Is SharePoint Inevitable for My Organization?

October 9, 2009 at 8:12 am | Posted in collaboration, Content Management, Microsoft SharePoint | Leave a comment

It’s amazing how often the question “Is SharePoint Inevitable for My Organization?” comes up in conversations with clients.  Usually not that bluntly or directly, but the question underlies their questions and assumptions.  For example, in a conversation with a client today they were looking at another portal product.  But there are some pockets of SharePoint and after some back and forth on comparisons, they stopped and asked if the evaluation matters since they’re not sure they can stop SharePoint anyways due to a lack of central control and some enthusiastic groups.

Of course, the question is vague in that it doesn’t specify whether SharePoint is going to exist for tactical uses or be a strategic portal and collaboration solution that pushes out all others.  An organization with lots of other products in place can fit SharePoint in if it’s tightly scoped, possibly limited to one or two functions.

I have indeed talked to some organizations that don’t have a drop of SharePoint in them (that the person I was talking to knew about anyways).  If someone is trying to keep SharePoint out – or just wants to understand what it would take to make such a decision – it’s worth examining the companies that have done so.  I see two models.

The first model is companies that have kept SharePoint out through brute force.  Architectural decisions have been made based upon principles and best fit for the organization and the decision was not to use SharePoint.  For example, they may have a mostly Java skillset and applications are expected to be able to run on Unix.  Compliance is strong at these organizations, so no project with SharePoint passes the necessary architecture review and data center and LAN security processes ensure that no servers can be deployed with it.  These organizations often claim to have no “rogue” servers due to strict compliance and security measures. 

The second model is companies that have correctly addressed the needs of the business by providing non-Microsoft content management, collaboration, and portal solutions that meet their needs.  Their collaboration and content architecture not only meets capability needs, but is easy for end-users to self-provision sites without bothering IT.  Accordingly, there is no desire for SharePoint because it would not provide anything the business needs that they don’t already have in house.

I admire both of these types of companies.  After many years of working on web architecture and governance, I can appreciate an organization that has established a proper top-down architectural strategy and sticks to it.  But I admire the second type even more since it doesn’t leave a frustrated, grumbling underclass of business folks that aren’t having their needs met.  In the second model, IT is properly fulfilling its role as a service provider to the business.

What this line of discussion leads to is essentially the question “Is it worth the political capital it would take to keep SharePoint out?”.  A weak central IT group (or at least weaker than the advocates for SharePoint) would have to expend significant political capital to shut SharePoint down, including escalating compliance violations, stopping partially completed projects, and endless debates with SharePoint’s proponents.  This may be possible, but not worth the costs of failure or even success (festering animosity) that could result in some organizations. 

In an ideal world, architectural principles that optimize long-term, enterprise-wide value would guide IT decisions.  And those architectural principles, in turn, would reflect the needs of the business.  But years of speaking with clients about their real-life situations have demonstrated the reality of how those decisions are often made.  Decision making in a sub-optimal or unbalanced environment requires a bit of extra foresight.  Politics is the art of the possible, so in these cases, central IT decides to just let SharePoint in rather than fight it.

Note: This is a cross-posting from the Collaboration and Content Strategies blog.

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