The Many Dimensions of SharePoint

Bruce Springsteen said “Music is what makes us not be stupid.” I’m probably overstretching the metaphor, but there’s a correlation to SharePoint in there, too.

The thing about SharePoint is that it is everything at the same time. And sometimes nothing at the same time. And by that I am not trying to be critical, I’m just saying that the platform is not as complete as you’d hope it to be, so on the following pages you’ll understand the variety and complexity of deploying SharePoint as a critical business element. And I warn you—It ain’t easy.

I hate to stretch the metaphor action even more, but the old tired cliché of the blind men and the elephant applies here. SharePoint is what you make of it from your perspective.

Take, for example, Pierre Van Beneden, who is chief executive officer of RSD. He emphasizes the evolving role of records and “lifecycle management.” It’s a trendy subject in content management circles, for sure, but as valid as any. He writes:

“A few years back, basic time-based reten­tion and disposition were all that organiza­tions needed to track, but that is no longer the case. Today, information management spe­cialists recognize that an information asset has multiple distinct milestones in its lifetime. Moreover the lifecycle of content usually ex­ceeds the one of the repository (or user) that created it making the management of infor­mation over time and over applications diffi­cult if not impossible. Advanced policies should also integrate and manage more com­plex lifecycle actions such as being able to automate the move to a less expensive storage tier or to ‘anonymize’ and declassify a record over time. Furthermore, policies need to link to corporate standard operating procedures, laws, regulations and more.”

There’s just a hint at how complicated this stuff has become.

Or… maybe it’s not. My friend Martin Garland of Concept Searching describes a world where SharePoint is not the be-all/end-all… it’s simply a tool for creating business value, but like a hammer is a tool, you have to swing it right. “Enterprises are not concerned about en­hancing SharePoint, but solving their chal­lenges and leveraging the technology to achieve business goals,” Martin writes. “With the Microsoft partner model, there is a plethora of vendor applications that address even the miniscule needs of enterprises.” But then he gets to the heart of it: “The question remains, is that enhancing SharePoint or adding layers to SharePoint? Where enterprises get off track is adding application layers to SharePoint to address a lack of native functionality. In many instances, they have no choice. They repli­cate the age-old approach and end up creat­ing application silos that often have trouble communicating with each other.”

Interesting notion—that SharePoint actually adds layers of complexity rather than smoothen the road.

Securing the Unsecured

Much has been written about the lack of security in cloud solutions (such as SharePoint), which expose organizations to risk and compliance abuses. And I suppose it’s true. If your employees can copy content and carry it home, and share it on collaborative sites, and alter it at will… yeah, I think security is an issue. So does Peter Nutter at Accusoft. “The unauthorized user in read-only mode can still print the document, copy text from it, or even save it locally, edit it and then distribute it under a new name. All manner of content misuse remains pos­sible under core SharePoint DRM, save for checking an illicitly altered document back into the repository in its original location under its original filename. For many organizations that store sensi­tive content in SharePoint—such as those in government, healthcare and law—that’s too little restriction for comfort,” he writes.

And he’s correct. We’ve often discussed the role of “training vs. automation,” in these pages, and “automation” almost always wins. It’s a lot to expect of an employee to secure documents safely, tag them with the proper metadata and store them into a records repository. Hell, that’s before lunch… I don’t think that’s going to happen. And then multiply it by thousands of employees in some cases.

As Tom Reding at EMC puts it: “Mention the term ‘information gover­nance’ to anyone responsible for originating content—devising engineering specifications, building financial investment strategies, draft­ing a legal brief—and chances are that eyes will quickly glaze over. Today’s knowledge workers engage in collaborative activities re­quiring a high degree of concentration and mental processing of complex, nuanced infor­mation in many different forms, both written and visual. Information comes at them from multiple inputs via multiple channels such as documents, e-mail, PDFs and even paper. The last thing on their minds is a corporate gover­nance policy—and why shouldn’t it be?”

Not For the Faint of Heart

If you read very much about SharePoint, especially from the “ecosystem” vendors (AKA the guys who make money from it), you’ll soon encounter the term “business transformation.” I honestly think that’s a little much. But it’s true that SharePoint has been instrumental in creating a new means of sharing and distributing content. It’s just messy, that’s all.

As Roger Beharry Lall, director of product marketing for Adlib, puts it: “SharePoint content exists in several for­mats, often ranging in the hundreds, includ­ing many legacy structures, making it difficult for end users to share files with colleagues or external stakeholders who lack the native au­thoring applications. To enable SharePoint as a complete ECM, a key best practice consid­eration is to ensure that the content is deliv­ered to the right place, to the right people, in the right format and for its intended use. Collaborating with colleagues using this myriad of file types is challenging.”

That’s putting it mildly, I thought. SharePoint can be a nightmare of incompatible formats and conflicting authorship and permissions rights and records managers screaming in the night. But, for the time being, it’s what we got.

“To­day’s SharePoint installations are very large and growing fast. Because they are easy to set up, SharePoint instances tend to proliferate, magnifying the problem of document sprawl,” writes Erik Baklid, president and CEO of VirtualWorks.

I think Erik has a point: SharePoint needs our love. “To make your us­ers truly love SharePoint (rather than simply tolerate it, or even ignore it), you need to make sure all your company information—includ­ing your document management, CRM, scanned files, Office docs, emails and attach­ments and legacy apps—is available from the same user interface. More explicitly, if you want user adoption rates to soar, you need to make all this information available from with­in SharePoint.”

I’m not saying that SharePoint is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But I am willing to agree that it’s one way to go. And it seems to be working for a lot of people. Read on about the various strategies and challenges.

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