Required reading: What is SharePoint?

Brilliant article from WASBSIan McNeice. If you only have time to read one article about the role of SharePoint in the enterprise… make it this one.

What is SharePoint?

“SharePoint is increasingly an eclectic kit-bag of publication and collaborative tools, services and features that can be used somewhat like a Lego set to build technology solutions driven by business need. Receiving SharePoint for the uninitiated is rather like being given a toolkit as a gift. The first question would be: what do I do with this? Build something is the answer. Build what? Whatever you want or need to build. I’m not sure what I want, is there a blueprint or plan? No. Can we build what someone else has built? Sure. Can you help us build something the same as someone else has? Sure yes. How much will it cost? It depends what you want, we will need to discover what your specific needs are. Yes but how much will it cost as a ball-park figure? It depends on what you want. I want what everyone else has! Ah but everyone else is different so we cannot tell you how much it will cost and how long it will take until we have defined your exact requirements. And so it continues…

“In other words, the SharePoint toolkit is powerful but without a logical, progressive business plan, blueprint or roadmap alongside SharePoint is extremely difficult for a business audience to imagine in terms of a future, valuable whole. Business stakeholders have a requirement to describe SharePoint to their own internal audiences and this is frequently where initial problems occur. They call in a Partner to demonstrate the value of SharePoint in an hour. What is all too often described is a technical demonstration of a team site, or a workflow, or a form, or version control etc. SharePoint is being described both by some isolated features, and in isolation of a fuller business context.

“This issue regarding describing SharePoint is often anticipated by Partner Sales Managers prior to a client presentation by requesting some specific problems the business may be prioritizing and basing a pitch and demonstration regarding how SharePoint can solve these specific problems. Therefore SharePoint, as an enterprise platform, is all too often described in these situations primarily as a project-specific technological solution. What happens when that problem is solved – where does the client go then, what does the business do next, what else can they build? And so we come back to the same dialogue as before. What other problems do you have? What other priorities can we assist you with? How much budget do you have? It is because of this scenario, played out hundreds of thousands of times globally that a number of things have occurred that have assisted in defining SharePoint in a specific way. The first is the flexibility of solution design and delivery. This has led to SharePoint rather frequently being described as a ‘development platform’. ‘Tell us what you want and we will build it’. Ah, says the client, but we don’t know what we want. ‘It’s okay’ says the platform developer, SharePoint can be used to develop and provide you with anything and everything you want. Within a short space of time of the introduction of SharePoint solutions are being built without any form of business plan.”

See also: The Role of the SharePoint Business Strategist

Standing in the SharePoint Gap

IT departments must manage the entire SharePoint platform, ensuring long-term stability, security and integrity for the enterprise. The business just wants what they want! This can result in dissatisfaction on both sides. How does your company resolve this conflict?

bridgingthegapCompanies using SharePoint for end-user collaboration need someone who stands in the gap between IT and the business to broker that often tenuous relationship. This is usually assumed to be a business-side role. However, it’s much more appropriate for it to be a SharePoint role.

Before SharePoint, my background was in business process improvement and project management. I did not start out in IT at all. I was not a developer, programmer, engineer or system administrator. I took on SharePoint in the context of another initiative and quickly discovered its vast potential. I was fortunate to be able to make a career change and spent the next 5 years immersed in SharePoint, dramatically increasing my skill set.

Without the options of coding or development at my disposal, I learned how to get results by pushing the envelope and exploring the platform’s native options. Along the way, I also increased my knowledge of the IT side and built strong relationships with those responsible for the “care and feeding” of the platform. We quickly learned the value of what each side brought to the table. They appreciated the presence of someone skilled in speaking both languages. I interpreted “SharePoint-ese’ for the business; I also translated requirements and pain points into well-designed, quickly-deployed sites & solutions. These solutions delivered valuable return on a (sizable) SharePoint investment without spending a dime on development. I can also walk into any meeting and speak clearly and intelligently about SharePoint to stakeholders at all levels.

Do you have such a person on board? Don’t you wish you did?

From a technology standpoint, SharePoint is something of a latecomer. Those who currently make SharePoint their career have, by and large, come to it from somewhere else. Most were already in IT- usually developers/engineers/system administrators- who continue to focus on those areas as they extend into the SharePoint space. This tends to cause a “development approach” to solving SharePoint problems which is not always conducive to building a strong relationship with the business side. It can delay delivery of solutions and sometimes negatively impact upgrade paths. My strengths offset that risk.

By first exploring all “in-box” options to their fullest potential, companies can be assured of getting the most bang for their SharePoint buck. The vast scope of features built into the product practically demands such an approach to truly realize that investment. Before throwing development dollars at the problem, don’t you owe it to yourself to see what might be possible?

It’s amazing what SharePoint provides out-of-the-box! There are so many tools and functions are already there, just waiting to be leveraged. As previously mentioned, this approach also helps ensure future compatibility for upgrades, patches and service packs. Even more importantly, such methods are much easier to make transparent to end users. Handing over a “configured” solution often means that your users don’t need to come back to IT for enhancements down the road- with a little education, they can make many change or repairs themselves. It’s vital to take advantage of every opportunity at hand to strengthen the business partnership.

That’s MY SharePoint role. What’s yours?

What’s in a SharePoint Site? Understand the Basics (FREE Webinar)

Exceptionally helpful site presents a webinar led by Benjamin Niaulin, specifically focused on educating people who are new to SharePoint:

What’s in a SharePoint Site? Understand the Basics (It’s FREE but you must register)

  • WHEN: Wednesday December 5th 2012 at 1:30pm Eastern Time
  • WHO: Users new to SharePoint (or anyone wishing to get a refresher on the elements of a basic site)

Only 250 attendees may attend- so register now!

Desperately Seeking SharePoint

By now I can’t help but wonder… where are these SharePoint superheroes the business world seems to think exist? Where do they roam the earth, these titans of technology? 

I can see one of them now… Gathering business requirements with one hand, configuring servers with the other… Leading user groups one day, developing web parts the next, dodging support calls while his fingers spit out flawless PowerShell scripts… Delivering whizbang demos to executives, followed by a rousing session of disaster recovery configuration to cleanse the palate.

Wait- what’s that? Governance? Hold on while he instantly acquaints himself with your corporate vision- or he’ll create one on the spot if it’s lacking. Watch as he hands over an airtight governance plan that will be understandable at all levels of the enterprise and never need updating. Did I mention he’s also an expert at InfoPath, Excel, Access, SQL, AD, Exchange, .NET and an MCM, MCPD, MCTS and MCITP as well as a certified Scrum Master? 

He has to be real- because every job posting I see is looking for him! Why would they seek him so diligently if they did not expect to find him?  

This is from a REAL email I recently received, asking if I (or anyone I knew) was interested in the position:

The applicant needs to have a blended skill set of Architect, Analyst and Developer yielding an Advocate and an Expert of the application across the enterprise. The ideal candidate will have experience with upgrading to version 2010 and will be able to lead an enterprise level SharePoint initiative. The position will be responsible for the migration strategy, configuration, site master setup, site look and feel, workflow development, user administration and light central administration of our SharePoint installation. Duties to include:

  • Develop and implement migration strategies for Microsoft SharePoint Server
  • Assist with the installation, configuration, and management of SharePoint for the enterprise; providing troubleshooting, application administration, and technical support. 
  • Assist with performance monitoring and tuning. 
  • Integrate SharePoint with other applications, including Microsoft Office, Office 365, Google Search Appliance (GSA), and business applications. 
  • Manage sites, lists, document workspaces, libraries, and etc. and configure workflows for SharePoint. 
  • Provide and coordinate End User Training and Desk Side support 

My head exploded a little when I read this. Am I crazy, or is it as impossible as I think it is for one person to be equally good at all those things? Or did he just emerge fully-formed from Bill Gates’ forehead and descend from Mount Redmond to walk among us?

Do any of you work with such a demigod/goddess? ARE you one?  Tell me honestly- is it logical or realistic to expect that there are enough people out there who possess such a depth and breadth of knowledge in SharePoint? No one I know who works in SharePoint full-time can claim that level of expertise across the board. By now, people have found their niche- at least the people I know and work with. 

By Zeus, if this comprehensive level of skill is the new expectation, I’d better get going…. I’ve got a lot of work to do.