Why is measuring a hard ROI for SharePoint just so hard?

By Rich Blank posted 09-24-2010 03:30


Traditionally when it comes to implementing technology, the financial bean counters and decision makers have looked for hard dollars for the ROI of a technology investment.   However, when it comes to SharePoint, it seems we have thrown a hard ROI out the window.  In a manufacturing or factory environment, it’s generally easy to measure hard dollar costs of raw materials or labor costs or costs per hour.   Centuries of economic theory and practice led to the pioneering of the “scientific method” in the early part of the 20th century by Frederick Taylor and Henry Ford among others.  Implement "robot X" into the assembly line and produce more widgets and save on labor costs.  We have also had a few decades of TQM (total quality management) which has evolved into many buzzwords all seeking efficiencies in productivity of manufacturing and supply chains.  In Business School, I remember learning all kinds of management theory on these subjects and “generally accepted accounting principles” to calculate hard dollar costs and manage budgets to actual as well as profitability of goods sold.    So what happened to measuring ROI of SharePoint and why isn’t there enough written on it?  

I have read tons of articles on web 2.0, collaboration, and SharePoint.  They evangelize about grand topics like innovation and creating opportunities through communities and connecting people through social sites.  Some talk about the vision of enterprise content management being realized at an enterprise level.  And some articles even try to address ROI and talk about the “downstream effects” of capturing ideas and information in blogs or wikis.  Then we hear from executives and decision makers that evangelizing the technology sounds great, but all the benefits are “soft” and too hard to measure.  Okay, so why not measure "soft costs"?

The reality is that all businesses have soft costs such as turnover, lost productivity, low morale, lost sales and missed opportunities.  And any combination of those might drive soft cost dollars in your organization which can have big impact on your bottom line --- sometimes just as much as the hard costs and other times even more.   Many organizations simply don’t measure these types of costs because they don’t understand it or simply don’t have the capability to measure them.  Or perhaps people are just focused on meeting deadlines without questioning the value or impact to the customer.   Meanwhile, project management within many organizations seems like chaos, deadlines get missed, decisions are delayed, tiger teams get formed, and the insanity of our day to day work life continues.  Projects that should take only a few weeks or a few months, takes 12 or 18 months to complete and quality suffers as does employee morale.  You continue to wonder why things in your organization aren't as easy as what we see on Google or Facebook.  Then we recharge on the weekend, read the Dilbert cartoon in the Sunday paper, laugh and think of our own work environments, and do it all over again next week.  All the while we continue to email each other on our smart phones and at best upload documents to a site on SharePoint.   And if you're paying attention, there are no doubt hidden costs in many of the things just mentioned.

In today’s economic climate, it’s time we take a hard look at dollars and sense and focus on driving analytics from a collaboration & information management platform like SharePoint.   In my next series of blog entries, I’m going to focus on making measuring a hard ROI less hard and relate it specifically to real solutions implemented on SharePoint.  In the meantime, I'm interested in hearing more about soft costs in your organization and challenges or success you have had in measuring ROI of SharePoint....

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