8 Things to Think About if You're Thinking About Moving to SharePoint

By Greg Clark posted 08-12-2010 09:29

  

Most conversations about enterprise information or records management  these days seem to involve SharePoint in one way or another.  Many organizations are finding that information management is not meeting their expectations and some are wondering if SharePoint 2010 is the answer to all of their problems.  Whether this push is coming from IT hoping to reduce costs, your portal team hoping for a new intranet or your user community hoping that that SharePoint will be easier to  use (or all of the above), there can be no doubt that many organizations are considering a move to SharePoint.

Microsoft has done a great job of driving this conversation through the functional improvements in SharePoint 2010 and also through some aggressive and effective marketing, but is SharePoint the answer for all of your content management needs? 

Here are eight things to think about if you are thinking about migrating your records and information management platform to SharePoint.

 

  1. Customizations, system integrations and modules.  Most implementations involve at least some customization, and most include a variety of vendor or third party modules.  Because of this, considering a move to SharePoint is not a simply a matter of copying over your content.  You will need to think about whether SharePoint has equivalent or "good enough" functionality to replace these customizations, integrations or modules without breaking your business processes.  If not, you will need to think about the costs to rebuild an integration, re-buy a particular module (if it is even available for SharePoint) or change your business process. None of these things should be taken lightly and there can be a significant effort associated with each. 
  2. How important is records management and compliance?  Yes, SharePoint 2010 has records management capabilities but this is relatively new within the application and there is a great deal of debate about whether SharePoint RM will truly meet your needs (James Lappin feels there are significant shortcomings in SharePoint records management, Mike Alsup disagrees).   This is a decision you will need to make in consultation with your content owners, legal team and regulatory compliance group.
  3. Business drivers. It is important to consider why  you want to move to SharePoint. Cost savings? Usability? Spite? Okay, scratch that last one. As with any decision you need to think through your business case ahead of time. What is the value proposition for moving so SharePoint vs.  the cost of continuing to use your other system?  Is it feasible to integrate the two systems?  It is important to consider all of the potential benefits and pitfalls, efficiencies and costs for swapping out your system.  Try to be as realistic as possible and quantify both the costs and benefits; I find a good place to start is a simple SWOT analysis.  Once you have an understanding of what you hope to achieve, build measurable objectives and create key performance indicators (KPIs) to track your progress.  This is a standard process for the analysis and execution of any business decision but it never ceases to amaze me how often emotion comes into the picture when considering SharePoint.
  4. Does your platform speak the same language as SharePoint?  SharePoint works in a certain way; sites are contained within site collections and everything can be tied together with custom metadata columns and content types. There is a large and growing list of add-on modules available.  SharePoint is considered by many to be a development platform and SharePoint also has some intriguing social, portal and business intelligence capabilities.   You need to consider the use cases and information architecture of your current system and determine how closely you want to replicate that system. More importantly, you need to decide whether SharePoint will let you or whether you will be under-utilizing the functionality of the tool if you try to copy your existing system too closely.
  5. Content migration is no fun.  Once you've figured out how you will map your existing system to SharePoint you will need to plan the migration itself.  You will need to make decisions about which groups go first (it is unlikely that you will be able to do a "big-bang" migration) and about whether you bring across all document versions or just the latest ones (this will likely vary by group). How will you handle content from departed users?  What about URLs linked between documents and to other places? How about your security model? Who will update your information governance policies and practices? (You do have information governance policies and practices in place, right?  If not, see here for a primer on the importance and challenges of implementing information governance).
  6. Pick the right project team.  This is not, I repeat not an IT project.  Managing user impact and business process change will be the biggest job for your project team.  Finding a team with strong information management skills is critical as they will understand the specifics of how information needs to be mapped between the two systems. At the same time, you will nee strong business sponsorship to provide guidance, set priorities and give you an escalation point when the going gets tough.
  7. Are you ready to get social?   If information wants to be free (and it does), information really wants to be free in SharePoint.  SharePoint started life as a collaboration tool and although it now has a powerful security model, the system works best when most information is available to most people. You need to consider what capabilities the average end user will have; what will people be able to do with their My Sites? Can everyone blog? Who can create a new list, library or team site?  These are fundamental questions of SharePoint governance but be careful not to lock the system down too much. And these considerations are much more than just technical; there are cultural questions that need to be considered as well. This is true of any information management system but is especially important when working with SharePoint.  
  8. Infrastructure. Are you a Microsoft shop? How up to date is your SQL Server environment? Do you have some 64 bit servers kicking around? What about Active Directory? Which version of MS Office are you running? The specific requirements for SharePoint 2010 can be found here: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc262485.aspx.  Although these are fairly high-end specs it really isn't out of the ordinary by today's standards. At the same time most organizations will likely need to upgrade at least some components. You will also need to consider how you will do the content migrations themselves. You will need a test environment to bring across the data and may need a tool to extract, transform and load the documents and metadata from your legacy system as well. 

The bottom line is that the benefits of moving to SharePoint are not automatic and may not be there at all.  Many of my clients are taking a hybrid approach; adding SharePoint on top of their existing information management platform.  Management of this hybrid solution begs many more questions, but may be a part-way solution if your organization is considering a move away from your current platform to SharePoint.  If you do decide to migrate, it is important to recognize that it will very likely be a long and complicated process.  Before you commit, it is critical to understand why, when and how you will complete the migration.



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