Don’t Touch My Wallet: Convincing Management that Smart Companies in Recessions Increase Spending on [IT, training, advertising, etc.]February 26, 2009 at 4:26 pm | Posted in business case, collaboration, communication, Content Management, Recession | Leave a comment
The recession has proven to be a boon to writers of articles and blog postings you can email to your executives about how whatever domain they are experts in (like customer relations folks or training people) is critical to avoid cutting and maybe even increase spending on it like other smart companies do.
In researching how the recession is impacting my domain (information technology, and communication, collaboration, and content technology in particular) I was pleased to find articles saying that should really get more budget in tight times. Wonderful!
… But then I decided to check and see what other domains were saying about recessionary spending. After trolling dozens of sites on other domains like customer relationship management, training, marketing I noticed a familiar pattern – they all say they are smart places to spend too. Needless to say I did not find any articles from domain experts saying “In a recession, our department’s budget should be cut” or “Companies that come out of a recession stronger are those that cut spending in our department”. Instead every department has become the business equivalent of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon. At Wobegon Corporation every department provides greater than average returns on investments in recessionary times. Everyone can’t be right, so who is right that spending in their domain should increase during recessions (please let it be portals!) ?
The “Don’t Touch My Wallet” (DTMW) script
There are arguments and articles that rise above the fray – I’ll get to them at the end. But the bulk of them fall into a script I’ll call the “Don’t Touch My Wallet” (DTMW) script. There are a standard set of key elements you’ll find in a DTMW article.
The “Don’t touch my wallet” (DTMW) statement
- “Now is not the time to slash advertising budgets.“, “This is not the time to cut advertising”
- “Maintain marketing spending”
- “Now is the perfect time to increase your innovation efforts”
- “In a downturn it can actually make more sense to spend more money on training, not less”
- “Customer relationship management (CRM) technology is one of those critical areas that companies need to continue continually embrace, especially during tough economic times”
- “ Of course, now is the time to be frugal, but be frugal in areas that don’t touch the customer.” (this last one, from a CRM firm, is my favorite because it not only makes the “don’t touch my wallet” statement, but grants permission for the cost cutters to raid someone else’s!)
- “ Shoot the moon”
- “If the distance runner is really strong, when the runner hits a hill, the runner is gonna speed up”
- And the winner, for mixing metaphors about belts, frogs, and catapults in the same paragraph: “While others are tightening their belts, truly successful companies use the recession as a chance to leapfrog their competition. My favorite company … increases their investments during difficult times. They know that if they focus on innovation while others are cutting costs, they will quickly catapult past everyone else. “
The motivational pablum
- “ The first competitors to take action will be the ones who reap the greatest rewards.”
- “Have you ever noticed that many of the big winners in business were willing to make bets that ran counter to the prevailing wisdom of the time? There are countless success stories of leaders who ‘zigged’ when everyone else ‘zagged.’”
- “Smart companies know you can’t save your way out of a recession. “
The articles often quote a survey that shows organizations who spent more on their domain in a recession did better than their peers. They generally don’t reveal enough about their methodology to truly evaluate their findings, but these surveys feel fixed for 3 reasons:
- They are almost exclusively sponsored by organizations with a vested interest in the domain and would be unlikely to publish the results if they showed cutting costs to be a more effective strategy.
- The mere fact the surveyed organizations were in a position to increase spending in a recession indicates companies with comparatively better financials (compared to their peer group). Of course companies that go into a recession financially stronger are more likely to come out of it stronger.
- Just surveying those companies that increased spending in one domain is a self-selecting sample. Companies that increased spending on a particular domain already determined it is important for their type of business. For example, companies that doubled advertising expenditures in a recession are probably those that know they are in industries where advertising gets high leverage (like image-related consumer goods), while those in unimpressionable markets (like mining) would probably not bother to increase the minimal ad spending they have. So blanket statements that say “companies that increase ad spending in recessions do better” are not as universally applicable as they imply.
A good study should be sponsored by an institution that doesn’t have a stake in the results and examines both sides of the coin: winners and losers, companies who started in good or bad financial condition, companies that increased or decreased spending in the domain.
Principles about spending in a recession
Reading all these DTMW articles did help me uncover some underlying principles about spending in a recession. These are scary times. I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make the case for their domain (and, by proxy, their job). Quite the contrary, it’s everyone’s responsibility in tough times to think about the value their role brings. Where small investments can provide leverage in these conditions, you should make the case for them, throwing them into the marketplace of ideas with the understanding that everyone else is doing the same. With every experts in every domain publishing a DTMW script, running to your executive with a request for more money attached to an article backing up increased spending is likely to be laughed at when every department is making the same argument.
If you have money to spend in a recession that your competitors don’t, you’ll get more leverage anywhere you spend it wisely: IT, training, customer service, etc. Industries have different leverage points (elasticity) where a dollar of recession spending added or removed has a multiplicative effect on profitability. Don’t accept blanket statements across all industries about where that elasticity exists (e.g., “All companies should increase sales travel rather than cutting it when times get tough”). The key is to understand the dynamics of your industry and firm and select the correct points of leverage.
Recessions can shake organizations up for the better – they force organizations to cut waste, improve efficiency, be more aware of what they are doing and why. That last point (what you’re doing and why) brings me to portfolio management. In a recession, as at all times, portfolio management theory applies. This theory says organizations should allocate spending to categories – usually these three: running, growing, and transforming the business. Then all initiatives should be categorized accordingly and evaluated against each other.
So first, keep the lights on. Assuming you have some money left after that, understand there is a portfolio of incremental improvement projects and transformational projects that should be evaluated as a whole. The DTMW articles make the mistake of bypassing reasonable portfolio management discipline to make the argument that one should just jump to spending more on their pet domain without analyzing its relation to other projects in the portfolio. Spending more on domain A may indeed have a high return. But if spending on domains B, C, and D have an even higher return, spending on A wouldn’t be a wise move without money to cover all four domains.
So how do you do this right? After hours of reading DTMW articles, it was a joy to finally find one that stated the case for its domain (web design) properly, succinctly, and with a professional level of humility. This may not grab the attention of the CFO, but it will withstand reasonable scrutiny once investigated further:
So my conclusion is that, despite what DTMW articles say, smart companies are not the ones that blindly increase spending in one domain just because other companies do (it’s a self-selecting sample) or because a logical argument can be made for the importance of spending in that domain (all domains have differing elasticity based on industry and individual factors). Recessions give smart companies an opportunity to gain an edge by selectively outspending their competition in key domains. They select the domains by digging harder into the data and applying portfolio management discipline.
Back to my domain of IT, I posted previously about a Diamond Management and Technology Consultants study. While it is from a company with a stake in IT spending, I like the fact that they looked at companies that underperformed as well as outperformed. And their high-level advice fits the “be selective” mantra:
The central lesson of our research is that at the very time when a leader is tempted to shorten his or her time horizon and make simple across-the-board cuts, superior performers dig into the data and act more intelligently than the competition.
OK – today’s post has nothing to do with technology but I find it fascinating. I’m no customer relationship management expert, although I can complain up a storm as well as anybody. My exposure came during a few years at Meta Group when I was enlisted to help create their second CRM workshop. This was a technology workshop that detailed the architectural model and services for CRM; the first workshop was concepts. I remember the idea of “firing your customer”, something that businesses and independent consultants are usually too slow to do. But this is a very stark example of firing your customer from Amex (from the 2/24/09 WSJ, p D2):
It used to be that credit-card companies lured customers with cash rewards. Now American Express Co. is paying to get rid of them. The card issuer is offering selected customers a $300 AmEx prepaid gift card if they pay off their balances and close their accounts.
Selected members — the company wouldn’t disclose how many — began receiving letters with the voluntary offer earlier this month, according to Molly Faust, an American Express spokeswoman. “It’s a relatively small number of cardmembers who have sizeable balances and little spending and payment activity,” she says.
Each letter came with an RSVP code that, when submitted online, immediately cancels that member’s card.
It’s a sad situation, but I give Amex credit for recognizing some of its relationships don’t make sense and making the rational economic decision that it’s better to record a $300 loss now than a much larger one later.
I highly recommend an eWeek series by Eric Severson on component-based authoring (see part 1, part 2, part 3). Eric notes how the content creation tools that came of age in the 1980′s are becoming an anachronism in today’s world of expectations for searchable, fresh information. New content creation technologies such as blogs, wikis, and easily updatable website are often a better fit for these new needs.
Eric makes a great case for why component-oriented authoring is needed. But he explores the more well-trodden path of technical and product documentation. While this does encompass the current sweet spot for component-oriented content creation (and vendors and service providers that implement XML-based content and DITA), I find it more interesting to explore how the sweet spot is expanding. Technical writers know they are professional authors. But when does this start hitting the average information worker who doesn’t think of herself as a professional writer, but in fact writing underpins a large amount of what she does?
That question leads to another: Who addresses the gap between the current XML content creation tools (which require significant setup of schemas by people experienced in XML or training on DITA) and the current productivity tools (like Word, where “anything goes”)? Within that gap lie “lightly structured” or “occasionally structured” documents that are partially unstructured but contain reusable and tagged components in places.
I recently did some research on component-based authoring for my overview “Content Authoring in the Enterprise 2.0 Age” (non-clients can see a summary of the NextGen Content Creation trends here). Microsoft folks demonstrated to me how Word can be stretched to cover this space with a bit of programming and some slightly awkward UI. And JustSystems XMeTaL folks described how their tool could be stretched to cover documents with less structure by creating a custom schema. But you’d still have a separation of authoring, formatting, and publishing that makes sense in large scale, but is onerous at small scale content production. It’s not an XMeTaL issue – the same applies to other XML authoring tools generally used in structured content creation environments such as Altova XMLSpy, Arbortext Editor, BroadVision QuickSilver, PTC Arbortext, and Stylus Studio.
Until the bridge in the middle is built, a few content authors will continue to fly from the unstructured to structured worlds, but the mass of authors will struggle to make do with their existing tools while waiting for an easier way to take that first semi-structured step in a longer journey.
Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.
2009 Prediction: There Will Be Pronouncement That Unnecessary Interruptions and Information Overload Tops $1 Trillion ($1,000,000,000,000)February 17, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Posted in Attention Management, etiquette, Information Work, interruption science, knowledge management | 7 Comments
Commentators and average folk alike were aghast as the amount of the financial bailout crept towards the $1 trillion mark. But as Congress backed away into sub-$800bn territory (for now), another cost is likely to be announced that beats them to this lofty mark: the cost of information overload.
These Basex figures get quoted a lot in the press and, while I do believe that many people and organizations do suffer from information overload, I’m not buying into attempts to quantify it and certainly not at a price tag of $1,000,000,000,000. In fact, I think there’s long term harm from trying to get people to act by shocking them with inflated numbers. Just look at knowledge management. KM was a real issue and worthy cause too, before it was done in by money-losing attempts to recover the huge dollar estimates of its inefficiencies.
How do I know this pronouncement is coming? I’ve been following their stats on “unnecessary interruptions” for some time. They went from $588 billion in 2005 (for interruptions without the “unnecessary” tag) to $650 billion in 2007 (you’d think the number would decrease when just the unnecessary ones are counted, but it jumped up instead). In December, they posted a blog entry saying
According to our latest research Information Overload costs the U.S. economy a minimum of $900 billion per year in lowered employee productivity and reduced innovation. Despite its heft, this is a fairly conservative number and reflects the loss of 25% of the knowledge worker’s day to the problem. The total could be as high as $1 trillion.
I’ll have to examine that new research more. How do the interruption and information overload numbers intersect? Are they separate (totalling $1.6 trillion?) or are interruptions part of information overload (which makes sense, but then why is the umbrella number smaller than the 28% of worker’s day previously quoted for interruptions?).
If the $1 trillion figure is anything like the $650bn number I’m not going to buy it. I haven’t seen a full disclosure on their methodology for workplace interruptions, but from what I could glean there were potentially several techniques used to generate a large number:
1. Lumping in social interactions and distractions with interruptions
Just lump all time wasting annoyances, distractions, and socializing in with the more scientific-sounding “interruptions” and you’ll get a pretty big number. Or better yet, don’t define interruption in any strict sense and survey takers will do the lumping for you. You’ll be able to lump 28% of the average information worker’s day into this category.
2. By counting all costs and no benefits (quote “total cost” instead of “net cost”)
How do you lose $10,000 at blackjack while walking out with the same $100 you went in with? Simple, just tally up all the losing hands and ignore the winning hands. Play 200 hands at $100 per hand, win half and lose half, and you’ll come out even. But that means you lost $10,000 (the total of the 100 losing hands)!
If you don’t like the blackjack analogy, then plug in your own one-side-of-the-coin analogy. How about totaling up just the expenses on a large company’s income statement without subtracting it from revenue and being shocked at how big the number is and the potential that even a small amount of improvement in that number could make?
One non-Basex study I saw asked how many interruptions people had, then assumed 50% of them were unnecessary based on other research. Fine, but then interruptions as a whole average out, don’t they? You can still optimize – a company that’s at break-even can always reduce costs, but the size of the total cost pool is not the issue then. It counted all the losing hands (calling them “unnecessary”) and ignored the winners. The implication is that you can keep all the necessary ones and chip away at the unnecessary ones, but who is involved in judging an interruption as “‘unnecessary?”
3. By ignoring closed-loop analysis
Here’s a surefire way to double the $10,000 in losses I quoted in #2. Just interview everyone at the table (you and the dealer) and add up all their losses. Since the half I lost was $10,000 and the half the dealer lost was $10,000, that’s $20,000 in total losses at that table. But we both came away even!
Basex went to some effort to quantify “unnecessary” as not urgent, not important, could have been done another way, etc. But if you ask individuals this instead of both sides of each transaction, you’re just interviewing the dealer and the player about their blackjack losses and forgetting that quite often one wins when the other loses. Almost every possible model I can think of for interruptions (see interruption patterns) results in one of the parties involved losing on the deal, so pretty much every interruption will be counted as unnecessary by someone and without closed-loop analysis almost every interruption will get incorrectly totaled.
You need to do closed loop analysis – treating each interruption as an interaction between the interrupter and those interrupted and determining, as a whole, if it was useful to the organization. Most interruptions are useful to someone, or why would they do it (I propose only a small proportion are careless etiquette transgressions)? If it’s a matter of self-important timing on the part of the interrupter, consider if there is ever really a “good” time you could push these interruptions to.
4. By playing loose with the definition of “unnecessary”
Reversing a question can help validate it. In this case, ask the question from the other side to see if you get the same answer. Ask each survey taker how many times they interrupted someone else that day and how many of those were unnecessary. If the interrupter thinks it was necessary, shouldn’t a conservative estimate give them the benefit of the doubt? I predict the difference in results between the question that yields $900bn and this one would be enormous. Only a small portion would be because the interrupter forgets they interrupted someone – the rest is the inaccuracy of the methodology.
In common parlance, any unnecessary activity interrupts a necessary one you’re working on. Have to stop working on your coding to go to a stupid meeting? That meeting interrupted your coding. That’s 1 hour of interruption plus 15 minutes to get back to what I was doing. If I decide to take a break and look at email, and then get sidetracked by a dumb one? The email “interrupted” me unnecessarily. If you want to let survey takers count all unnecessary activities as “unnecessary interruptions” that’s fine, but throwing interruption technology and etiquette solutions against the general problem of business inefficiency is like throwing a pebble at a wall to knock it down. The survey definitions and the solutions have to use the same definition of “unnecessary”.
5. By comparing against perfect short-term productivity instead of long-term sustainable productivity
Yes, people take breaks and, being social creatures, they often interrupt others to do it with them. People need breaks. Even the best runners have to pace themselves for a marathon. I calculated that optimal performance for the best marathon runner is obtained by running at only about half speed. What if you spend a bunch of time and effort getting people to eliminate certain time-wasting habits, and they just re-fill that time with other habits because they need or want that time? It may be worth figuring that out before throwing a lot of time and money away.
So you’ve figured out by now that I don’t buy the $900 billion number and I certainly won’t when it hits a trillion. Maybe the surprising part if you don’t regularly read my blog is that I’m very much a believer that attention management is a very useful approach and that organizations and individuals can take real steps to manage their attention better (for enterprises see my Enterprise Attention Management conceptual architecture; for individuals my Personal Attention Management tips). But I also believe in having an accurate picture of costs and benefits.
Another techno-cultural topic I believe in is knowledge management. KM’s basis tenets were sound- that knowledge (or at least “information” if you don’t want to sound too pompous about it) is an asset just like a factory or an employee and needs to be managed as such. But KM became a dirty word after a few years of consultants exaggerating the size of the problem and what could be done about it. It’s taken about a decade for KM to get back on its feet, and only now under new names so as not to arouse those burnt on KM before. I don’t want this to happen to attention management and information overload too. It’s a real problem, but a complex one that is impossible to pin a real number on. And it has real solutions too that can help when recognized problems exist – if you don’t promise too much.
Note: This version has been updated due to a helpful comment from Mark Worth pointing out the shift from quoting “unnecessary interruptions” to “information overload”.
We are currently doing research into how IT organizations are approaching communication, collaboration, and content management needs in a recessionary environment. Since many of the technologies in this area don’t seem to be needed to keep the lights on or invoice customers, they have the potential to bear the brunt of the axe when cost cutting occurs.
To start my research I wanted to find out what the forecasts were for IT spending this year. Burton Group doesn’t do forecasting, so I used a survey of surveys approach to come to an unscientific consensus of spending (over- and under-weighting forecasts based on my read of their methodology and applicability to our target of large enterprises). The results are shown below.
I think it’s fair to say there is a slight increase in IT spending expected for large enterprises, but this will be much lower than in previous years (perhaps lower than any year since the IT revolution). It’s also fair to say that the increase will mostly be in developing economies, while the G7 is close to flat.
Some important comments are worth noting:
1. In some cases the difference in the forecasts is simply a difference in the underlying assumptions about the economy. For example, Forrester said: “‘Our forecast for 2009 rests on the assumptions that the economic recession in the US and other major economies will start to end in the second half of 2009,’ explained Andrew Bartels, a vice president and the principal analyst at Forrester.”
2. Analysts and CIOs may not be thinking of the same definition of “IT spending”. To analysts, IT spending generally equals “sales”. For example, Goldman Sachs equates spending to hardware+software+services+networking. But to CIOs, they think in terms of IT budgets which include spending on internal employees, not just sales. Most of these estimates are for spending “on” IT, not “by” IT, since they are targeted at IT vendors and service providers. Some include consumer spending (The Economist and, from what I could discern of the wording, IDC). Estimates may include telecom and networking. The few estimates I could find that specified “budgets” (including internal employees) instead of “spending” forecasted flat (Computer Economics) or practically flat (+0.16% from Gartner) change over 2008.
3. Your results may differ. There are strong differences by geography (emerging markets are predicted to do better than the U.S. and developed economies), locale (Michigan vs. total U.S. spending, Spain vs. Europe), and industry (government and healthcare are expected to lead the spending pack).
4. This year, forecasts must be fresh. Usually the analysts publish estimates around September and that’s it for the year. But this year, like lemmings, all the forecasts followed each other off the cliff sometime around September as they revised their estimates downward. For example, Gartner revised downward from 5.8% to 2.3% and Forrester revised from +6.1% to -3%. In general, the consensus forecasts pre-Sept ’08 were about +3% compared to those starting with the October revisions.
For those of you in the Chicago area I wanted to point out a free seminar I’ll be doing in March. I hope to see you there.
Complimentary Burton Group Public Seminar
Hosted by: Baxter Credit Union
The Present and Future of Content Creation
Wednesday, March 11, 2008 from 9:00 AM until 11:30 AM
Baxter Credit Union
340 North Milwaukee Avenue
Vernon Hills, IL 60061
Click here for map
Seminar Attendees Receive Complimentary Report
Productivity Suite Proliferation: Is It Time to Ditch Microsoft Office?
by Guy Creese
Content Authoring in the Enterprise 2.0 Age
By Craig Roth
Featuring Presentations by Burton Group Analyst: Craig Roth
Craig Roth, Service Director for Collaboration and Content Strategies, will describe how new content authoring, collaboration, aggregating, publishing, and searching technologies are impacting the writing process, and the challenges on the horizon for content authoring in the Enterprise 2.0 age.
Productivity Suite Proliferation: Is it Time to Ditch Microsoft Office?
Microsoft Office has long dominated the productivity suite market. While it still “owns” the market, enterprises looking for a product for creating documents, spreadsheets, and presentations now have many alternatives to pick from. This overview will look at software (e.g., WordPerfect, OpenOffice.org, and Lotus Symphony) and SaaS alternatives (e.g., Google Apps, Think Free, and Zoho) and discuss whether now is the time to replace Microsoft Office and put something else in its place.
Will the Traditional Productivity Suite Still Matter in 2010
Content authoring technology, such as Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, was originally just a tool that enabled the authoring process. However, with functional enhancements in the basic productivity suite, increased interest in brainstorming and mind-mapping tools, and the emergence of Web 2.0 authoring tools, it is now apparent that technology is changing how we write and what we write, even though information workers may not always be conscious of its effect.
Please RSVP by March 9, 2009 to: Curtis Carter at 801-304-8111 or email@example.com
I was happy and surprised to see that the University of California at Irvine announced on Tuesday a $3,000,000 grant for Walt Scacchi, Richard N. Taylor, Alfred Kobsa, Cristina V. Lopes, Gloria Mark, Bonnie Nardi and David Redmiles to study how virtual gaming worlds can help organizations collaboration and compete.
The “happy” part is because, as readers of this blog know, I am a strong proponent of how enterprises and non-gaming vendors can learn communication and collaboration lessons from online gaming. In my entry Enterprise Communication Meets the World of Warcraft I described how communication in World of Warcraft is highly advanced compared to enterprise counterparts with regard to channels, chat modes, presence, mail, and emotes. I also wrote a “short story” on How the Enterprise Colonized the Virtual Worlds: A Sort-of Science Fiction Story to illustrate how virtual worlds may conquer the enterprise.
I’m very interested to read what comes out of this study. I’m a fan in particular of Gloria Mark and the work she’s done on information worker processes and interruptions, so I’m encouraged to see her on the list.
The “surprised” part is because that’s quite a financial commitment. Compare that to the public-facing side (mostly social and gaming worlds) where, as I referenced in January, this comes on the heels of a 58% reduction in venture capital and media investments in virtual worlds.
The New University article on the grant acknowledges the size and timing of the grant with the statement “Although the argument could be made that putting aside such a large sum of money for researching a game is a waste of tax dollars …” It correctly points out that lots of academic research uses gaming for anthropological studies, but I can’t comment on what amount would be correct.
Still, I recommend that anyone writing a grant proposal involving virtual worlds get in touch with whoever the grant writer is at UC Irvine because she’s worth her weight in gold pieces. Not just for this, but they also received grants in 2005 and 2008 for enterprise virtual world research:
- $80,000 grant for Bill Tomlinson in 6/05 for the “virtual raft project”. The press release said “His novel computer-technology project allows people to use a tablet PC as a handheld raft to transport animated characters between “virtual islands” on desktop computers.”
- $100,000 grant in 9/08 for Bonnie Nardi and doctoral student Yong Ming Kow to analyze collaboration in virtual world gaming. (link)
An Irrevocable, Perpetual, Non-exclusive, Transferable, Fully paid, Worldwide License to Kiss My A** …February 9, 2009 at 1:22 pm | Posted in Fun, Legal, Web 2.0 | 14 Comments
By posting User Content to any part of the Site, you automatically grant, and you represent and warrant that you have the right to grant, to the Company an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license (with the right to sublicense) to use, copy, publicly perform, publicly display, reformat, translate, excerpt (in whole or in part) and distribute such User Content for any purpose on or in connection with the Site or the promotion thereof, to prepare derivative works of, or incorporate into other works, such User Content, and to grant and authorize sublicenses of the foregoing.
This seemed really familiar, so I did a search on this rather unique set of words and was amazed at how many places use the exact same phrase. Here’s just a few:
- Spring Street Networks
- Second Life
- The 2008 12 01 Smithsonian Magazine 6th Annual Photo Contest
The statement is so one-sided in its application that I would be curious how many judges and juries have knocked it down over the years. The shame is that this kind of phrase acts as a landmine – it can sit there quietly for years, but then explode one day if the company decides to reuse some IP that the original poster (who probably didn’t read the long legal disclaimers) didn’t even think could be reused.
One company probably used this phrase first and other lawyers loved it so much they all copied it. In fact FindLaw publishes it as a sample to be used by others. Great- spread the joy. I don’t know who the original lawyer is that came up with that phrasing, but he can’t complain about all the copying since his client probably had an irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide license to use it.
Governance problems have plagued all sorts of websites, but in my experience they seem to come up disproportionately in SharePoint installations. In researching and writing my new document “Website Governance: Guidance for Portals, SharePoint, and Intranets” (slated for publication in March) I wanted to figure out why that is. Here is what I found out about why SharePoint has proven to be particularly vulnerable to chaos when ungoverned:
- Ease of deployment: SharePoint is easier to license and install than other portal products. That’s great, except more parts of the organization will be tempted to set up servers. Decentralized installation and setup of the servers often leads to siloed installations that do not conform to the organization’s best practices or technology standards.
- Grass roots nature: SharePoint’s ease of use has proven to be a double-edged sword. While it opens up self-help collaboration and content capabilities for a broader swath of information workers, it also places creation in the hands of a large number of non-IT users who are only minimally monitored. This can lead to poor findability and an inconsistent user experience.
- Lack of multi-farm management: SharePoint lacks enterprise-wide management features that other portal products have had for years. The highest level of management in SharePoint is the server farm, but enterprises wanting unified policies and governance across multiple server farms have few tools to accomplish this. Microsoft has made a step to remedy this situation with a Cross-Site Configurator that was specifically developed “in the context of IT management challenges that have arisen with the rapid growth of SharePoint deployments.” However this product is unsupported for now and is not a part of the official WSS build.
- Frequent overlaps with other installed capabilities: SharePoint provides an integrated set of capabilities that often exist in separate products that an organization may already have installed. A team that has been managing a content management, search, collaboration, or portal system for years may wake up one day to find users starting to leverage SharePoint for the same capabilities. The result is information segregation and a quick call to the CIO to make a decision on coexistence or shutting down one of the overlapping alternatives.
This doesn’t mean that SharePoint cannot be governed. But they do point to the importance of creating a statement of governance early in the planning cycle for SharePoint. While some large SharePoint deployments rise above all these problems, it is rare and difficult for them to do so without a governance structure in place.