SharePoint Adoption Trends and Takeaways
Microsoft SharePoint Server is becoming the platform of choice for organizations to store and access content across the enterprise, to enable collaboration, to optimize business processes and to deliver line-of-business applications.
The list of SharePoint capabilities and functionality is mind-boggling. Each organization comes to SharePoint with a business problem that can be addressed by the platform, such as exposing business data to decision makers, automating business processes or empowering teams to collaborate more effectively.
The breadth of out-of-box and platform capabilities drive one of the few truisms about SharePoint: SharePoint means something different to each organization. The business driver—and consequently the path of adoption followed—for SharePoint in your company is likely different than the company next door.
Behind the myriad solutions implemented and adoption paths followed by enterprises large and small are two important keys to ensure SharePoint success. First, understand what SharePoint is likely to become in your organization. Second, implement SharePoint as a platform, not a point solution.
Lessons from SharePoint Adoption
SharePoint rapidly becomes a mission-critical content repository, and the single point of access to content on distributed systems. Behind these scenarios, and others, is content. Much of SharePoint’s functionality begins with the assumption that content is accessible to SharePoint or, more likely, stored in SharePoint.
So whether data is on file servers, line-of-business applications or back-end data stores, users interact with that content through SharePoint. Many organizations choose to migrate to SharePoint, in order to increase the security and manageability of the content, and reduce support costs by empowering business owners of content.
SharePoint becomes the preferred platform for collaboration. SharePoint enhances locally stored and back-end data with rich collaboration features, including workflows, in-browser content editing for Web pages and Office documents, and tight integration with Office client applications. SharePoint also offers out-of-box tools for group calendars, task lists, shared contacts, discussions, blogs and wikis.
SharePoint becomes the platform for delivering enterprisewide solutions. Many organizations find that the capabilities lead to SharePoint playing a critical role in delivering enterprisewide solutions, including enterprise content management, knowledge management, search and project management. For these solutions, native functionality reaches its limits, and organizations turn to third-party solutions. But because such solutions build on an existing platform, users, developers and IT staff can ramp-up quickly. Adoption rates improve, and costs of training and support are reduced.
SharePoint becomes the platform for developing or exposing line-of-business applications. SharePoint’s rich functionality is dwarfed by the capabilities of the APIs exposed to in-house and third-party developers. Organizations regularly turn to SharePoint to provide the plumbing and infrastructure for custom line-of-business applications built with Microsoft development tools and the .NET Framework. Business Connectivity Services in SharePoint 2010 is so powerful that enterprises are looking to SharePoint as the middleware between users and structured data systems. The value of a unified infrastructure and common user experience is immeasurable.
The takeaway: Implement SharePoint as a platform. It is likely—and I hope—that your organization is methodically rolling out SharePoint according to your business requirements, rather than by deploying it all at once. But if you build your SharePoint farm to support only current business scenarios, you are setting yourself up for long-term failure. Before you are finished building your farm, your next sets of requirements will already be percolating. You must deploy a platform, not a solution.
Plan to Support and Scale User Adoption
As your SharePoint adoption increases, the amount of content stored in the repository will grow, the number of supported collaboration scenarios will rise, and the enterprise services and line-of-business applications will scale. You must ensure that the platform will scale with those needs.
Global content access: A critical consideration in this effort is how you will provide global access to content and solutions. We’ve mentioned SharePoint is likely to become a significant, if not primary content repository for your enterprise. Plan for this reality. The strong trend in the industry is to move from file shares and legacy content stores to SharePoint. SharePoint must be able to expose this content to users who require access. This can include your workforce, customers, partners and the general public. You must also account for the variety of devices and connections with which these users will interact with content.
Based on the content’s characteristics, your users and access patterns, it’s possible your infrastructure and SharePoint architecture must be enhanced to optimize global content access. It’s important to know that SharePoint farms should be built such that front-end servers are well-connected with very low latency to the back-end SQL servers hosting content. While there are workarounds providing various levels of reliability and performance, a farm should provide LAN connectivity between its SharePoint servers and SQL servers.
This leads to one of the primary challenges with SharePoint architecture: Providing reliable SharePoint access for geographically dispersed users, while accounting for externalized content and limited bandwidth availability.
Consider these realities of a geographically distributed environment:
- If a user can access a document more quickly through email than by downloading it from SharePoint, the user will always choose that option;
- If download times are too long, users will store content on their local drives, thereby putting the integrity and management of the content at risk, and defeating the purpose of SharePoint; and
- If network infrastructure fails, what content is lost and what risk does that pose to the organization?
For these reasons, many organizations opt for a hybrid or decentralized SharePoint architecture that provides farms to distributed locations to support performance and information availability, based again on the type of content and access requirements.
As such, some content, branding and solutions will need to be replicated to distributed farms. SharePoint provides no support for fully managed replication of content and replication across farms. Microsoft recommends that organizations utilize third-party vendors for synchronization and replication solutions.
Migrating content to SharePoint: It is likely your organization will consolidate the services provided by legacy platforms onto SharePoint, and you will migrate content from these repositories. How do you do this while maintaining access controls and metadata?
There are three approaches to migrating content to SharePoint. The first is to move content manually. While this is the most resource-intensive approach, it also enables the organization to adapt the methods that were used in the legacy systems to the new, richer capabilities enabled by SharePoint.
The second is to use a third-party migration tool. Most migration tools include the ability to map users, groups, permissions and metadata between source and target systems. If your legacy system is healthy, well-designed and well-managed, a migration tool can be quite effective. If your legacy system is a disaster, you might discover that you’re better off building from scratch.