Countervailing Wisdom for SharePoint

November 18, 2009 at 9:53 am | Posted in collaboration, Governance, ITIL, Management, Microsoft SharePoint | 8 Comments

In April of 2008, we released our advanced SharePoint workshop that describes how to offer “SharePoint as a service” by applying ITIL v3 to SharePoint.  Alas, it’s taken a while to start publishing this methodology in document form, but I just submitted the first paper on this subject.  It’s called “ITIL for SharePoint: Defining SharePoint as a Service using ITIL Service Strategy” and is due out in January.

Writing this document forced me to dig deeper into ITIL’s best practices.  Many of them transfer directly to SharePoint (like much of the operations and service desk parts), so I didn’t want to waste time just restating them with the word “SharePoint” in front.  And some don’t really apply at all, since SharePoint isn’t the type of service that ITIL was originally created for.  But by picking carefully through the best practices (and sometimes reshaping them to fit) a few real gems emerge.  Those are the ones I concentrate on in the paper and workshop.

In the process of writing my paper, several points became clear that go against the countervailing wisdom I’ve seen among SharePoint implementers. 

Trying to squeeze the most from your SharePoint investment is probably not good for the company

What could possibly be wrong about trying to get the most return from your investment in SharePoint?  What matters is the ROI of the company, not the ROI of a product.  Just because SharePoint can do something doesn’t mean it’s the best tool the organization has to accomplish that task. As a parallel, the ROI on my $40 cordless screwdriver would increase if I used it for drilling all the drywall holes for my basement remodeling since it’s squeezing more benefit for the same investment.  But that’s still silly if I have a corded electric drill nearby that’s much more efficient.  When organizations get too excited about SharePoint, they risk cannibalizing value from other systems to the detriment of the overall collaboration portfolio.

Value is different than ROI

Conventional wisdom has convinced many SharePoint implementers that no metric can prove its worth better than the return on investment (ROI).  After all, it’s actual dollars made compared to dollars spent – how much more real can it get?  However, ITIL’s approach reframes the value equation quite elegantly by avoiding common SharePoint ROI problems (like the difficulty of proving the numbers and the distortion that perception introduces).  What ITIL reveals is that SharePoint service providers need to focus on the portfolio’s combination of utility (what it provides) and warranty (that it is available to provide it) to ensure that value is achieved.

Management is different than governance

Governance is very important.  I’ve dedicated significant portion of the last 6 years instructing everyone from Microsoft to government institutions to large corporations on how to apply governance to SharePoint.  But management represents a separate pillar that is just as important.  Executed properly, governance will provide the organizational and procedural structure that management requires to succeed.  While practitioners conventionally blend management guidance into governance docs and use the terms interchangeably, there is a clear line separating them and two distinct efforts are required.

Offering SharePoint as a business service is fundamentally different than offering it as a set of technological capabilities

SharePoint demos like an app and it is tempting to treat it like an app, but more organizations are finding it’s really infrastructure.  Steve Ballmer at the SharePoint conference finally used the “P” word: platform. So SharePoint is collaboration and content infrastructure.   But users use applications. A service delivery methodology bridges that gap by packaging technical services into business services.

Users of SharePoint shouldn’t know what SharePoint is

Why does a business user need to know what SharePoint is?  Conventional wisdom pushes the importance of “lunch and learns”, training plans, and rollouts.  These are all fine as long as they are not for SharePoint.   Proper service delivery will yield business services carefully crafted for particular uses.  Those services are what the users need to understand.  If an end user is asked if their company uses SharePoint in my ideal service delivery organization, they would answer “I don’t know.  Never heard of it.  But we do have a great Lab Research Tracking tool …” (where the tracking tool is a customized SharePoint list and template).  Even though end users should be able to help themselves with SharePoint, that can mean end users initiate their own instance of the Lab Research Tracking workspace, not that they create it from scratch. And the service delivery methodology can stretch to include local service delivery points so that business services can be provided without having to contact IT or wait in their queue.

“Driving adoption” is a band aid for poor demand management

Conventional wisdom touts the importance of driving adoption before, during, and after rollout of SharePoint.  “If you don’t drive adoption, you’ll fail to achieve the full potential of SharePoint”.  Nonsense.  A study of ITIL’s demand management process forced me to rethink this wisdom and realize that it is all backwards.  If you took the time upfront to understand what the business needs and deliver it, you wouldn’t have to convince, cajole, or lure them to use your system.  And the education required would be less as well since it would be targeted to business services rather than general purpose usage. End user self help can work once you attract users with specific business templates, after which adoption comes naturally rather than require “driving”.

Internally, SharePoint always has competition; users always have a choice

ITIL demand management recommends evaluating competition as a best practice.  While it is written to apply to other external service providers, reframing it as internal competition yields important insight.  E-mail will remain a substitute good for much of what SharePoint does.  Competing – but disconnected – SharePoint installations can occur.  And SaaS options abound. 

The process of applying a service methodology has value for the organization beyond just the end result

Conventional project plans have governance and management as “something that needs to be done”, when actually they are “something that needs to be learned”.  The process of implementing ITIL has many side benefits including better communication with the business, higher value, and knowledge that can help with other domains.



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  1. […] One evolution I’ve seen is to add “to define a service” to the definition.  I really like the application of service methodologies to SharePoint and have been doing quite a bit of research in this area.  My 2007 workshop applied ITIL v3 to SharePoint and my paper on using ITIL to define “SharePoint as a Service” comes out in January.  Still, I’ve decided to focus on service definition as a management issue rather than a governance one (more on that here). […]

  2. […] for SharePoint is a bad idea.  There, I’ve said it.  I’ve said it before too (see “’Driving adoption’ is a band aid for poor demand management”) using ITIL terminology. Now a new marketing book provides a term that may resonate better: […]

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  4. […] business about what they need and co-own the solution.  I’ve written about this before in ’Driving adoption’ is a band aid for poor demand management, Outside In Strategy for SharePoint (or Rethinking the Need to “Drive Adoption”), and (for a […]

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  8. Mr. Roth, I can’t seem to find a copy of this article anywhere on the Gartner site. Is there anywhere else that I can find this article? I’m a computer scientist at NASA and I am very much interested in the topic of using ITIL to define share point as a service within the federal space. Any help that you can give is greatly appreciated.



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