Big SharePoint Tent

By Marc Solomon posted 04-29-2011 16:16


SharePoint's most availing attribute has nothing to do with its features, functions, or custom sleights of hand. The best thing about it? It's that ever-engulfing big SharePoint tent. You can't reach out for a referral or show up at a local workshop without enlisting a new ECM ally with a SharePoint to-do list.

What version are you on? How's the migration treating you?  We all clock another day on the same construction site; breaking ground on application services, reporting capability, search tweak, or logjam-liberating workflow.

It's an unforced neighborliness to find out that we all live along the same SharePoint block. Gosh darnit. But it's not the familiar that draws me in. It's the mystery.
In fact, it's downright alluring to know that you could walk me down your own block and I wouldn't even recognize the hydrants and hoses humming above the administration layer. That improbable blend of the unique (your enterprise priorities) and the familiar (common SharePoint elements) is a wonderful thing that frankly neither Microsoft or grunts like me press to our own advantages.
Whether SharePoint gets its own home and garden channel is one thing. But what about the user legions looking at a virtual home? They've got piles of files and some feint notion that a server is just a large hard drive in the sky. But let's forget that for now. Fact is, they're incented to offload to the nearest SharePoint library. Better that than to be hounded for the stuff on email when discussions need to move on.
But is SharePoint that sheltering harbor for unstructured documents? They're anchored to little else except the need for centrality and order. But when those harbor tides begin to rise, how will the larger community find its moorings -- let alone those granular nuggets?
Higher Ground for Silo-Bunkers
Finding that higher ground is not about storage capacity, network performance, security permissions, or even what naming convention to use. It's an important realization that the time-starved, sleep-deprived left brain engineers I serve do what any linnear-based brain does under seige. It digs a trench called a silo-bunker. Then it arranges a grouping of folders and an assortment of prized slides to stash inside the contours of each folder -- each one pledged faithfully to that one hard, categorical boundary.
Ironically that digging instinct only grows stronger when the density of the system deepens under the crush of documentation. Contrary to popular assumption, system disuse results in more documents, not less. That's because dumping orphan documents off at the doors of SharePoint is the culpable manager's way to give at the office while contributing little or even negatively to the capture effort. The data dumps that line our digital landfills are not only retrieval resistant. They also bury more promising materials that don't have the necessary lineage to land near the tops of libraries or search results.
Overwhelming the Resistance to Change
In the opposite corner there are no folders with static containable files. There are no contents that march to an established hierarchy independent of the other containers. That's what separates the data masters from the data metas. One seeks definitive orderings and absolutes. The other seeks out connections and interdependencies -- overlapping dimensions spilling over cross-references. Got a theory to test? Here's the strength of that association.
Curiously it was the master data versus metadata theme that brought together a local New England meeting of the Boston KM Forum and NE Data Management Association last week. The conclusion of Parexel's Edee Edwards who straddles the two worlds? Swap out the term "data" for "taxonomy" and you'll get the ear of IT.
In reality we can't build sustainable ECM platforms from rigid folder structures. Content loses its resiliency and purpose without context and the place it's stored tells a limited and self-referential story. On the other hand there are lots of less-than-key words out there. Relatedness can tie a taxonomy in knots if important distinctions are supressed for the sake of inclusion. We need a breathable structure that allows for the dimensionalizing of firmwide resources across regional, industry, and functional boundaries.
Look CXOs ... no new overheads.
That's the beauty of investment without ownership. In the future content will not be assessed based on the place it's stored but on the problem it solves or requirements it addresses.

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