In the SharePoint world there are two types of roles: Those that are considered “tech” and those that are considered “business.” Regardless of whether you carry the internal title of IT Pro, Developer, Decision Maker or Administrator, these two categories always prevail, and your association with the category implies a certain level of understanding.
That level of understanding is as important as your role on the project, knowing what your responsibilities are and are not. That being said, there is a critical step that is generally missed by companies that are working, or are preparing to work, with SharePoint. That step is strategy, and it is equally important to the definition of your users and resources in your organization. As someone focused on the business side of SharePoint, each article, blog post, or presentation I create and deliver has an element of strategy in it; sometimes it’s obvious, other times it is implied. For this piece, I’m going to make it obvious, accurately defining your SharePoint strategy will mean the difference between success and failure.
SharePoint has been deployed enterprise-wide as more than just a portal where teams share documents and collaborate. It has evolved into a core competency for business and a platform from which companies can perform critical business functions from a common system. But how can you get there?
There are many ways in which SharePoint can first be introduced to a business. In a large organization, this may be through formal procurement channels or a Microsoft partnership. In smaller businesses, SharePoint may have first been introduced through a trial license to test functionality, or evolved from a water-cooler conversation on how to improve collaboration. Regardless of the introduction avenue, businesses must focus on creating measurable, achievable goals that align to a strategic plan.
I have used the term “align” to describe how these elements fit together. Alignment, which is ensuring that your corporate strategy, IT strategy, SharePoint strategy and road map are all on a similar trajectory, is the only way to succeed.
My definition of alignment begins with defining a SharePoint journey that the business can work within, a journey that looks like this:
1. Gaining executive buy-in and business alignment
2. Obtaining enterprise-wide portal adoption
3. Transforming SharePoint into a place where business gets done
4. Surfacing critical business information from legacy systems
5. Managing and automate critical processes
6. Strategically operating your organization
Many organizations will interpret these points as a pipe dream as they will forever struggle to implement and maintain SharePoint within this context, and not for a lack of trying. These businesses will struggle for a variety of reasons, many of which I have seen and consulted on first-hand. Issues such as not selling the SharePoint business case, deploying SharePoint as a siloed application, an inability to gain user adoption or not properly define business requirements will all lead to abject failure, further complicated by an inability to recognize the issues themselves. I know this is a daunting task, but it CAN work if you create the right framework from which to begin.
One of the first places to start, within the executive buy-in phase, is to define your data. Why data, you may ask? Because data is the reason you are deploying SharePoint; to define, create, manage and drive data back to your organization, to surface information from line-of-business systems, and to make key decisions with the right information. That’s right, it’s all about having single-source, verified data at your fingertips. This needs to be incorporated with your overall strategy, but you need to know what you have before you try to align it.
Begin by categorizing all relevant structured and unstructured data from whatever existing systems you have in place. This may include file shares, legacy systems, servers and silos (including laptops). As you go through this process, remember that your end goal is to make this information available to all knowledge workers in your organization in a consistent and trusted fashion. That means duplicate records cannot be tolerated, so be sure that you are diligent with this phase.
With your data categorized, you can now begin looking at your critical processes. Does your business have those defined? These are the processes that make you stronger and faster than your competition; your core competencies that you want to continuously cycle through during your business day. For some these have inter-departmental dependencies, and for others they reside with only you. Articulating these ensures that the organization’s core competencies are being performed with the same level of excellence, regardless of whoever creates a process.
With these two elements in place, you can now open the conversation of aligning yourself to the high-level strategies and road map mentioned above. The reason you weren’t able to do this from the onset is because you didn’t know what you had. If your IT road map defined a move to the cloud over the next three years, you wouldn’t know what information you needed to move (and therefore you’d be unable to strategically align). If the corporate strategy indicated a training initiative that would train staff on core business processes, you wouldn’t necessarily know what you would be training staff on.
Now that you have your data and process information in hand, open the discussion with your corporate and IT teams and ask the questions you need to succeed with your SharePoint project. Remember that road maps and strategies are living, breathing components; therefore, your ability to apply this information will determine your success.
In my next piece on SharePoint strategy, I’ll discuss some of the things you may learn in the strategic sessions and how to pivot or persevere through the changes.
Eric is the Executive Vice President of Concatenate, creators of the RealTime suite of products based in Toronto. A SharePoint MVP, you can reach Eric by e-mail at email@example.com or on Twitter at @rizinsights. Read his other SharePoint thoughts on his blog at www.ericriz.com and catch his sessions at SPTechCon San Francisco, April 22-25, 2014.