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May 1, 2013

Do businesses care about SharePoint and do you care about business?

by Anders B. Skjønaa (

During preparation for a conference session on implementing the new Social features in SharePoint 2013, I just plowed through a pile of presentations, articles and blog posts from many different sources. I always do that as a part of my research of the given topic to get an update on what is already out there.

With “Social” or “Enterprise Social” as it is also called now and then, there is a special need for diving into the business discussion. The reason is, that Social is a game changer for most companies in relation to the way people communicate, share and collaborate. Game changers can be a good thing – and I think that many cases show that Social is – but for business management, implementing game changers include a certain level of risk. Maybe even more with Social, as measurable benefits are not so easy to identify as the more obvious cultural ones. This is a big and interesting topic in itself. Not the reason why I wanted to write this article.

No – the reason for this article is, that during my research I was seeing a very fragmented image of what people think SharePoint mean to the business. If you are reading my blog, there is a chance that you are considering yourself a business-person. About 40% of you are, according to the stats I see, so you might have an opinion of this. Please share it with me and the community, because this is something we need to be a little clearer on.

In the SharePoint world, what is REALLY important for business?

When engaging with companies around the world, I always try to get people to talk about their strategy for SharePoint. In surprisingly many cases the people I talk to have an opinion on what their strategy for SharePoint is. “It’s our collaboration platform… SharePoint is our Intranet… It’s where we store unstructured data and information…” All good things that people want to be able to do, but when digging a bit deeper most of the time there is REALLY not a SharePoint strategy behind all of this. Even if people from the organization think that there is. Why is that?

At one company, I talked to the SharePoint delivery team. The manager told me that someone actually wrote a document on SharePoint strategy some time ago. Nevertheless, the next day I talked to the Group CIO, and he said; “We don’t have a strategy for SharePoint”. One of the most important test you can make, to find out if a company have a functioning SharePoint strategy, is to ask it management. If they don’t know about the SharePoint strategy, it’s not working! No matter what the users and the delivery organization may think!

Here’s a question for those of you that really don’t have a strategy for SharePoint? Are you successful with SharePoint or are you not? If you think you are successful, the measures that you use to measure that success by is probably not shared by top management. Without a fully implemented strategy for SharePoint, there are no platform for discussion of what success should be measured by. Without that discussion, SharePoint is very likely to follow a life-cycle very common to this:

  1. You just implemented SharePoint – users like it and you are happy
  2. SharePoint grows – more users and more data and you are still happy
  3. It gets a little out of control – you feel a little under pressure
  4. Service Desk reports a high rise in Service calls. They are not able to deliver to the customer expectations – you run from fire to fire
  5. Operational costs are rising fast. Group CIO is worried and you don’t know how to answer
  6. Someone find confidential data open to all users and you have no way to reassure the Security Manager that this could not happen again. User are not happy and you are not either.
  7. New services on SharePoint are stopped, upgrading are too expensive – you are thinking about your next move

Yes – maybe a little animated, but only to make the point. With SharePoint, you need a common understanding of the strategy, to ensure continuous development of the platform to deliver what the business need. As obvious as this sound, 80-90% of the enterprises I meet, still do not have a strategy for SharePoint. Even in the cases where SharePoint is growing to be one of the largest it infrastructure platforms in the company.

This brings me to my other point. To build a strategy for SharePoint, we need a common understanding of what the business need. Therefore you – as the SharePoint Enterprise Architect (or whatever role you may have) – will need to read and understand the business strategy and the global it strategy, before you start to go to work.

Most companies have a somewhat similar concept for the IT strategy and the roadmap planning of initiatives that derive from the strategy. For SharePoint, it is all about to plug into that structure, in a way that ensures that the SharePoint strategy embraces major initiatives from the global it strategy and deliver a set of supporting SharePoint initiatives in the other end.

This provide a “line of sight” from the company strategic priorities and focus areas all the way to SharePoint related projects on the roadmap. With that comes a far better understanding of the role that SharePoint will play in the business and discussion move from “great features in the technology” into delivering value that matter.

SharePoint Strategy Workshop - Graphical models

The model above is used in a SharePoint Strategy workshop, to – on a high level – show how everything is connected. Remember, that when building the SharePoint strategy, you are not inventing everything from scratch. You simply add your ideas and competence to the course already set in the global it strategy, and deliver a set of initiatives that help your CIO to deliver. So don’t be scared to get into doing your strategy work.

To get back to the question I asked earlier; what is – in SharePoint – important for business? My answer is that you do not know, if you do not have a SharePoint strategy. If you are successful in getting this dialogue started with CIO, relevant business managers and the Enterprise Architects in you company, you will learn that it is (still) not about functionality or cool new features. Instead, is more likely topics like “lowering the cost per user”, “enabling secure collaboration across organizational boundaries” and more along those lines.

Then, you can start to think about what SharePoint can do to make that reality.

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