Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

Summary: Sharepoint 2010 is now a credible platform player for collaboration and business social networking. The larger challenge: Changing user perceptions of what the tools are for, and what you can do with them.

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I had the opportunity to sit down with Jared Spataro, director of Microsoft SharePoint product management earlier this week to hear about the state of the Sharepoint ecosphere. For all the talk about disruptive social technologies in the last few years there is no denying the spectacular penetration of Sharepoint in the enterprise: 78% of Fortune 500 companies use it in some capacity and twenty thousand user seat licenses have been added every day for the last 5 years - and that number is increasing.

As enterprise folks know, the Microsoft calendar cycles through release dates three years apart, and although Sharepoint 2010's launch was last August, this spring huge numbers of companies are now embarking on migrating from Sharepoint 2007 to 2010 across the world and in forty languages. I've been reading a couple of excellent Sharepoint developer books over the last month: 'Step by Step Sharepoint Foundation 2010' by Londer & Coventry, which is a good 'how to' fundamentals cookbook, and 'Inside Sharepoint 2010' by Pattison, Connell, Hillier & Mann, a more in depth architecture and custom solution design resource. I'm sure these and other titles are being used at countless locations worldwide to stand up 2010 instances by IT professionals aiming to provide next generation technology to their internal clients.

Sharepoint 2010 is now a credible platform player for collaboration and business social networking - the larger challenge is changing end user perceptions of what the tools are for within the enterprise, and what you can do with them.

Document and file management has a legacy dating back to the dawn of bureaucracy, which is both a blessing and a curse for Sharepoint, which is closely associated with the Microsoft Office document creation suite.  Now that the weaknesses of earlier iterations of Sharepoint are being updated across the planet, there is also an urgent need to update the way people work.

For literally human generations office desk work has essentially been focused on creating and editing documents and storing them, first with pen and ink, then automated with typewriters, filing cabinets and microfilm, and with the advent of the personal computer to disk based media... floppies and cartridges, then personal hard drives, intranet portal link aggregations and networks of drives. The working paradigm of pounding on a qwerty keyboard and saving your input somewhere has been unchanged for decades - I'm doing it now as I write this.

The challenge of course is that the fast pace of technical change isn't matched by evolution of our work behavior - to most people on the planet, desk work equals personal documents which are kept in containers, despite the recent prevalence of mobile technologies and social graphs.

When the automobile replaced the horse and cart the buggy whip manufacturers went out of business. in the modern era people are still mostly using old buggy whip work techniques even though the technology tools they are using are capable of much greater performance and efficiencies. The tools have transcended the old work methods but not much has changed in the filing department.

Blogger had a great strap line for their product 'the push button publishing tool for the people' at the end of the last century (prior to being purchased by Google) that really encapsulates a lot of what has subsequently changed with persistent broadband connectivity. We now expect to be able to publish to our networks and the world with the trivial push of a button - the current social software tech world now offers raging torrents of status update information from your business and social networks as a result (which may or may not be useful as I discussed in my previous post and in the past...)

A popular bumper sticker in the USA is 'guns don't kill people, people do' - the title of this post is a play on that and the concern many IT professionals have when they see how their carefully architected environments are often used by the desk luddites they serve. You can't blame Sharepoint - or any other technology for that matter - for this, but the reality is that businesses who get people using these expensive enterprise tools well and efficiently have a massive competitive advantage which can be the difference between commercial life and death in competitive markets.

Sharepoint, through no fault of its own given what it is capable of these days, is still perceived as a file repository by most users - an endless set of magic digital gray filing cabinets to keep your stuff in, limitless Z drives. As a platform it provides technology connectors so other products can expose information in those containers in context and within specific workflows, and a significant new online file storage and transfer market has also opened up. Box.net, DropBox and others, as previously noted, have landed and are expanding in the cloud file transfer business, while Accellion, who provide enterprise-class secure file sharing solutions focused on ensuring data security and SOX, HIPAA , FDA level compliance just announced significant mobile collaboration capabilities.

For those who have committed to multi year Microsoft enterprise licenses and who therefore rely on their technology stack, the Windows mobile strategy and offerings are a concern, as I often hear from our clients. Given the rapidly increasing pace of mobile technology business use, finding ways to put Sharepoint at the forefront of these new ways of working rather than as back office filing is getting more and more critical, but Microsoft have been clever in not getting pulled into the 'filter the information firehose' problem which is now an increasing problem for enterprises who have multiple social software streams, and plenty of push button publisher users users building up pressure.

What Microsoft are seeing through the customer research Microsoft's Jared shared with me is a three stage approach by their clients, rather in keeping with their three year release cycles. 'Ramping up', 'Building momentum' and 'Driving business value' are seen as the three stages of business evolution in refining the Sharepoint platform for effective use.

As you'd expect the 'ramp up' is the test phase, typically focusing on one or two work loads, team collaboration through portal thinking and file share replacement.  'Building momentum' tends to be usage make or break with emphasis on handling Governance, Regulation and Compliance, something Sharepoint excels at. Businesses successfully using Sharepoint to 'Drive business value' are typically focused on ten or so mission critical processes whose workflows are threaded through Sharepoint.

The world is a different place every time the Microsoft planet has finished its three year orbit of the business world - the next version of Sharepoint may be visible low on the horizon later this year as an early preview of the next gen Sharepoint (maybe called 2013?). We're at the 'building momentum' stage of the gestation of this next generation and a lot of people are looking for coherency around mobile strategy. There's no question Sharepoint has great momentum, but for IT architects the challenge is to avoid configuring enterprise environments that perpetuate old, inefficient ways of working, despite opportunities for accelerated performance that can drive business value.

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Image from Shorpy - Washington, January 1925. "Bureau of Identification, Justice Department."

Topics: Enterprise Software, Collaboration, Software

About

Oliver Marks leads the Global Digital Enterprise Team at HP, having previously provided seasoned independent consulting guidance to companies on effective planning of business strategy, tactics, technology decisions, roll out and enduring use models that make best use of modern collaborative and social networking tools to achieve their business goals.

These are Oliver's views and not those of his employer HP.

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27 comments
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  • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

    Sharepoint kills the bottom line. Hence business. And people make bad business decisions that kills the bottom line.<br><br>Case in point: <i>"...companies are now embarking on migrating from Sharepoint 2007 to 2010..."</i><br><br>Technology is there to drive the business. Not the business to drive the technology.
    Return_of_the_jedi
    • Sharepoint saves the bottom line

      @Return_of_the_jedi
      I could have just agreed with you but all i would be doing is endorsing a lie.

      I'd rather tell the truth. You should try it sometime.
      Will Farrell
    • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

      @Return_of_the_jedi
      "Sharepoint kills the bottom line" because? It costs money? Shoot, then lets get rid of the largest expense--people. Without them, our costs drop by 2/3! Brilliant!

      No one should blindly purchase, install, and use a product like SharePoint without some business case. If you have a very small business, it probably doesn't make sense. If you have more than a dozen employees and hundreds of files that you are trying to manage using some home-grown CMS (content management system), or more likely, no system at all, I would look into SharePoint. But only after doing some investigation.
      SnoopDoug
      • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

        @SnoopDoug I totally agree. Sharepoint like everything else needs to be weighed up in terms of cost effectiveness. Bluntly saying it kills the bottom line is naive.
        sam - <a href="http://smuggecko.com">seo tips</a>
        soskert
    • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

      @Return_of_the_jedi - Misused and mismanaged Sharepoint kills the bottom line. Smartly used Sharepoint can help the bottom line.

      I've been in places where both happen, it depends greatly upon what priviledges are granted when setting up Sharepoint. If everyone has the power to do their own thing, it's a cluster f**k. Period.

      If one person with a clear and intelligent vision manages it and tells everyone where they will put things and how they will use it, it CAN be a godsend, provided everyone is onboard to use it.

      The place I currently work has too many people with visions and the power to try to implement them. Three people are two people too many. I've made a few other changes since starting where I work, this is another dragon I intend on slaying.

      Basically, if you make a change to how things need to be done in Sharepoint, you don't just create the new structure and say "everyone use this now". You create the new structure, move EVERYTHING already using the old structure into its proper place in the new structure and then KILL the old structure.

      This way there's no "old stuff new stuff" confusion or problems. Will this upset people? Yes, it will but those are the folks who cannot adapt to better methods and so you hold their hand, recreate all their links for them (because that's how they use sharepoint, with direct links rather than learning how to use the tool) and hope that the next time a change is rolled out, those particular folks have moved on to other places.
      PollyProteus
  • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

    Another problem is users have a hard time seeing how any collaboration software adds value to their work so they revert to familiar tools. Use cases shwoing clear benefits of collaboration software would help its adoption.
    jhpincus
    • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

      @jhpincus <br><i>"Another problem is users have a hard time seeing how any collaboration software adds value to their work so they revert to <strong>familiar tools</strong>."</i><br><br>Good point: <br><br>Today's order of collaboration between peers and co-workers;<br>1. Send email; if no response<br>2. Make a phone call; if no response<br>3. Send out a twitt; if no response<br>4. Go hunt them down on facebook. [found]<br><br>All done from the cell phone.<br><br>Did I mention Sharepoint is a single point of failure.
      Return_of_the_jedi
      • &quot;He's no Jedi...&quot;

        @Return_of_the_jedi
        I don't know any business that relies on Facebook or Twitter, let alone allows it to be run in their Enterprise. Most companies block it for productivity and/or security reasons.

        Sharepoint is only a single point of failure if you install it as cheap as possible or are clueless about deploying in a HA model.
        dazzlingd
      • Did I mention your cell phone is a single point failure

        @Return_of_the_jedi
        when it has no signal or the battery dies?
        Will Farrell
      • He's just a hater

        @dazzlingd<br>His posts are as see through as his skull.
        He's being mind controlled by itguy8 as "[i]The Force has a strong influence on the weak minded[/i]"
        Will Farrell
    • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

      @jhpincus
      Probably because most people don't realize how much of their time is spent searching for information, updating information, and notifying others of the new information.

      That and the usual resistance to change/fear of the unknown. I think many SharePoint projects fail because they are launched without feedback from users or training for users. Once you realize how much time the tool saves you and your company, you appreciate it.
      SnoopDoug
    • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

      @jhpincus

      Yeah thats a good point ,i agree.

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      piakaro
  • It's confidence level - not people.

    For a whole host of reasons, workers simply don't have the confidence level in things like Sharepoint to move completely away from "antiquated" forms of document storage. Even if your Sharepoint has ninety-nine-point-umpty-ump-nine-nine-percent uptime, all it takes is one outage or other problem (even if not specifically with the Sharepoint) where workers can't get to what they need to do the job and they'll find their own ways of storing their work, hardcopy or otherwise.

    This perception isn't helped by the (very correct) emphasis on data backups. It puts in a user's mind that something *could* go wrong and if it does, it's probably going to happen right before that critical deadline and the amount of time it will take for IT to figure out the problem, fix it, and reload the data will mean the deadline is long gone. Oh, and did I mention the work that will need to be redone because the backup doesn't include the work my department did *after* the last backup ran?

    Last summer, many government agencies in the State of Virginia were virtually paralyzed when a drive array failed and it took a long time to get everything back to normal. If memory serves, the state DMV couldn't issue driver's licenses for a couple of weeks. Citizens trying to renew licenses weren't exactly happy. Didn't have anything to do with Sharepoint, but even Sharepoint relies on hardware *somewhere*.

    Point being, even the best technology breaks, and people are going to find ways to keep doing their job when all those wonderful "new ways of working" come to a screeching halt because something broke.
    lshanahan
    • Welcome to Sharepoint Workspace 2010

      @lshanahan
      It's a MS Office product that syncs data to and from your PC to a Sharepoint server. You can take your documents offline, work on them, and not have to worry about the server being down. Good for traveling or even backing your data up if you want to be extra cautious.
      crazydanr@...
      • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

        @crazydanr@...
        You mean like Google Gears? Oh wait...
        dazzlingd
      • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

        @dazzlingd@...

        Microsoft products have supported this functionality in one manner or another for over a decade (and in the case of Windows 95 Briefcase folder, for over 16 years), so if anything Google Gears got the idea from Microsoft, not the othe way around.

        Nice try though.
        PollyProteus
    • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

      SharePoint runs on top of SQL server, so your DBAs can control the backups. No system is fool-proof. You don't trust any content management system? How would you propose you archive and disseminate information? Should you have a public share on your computer? What happens if that goes down? Or people copy the file and make changes? Which version is correct? What if you want to go back to see what Bob changed two versions ago? How would you do that?

      If you eschew technology because of a few, rare events, how would you replace the DMV without technology? You couldn't.

      As Dan says below, SharePoint has an offline product that lets anyone keep a local cache of whatever they want. Beats typewriters and mimeograph any day.
      SnoopDoug
  • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

    Guns dont kill, people do.
    james347
    • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

      @james347
      So lets ban people and keep the guns! That will stop the murders!
      dazzlingd
      • RE: Sharepoint: IT doesn't kill businesses, people do

        @dazzlingd - Actually if you required everyone to take handgun safety training, which includes the use (how to properly aim, squeeze and recover), and then require everyone to *carry* weapons, the murder rate would drop drastically after the first spike of killings.

        Think about it, if you knew that being extremely stupid (Example: Spontaneously drawing a weapon on someone who you felt would be a good victim because you wanted what they have) could get you killed, how likely are you to do that stupid thing?

        And think of the budget savings for the cities, counties and states... Ah the mind boggles.
        PollyProteus