For those that might have lived under a rock for the past 13 years, Microsoft SharePoint is Microsoft’s flagship application that helps people work better together. The application is in its fourth or fifth version (depending on when you start counting), and has grown to encompass features and capabilities that were written specifically for it, have been folded in from other applications, or augment the capabilities of other applications in Microsoft’s catalog. Microsoft has grown this business faster than any other server business it has started, and it makes this software available through client licenses or services. Recently, Microsoft made the capabilities available through its own hosted offering known as Office 365.
All of this growth is based on the following myth: If you install, subscribe to, or otherwise consume Microsoft SharePoint, your employees will be more productive, they will be able to find the right information faster, and your IT needs will lessen given all of the capabilities now housed in SharePoint and not in other systems.
The reason I am writing this article is not to disparage the claims made by Microsoft or the capabilities of SharePoint. Quite frankly, I am the most dogmatic SharePoint evangelist I know. The purpose of this article is to draw attention to the fact that tools don’t solve problems or create efficiencies by themselves. Let me reinforce this point with an example:
I am currently teaching my teenage son to drive. My son is new to driving. He has attended a multi-week driver’s education class and read the Driver’s Handbook provided by the state of Texas. My son is not a good driver. All of the books and classroom knowledge in the world can’t provide the wisdom that comes from the experience of actually driving or, much to my dismay, what a fender-bender can teach him.
So the myth that installing (or subscribing to) SharePoint will make you more successful (and good-looking) is false. It takes a lot of work and failure to be good at SharePoint. Many companies are choosing to subscribe to SharePoint these days as opposed to installing and managing the infrastructure, thinking that outsourcing those tasks will make their SharePoint implementation more successful. This is a step that a company can take to help its SharePoint implementation succeed. Any step that you and your company pursue on the road to successful SharePoint should only be made as part of a well thought-out plan.
To go back to the example of my son’s driving, he needs to really think about how to get where he is going and not just the mechanics of driving. As it turns out, he hasn’t been looking out the backseat window for the past 16 years, memorizing the streets of our hometown. My son needs a map. He needs waypoints. My son needs a destination.
In order to be successful with SharePoint, you need to know what your destination looks like, the incremental steps along the way, and how to get there. Too many companies install or subscribe and wonder why they find it harder to find the document they uploaded last week. It is foolish to think that a tool would make your information management better, just as it would be foolish to think that my son would be a better driver if I would buy him a newer car.
The myth of SharePoint is that tools make things better. The truth is that the right tool in the hand of an experienced craftsman can create works of art. A craftsman gains experience through practice and, yes, even failure. Especially failure.
In my opinion, the best way to work more efficiently is to use the tools you’ve been provided, learn them well, try new things, and fail. Once you fail, you know how not to do it.
SharePoint is the best tool available today for people to work together and build simple apps that can have a huge impact on their efficiency and success. Books and training classes are very important, but they are just the mechanics. Get into the app and try. Some of your attempts will fail: Recreate them. Some of your attempts will succeed: Build more!
My last bit of advice is to not forget how you used to do things. This will help you tell the story of the success of SharePoint, which will be hugely important when you go to your boss asking for those SharePoint Enterprise licenses you’ve been dreaming about.
As for my son, he is not a good driver—yet.
Jeff DeVerter is a SharePoint consultant at Rackspace Hosting.