Retooling your perspective on SharePoint's evolution

do you have the tools and systems in place to enable your own social organization?

by Christian Buckley on 4/19/2014

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In their book The Social Organization (Harvard Business Review Press), authors Anthony J. Bradley and Mark P. McDonald surmise that no single set of features or preferred vendor list distinguishes a "social organization" from others. It has more to do with how they approach problems, and their ability to reach deep into their toolkit to find the right tool, process, or methodology to solve each unique problem. It is recognition that no single tool or platform can solve all of your business problems or, within a large corporation, to meet the needs of various team or regional cultural nuances. Social organizations tend to have a sound collaboration strategy in place that helps teams to better communicate and collaborate, a well-defined governance strategy that protects and enables that collaboration, and a change management system to help the organization adapt and grow and evolve and the business dictates.

The question is: do you have the tools and systems in place to enable your own social organization?

If you've spent any time in IT, then you've heard the complaints about what is missing from your platform. You could have the latest, most expensive platforms in the world with all of the latest bells and whistles, and end users will still find *something* that is missing--something which a small, niche tool provider might offer, but that is missing or somehow less capable within your current system.

Back when SharePoint 2007 was rapidly gaining adoption in the enterprise, most feedback about what was missing from SharePoint centered around its lack of enterprise content management (ECM) capabilities. SharePoint 2010 answered those requirements, only to get hammered time and time again for its lack of social and web content management (WCM) capabilities, which led to SharePoint 2013. Even as SP2013 was being rolled out, the drive toward the cloud heated up, and emphasis was put under Office365 with SharePoint Online.

The rate at which new technologies and new social features are developed is increasing rapidly. Microsoft has talked extensively about how the purchase of Yammer not only brought the company a new social collaboration platform, but a new way of thinking about development and the product release cadence. And during this same time, dramatic changes have happened within IT organizations. Microsoft's changes may be seen as dramatic to some and as lagging to others as social collaboration really blossomed (as far as a focused technology area within the enterprise) within the SharePoint 2010 lifetime.

How people look at their enterprise platforms has changed. We're talking *dramatic* change over the last 3 to 4 years. I'm not saying that people are throwing away their on-premises ECM platforms for pure-cloud social solutions. That's happening here and there. But the dominant scenario is that people are adding these cloud and social collaboration solutions on top of what they have today. This also means that they expect these solutions to integrate, share data, provide a consistent experience, and so forth.

I believe that we're seeing a transition away from formal records management and structured collaboration methods as executives question the ROI of these efforts. We're now moving toward a model that focuses on user-to-user communication and collaboration. This is evidenced through the inclusion of real-time communication and basic team capabilities within just about every enterprise platform, from CRM and ERP systems to the public-facing website we most frequently visit.

Interestingly, much of what drove the success of SharePoint in its early years was slow or non-responsive IT organizations. Requests came in for stronger document management and team collaboration solutions, and IT did not respond. So users went out and deployed a free version of SharePoint (first WSS, later Foundation), and then very quickly showed their teams (and their management tier) that they were able to provide a tremendous amount of productivity without the help of IT.

As organizations began to depend on SharePoint, however, their needs for tighter alignment with key business processes and other systems of record increased. At some point, most organizations that find small pockets of SharePoint deployments around the company will decide to bring these rogue systems into compliance with company governance and compliance oversight. And as that happens, it is critical that IT organizations remember the need for control and autonomy and flexibility over sites and site collections at the team level. This is what drove SharePoint adoption in most cases.

As the SharePoint market has matured, it is only natural that the focus has moved from an IT-centric view of the world to more of a business focus. Now that organizations are more broadly recognizing the value of collaboration to the company (it's not just a technology nice-to-have, but a business necessity), business stakeholders are now looking beyond simple adoption metrics (how many users log into the platform each month) and more closely at how their teams are using the platform.

Much of what is driving the push toward social features is not so much the compelling nature of these new models, but trying to solve the end user adoption gap caused by an often frustratingly slow response to end user change requests. If your organization has been slow to respond to end user requests -- from improvements to search, to the rapid deployment of new site structures to meet growing business needs --  users will look elsewhere.

To some degree, the rise in social collaboration has more to do with failed governance and change management practices -- and the poor alignment of SharePoint to business processes -- than it has to do with functionality improvements. A revamp of the overall SharePoint strategy is needed, including governance and change management. This will allow IT organizations to be much more responsive and work in partnership with end users.

Companies need the ability to properly manage and modify the platform as the organization's requirements grow and evolve. Having a strategy in place for a growing, evolving SharePoint environment is just one piece of the plan, however. Your strategy should include details on how you align SharePoint with your business processes, how teams will access and use the platform, the lifecycles of critical content types and how they are stored as your content volume grows, and other key considerations. To meet the growing needs of the social organization, it's important to have the governance policies in place (the boundaries of your system). But it's also important to have the tools and processes in place to manage expected (and unexpected) changes.

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