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SharePoint: The Reality Series 2
On the hook: the SharePoint ownership imperative

Last month, we considered some common pitfalls evidenced by firms that measure SharePoint in lines of code rather than in the lines of business it can align and connect, in ways that point enterprise content management (ECM) solutions haven’t done before. Avoiding that misperception means forcing some difficult conversations—often delayed by resource-hungry public Web sites, a single-minded focus on financial performance and the presumption that intranet costs are not recoverable. How does SharePoint’s growing footprint change that? Who actually owns authoritative content in your enterprise? How should it be distributed, displayed and disseminated globally?

In this part of our series, we begin with the first priority of any SharePoint rollout—how to do it right. To the managers we spoke with, it boils down to roles and responsibilities. It’s not about who’s on the hook to deliver SharePoint; it’s about channeling control through the unit heads, line managers and support teams who stand the most to gain by getting SharePoint right.

How does the project leader untangle and clarify those roles? Beyond producing and consuming SharePoint-based content, what are the icebreakers? The initial attraction to collaboration, workflow and document management is one thing. But getting teams to articulate that in specifics and in investment is rare. How do you establish a record of success or even define it? How do you keep a watchful eye for hidden traps and the costs that can sink a project?

Marching orders

“Pain is a strong motivator for change,” says Dee Anne Gavlick, the KM lead for IPM, a Silver Springs, Md.-based nonprofit. But the opportunity is fleeting. “As the pain lessens, you have to continually find new ways to keep the momentum going,” she says.

Change agents will tell you that they are accused of throwing cold water on established orders. The weapon of choice is a disruptive technology. A capable SharePoint ambassador like Gavlick pleads guilty to both counts.

You need to address not only the pain, she says, but also the tolerance levels for change in the user base. Understanding the technology adoption curve among organizations is important: “The more conservative an organization is, the more their commitments are hedged on success stories and references,” says Gavlick. “For instance, finance likes to be counted last when it comes to adoption. But once they see wider acceptance, they’ll jump on board.”

Stakeholder analysis is also critical. “Your communication plan depends on pegging folks into the correct quadrant. More traditional, programmatic groups will drag down the rollout of new technology because they have little appetite for embracing unproven processes or discovering the value on their own,” says Gavlick.

“If you look at SharePoint as software, you’re asking for rejection,” says Marc Anderson of Sympraxis Consulting (sympraxisconsulting.com). SharePoint happens to be an ECM tool, but it’s also a work environment. “If it was as simple as flipping a switch, then everyone in the organization would remove e-mail from their company-issued computers and go live on SharePoint,” says Anderson. “Who’s ready on day one for that release?”

Hands on or hands off?

Many implementers like Shelley Norton, document repository administrator at Children’s Hospital Boston, have both MOSS 2007 and “the scars to prove it,” according to Norton.

“Users need consistency,” she says. “Designers don’t embrace that need. Just because they understand what they’re doing doesn’t mean it translates into the user experience—especially when the design is oblivious to internal pressures, politicking or even the competing versions of the operating systems SharePoint is running on. It makes training a challenge because there are features that work or don’t work, depending on the environment.”

The familiar rule about IT and customer support is that no news is good news—even when the muted response is masking doubt more than projecting confidence. The pushback goes like this: “You’re too involved in the user experience. Make them administrators and they’ll self-learn.”

Another challenge is SharePoint’s daunting footprint: It’s big and flexible, and requires a different way of working to be successful. Norton impresses on her IT colleagues that training is an upfront concern because SharePoint requires more guidance than most applications: “Training site owners gives them more value and less costly re-work,” she says.

The key is to respect the skill-sets that each contributor brings to the table, according to Norton. “Soft skills get as much validity as the button pushing,” she says. The software side is where project teams gravitate: “Oh, we can get it to run faster and jump higher” is their attitude. The more esoteric side (metadata modeling, information architecture) is relegated to the fix-it-later pile. Norton emphasizes that such misunderstandings are not power grabs. “They are based on lack of understanding the value—not lack of respect,” she says.

In healthcare, the technology initiatives that get green lights are patient-centric or finance-related, and SharePoint is not so clearly labeled. Senior management is not using it well yet, so they haven’t internalized the value. To Norton, it’s not a blow-off, but rather the realization that SharePoint’s flexibility defies simple explanations or easy mastery.

Low-hanging proof

One advantage of SharePoint is that it sows the seeds of cross-unit collaboration and interdependent workflows in manageable chunks. Soaring ambitions can co-exist with incremental changes when the individual building blocks are steeped in the daily practice of Microsoft-centric office routines. MS Office familiarity can actually breed organizational productivity, even transparency, on SharePoint.

But that transparency takes vision. Architects by nature have to see the bigger picture. The problem with putting IT in charge is that they miss the real workflow between organizations, says Anderson. They look at SharePoint and they see a top-down hierarchy. What they miss is its silo-busting potential for routing requisitions and managing critical tasks that falter from one unit to the next. Business managers who route job postings through HR provide a good example of where SharePoint, not e-mail, is the better choice to handle cross-unit tasking.

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