Wise Choices: The Governance and Culture of SharePoint
Last week, I shared the first part of a story that came out of a discussion with a major financial services organization. Among the questions posed to me was whether the firm should use SharePoint My Sites as a social networking tool and as a replacement for its existing employee directory, which is set up like a white pages directory on its intranet. The company folks said something that really tickled me, because I don't hear enough of it. They said something to the effect of, "We're not sure if we're ready for the governance issues that My Sites would introduce or if our corporate culture will support it." So, let's talk a bit about what this means in relation to your SharePoint implementation.
I'm finding myself talking about governance a lot these days. I'm also finding myself getting into a lot of discussions about business culture and SharePoint. What do these discussions have in common, and why are they increasing in frequency all of a sudden? Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (WSS 3.0) and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) have been out there for two and a half years now. A lot of companies deployed SharePoint widely, often much more widely than they had planned (or even knew about—hello viral WSS!). I'm now seeing the "Oops, we didn't do it right the first time" phase kicking in. A couple of years ago, I started to see this happen with Active Directory (AD). When enterprises were looking at their AD environment, they realized that it wasn't meeting their business needs quite right and that there was a lot of additional value in that product they weren't taking advantage of. It's the same deal with SharePoint, although this phase is occurring much sooner in SharePoint's product cycle than it did in AD's product cycle. Many companies are now looking at their SharePoint implementations and realizing that:
- SharePoint usage is greater and quite different than anticipated
- Security and content management aren't quite aligned with the policies and realities of their organizations
- There's some cleaning up and "herding cats" to do
If you aren't in this predicament, either your SharePoint implementation was very well planned and deployed or you're very lucky (or some of each). If you are in this boat, don't feel too bad. I'm a huge believer in spiral development. Most times you can't know your requirements until you move toward them. In other words, you're drawing the map during the journey. So, it's natural for businesses to move forward differently than expected and have to adjust course a bit.
You must think about governance, as this financial services firm suggested. Without it, you're taking huge risks because your customers (e.g., end users, developers, support staff, administration staff, managers) don't have realistic expectations. Realistic expectations can only be set by defining policies, processes, people, and technological solutions that deliver SharePoint (or any service). You also have to think about your business culture. I've seen social networking thrive, and I've seen it fail. I've seen business intelligence (BI) thrive, and I've seen it fail. Sometimes it's because of poor planning and governance; other times it's because the business wasn't ready for it.
Take social networking for example. For it to be used successfully to capture, retain, and leverage the knowledge that's in your employees' heads (and vanishes when they leave the company), you have to incorporate social networking into performance evaluations, compensation, and all other systems. Social networking must be part of a broader initiative at reaching specific business objectives. It must become part of the culture, not just a tool that's thrown out there. And your governance must clearly address what's expected on all ends and what SharePoint will do to support the business objectives.
If you're trying to decide what to do next with SharePoint and you don't have a governance plan in place, here's a tip: Don't deploy search, collaboration, BI, portal, or custom-built SharePoint applications. Instead, dedicate your resources to governance. I'll do my best to help you out. In fact, next week I'll share a "light bulb" that went off in my head over the last couple of days when I realized we're all speaking different languages when we talk about "information architecture," which is causing a lot of pain. Stay tuned.