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Three steps to building a SharePoint 2010 business case

Because of the stories that surround SharePoint 2010 implementations that have gone awry, experts say it is critical to carefully develop a solid case for SharePoint 2010 adoption.

SharePoint, it seems, is everywhere. Organizations of all sizes are looking to implement SharePoint 2010 as a foundation for everything from document management initiatives to public-facing websites. Given the functionality that SharePoint provides, you’d think it would be easy to justify its use across the enterprise. However, without the right approach, this enterprise solution can quickly become an enterprise nightmare.

Too many organizations have run into trouble with SharePoint for corporate leaders not to have heard, so it becomes even more critical to develop a solid case for adoption. With that goal in mind, here is an outline to point you down the path to a successful SharePoint 2010 deployment.

Develop clear goals and gather evidence of problems
Many enterprises proceed with SharePoint implementations without a clear idea of what they want to accomplish. If you’ve been in IT long enough, you know that doing so is not unique to SharePoint projects. However, if you want to make a positive organizational impact with the collaboration software, it’s imperative to start with a good foundation and know what business problems need to be solved before implementing any technology.

Start simple and work to address one or two key challenges. For example, many firms struggle to manage file shares. Document specific instances in which existing file shares cause trouble, like an inability to easily find the latest version of a document and whether any business users are having difficulty finding the right content. Tangible evidence of that sort can illustrate the problems and then can be used to develop scenarios for demonstrating how SharePoint can help.

For example, if the problem is information “findability,” you might survey end users on that topic and supplement the survey data with personal interviews. Anecdotal information –showing, say, that the existing file share structure keeps an average of three versions of documents – can also be included to provide further evidence of the problem.

Design the demonstration platform
You’ll also need to prove that SharePoint’s functionality set can handle your proposed use case. Typically, that means conceptually demonstrating how SharePoint will be used to satisfy a specific need within your organization. This step is critical for both management approval and end-user acceptance.

An effective way to accomplish it is by building a demonstration application to solve one of the challenges documented earlier in the process. If done successfully, that will validate the SharePoint technology among actual end users and provide a base on which to build additional capabilities. It will also prove that you’re either headed in the right direction or need to change course.

If you find that your demonstration app won’t meet the needs of end users, it might be wise to turn to a third-party software developer since one of SharePoint’s biggest strengths is the sheer size of its partner ecosystem. Thousands of vendors develop add-on or integrated technology that can supplement SharePoint 2010 implementations. The best examples are in the records management, document imaging and digital asset management categories, in which SharePoint is either insufficient or has no capabilities.

Keep in mind that SharePoint is first and foremost a platform. That means you and your team will end up developing a system unique to your organization, making it critical to match your company’s needs to SharePoint’s capabilities and, if needed, those of applicable third-party products.

Develop champions for adoption
Finally, when building a business case for SharePoint deployment, it’s important to show that you have a strong case for enterprise-wide adoption. And to be successful as you move forward, you must ensure that there’s a solid connection between your proposed system and the target users.

The survey data, interviews and anecdotes gathered as evidence of existing problems will help show potential users why SharePoint is necessary. While many users with similar experiences as the ones you’ve documented will be motivated to at least try the new tool as you roll it out, the stories alone might not create the desired connection to the system throughout your organization. However, the people who helped you document the problems might be willing to act as SharePoint champions to help promote the technology. For example, if the vice president of marketing was one of those people and is open to using SharePoint, the rest of the marketing department will be more likely to participate. High-level project sponsors are also key to peer encouragement with other executives across the organization.

There are many nuances to the successful deployment of SharePoint, but it begins with building a strong business case. To get to that starting point, target specific uses and documented problems, gather data to demonstrate the business needs, model how the system will work in “real life” and use your internal champions and sponsors to encourage simultaneous adoption among motivated end users.


Additional SharePoint information sources abound

Whole books have been written on the topic of user adoption and implementing SharePoint. If you’re interested in learning more about SharePoint adoption and building a case for enterprise usage of SharePoint, take a look at the following:

  • SharePoint Ecosystem Research published by The Real Story Group (
  • How to Do Everything: Microsoft SharePoint 2010 by Steven Cawood, published by McGraw Hill
  • Essential SharePoint 2010 by Scott Jamison, Susan Hanley, Maruo Cardarelli published by Addison-Wesley
  • User Adoption Strategies by Michael Sampson published by The Michael Sampson Company


Shawn Shell is the founder of Consejo Inc., a consultancy based in Chicago that specializes in Web-based applications, employee and partner portals, and enterprise content management.

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