In the IT environment, we spend all day dealing with problems both foreseen and out of the blue. When we have the opportunity to prevent issues, we do, but for many of our clients it’s tough to find the time and money to plan ahead.

While living a spontaneous lifestyle may be fun, running a business in that manner is never efficient. The only way to keep your business running effectively is to plan ahead. That said, we are sometimes surprised at the haste involved in business planning, particularly when it comes to SharePoint.

As we venture through our days, we frequently find a number of people asking us to help them with SharePoint. Some people have heard about SharePoint from a colleague, read about it in an article, or seen an online demo, and once they see it, they decide that they need it in their business model. Next, they bring in a consultant, or have internal IT support set up SharePoint so they can start using it immediately. All good right?

That depends…

The free version (SharePoint Foundation) isn’t necessarily best simply because it’s fast and free. Getting the right version requires taking the time to plan out the infrastructure based on business needs, and a good understanding of the different versions of the product. Usually, without this consideration, SharePoint Foundation (or WSS 3.0) gets installed as an IT demo or test site. Soon, it’s being used in its test environment as a full-force production system, and very quickly, there are hundreds of document libraries, folders, lists, and sub-sites, and no one can find anything. The users are frustrated, IT starts waving the white flag, and everyone collectively wants to dump SharePoint. Does this sound familiar?

Dux Raymond Sy, a managing partner and the chief evangelist of Innovative-e, has an interesting take on this, which is that “SharePoint isn’t the problem; poor planning is.”

If your business will ever need anything beyond the basic collaboration features that SharePoint Foundation provides (like Enterprise Search, Excel, InfoPath, Visio services, Business Dashboards, Integration with Database systems, etc.), it is worth the time to look at SharePoint 2010 Standard or Enterprise. These are the more complex, “for sale” versions of SharePoint 2010. The expanded feature set does require more planning, discovery, and administration considerations, and an understanding that setting up the environment correctly will bypass a lot of headaches later.

The best time to plan for SharePoint is before you have it. A little planning goes a long way. Sit down with the owners and business stakeholders, but most importantly, also with the people who will work in the system day to day generating the data. I have found that often this discovery process can help a business define (or refine) a business process or workflow and make it all the more effective.

Don’t be swayed by arguments that discovery and planning are not cost-effective or necessary, or that the process will take too long, because experience tells us that these are the difference between winding up with a robust and functional SharePoint environment or an out-of-control monster.

“If you don’t have time to plan and set up SharePoint correctly to start, how will you ever have time to redesign or fix a poorly planned environment?” asked Sy.

Carl Frank is a consultant with Solve IT.