Watching twitter and doing a search for SharePoint and you see a lot (almost one every few minutes) of tweets about the top 10 new features in SharePoint. What answer do you get when you ask the question, “What’s the most important feature in SharePoint?”. Chances are the answer will vary. Some will say it’s the collaboration aspect, others might say it’s the new ribbon interface, multi-item editing, external content types, faceted search, large list support, document versioning, Silverlight, etc. The list goes on. However I think most people might be missing the most important feature that’s sitting right under their noses all this time.
The most important feature of SharePoint? It’s called User Empowerment.
Huh? What? Is that something I find in the Site Actions menu?
Nope. It’s something that’s always been there in SharePoint, you just need to get the word out and support it.
How many times have you had a team ask you for a team site (assuming you had SharePoint up and running). Or to create them a contact list. Or how long have you employed that guy in the corner who’s been copying and pasting content from Corporate Communications into the web from a Word document.
Let’s stop the insanity. It doesn’t have to be this way.
SharePoint’s strongest feature isn’t anything you can find in the Site Settings screen or Central Admin. It’s all about empowering your users and letting them take control of their content. After all, SharePoint really is a bunch of tools to allow users to collaborate on content isn’t it? So why are you stepping in as IT and helping the user every moment along the way. It’s like having to ask users to fill out a help desk ticket or call up the Windows team to create a folder on their desktop or rearrange their Start menu. This isn’t something IT should be spending their time doing nor is it something the users should be burdened with having to wait until their friendly neighborhood tech-guy (or gal) shows up to help them sort the icons on their desktop.
SharePoint IS all about empowerment. Site owners can create whatever lists and libraries they need for their team, and if the template isn’t there they can always turn to my friend and yours, the Custom List. From that can spew forth approval tracking systems, new hire checklists, and server inventory. You’re only limited by your imagination and needs. Users should be able to create new sites as they need. Want a blog to let everyone know what your team is up to? Go create one, here’s how. What’s a blog you ask? Here’s what it is and why you would use one.
SharePoint is the shift in the balance of power and you need, and an IT group, let go of certain responsibilities and let your users run with the tools. A power user who knows how to create sites and what features are available to them can help a team go from the forming stage to the storming stage overnight. Again, this all hinges on you as an IT organization and what you can and empower your users with as far as features go. Running with tools is great if you know how to use them, running with scissors not recommended unless you enjoy trips to the hospital.
With Great Power comes Great Responsibility so don’t go out on Monday and send out a memo to the organization saying “This Bil guy says you peeps can do anything so here it is, knock yourself out” (for one, they’ll have no idea who this Bil guy is). This advice comes with the task of getting your users ready for empowerment. Whether it’s through some kind of internal training sessions, in-house documentation; videos; blog posts; on how to accomplish things in SharePoint, or full blown one-on-one sit downs with teams or individuals to help them through their problems. The work is up to you. Helping them along also should be part of your governance (you do have one don’t you?). Just because you have InfoPath client deployed with your Office suite, doesn’t mean users should just start publishing forms all over your SharePoint farm. There should be some governance behind that in what you’ll support and what is possible.
The other caveat to all this is that SharePoint is not everything for everyone. It can’t cook you breakfast and impregnate your cat or solve world hunger. It also isn’t suited for every IT solution out there. It’s a horrible source control system (even though some people try to use it as such) and really can’t do financials worth a darn. Again, governance is key here and part of that governance and your responsibility in setting up and unleashing SharePoint into your organization is to provide users guidance on what should be in SharePoint and (more importantly) what should not be in SharePoint. There are boundaries you have to set where you don’t want your end users going as they might be treading into trouble. Again, this is up to you to set these constraints and help users understand why these pylons are there. If someone understands why they can’t do something they might have a better understanding and respect for those that put them there in the first place. Of course you’ll always have the power-users who want to go skiing down dead mans curve so this doesn’t work for everyone, but you can catch the majority of the newbs who don’t wander aimlessly off the beaten path.
At the end of the day when all things are going swimmingly your end users should be empowered to solve the needs they have on a day to day basis and not having to keep bugging the IT department to help them create a view to show only approved documents. I wouldn’t go as far as business users building out full blown solutions and handing the keys to SharePoint Designer or (worse) Visual Studio to power-users might not be a path you want to go down but you also don’t have to lock up the SharePoint system in a tight box where users can’t use what’s there.
So stop focusing on the shiny things in SharePoint and maybe consider making a shift to what’s really important. Making your day job easier and letting users get the most our of your technology investment.