A SharePoint implementation is more than just a technical challenge
// by Matthias Rensing
IT & Management Consulting, Microsoft SharePoint, Modern Work
With its collaboration software SharePoint, Microsoft has been working since 2001 on combining under one roof a lot of functions that - to date - are operated separate from one another at companies: Intranet, extranet, content management, document management, personal cloud, business social networking, business intelligence, workflow management, web content management, and a lot more. The collaboration software - which has to potential to shape business communications as a whole - has arrived in day-to-day business at a lot of companies. Yet, the implementation of SharePoint technology is still a big challenge and a lot of implementation projects fail.
IN MOST CASES, SHAREPOINT IS CAPABLE OF MUCH MORE THAN WHAT IS NEEDED
As a web-based collaboration platform, SharePoint can map processes and facts in numerous ways. One can start and automate complex workflows, or perform project management, set up a knowledge database, or operate (company) archives. Fileservers can be replaced or connected to SharePoint via an intelligent search function. Furthermore, the software allows for customised further developments that are offered in large numbers at developer portals, or operated as singular in-house solution.
When searching for "SharePoint - Best Practices", one is bound to encounter, time and again, failed projects or projects that were frozen half way. When asking for the reasons, the response quite often is that the implementation of SharePoint was started as a technical project and failed due to insufficient understanding or a lack of support by the users. Apparently, there is a huge communication problem here!
"Collaboration" means working together, and first and foremost refers to the collaboration of the future users at different levels. This group clearly needs to be included at the planning table when - upon the implementation of SharePoint - the question is: What is SharePoint? Is it knowledge management? Or is it communication? What is SharePoint intended to do at our company, which functions should it take over?
In light of the many options that SharePoint offers, the process owners and those responsible for IT have to determine amongst themselves which areas should be covered by SharePoint technology in the future. In this, the concrete work must be the focal point of the considerations. Which information and which documents are shared, jointly worked on and administrated within the team? In which areas are these processes cumbersome or error-prone? Which current systems are involved in them and should be replaced by SharePoint?
SMALL SUCCESSES MOTIVATE
Like any complex software, SharePoint must be implemented step-by-step. The more it is utilised day in, day out, the easier the gradual implementation of additional functions will be. The faster initial successes can be experienced, the greater the willingness of all parties involved to also take the next steps.
A tried and tested approach is to initially start with non-business-critical features, e.g. an internal news function. Then maybe add a bulletin board. In these areas, anybody can enter contributions or also make comments. For some employees, this already means to cross a psychological barrier and as such "trendsetters" are needed that lead with a good example.
When this "non-dangerous" utilisation gains acceptance due to attractive contributions, additional functions can be implemented little by little. Teams can set up project spaces, create websites, or store their subject area document on SharePoint. Implemented with a lot of thought, restricted authorisations for data access can be established right from the start. This way, each team can - at the same time - be "public" and "confidential", for instance in a team blog. Therefore, at the beginning, a stakeholder group of management staff is needed who recognise the advantages of SharePoint and want to utilise them. To enable these and other teams to work with SharePoint, introductory training sessions and a stable administrative support are necessary. This necessity is often underestimated and, as a result, opportunities remain unutilised.
THE IMPLEMENTATION OF SHAREPOINT REQUIRES A CONCEPT, TECHNICALLY AND - ABOVE ALL - AS CHANGE MANAGEMENT
It is helpful already in this early "growth phase" to support the individual teams professionally with good advice. Larger companies can encourage the exchange of experience between departments within SharePoint implementation teams. This way, there is no need for each of the groups involved to reinvent the wheel from scratch, and an extremely organic growth is avoided.
Once a SharePoint implementation project has been successfully brought on its path this way, the actual SharePoint adventure can begin. When the system takes over workflows such as the archiving of data of a certain age, or the reactivation of processes from standard contexts, when automated reports are generated or the full-text search supports the knowledge management, then it becomes tangible to what extent SharePoint can change the work within the company.
As in any larger system transition, a well thought-out change management as well as accompanying training sessions are indispensable. Technical support is an absolute necessity for the whole roll-out as well as for the subsequent operation. Companies at which a SharePoint implementation failed often report that these efforts and expenditures were underestimated right from the start.
PERMANENT CONSTRUCTION SITE - SHAREPOINT
A lot of companies operate a large number of special applications on different technical platforms, for example based on Lotus Notes. These have a complex history and have been individually adjusted to the business processes. In turn, some well-practiced business processes are a mirror image of the technical solutions with which they are achieved.
As such, the standard versions of SharePoint often cannot map individual requirements without some adjustment effort. Furthermore, one quickly reaches limits with the features of the free foundation version of SharePoint. It is the duty of experienced SharePoint specialist and experts from the company itself to calculate these expenses in order to not let a SharePoint implementation become a financial risk. In addition, often a reorganisation of the processes themselves is unavoidable. The more thoroughly SharePoint is integrated into the business processes, the greater the administration effort subsequent to its implementation will be, too. SharePoint is not an intuitive out-of-the-box product; this must be clear to the decision-makers.
In summary, it is evident that Microsoft SharePoint is an exciting option for mapping business communications and processes onto a single platform and to thereby position them in an efficient and stable cost-effective manner in the long term. As with any other key tool, implementation and operation require planning and technical competence. Approached with corresponding diligence, a SharePoint implementation can become a model of success for a lot of companies.
noventum consulting GmbH