As more and more companies deploy Microsoft SharePoint 2010, it is becoming increasingly clear that successful use of the complex collaboration platform requires careful management.
“SharePoint is a popular tool, and it’s a good tool, but to make it a real enterprise-class tool you typically have to pay a lot of attention to the care and feeding of it,” said Mark Gilbert, research vice president for Gartner Inc., of Stamford, Conn.
Gilbert, who’s been Gartner’s lead analyst on SharePoint for seven years, estimates he’s spoken to close to 3,000 companies about the collaboration platform and describes it as the Swiss Army knife of collaboration.
“They got tired of the cost and complexity of using a best-of-breed tool and wanted something else,” he said.
That isn’t to say SharePoint 2010 doesn’t come with its own share of complexity. Organizations looking to deploy the platform need to take carefully considered steps to ensure success, according to Gilbert and other analysts. Here are six tips that they recommended:
Don’t go it alone; use a systems integrator. “You don’t want to do it the first time on your own,” Gilbert said. He suggested organizations hire a consultant with SharePoint training and certification from Microsoft. “Check their references and talk to people who are happy with their deployments,” Gilbert said.
A consultant will help assess the current technology used by the enterprise. “That’s No. 1,” said Jennifer Baker, a consultant with Chicago-based Cohasset Associates. An expert from outside the enterprise will have a more objective view of the company’s needs, will be able to determine the best ways to implement SharePoint 2010 in current procedures and will pinpoint the best lines of business to target for pilot projects.
Identify the key business imperatives. “Most people don’t just get in their car and start driving without knowing where they’re going,” Gilbert said. It’s important to understand company goals and write them down, he said, suggesting that they be reviewed every day by the team driving the SharePoint 2010 deployment.
Richard Harbridge, senior SharePoint evangelist for Allin Corp., a Boston-based consulting and IT services firm, agrees that organizations need to understand what they’re using the platform for. “The business needs to prioritize and define its objectives clearly.” The organization must give its IT department specific priorities for deployment or those goals will keep changing and “IT will never catch up.”
Put a strong team together. Baker suggested fielding a team of IT pros and businesspeople headed by a strong business liaison who will sit down with each department and figure out how SharePoint adoption will bring efficiency to everyday work.
“You really want to make sure that you’re working closely with the essential personnel to understand their roles,” she said.
The point is to improve the recurring processes a team works on every day.
“Spend a half-day, or whatever is required, with a power user in each department,” learning each team’s processes and explaining what can be automated, Gilbert said.
The team helps end users understand what SharePoint will do for them.
“The goal is for users to have confidence that SharePoint is a really important platform for the business,” Harbridge said.
Plan training and identify pilot projects. “Putting technology out there without people knowing how to use it is one of the biggest problems,” Baker said. Training a large-enough group on SharePoint across the enterprise is key “if it’s going to be implemented responsibly.” Baker suggested identifying departments to pilot SharePoint, beginning with IT.
IT project files are “ripe candidates for implementing SharePoint 2010,” Baker said. She explained that other departments which typically benefit quickly are records management, legal and human resources.
Establish a governance plan and enforce it. Monitor site creation and create a site request form, Gilbert said. “You have to be careful about letting people who don’t really know what they’re doing changing things. … It’s the double-edged sword of embracing the citizen developer.”
The trick is to establish consistency. “Set up an approval process that has a sign-off for compliance issues, legal issues, as well as IT and business issues,” Baker said, explaining the procedure will establish standards for how SharePoint is used and implemented. An established governance team can revisit SharePoint standards on an ongoing basis, she added.
“Planning for governance is not that difficult,” Harbridge said, explaining that a consultant could be used to draw up the plan but that it was important the expert not execute the plan. Instead, the governance plan should be set in motion by the organization’s staff to establish ownership of the process.
Determine and support return on investment (ROI). “SharePoint needs to have clear ROI measured on a frequent basis,” Harbridge said. If an enterprise has two business objectives -- say, to reduce costs and enable IT to be more flexible -- and a study shows both have the same effect on the bottom line, it might pick the easiest one first, then tackle the other.
And continue measuring the ROI after deployment. There are always opportunities for improving processes to further optimize SharePoint 2010 system performance, Harbridge said. “You can’t just let it go.”