SharePoint’s success in the market can be attributed largely to its ease of use, according to Richard Harbridge, senior SharePoint evangelist at Allin Corp., a Boston-based consulting and IT services firm.
With SharePoint, business workers “can build stuff really quickly – it’s almost like a work-around for IT,” Harbridge said. “End users have the ability to manage their documents, to build their own sites, to manage their own permissions. It’s very empowering. It even integrates with Microsoft Office. It seems like a no-brainer [to use].”
What could possibly go wrong? Well, actually getting your end users to use the software, for one thing.
“The biggest risk we run into is adoption risk: You build it, but nobody comes,” said Rob Koplowitz, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. He added that SharePoint adoption problems stem partly from “muscle memory,” or the tendency of users to keep doing what they’ve always done.
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Koplowitz said IT and collaboration program managers often hear this sort of thing from business workers about using SharePoint: “I understand that you see these broad organizational benefits – that’s great. But right now, somebody’s waiting at my door. I have to get this document to someone before I can go to lunch, and besides, I can’t remember how to log on to SharePoint. So I’m going to send an email.”
Demonstrating value is key
In fact, almost everything you can do in SharePoint, you can do in email, Koplowitz acknowledged. You just shouldn’t, in his opinion. “It’s riskier,” he said of using email for collaborative purposes. “I don’t like content being stored there. It’s a horrible document management system. It’s a horrible project management system.”
To break the muscle memory of users, you have to show them SharePoint’s potential value, Koplowitz said. “Knowledge worker technologies tend to be opt-in. If people don’t see the value in it, they don’t opt in. Once people get in and use it, those adoption issues tend to go away.” For example, users begin to appreciate the value of knowing the current status of projects, or they see the logic in not having multiple versions of the same document floating around the company’s systems.
But companies have to invest money and resources in leading users to that point, and it can get expensive, Koplowitz said. IT must develop close relationships with other departments to understand their operating processes and document workflows. That requires “doing models, conducting training [and] working to get their people on board,” he noted.
In fact, IT departments often end up with all the ownership of a SharePoint implementation. They deploy the software; they maintain it; they engage, support and train the business on using it. If not managed properly, Harbridge said, this can lead to another problem that might affect SharePoint adoption: outsized expectations on the part of business users.
“If IT doesn’t recognize – preferably before they implement SharePoint – that they need to charge the business [for SharePoint-related work],” he said, “business expectations will continue to increase. IT can’t control or manage those expectations, and if they grow too high, the business loses confidence in both SharePoint and IT.” Harbridge suggested the IT department treat other departments as separate entities “buying” its services in these instances.
The problem, he added, is that many organizations implement SharePoint without a clear strategic plan – often, ironically, as a direct result of SharePoint’s perceived low cost. A rollout of another type of software platform that has, say, a $1 million price tag likely will be planned and managed carefully, with direction from on high. SharePoint implementations, on the other hand, tend to occur willy-nilly as this line of business or that one adopts the software for its own particular use.
Consider “Joe,” a SharePoint user and site owner in human resources who doesn’t understand permissions. Every time he has a permissions issue with the software, he calls IT or creates a help desk ticket. IT realizes that Joe needs some training, but Harbridge said it’s hard for IT to tell him, “Joe, you need to create a funded project for us so we can train you.”
The lesson is that despite its ease of use, SharePoint requires some forethought before it’s installed and put into use.
“Someone once told me, ‘SharePoint is a spotlight you shine on your business and it points out all the problems,’ ” Harbridge said. “If you don’t have project management and so forth in place before you start to implement [it], SharePoint’s going to highlight that.”
Enable adoption to spread virally
Plantronics Inc. chief information officer Tom Gill agrees that some advanced planning is essential. “Setting up a governance process in advance is really important,” he said. “How are you going to classify and manage documents? What information needs to be tagged?”
Plantronics, which manufactures headsets and other communications hardware, is updating all its SharePoint installations to SharePoint 2010. Gill, who is intimately involved in that upgrade, recommended bringing in outside consultants to help plan SharePoint deployments. Plantronics has done that in the past, with good results, he said.
And what about adoption risk? “The trick to adoption,” Gill said, “is finding pockets where people begin to use it and then letting it spread virally.”
Those pockets might not even be among knowledge workers. Plantronics’ use of SharePoint includes local-language intranet sites at manufacturing facilities in China and Mexico, where computer kiosks provide workers with access to necessary manufacturing documents, individual work-team sites and company information they wouldn’t normally be able to access.
“Users who are focused on a team quickly learn that for information about that team, their [SharePoint] site is the place to go,” Gill said. “I’ve been in meetings where a new project or initiative was kicked off, and someone immediately says, ‘I’ll set up a site this afternoon.’ You realize that they are using it.”
Accidental CRM: Illustrating a SharePoint danger
SharePoint’s ease of use and development can sometimes lead to trouble. For example, perhaps a sales director needs a way to manage contacts, so IT builds him a contact list in SharePoint. He comes back a week later and requests an extra column that shows whether a contact is an existing account, a lead or an opportunity. IT not only adds the column but teaches him how to do it himself. IT also gives him owner rights to the application, in case he has more ideas.
He’s back within an hour, requesting another list with the addresses of the headquarters for all of his contacts, because the addresses on the first list aren’t necessarily for the main offices of organizations.
“From the sales director’s point of view, he’s talking to IT and getting a solution built within an hour. He’s seeing a level of communication and productivity that he’s never seen before,” said Richard Harbridge, senior SharePoint evangelist at Allin Corp. “The danger in this scenario – and this is a true story – is that he’s trying to build an entire CRM [system] inside of SharePoint.” That’s really outside the scope of SharePoint and better handled by other software, according to Harbridge.
“SharePoint is an amazing rapid prototyping and process automation tool,” he said. “We can take simple things and automate or improve or enhance them – up to a certain point. And then there should be a line in the sand.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Clarkson is the author of seven books and hundreds of articles on all things technical, from CAD/CAM to Photoshop. He lives and works in Wichita, Kan., where he rarely leaves his basement and maintains his website at markclarkson.com.