The SharePoint Automobile

Inspired by Veronique Palmer‘s post

Analogies can be invaluable in explaining SharePoint concepts to end users. This is one of my favorites.

Microsoft Car

A car dealership is focused on selling you a car. They make promises and provide services designed to produce that specific end result. After listening to your transportation requirements, they present options that (hopefully) lead you to a decision to buy.  

They want a transaction that many of us dread to be a positive experience so that once you buy, you’ll come back and buy again. They also hope you will tell your friends and family good things so THEY will buy from them vs. the dealership down the street. Therefore, it’s very important that they address all your concerns and find out as much as possible about what you are looking for in a car. What are your typical activities? Do you have kids or pets? Do you take lots of trips? Do you have a long commute? All these requirements help them put you in the right vehicle. The successfully completed transaction is the primary goal– they want you to leave the showroom happy, in a car that meets your needs so they can remain in business.

Once you leave the dealership, what is the dealership’s obligation to you? It usually depends on what kind of car you bought. A new car probably came with a warranty allowing services ranging from free car washes and oil changes to lifetime mechanical repairs, with a loaner car while yours is being worked on. They may come to your house to pick up your car for you. New cars usually come with a significant obligation to you post-sale on the part of the dealership. The bigger your investment, the bigger response you’ll get, and for a longer period of time. They want to maintain a relationship with you because you are the type of customer they want to encourage.  

If you bought used, you likely have less coming after the sale. It depends on the specifics of your deal- for example, whether you bought a service contract or warranty. This can also include whether it’s convenient for you to visit the dealership, do they offer loaner cars, etc.  

Generally, the post-sale obligation for used cars is less complex and requires less input from the dealership. Does that mean they value your relationship less? They likely value it in a different way. Does your used car get a lower service priority when you bring it in for repairs? It’s difficult to say. They may not even work on your car themselves- often used cars are of a model that the dealership does not sell, therefore their service department does not have the parts or the expertise in-house and they must “farm out” your repair work to another dealership. This alone will probably increase your wait time, and give at least the perception that your business is less of a priority.  So the type of car you purchase directly influences your post-transaction experience. 

There is a period of transition between the purchase and the actual use of the car. The act of purchasing a car has its own unique characteristics. These are tied to the acquisition and maintenance of the product, and are important in their own way. However, the car will sit in your garage or driveway forever if you don’t know how to drive it. Once you know how to drive it, you have to prove that knowledge by earning a license (more on that later). You must have roads to drive on, and laws that maintain a safe driving environment.

You must register your car and put tags on it, so that it can be tracked and identified by those in authority. All cars and drivers must be logged in a database so that information about you and your car is available to those in authority. The requirements and questions associated with obtaining your license plate are non-negotiable 

Before you change the appearance or functionality of your car, you must verify whether the changes you propose are safe and legal. There are lots of things you can do (depending on your skills) which are perfectly legitimate. However, there are certain types of changes that the law will not allow. Just because you paid for the car, you can’t change it in ways that might affect the safety of others or possibly impede the overall driving experience for the public. Also, if your car is damaged, there are certain damages things that must be repaired or you risk legal repercussions. Your obligations in this regard extend to the entire driving community.  

Back to the topic of your driver’s license- think back on that experience. There are variations in the process but in general, it involves studying a manual, practicing driving and finally testing. It takes longer to become licensed to drive it than it did to buy the car. Sometimes you don’t “get it” the first time and must repeat the process. This is by design. Those in authority want to make sure that before driving on public roads, each person understands all their obligations. The training must be sufficient to ensure that passing the test provides each person enough of a foundation of knowledge to ensure safety for all. In addition, the process must confer sufficient understanding of the consequences if obligations are not met. It shouldn’t be fast and easy to become a licensed driver.  

All drivers are subject to traffic regulations regardless of how long ago they took the test or how much of it they recall. If you break a traffic law- even one you forgot about or didn’t remember from the driver’s manual- you will still get a ticket. If a new law is passed, all drivers must comply even though that particular law was not in force when they took their test. For example, a driver ticketed for texting while driving cannot claim that the law does not apply since it did not exist when he got his license. You’re still ticketed for running a stop sign even if you didn’t notice the sign was there. If a governing body imposes legislation that affects any part of the driving experience, all drivers must obey. If the city changes a traffic pattern- for example, turns a road into a 1-way street- you can’t ignore it, even if it adds 15 minutes to your commute.  

Many of us resent low speed limits, “no U-turn” mandates and all the other legal responsibilities we must comply with as drivers. But we understand why they exist. They ensure a safe, consistent environment within which we can operate our vehicles. Without their enforcement across the board, everyone would be subject to great risk every time we got behind the wheel.  

Once your car is safely operational and you are properly authorized to drive, your trip will be very short if there weren’t a system of roads and traffic signs & signals providing you with safe, navigable routes. While driving, you are subject to all the constraints that may be imposed by the current state of affairs in your area. The DOT may have whole highways closed down- sometimes you have to take a detour when a road is closed for maintenance. Rush hour affects your drive time- when lots of cars are all trying to get to the same place at the same time, everyone has to go slower. Sometimes things come to a standstill and you’re unable to drive at all if a traffic accident or other incident requires an emergency shutdown. Eventually, the blockage is removed and you are able to resume normal operations.  

Scheduled maintenance signs are often posted alerting you to upcoming closures or detours during construction projects, allowing some level of pre-planning to accommodate such changes. All these things are by-products of our reliance on the local infrastructure to get where we are going. We all share the same roads and are therefore subject to circumstances and events that affect them. Those responsible for their maintenance do all they can to reduce and avoid disruptions so that most of the time, the driving experience is optimal.

Wondering what in the world this all has to do with SharePoint? Let’s review… here are the headings for the sections above:

  • Provisioning
  • Support
  • Registration
  • Enhancements
  • Training
  • Governance
  • Infrastructure

 Do any of them sound familiar? Thought so. The next time you find yourself struggling to clarify a SharePoint concept, perhaps these examples will provide a “roadmap” toward a common understanding.


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