It's about business productivity, not server maintenance

By Christian Buckley posted 08-12-2011 02:50


When I moved my family from Northern California (born and raised in the east bay), the first comment my older kids made was "Dad, there aren't any baseball fields!" Both passionate about baseball, they had been actively looking each time we ventured out from our new house out in the woods, and were concerned at what they couldn't see. The problem was not a lack of baseball fields, but that they were all hidden by the Pacific Northwest's wall of trees (and moss and giant slugs).

If your job depends on SharePoint, it's easy to get lost in the forest and not see the broad open spaces. Many of us are constantly working with our heads down, focused on architecture, scalability, and governance issues. Browse through your favorite SharePoint-related community website and you'll likely find that the majority of content trends toward the administrator and the developer. Even if we're not focused on the back-end, we may be caught up in trying to build out something beyond the simple, maybe involving a third-party solution, as a way to make ourselves and our teams more productive.

(btw, this is not so much a rant, but a reflection on where we are today, and where we are going)

Here's the thing: SharePoint is supposed to be about business productivity, not server maintenance. We bought into this platform because it was supposed to make life easier. We purchased the platform, and then a couple things happened once we started using it:

  • We decided we didn't like the vanilla. We thought that was what we wanted when we bought it, but then we got a taste for what was possible -- and our "needs" suddenly got more complex. Instead of the vanilla, we realized that we wanted triple-fudge Ghiradelli brownie with Brazilian nuts and hand-picked Maraschino cherries.
  • We realized that the guys running our email server might not be the right people to deploy and configure the platform, much less own the ongoing governance (no offense to my IT guys).
  • In fact, we realized that to make SharePoint efficient and effective, and to treat it as the critical business platform that it is, we needed to staff it appropriately. For our 5,000 employees, we needed more than 2 people working on SharePoint.
  • Furthermore, we recognized that SharePoint needed to be planned out. We got caught up in all of the marketing and figured it would just read our minds and do what we wanted before we even knew what we wanted. Apparently it's a little more involved than that.
  • We realized that "the grass is greener over here" would become one of the chief complaints for every employee with experience on other tools and platforms, but that every serious platform has its own admin and dev issues. Grass is always greener in spots, never across the entire lawn.
  •  We concluded that a successful SharePoint environment required proactive governance, adhering to the same corporate, IT, and project standards as any of our other enterprise platforms.

My point here -- and hopefully this helps illustrate -- is that we're focusing on the wrong things. Not because we made the wrong decision of moving to SharePoint. Quite the contrary: it's a very compelling solution, with a very broad and powerful set of capabilities. But it's also really hard, and many organizations find themselves spending more time and money and people on maintaining it than they expected. That's just the reality of where we are individually, and of where SharePoint is in its lifecycle. The simpler you make something on the front-end, the more complex it will be on the back-end. SharePoint does some fantastic stuff out of the box. And it can be a huge mess to support.

So where do we go from here? What's the solution for those of us who are sold on the platform, but recognize the need to spend less time managing servers, and more time using the platform to improve our businesses? I see things moving down three paths:

  1. Dedicated, expert teams
    For some organizations, the benefits far outweigh the pains, and keeping SharePoint in-house makes the most sense. To do this successfully, companies will need to learn from the observations above, building out (i.e. properly staffing and growing) your SharePoint expertise, and doing the detailed planning that SharePoint requires.
  2. Hosted platforms
    Another option is to outsource it. Companies have options here, from dedicated to multi-tenant, with some vendors providing deep expertise into specific verticals (like health care or manufacturing) and horizontal solutions (project/portfolio management, or FAST search). Hosted platforms move the back-end cost out of your organization, but you will still require some expertise in architecting and managing your environment, making sure you're getting the most value out of the platform for your team.
  3. Office365
    Right now it may only appeal to small to medium businesses, but Office365 will catch up eventually, and offer you another option for moving SharePoint off-premises -- bundling SharePoint with email and communication services.

What do you think? Do you feel like you're lost in the trees? Are you looking for ways to move away from maintenance, and focus more on productivity? If so, which path is right for you? 

#SharePoint #SharePointadministration #SharePointgovernance #office365