized, policy-driven universe.

"I'm in IT, so making sense of engineering departments' terminology, processes and assets -- that is difficult in itself," noted Jason Krisiak, a systems and network administrator at Axcelis Technologies Inc., a semiconductor technology company in Beverly, Mass. "We have four different names for a statement of work. Why? We should just have one."

An even greater challenge for Krisiak is getting business users to embrace the standardization and the centralization that SharePoint information governance is all about. "They are worried about Big Brother. But this is about accountability, productivity [and] driving the business."

SharePoint dumping ground?

Information governance was indeed a central theme at SPTechCon 2013, the SharePoint technology conference, in Boston. Hanley's session, "Creating a Practical and Consumable SharePoint Governance Plan," underscored the importance of business-unit buy-in on SharePoint governance issues.

Hanley noted that information governance can be almost a psychological trigger for business executives. "Governance has a lot of baggage," Hanley emphasized, "to the point where I can't even refer to it as governance at all -- but instead just as the G word."

Staving off business-side panic is about getting buy-in, Hanley emphasized. "We don't care about governance. But if you can tie what you're asking people to do and all the rules you have in place to business results, you have a much better chance," she said. "The secret to getting governance to work is that IT shouldn't be making the rules. Governance has to be driven by the business."

Governance, then migration

Even for companies wrestling with important SharePoint migration questions, governance is top of mind. "We're on SharePoint 2007 and are considering moving to SharePoint 2013," said Chris Westbrook, an IT architect at Armstrong World Industries Inc., a manufacturer of floors and ceilings in Lancaster, Pa. "But we would need to get people on the same page. [There] isn't much consistency in how people store information now. [Migrating to SharePoint 2013 without organizing content] would make SharePoint more of a dumping ground for that chaos than anything else."

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Developing a rock-solid SharePoint governance plan is the precursor to all the other tasks and questions an organization needs to address, according to experts. And this is all the more true in the era of SoMoClo (social, mobile, cloud), where enterprise content management must factor in mobile devices, social media and cloud computing. Technologists are struggling with issues such as whether to migrate to SharePoint 2013, whether to consider SharePoint in the cloud. But they also need to get back to basics in the form of solid information governance.

For IT managers like Krisiak, the key is getting business users to embrace SharePoint first. "Without their buy-in," he said, "you might as well take your software and go home."

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