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SharePoint|The Reality Series 5
The SharePoint maturity model

In the adoption of SharePoint, a four-stage maturity model is a great way to determine where knowledge gaps exist, what facets require additional education and how to help people expand their use of SharePoint. According to Lee Reed, a senior SharePoint strategy consultant with Northridge, departments will not progress in lockstep, which elevates the importance of the maturity model as a benchmarking tool for evaluating progress and showcasing the best practices of adoption leaders. The point, counsels Reed, is to include some “stretch goals” within each maturity level to encourage greater use of the platform.

“What is curious,” says Hugo Esperanca, SharePoint solutions architect and partner at Collaboris, “is that all companies adopting SharePoint seem to go through the same evolution path.” A maturity model helps to prioritize the right functions and how to phase them in to fit your business requirements. The goal is not to accessorize every feature.

Yet many enterprises are distracted by the shiny-toy factor. They focus on new product features instead of their own business priorities in which SharePoint solves their specific business problems. Success is not measured by how many features are turned on but what issues get addressed. To Russ Edelman of Corridor Consulting, that means automating key processes, reducing risks, simplifying cross-unit complexities and finding information more rapidly.

Stage 1—stepping back

Errin O’Connor of EPC Group (epcgroup.net) traces all SharePoint deployment roadmaps to one starting point: What’s the organization trying to achieve? Most are smatterings that reflect both wide opportunities and sponsor indecision. O’Connor believes it’s more instructive to point the question inward than to pivot on all the possible answers to where SharePoint can lead, including:

  • intranet,
  • enterprise content management,
  • extranet,
  • business process automation, and
  • Web 2.0.

Chances are it’s either “all” or at least “some” of the above. Hence, O’Connor favors a phased in or hybrid approach that treats SharePoint as a platform that can accommodate an ever-evolving set of business needs. To Edelman, the roadmap is a timetable for testing readiness, developing consensus and translating intent into commitment. Those translations are adjustments to the roadmap that will later trigger the more detailed program and project plans.

For example, a Stage One deployment may roadmap the release of a firmwide intranet. Support for that goal hinges on anticipating future phases. Otherwise, half-baked site hierarchies and navigation schemas will need to be re-architected in future stages. According to Reed, documents are beginning to migrate from network drives, are stored in one location and are searchable. Some initial list creation occurs as task lists, team calendars, project timelines and Excel imports.

A word of caution to our pre-deployment readers: Stage 1 tends to be a learn-as-we-go proposition with many unsuspected detours masquerading as mission-critical decisions. For example, rollouts are often tripped up by the need to recreate their prior environments from scratch rather than reassembling them through a common toolkit and methodology. Call it the temptation to over-engineer. Call it the need to avoid a nightmare scenario: millions of documents with no permission structure or hierarchy.

As we saw in the second part of this SharePoint series, one best practice in Stage 1 is the emphasis that Children’s Hospital Boston (childrenshospital.org) puts on the critical role that training plays in building both SharePoint skills and the awareness of what it can do.

Stage 2—encore performance

Where Stage 1 is about finding the intranet on ramp, Stage 2 is about the ECM infrastructure. To O’Connor, that means building out the core metadata foundation and content types—the guidelines for applying it and ultimately managing the explosion of unstructured information waiting to be reckoned with in nearly any ECM.

That reckoning is driven by an unprecedented explosion in unstructured information. If content is distributed haphazardly, then SharePoint is where content goes to R-O-T (redundant, outdated and trivial). Here’s where a centralized approach to information management is critical to laying the groundwork. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to pin the success of your unfolding maturity model to a consistent, firm and well-communicated metadata foundation. That makes SharePoint not just a storage medium but the gateway into enterprise resource planning (ERP) and legacy databases, or what Edelman calls “the defacto portal to unstructured and structured information.”

The other key fork in the road between Stages 1 and 2 is that the architectural team is beginning to identify (if not master) the finer points of creating repeatable backups and restoring them to production. According to Esperanca, Stage 2 companies have found that SharePoint content and configuration can be moved across environments using backup and restore. As such they have a repeatable deployment process.

Stage 3—open innovation

According to Reed, “The first time someone says to you, ‘I wish people external to our company could access SharePoint,’ you know you’re on your way to Stage 3.”

When an enterprise reaches Stage 3, SharePoint is addressing its business requirements. By now, it’s the definitive data source for unstructured information, and function-specific workflows are being triggered by a blend of custom programming and out-of-the-box capabilities.

That describes the use of on-demand extranet sites developed by Fenwick & West for their legal clients (and covered in the fourth article in this series). The SharePoint plumbing is now extending out to the rest of the MS office portfolio through RSS feeds, inbound e-mail addresses, Excel imports, content type templates and departmental analytics via the Business Data Catalog (BDC), including links to backend systems. With executive dashboards and reporting guidelines come metrics for how well the solution supports intended process or other business improvements.

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