Organisations approach SharePoint from many, many different perspectives. I’ve identified a number of different strategic lenses through which organisations view SharePoint.
- Enterprise Content Management
- Knowledge Management
How is value defined in your organisation? Where is value created in your organisation? Answering these two questions is a great start in developing your approach to SharePoint. For example in 2009 I worked with a UK public sector agency that was investigating how they could use SharePoint. We soon identified cost reduction as a strategic driver. But which costs? Case handling turned out to be the core business process within the organisation, and the teams of highly paid lawyers and economists that handled the cases were a significant cost centre. Investigation into the working practices of the lawyers revealed familiar problems relating to the use of email, and file shares for collaboration and document management. The decision was made to develop a prototype to demonstrate how a SharePoint based solution could improve the core case handling process and improve the productivity of the lawyers.
In many commercial organisations value will be measured in terms of revenues and profit but there are other measures. For example, a police force that used detection rates as their key measure; a not for profit organisation measures how many of its volunteer workers would recommend the organisation to another potential volunteer; and a leading legal firm has a mission statement based on delivering high quality. Understanding how value is measured, the processes that create it, and the role of information in those processes is the key to linking SharePoint to your organisational objectives.
Enterprise Content Management
Many organisations approach SharePoint from an Enterprise Content Management, or Document Management perspective. A key element of enterprise content management is understanding the content lifecycle. Figure 5 illustrates the key stages in the lifecycle of unstructured content.
Figure 5: The content lifecycle
The Create stage of the lifecycle is very dynamic. Multiple people might be updating and editing a document, new versions might be created several times a day, there may be numerous cycles of approval and updates. Imagine a project in full flight with a team working to create the project deliverables.
Once the content or document is complete the final versions need to be stored securely but still be easily found and available, and there may still be a requirement to make amendments or updates periodically. This is a stable and well organised environment.
May organisations particularly those in regulated industries such as legal and finance may need to keep secure archive copies of documents for compliance reasons. Finally content should be disposed of in a controlled and considered way.
SharePoint provides the platform to manage content throughout the complete lifecycle. Document libraries, search, workflows, information management policies, meta-data, content types are just some of the tools in the kit bag. But putting a document into SharePoint is not content management. It’s content storage, and if that’s all you’re doing then you may as well stick to file shares, they are cheaper. To ‘do’ content management you need to support the full content lifecycle and to make it effective you should plan to support the lifecycle of content within the context of specific business processes. If you’re content management solution is a big bucket structured around business functions or departments then miss a turn and go down the snake!
Potentially each of stage of the lifecycle could be supported by a different SharePoint based solution. A Collaboration solution could provide an environment for people to create sites for live projects or group working. A set of departmental or process based portals could provide long term storage for the completed or published content. A records centre could provide archiving with and information management policies and workflows to manage the disposal. Alternatively you could create business process specific portals with distinct areas, sites or libraries to manage content at each stage of the lifecycle within that process. Finally of course there is Search to glue it all together. To the user these could all be presented as different tools for different jobs but under the bonnet they are all built on SharePoint.
If your organisation has a strategic focus on knowledge management then SharePoint provides you with the set of tools that you need to implement your strategy, plus Knowledge Management gives us food for thought in developing a SharePoint strategy.
There are two types of knowledge; explicit knowledge which can be codified, perhaps as documents, process maps, or calculations; and implicit or tacit knowledge which is experienced based and can’t easily be codified. Understanding which of these two types of knowledge are associated with the value creation in your organisation can help to shape your SharePoint strategy. SharePoint facilitates the management of explicit knowledge through search and content management. Strategies for the management of tacit knowledge are likely to include SharePoint’s social features including MySite, blogs, and people search.
Knowledge Management is a mature discipline with over twenty years of experience and empirical research. There are a number of well-established practices and techniques and SharePoint can be used as the toolset to implement them with. Amongst the knowledge management practices that can be implemented using SharePoint are:
- best practices
- communities of practice
- lessons learnt
- expertise location
These are KM strategies that can be implemented using SharePoint but implementing SharePoint is not the same as implementing the strategy. You need to buy into the strategy first, the technology is a secondary concern.
Collaboration is not something that happens as a result of installing software.
Nor is it something that you’re going to achieve overnight.
Strictly speaking collaboration is a human activity where people work together to achieve jointly valued results. A project team is the classic organisational example. Within the context of SharePoint planning collaboration is often mixed up with related concepts such as communication, cooperation, and co-ordination.
In modern organisations people work together in a number of different ways.
Table 5: How people work together within organisations
|Teams||Cross functional groups that come together to achieve a jointly held goal or objective. Typically a team will only exist until the goal is achieved|
|Departments||Organisational units defined by functional specialism.|
|Communities||Groups of people who share a common interest or area of expertise|
|Networks||A group of people who want to stay in touch for their mutual benefit|
These ways of working are very different in terms of their objectives, time frames, leadership, authority, and membership; they have different requirements in terms of how they work together and share information; and they create value in different ways. An individual employee may be a member of many different teams, communities and networks. No one solution will meet all of their requirements and needs, but SharePoint can be used to create an integrated set of solutions.
When defining your SharePoint strategy consider which of these ways of working is most closely associated with value in your organisation, and identify examples. Project teams are often the easiest to tackle because they are very visible and their results are obvious so it comes as no surprise that one of the most common uses of SharePoint is to facilitate team collaboration. Creating SharePoint sites for departments can facilitate corporate communications and information sharing; community sites are often associated with the identification and sharing of best practices; and networks can play an important role in problem solving and innovation.
Finally, it’s often said that modern management is the nemesis of collaboration. Think about how your organisation is structured and how your people are incentivised. Many organisations are structured around business units and incentives and financial rewards are associated with the business unit level profit and loss account. At a lower level people might be incentivised against the performance of their specific projects. In these scenarios will people really embrace true collaboration with other business units or project teams? Addressing issues like this require executive level support and the involvement of HR professionals. Have you got these people on your SharePoint / Collaboration project team?
Many organisations select SharePoint as the technical platform for their intranet, and intranet projects are often driven by IT, HR or Internal Communications or Marketing departments.
Intranet business solutions have been around for about 15 years and almost every organisation has one. But how many are successful business tools? In my experience not that many. Why? Because an intranet is an information management tool and typically IT, HR, and Internal Communication teams have limited expertise in information management.
Let’s start with the basics. What is an intranet? Usually people use the term to describe an organisations internal web site. But in the purest sense an Intranet is,
“…A private computer network that uses internet protocols and network connectivity to securely share any part of an organisation’s information or operational systems with its employees” (Wikipedia 2008)
In other words an Intranet is a private internet, and the internet isn’t a single web site with a top level landing page and a tree like structure that users navigate through. It’s a vast network made up of many different web sites, applications and services. It has no centre, top or starting point. It is the world’s largest information management system and most people find it pretty easy to use and are able to find what they need use search engines. Perhaps we can learn some lessons from this when designing our corporate Intranets?
Razorfish (Avenue A Razorfish 2008) have produced an Intranet maturity model which I find useful in talking to clients that approach SharePoint from an Intranet perspective. It gets them thinking about what they mean by “intranet”, and how their intranet will create value for them.
Figure 6: Intranet Maturity Model
At stage 1 the intranet is a corporate communications mechanism. It is centrally managed, benefits accrue from savings in printing and distribution costs, and adoption is not an issue.
At stage 2 the intranet becomes a vehicle for employee self-service. FAQ’s, HR policies and procedures, and template documents are classic examples. Benefits come from standardisation and increased productivity through self-service. Adoption is not an issue as the value proposition is easily understood by all.
In stage 3 the addition of document management and collaboration tools such as team calendars, discussion boards, and task lists address the needs of project teams. Adoption at this stage can be more difficult.
At stage 4 the intranet becomes an enterprise portal. The key characteristics of a portal are the integration with other systems and applications to provide a single point of entry, and personalisation and customisation. Personalisation describes the system’s ability to present the right information for the individual user and customisation describes the ability of the user to determine which information they see.
Stage 5 takes the enterprise portal further by integrating real time information from data warehouses or business intelligence systems to create pervasive dash boards and decision support systems.
Finally at Stage 6 the intranet becomes the single interface into all corporate systems and information stores. The research notes that there aren’t many intranets which have reached this stage yet.
SharePoint provides a platform which enables organisations to move all the way along this maturity model.
Traditional intranets were internal websites and provided a mechanism for one-to-many corporate communication. In recent years with the advent of web 2.0 technologies and leaps forward in interoperability some commentators have begun to consider the intranet as just one part of the Digital Workplace (Intranet Benchmarking Forum 2011).
“Intranets have lasted quite a while and may well continue in some shape or form into the future. However the IBF believe that the traditional intranet, no matter what its power and functionality is now part of the Digital Workplace….The Digital Workplace includes the intranet but also other workplace technologies.” (Intranet Benchmarking Forum 2011).
Figure 7 illustrates the concept of the digital workplace as envisaged by the Intranet Benchmarking Forum. SharePoint provides many of the workplace technologies illustrated and provides a platform for the integration of other tools and technologies. The digital workplace drives home the argument that neither an intranet, nor SharePoint are just a single business tool, rather both imply a wide range of tools each with a different value proposition and strategic use. It is this plurality of technologies, uses, and value that make SharePoint so difficult to grasp. In many ways the greatest strength of the technology what so many organisations find difficult
Figure 7: The Digital Workplace (Intranet Benchmarking Forum 2011)