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SharePoint|The Reality Series 7
To upgrade or not to upgrade

It's a bit of a dilemma really. Let's say you're like the majority of ECM managers. That means three things:

  • You own SharePoint—AIIM's Doug Miles reports that more than three-quarters of respondents to a recent AIIM report, SharePoint - Strategies and Experience, indicate either using it or planning a deployment.
  •  You've deployed SharePoint—Nearly half expect all their users to access it by mid-2011.
  • You haven't made full use of SharePoint—A third have yet to determine where to use it, and a quarter report IT running the show with little or no input from users.

Assuming you're not on Microsoft's shortlist of marquee customers and you're not an early adopter breed of enterprise, there's a strong chance you're feeling conflicted. The sensible side of you wants to wait and see. The proactive side sees an opportunity to tear down silos, bridge internal divides and overtake rivals still too spooked by the lingering uncertainties of the recession.

Here is a sobering fact: At the time this article went to press, the 2010 success story was all buzz factors and no business cases. Four versions later, migrating to this year's model is still a tentative and even clumsy undertaking. For instance, enterprises must completely rebuild the webparts (foundational to SharePoint architectures) to rebrand websites.

A large-scale migration can leave the former MOSS regime in the dust. For example, out of the box, SharePoint 2010 carries forward the investment to detail found in MOSS architectures. That sounds like a powerful toolset for UI designers. But even the most attentive control freak might lose focus (and enthusiasm) when list view defaults revert to the individual checkboxes that were once tweaked and rendered in MOSS. And if that slippage knocks developers for a loop, pity the poor beta tester who can't navigate through that same congested interface.

Another concern on the interface front is the persistence of sketchy documentation. Connecting individual features with central administrative settings can resemble the kind

of freeform exploration normally reserved for open source solutions. Even the fundamental act of setting up a search page is contained in administrative settings buried well below the UI. Administrators will find themselves turning to bloggers and user communities long before they get the direct input they might expect to receive from Microsoft—especially in the need to reconcile CSS scripts and how prior MOSS webparts sit in the new configuration.

Embracing new ECM standards

Once you overcome the awkward transitions, there are compelling reasons to endure the growing pains embedded in SharePoint 2010. Despite earlier objections, John Mongell, CS manager with RSM McGladrey (mcgladrey.com), recommends the switch, especially the leap forward in moving to 2010 from the earliest versions of the product.

Such wholesale changes include:

  • Content Organizer—This feature signals the arrival of the universal "drop off library." When configured correctly, it means stuff can go where it needs to go. As Mongell puts it, Content Organizer addresses one of the top issues users have with SharePoint implementations: "I do not remember where I navigated to yesterday to get this document, and now that I edited it, I need to put it back today."
  • Metadata Management Services—For MOSS-based enterprises, some of the appeal lies in the new search capabilities, particularly the scoping capabilities for targeting specific sites and collections. Metadata Management Services (MMS) enhances the ability of users to capture the content of their liking to categories of their own organizing preferences—no matter whose contribution they're tagging.
  • Workspace 2010—Another less heralded but no less valuable feature of 2010 for far-flung enterprises is the ability to sync offline changes to site and workspace libraries on the production server. That capability is especially useful for global organizations looking to plug holes in their WANs and virtual networks where SharePoint adoption can be uneven, poorly managed and compares unfavorably with the offline capabilities of rival IBM Lotus Domino.
  • Application development—Built-in support for application development in Silverlight is pegged to the multimedia promise of JIT training, less cluttered interfaces and more intuitive page interaction. Also, SharePoint Designer is now officially a "no-code" tool. Will it become a more productive and useful tool? That remains to be seen. One other notable leap is the integration of Web Analytics to kick-start website reporting and a more meaningful starting point for ECM metrics to emerge.

Downright sociable

From a pure product perspective, the tipping point for upgrading sooner rather than later is a more integrated, manageable and extroverted My Sites—the convergence of e-mail, calendaring, contact details and document-sharing dimensions of a face-based enterprise directory. More granular indexes surface more relevant details, especially in showcasing activity streams, recommendations, fields of expertise and tag clouds.

Activity streams in particular have been warmly received and apply to a wide range of emerging success factors such as social analytics, community management and compliance monitoring. According to Enterprise 2.0 media guru Dion Hinchcliffe, "Look for activity streams to become increasingly popular in enterprises as communication, learning and situational awareness tools."

For many enterprises, SharePoint is not a strategy but an afterthought. To Mongell, that means it's a placeholder, an extension of the former fileserver. In those enterprises, the Exchange Server is still the nerve center behind the firewall. All other organizational assets and communications are on the periphery.

The way that serious SharePoint shops get down to business is by developing workflows and business cases. Workflows thread the needle. The siloes disappear. So do redundant tasks. One person working in isolation does not scale any better than two people doing the same work. That doesn't mean that SharePoint needs elaborate customizations to earn its keep.

The right balance

So how does a best-in-class outfit address the 2010 upgrade dilemma? The difference between taking the leap and looking beforehand can be illustrated by best-in- class SharePoint shops like Pfizer, where everything is SharePoint—"40,000 sites are turned on and working."

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