A shepherd for SharePoint

From adoption to risk mitigation, one Microsoft SharePoint MVP shares advice on how to get more out of any SharePoint implementation.

Whether you're in need of how-to documentation or full-scale enterprise planning, Robert Bogue can deliver. For the former, Bogue, who is president of SharePoint consultancy Thor Projects, recently authored the SharePoint Shepherd's Guide for End Users – what he describes as "a low-cost way to get access to enterprise content." As intimate as Bogue is with SharePoint, he's really less a hands-on guy and more a big thinker, helping global enterprises figure out how to get full value out of their SharePoint implementations. In this recent interview, Bogue takes us from the tactical to the strategic.

Given your experience using this software, which pieces of SharePoint have you found the most problematic for users, and why?

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There are two things that are hard about SharePoint. First, just understanding how much you really can do with it. Other than Microsoft Access, there's never been a tool that provides so much control and power to end users. It's just amazing what you can do with the configurable pieces that Microsoft has provided. The ability to customize pages, lists, etc., is very powerful when put together. Second, security is always hard. It's not SharePoint's fault. It's just hard to think through all the scenarios. I've built ways of simplifying the view of security for a few clients – and it's still hard.

What advice do you have for IT managers and/or business users struggling with a SharePoint implementation?

I do a lot of governance work for clients and I really recommend it. It provides a way to measure what you're getting accomplished with your goals and helps you to realize how to get users involved. There are different resources for different people. After governance, getting an adoption/engagement plan together is important.

Tell me more about governance in relation to SharePoint.

To me, governance is simple -- it's risk management. It's what you put in place to prevent certain risks from occurring or to mitigate the consequences if they do occur. People are failing to step back and ask themselves about the risks of SharePoint and what they're going to do about them.

One risk is that users will love SharePoint so much that the servers bought won't be enough. That's a good risk. That's one I like.
Robert Bogue
PresidentThor Projects

One risk is that users will love SharePoint so much that the servers bought won't be enough. That's a good risk. That's one I like.

Conversely, another risk is, "What are we going to do if the computer room catches on fire and now all of a sudden our SharePoint is gone?" I find that because SharePoint has a low price point and is easy to set up -- the standard Microsoft Next, Next, Next -- people don't put any planning around it. Somebody stands it up, generally on some PC underneath a desk sitting right next to the heater, and says, 'OK, we have SharePoint.' That's fine, but what happens when some mission-critical app ends up on this thing and nobody knows it's there? Nobody backs it up, worries about performance or does regular maintenance or updates? It really becomes this orphan thing that nobody remembers.

So with my clients I talk about the biggest risks -- those being either a) biggest cost or b) biggest likelihood. And then we try to take down the big rocks first. Then we go away, and six months later we review what we've done to see if it is still appropriate and we come back and get a couple more risks out of the way. So our process is to look at the riskiest stuff first and so on until we get to the stuff that's entertaining but less risky.

Wouldn't better coordination between the business and IT solve this "SharePoint as orphan" trouble?

That would help solve the problem; however, that'll never happen. Business unit IT doesn't like to talk to central IT because all it's going to hear is, 'You can't do that. It's too new, too risky and we can't support it.' So business unit IT does what it needs to keep the users happy and as long as the business is making money, most people don't care that much.

So what happens when SharePoint turns into a company's social media platform? Doesn't that behoove the enterprise IT department to grab hold of it?

I see a couple of things working toward the position of central IT control. First, the technology is becoming more widely adopted and that means core IT is going to pay attention to it. It's going to bring it in house and put its control on it.

Second, the whole idea of social computing is challenging within an organization because of certain legal issues. There is a set of issues around social computing as it relates to the organization. Thus far, the way that's been managed is through Active Directory, which central IT owns and so SharePoint gets pulled in.

Are many companies getting the full value out of SharePoint?

No, not even close. For the most part organizations have slashed their training budgets, which means that the folks who need to be encouraged to leverage SharePoint – instead of locating and investing in point or one-off solutions – don't understand how much can really get done.

So how much value are they getting?

Thirty percent. An organization usually thinks about systems from a core SAP, line of business, and maybe financials perspective. What it often overlooks are all of the one-off solutions that solve small specific problems at a cost of $25,000 or maybe $50,000. These are things like help desk, fixed assets and manufacturing incident tracking applications. On the surface, $25,000 or $50,000 doesn't seem like much, but if I could build that for you in a day, and get you 80 percent of the functionality and eliminate the problem, then I've saved you $40,000 or whatever. Those are the kinds of things folks are missing out on.

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I call these imperfect solutions. In IT, we've been trained to solve every single requirement. In reality, a requirements doc contains maybe 10 percent actual requirements with the other 90 percent being a wish list. If I can solve 100 percent of your requirements and 80 percent of your wish list, and do it for one-tenth or one-hundredth of the cost, that's what everybody should be doing. Realistically, IT departments and developers have backlogs. If you can solve the solution at 80 percent and do it in a day vs. a year, the company is better off -- much better off.

So which SharePoint elements are most undervalued, or under used? Why is this?

I'm working on an evaluation model with one of my clients that seems like it breaks things down into the appropriate categories: Communication, Collaboration, Composites and Application Development Platform. Communications is the internally and externally facing communications needs for news and longer term (i.e. timeless) content. I nearly universally find that folks in an organization aren't getting the information they need – either because it's not communicated or there's so much noise that they can't find what they need. SharePoint can make it easier to publish and easier to filter. On the collaboration side, you need only look at documents passed around in e-mail to see that having a centralized task and version management tool would be useful – oh wait. They already have one; they just don't know that they do.

Earlier you mentioned the importance of getting an adoption and engagement plan in place. How do you distinguish between adoption and engagement?

The difference between adoption and engagement is usage and adoption. If I go to a client and the client says, 'We have 100 percent adoption of SharePoint.' I'd say, 'One hundred percent adoption of SharePoint?! That's excellent!' Then I hear, 'Yeah, it's set as our intranet home page, and we force it on them with group policy, and they can't change it.' So that's adoption. But engagement is users building new solutions with it. The next time they need to start a project, their first thought is to create a SharePoint site. Or, when they're dealing with a complex business evaluation, say a merger and acquisition, if their first thought is using SharePoint, then they're engaged. They're looking at it as a tool that can help them solve a myriad of problems. The more engaged users you have, the fewer help desk calls, and the fewer point solutions you'll buy.

Going back to your earlier figure -- if companies are only getting 30 percent value out of SharePoint, then that must mean that not many companies are truly engaged with it?

You have to look at this on an end user-by-end user level. In my large clients, I have a handful of folks who are early adopters -- visionaries who build their own solutions. But the vast majority of folks in the organization aren't engaged, and that's pretty normal. At an engaged organization, you might only have 50 or 25 percent of the people engaged. If you have a team of 10 people, and have a coordinator who is really good at building point solutions, the folks in that group go to that person. So I may only have one person in a group of 10 who is engaged, but that one person can be leveraged across that entire team.

The "SharePoint Shepherds' Guide" is purpose-built to let people get engaged -- to allow them to have the tools they need to become engaged.

Let's talk about SharePoint 2010 quickly. What most excites you about what's coming?

The short answer is the application development platform. SharePoint 2007 is a good platform for building enterprise solutions but the APIs and tooling have left some things to be desired. It's clear that this will be changing.

What about what's coming from you -- can we expect additional SharePoint Shepherd's Guides down the road?

The next thing for me is finishing the SharePoint Shepherd's Video Academy for Planning and Governance – a video/DVD training course … and, of course, there will be an edition of the book for SharePoint 2010.

Beth Schultz is a freelance IT writer in Chicago. You can reach her at bschultz5824@gmail.com.

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