Making Knowledge Work

December 9, 2009

LIKE 9 – Sharing the Point

Filed under: Knowledge Networking, LIKE — Tags: — virginiahenry @ 7:57 am

There was a record turnout for LIKE 9 last Thursday.  If you’re an information professional (or an IT wizard) struggling to make SharePoint work for your organisation, you might not find that surprising – as we’d gathered to tell our ‘tales from the SharePoint trenches’.

A few LIKE members had completed pre-meeting questionnaires, and one particular comment seemed to sum up the general sentiment of those with SharePoint experience: “in some ways SharePoint defines my role rather than enabling it

Metataxis’ Information Architect and SharePoint expert, Cerys Hearsey, works with the system, and makes it work for her clients.   She told us about the charms and the challenges of SharePoint, and filled us in on its history:

In 1998 Site Server 3.0 was released.  It did some web content management, offered analytics and search, had some personalisation, some indexing and a little document management – pretty much what we see now in MOSS 2007.  The product fitted well with Bill Gates’ vision of “information at your fingertips”.

By 2000 Portals were taking off.  Microsoft wanted a funky portal user interface, so between public beta 1 and public beta 2 of SharePoint 2001, they re-branded.

However, by the end of 2001, the fraudulent accounting practices of WorldCom and Enron executives had focused the minds of business people around the world on records management.  Not especially funky, but essential.  So Microsoft brought back Site Server and put it into their portal.  As this version was slightly better than the original – it was believed to be good…..

‘Veterans’ who experienced the painful upgrade to SharePoint 2003 found no comfort in the fact that Microsoft had replaced their Webstore hierarchical database with relational databases.   Building file plans in SharePoint became pretty challenging.

Indexing isn’t much fun either.  In the 1998 version of Site Server, Microsoft talked about document “profiling”, then changed the term to document “properties”.  They stuck with that until, with SharePoint 2007, they opted for “columns”.  Sadly, these can’t easily be replicated across site collections.

Workflow has had a chequered history in SharePoint.  Windows Workflow Foundation was there in 2001, was removed in 2003, and in SharePoint 2007 it’s back – unchanged and unimproved.

Another change has been more costly – in 2001 search was free, with 2007 the same search engine is covered by one of the most expensive licence Microsoft offers!   (There’s talk that for SharePoint 2014 Microsoft may incorporate FAST, which they bought a couple of years ago.  We didn’t even begin to discuss what impact that may have on legacy content….)

According to Microsoft’s overview pie chart – MOSS 2007 provides:  Portal, Search, Collaboration, Business Intelligence, Business Process and Forms, Enterprise Content Management.  Into that last slice of the pie is crammed document management, records management, knowledge management, web content management and pure content management.  This lack of distinction between types of information is further demonstrated by the low-profile place records management holds in Microsoft’s hierarchy of user groups – it’s a subset of the document management working group

Why, asked Cerys, do we tolerate this apparent indifference to our concerns and priorities?
Liz Scott-Wilson and one or two others helped her list the main reasons:

  • SharePoint has a lot of incredibly useful features, if you can make them work for you
  • Considering the very high cost and inflexibility of some other systems, it’s not such a bad option
  • We can, at least, get more involved in configuring and managing SharePoint
  • Unlike other unwieldy and CAPEX-devouring systems – much of SharePoint is OPEX
  • It sits well with Office 2007

If the world were a different place – one in which $4 billion was spent on developing SharePoint and only $3 billion on marketing it (instead of the other way around)….a world where ‘records management’ and ‘archiving’ were cool buzzwords, up there with ‘dashboards’ and ‘workflow automation’…. a place where Info Pros were the acknowledged superstars of their organisations…….   Yeah, right.  Better to hold on to the hope that SharePoint 2010 will address some of the most troublesome issues, and to take careful note of Cerys’ 5 top tips for making the product your organisation has opted for as good as it can be:

1. Have a coherent strategy
Whether mapped to an information strategy, IT strategy, or tools strategy – it must fit the wider landscape of the organisation.  If it’s the ‘odd one out’ it will look odd, and looks matter.  If it’s the core to your business, it won’t seem strange.

Be innovative
Traditionally, EDRM systems worked like old paper filing systems.     SharePoint cannot and will not ever work that way.  You need to think about your information as a set of objects rather than using the distinctions of data, knowledge, content etc.  Think about how you use and automate data, and how you present it to your organisation.

Talk to your IT department
In a SharePoint implementation, they’re the best friends you can have.  You will need to work closely with them to make sure SharePoint works for the organisation and its strategy.  But it’s important to remember that the more development you do, the more difficult it will be to migrate and to get support from Microsoft if things go wrong.

4.    Get involved on the ground
Talk to people.  If they don’t like the system, and you don’t know about it, that is not good.  Discuss peoples’ problems with them and offer help with resolving them.  To do that, you must get to know the technology stack.   It’s not easy to master: it has plenty of legacy issues and lots of components.  But an organisation is unlikely to use all of them.  So, for example, if yours decides to embark on the Forms route – get to know Info Path inside out.  Then you’ll know what the issues are.

5.    Know where you’re going when you start out
Have a clear idea of what the thing is going to look like and work like at the end of the implementation.  Do not decide to pilot some document management with a couple of teams and let them use it as ‘business as usual’.  Because, all of a sudden, everyone will want Team Site, and everyone will want to be able to save their documents and search for them.   Then your pilot for a couple of teams will be for the entire organisation – and you’ve built it in one site collection which can only support up to 100 gigabytes worth of data.  And that accrues pretty fast, especially when you’re doing transactional stuff.

So take the time to plan for where you’re going at the start.  If you want to do document management today, but you know you want to do records management tomorrow, that’ll have big design implications from the outset.  If you want to store a bunch of data and then harvest it using business intelligence tools, you’re going to want to use a dashboard.  You may want to explore excel services, do you have an enterprise web licence?  Most of the cleverest features of SharePoint aren’t in the standard edition, they come in the enterprise edition – and that includes the business data catalogue that enables you to link the SharePoint database to, for example, your old Lotus Notes database.

Cerys’ advice reminded me of a quote I read somewhere from Guy Creese of the IT research and consulting firm, Burton Group: “a really good SharePoint installation is as much organisation as it is technology”.


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