I do a lot of SharePoint implementations in both big and small companies. The one and only problem I almost always see coming back is the governance of the platform. How do we partition our system, which sites do we create but most importantly, how do we let the system grow and how do we engage people in using SharePoint and make SharePoint the central platform for Enterprise Content Management within the organization.
When I’m working for clients, I always talk to a varied group of people and what they think the current function of SharePoint is in their company. This was one of the reasons for me to write this post. It really bothers me that a lot of organizations, for some very easy identifiable reasons, are not using the full potential of this platform.
Please … SharePoint is not just a portal
I see many many (did I say many) clients for which a portal is one of the biggest functions of the SharePoint platform. On this portal they spread all the company news for the employees to read. Although a portal on SharePoint is very useful and definitely something you would want to do on this platform, it sometimes bothers me that the decision makers fail to see the bigger picture.
Management … you must step in
The biggest reason why SharePoint is often not fully used, is because on the level of enterprise content management, the management is not always taking the right decisions or is not taking decisions at all. For me, ideally, SharePoint would be the one and only platform for users to work with business related digital data. This means that SharePoint is the only platform they use to consult, create and edit data. It is our role as consultants to make all of this work and to extend the platform in such a way that all systems are integrated in the best way possible.
What I often see in companies is the complete opposite. People have too many choices of managing their digital company data. They can use e-mail, other ECM platforms, shares, … . You can’t blame the people. Why would they change their old habit of using network shares ? They have done this for many years and still have the opportunity to continue doing it.
Honestly, if your company has a SharePoint platform, how many times per day you still receive an email with a document attached ?
Therefore the following rules should be applied:
- The company must make sure that a fully integrated SharePoint platform is available for all employees to work with their digital company data.
- The company must make sure that no other means of storing or sharing documents can happen. This means: no network shares, no other ECM platforms and no emailing of documents to each other. You always upload the document to SharePoint, provide proper metadata and use the link to the document as a means of distributing it.
If we take this rule even one step further: people should not even have documents stored on their personal hard drives anymore.
- The company must provide (internal) SharePoint courses to make people familiar with basic SharePoint principles and how to work with it.
How to let the system grow
There are many aspects to this topic. You can see it from many different perspectives and they all need their specific guidance. For me there are three parts in this:
1. The architecture
- Make sure your initial SharePoint farm is powerful enough and has enough capacity to handle the number of employees in the company. Also make sure the grow margin on the hard disk level is big enough to support the growth of the system in the near future.
- Hire professional SharePoint administrators which will do the initial architecture and installation of the platform. Find them internally or externally and let them train other people in parallel. It is imperative your initial SharePoint installation happens by the books. It’s nice you have big plans for SharePoint within your company but if the architecture is not right, how can you ever build something solid on top of it ? Therefore, hire the right people to do the job.
I admit that consultant is a rather broad term but what I mean here is a very competent technical person (programmer) with good soft skills. Being a consultant means that people pay you to give them advice. Therefore, make sure you know what you are talking about so you can give them good advice. For me, there are some very basic rules you must obey when talking about governance:
- Create your solutions in a uniform way. By this I mean: agree on coding conventions and make sure the solutions (GUI), looks the same. If SharePoint is going to be the one and only ECM platform, it must be presented as one solid platform. Almost like a product.
- Make your solutions user friendly. Somewhat related to the ‘use the same GUI’ story but going farther than that. Because technical people often do not care about user friendliness, it might be a good idea to get more artistic people involved.
People are having already enough problems with the big and radical switch to SharePoint and loosing their network shares and email. The last thing they want is a platform that looks and behaves the same in different locations (sites) and having to use a user unfriendly tool.
- Training: one aspect of this is pure SharePoint training were consultants explain people the basics of SharePoint and its functions. Listen to the people. Don’t start by summing up everything they might be able to do with SharePoint. Different people in the company have different tasks and needs. This is also a good opportunity to do business development. People will most likely ask for extra extensions of the platform to make their lives easier. Explain them the advantages of using SharePoint. You have metadata, search, workflows, audit, … .
The other aspect of this is explaining, giving training, about the custom extensions of the SharePoint platform. Some development teams just develop what was requested (of what they think was requested) and then just let the customer know: “Ok, here it is, have fun”. This is really really bad. What you should do is go back to your customer, sit together with the business owner and the main users and show/explain them the solution.
3. Power users
This is a hard one. Especially in big companies, SharePoint platforms have this intension of becoming … well .. spaghetti. Sites are being created everywhere, let’s also add some lists and content types, workflows, … .
Although business owners would like to have this kind of permissions (managing their own site to the fullest) and although this might also be the easiest from an administration/programmer point of view, this is also the first step in ending up in this spaghetti state. A lot of these power users just don’t know enough of SharePoint to make the right decisions. By this I don’t necessarily mean they don’t know enough about what SharePoint can do for a power user, I mean they don’t have the top view of the complete SharePoint farm. They don’t know which content types already exist, which workflows have already been developed before, … .
The solution is very simple: limit the permissions of the power users. In my opinion, only a handful of people in the entire organization should have the permission to add new content types, create and manage workflows, … . This would mean that every request for such an extension would go through some kind of process where it’s assessed if the solution has already been developed somewhere else and if the extension itself is necessary in the first place.
I have seen many many cases where power users start doing stuff (I would better say trying out stuff) and half way they are stuck. Then they need help. They ask you to take a look and provide input. You assess the problem, you ask the right questions to figure out what they exactly try to accomplish and provide a clean, simple, sometimes out of the box solution.
My point is that if too many people have to many (=high) permissions, it is almost guaranteed your SharePoint platform will become hard to manage. Limiting the permissions and applying correct processes for the implementation of extensions, will increase control, will increase quality, stability, user acceptance and will allow you to have a long term vision with SharePoint as your central ECM platform.