SharePoint without the business case

Half of implementations of Microsoft Corp.’s SharePoint collaboration platform go ahead without a formal business case, according to research from a content management industry association. And that’s causing confusion on the content management and records management sides of the house, says the lead researcher on the study.

“It’s kind of considered part of the infrastructure,” said Doug Miles, the Worcester, U.K.-based head of the market intelligence division of the Association for Information and Image Management. AIIM is underwritten by a variety of enterprise content management industry players, including Waterloo, Ont.-based Open Text Corp., EMC Corp., IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

The ease of creating SharePoint sites means end-users can implement the technology. It’s a bit of a nightmare scenario, Miles said, but “it would be an impossible scenario” with other enterprise applications.

According to the survey, a third of organizations have no plans regarding where SharePoint should be used, and where it shouldn’t.

“If you give people unfettered control to create these sites, they will,” Miles said. Every meeting, every social event can spawn a new site, and companies often don’t have end-of-life policies to control their lifecycles, he said. This site sprawl is an issue for 25 per cent of users, according to the survey.

And the fact that end-users are creating their own meta data means that data has to be remapped for the records management function. When records management was an entirely paper-based discipline, a filing clerk would manage the logic of how documents were filed. Now, Miles said, “we all have our own personal filing system on our computer,” and that’s reflected in conflicting meta data schemes. According to the survery, 26 per cent of implementations are driven by the IT department, without input from information management professionals.

Why is business so laissez-faire about SharePoint, when other applications face more rigorous business case demands? It’s not a matter of it being low-risk; rather, “most people consider it has high potential value,” Miles said. It’s also cheap, at least at the start.

“It can get quite expensive, though,” with licence renewals and third-party apps, Miles said. “It gets ingrained in the infrastructure, then you’re stuck with it.”

Greg Michetti didn’t have to make a business case for a SharePoint implementation at his company; he owns Michetti Information Systems Inc., an Edmonton-based systems integrator. Michetti was on the SharePoint bandwagon early, implementing it with its first release in Windows Server 2003.

“It struck me as a very early move by Microsoft to get into the cloud,” to move applications to a browser and position the browser as the operating system, Michetti said.

But he’s seen implementations where, after an enthusiastic rollout, the degree of interest in using the collaborative platform peters out. “I’ve seen that in about half a dozen cases,” he said.

The problem: Expertise in too many disciplines is required.

“To be a SharePoint person, you’ve got to encompass quite a few strong IT traits,” expertise in SQL, Active Directory and Web design among them, Michetti said. “You also have to know something about business workflow … It’s rare to find someone who wears all those clothes.”

Despite the concerns, though, most companies say they’re happy with the results they’re getting from their SharePoint implementations, Miles said. Only 27 per cent said there were “considerable shortcomings.”

Other survey highlights:

* Collaboration is the most popular application of SharePoint, followed by document management, file-sharing, portals and intranets.

* In 19 per cent of cases, companies have SharePoint and a pre-existing enterprise content management suite, but no strategy for how they will co-exist.

* In terms of ROI, 28 per cent felt it was better or much better than expected. Forty per cent felt it was about what was expected, and nine per cent considered the ROI to be worse than anticipated.

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