Stop Blaming Technology and Own Up to Responsibility

spiderman I came across a blog article entitled “SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools” which has caused me to shake my head in disbelief (and write this entry). Not necessarily for the article itself as it really wasn’t making much of a statement but rather the retelling of IT horror stories from SharePoint.

SharePoint is a lot of things and like a lot of “suites” it does a lot of things pretty good. Some pretty good, some great, some not so great. I liken it to the analogy of buying stuff for your home and lifestyle. You go out and buy the best car, the best house, the best home theatre system, the best wife, whatever. So great, you have the “best of the best of the best” of everything. It’s only cost you your life savings and now it’s time to integrate everything. Try hooking that futuristic plasma touch screen to your uber-sophisticated Bose home theatre amplifier, or your state-of-the-art computer, or get your shiny new sports car to interact with the new $8,000 garage door opener.

Having problems with integration? I thought so.

While you can own the best of the best these things are the best but mostly on their own. In the grand scheme of things and how everything fits together is where you’re really up the creek.

SharePoint is probably, as a whole, mediocre. Egads, the SharePoint guy is saying SharePoint sucks. No, I did not say that and mediocre is a term that needs to be taken in context. It does some things well and others not so well but taken as a complete unit and integrated with your desktop client tools (i.e. Office) it works pretty darn well. When users are informed and empowered to work their sites rather than relying on IT to modify permissions for them on their own lists, it works pretty well. When you stop comparing the less-than-stellar features of the SharePoint Wiki markup language with MediaWiki, it does the job.

The point here is that take it as it was meant to be used and stop bastardizing it. It is not a source control system. It is not a drop-in-walk-away replacement for file shares. You pay one price for the whole enchilada and there are a whack of features there for you to use but you have to accept it’s not a 9 course prime rib meal. It’s also not 9 boxes of Kraft Dinner either. It’s something in between. It’s the typical compromise of unlimited time, resources, and money versus the pragmatic spending on projects that happens in every organization on the planet, Microsoft is no exception.

I’m starting a position as a SharePoint advisor next week with an energy firm that has truly shown me there are still sane and intelligent IT people in the world that use SharePoint. They haven’t turned on every feature known to man just because it was there and only turned things on and provided capabilities to users when they themselves got the technology wrapped around their head and had a business driver to use the feature. They’ve also empowered their users to take responsibility of their own content and sites, from the office assistant up to the CTO. They’ve made me believe that SharePoint isn’t completely and absolute evil as one would think it is and re-confirmed my believe that, while it has it’s flaws and will continue to do so, it’s a powerful tool when used appropriately.

Another theme that seems to be coming up is around governance and more directly, information architecture (or the lack of it). The article keeps harping on the fact that SharePoint isn’t ready for “Enterprise 2.0” yet was marketed that way. Frankly, I don’t know what this “Enterprise 2.0” crap is before I read the article, thinking it was some Internet meme (like Web 2.0). I found a conference on Ent2.0 which says “Enterprise 2.0 is social software and tools for businesses.” The rest is marketing crap (do more with less, agile, buzz, buzz, buzz). I don’t recall SharePoint being marketed as anything like this and frankly, I don’t think anyone has really nailed down any kind of business need or definition or desire for “social software and tools”. We can barely describe the difference between Facebook and Twitter these days and the only explanation anyone has for “Web 2.0” is flashy ajax-like sites that have big rounded corners and pastel colours.

I know there’s a big push for “social networking in the Enterprise”. I’ve been watching the movement for a few years now, trying to figure out what we’re actually trying to achieve. Communities are not built up overnight and neither will yours in your company, SharePoint or no SharePoint. Facebook happened because there was nothing else (well, unless you count MySpace) and it was pretty good at what it did. Still is to this day. Pretty good. Not stellar, there are places it could be improved and frankly the fact there are over 12,000 applications on Facebook shows this. Facebook is the SharePoint of the Internet. It does a lot of things pretty good but nothing that you would want to write home about. Some people love it, some people hate it and there are many people (like myself) that bitch and complain about the lack of features the platform has for application development, just like SharePoint! Facebook has a purpose and fills that niche pretty well.

Communication and Collaboration (two things SharePoint did market) is a huge and important thing. Business users do need to talk to colleagues, customers, and vendors and need to be effective and efficient in those goings on. SharePoint does provide a good infrastructure and set of tools for this OOTB. Alerts, presence information, Live Meeting and meeting space integration, Outlook connectivity. It’s all there and doesn’t need some additional vendor product to make it work. The Enterprise 2.0 blog just seems like a giant vendor site to me.

Does SharePoint get it right? Or complete? Is there room for additional tools. Sure, there always is. Again, how much are you willing to spend for something you can already work with. Is it painful to collaborate in SharePoint? Hey, it’s not the cats meow as I’ve seen with some “live document exchange” systems but it works and gets better with each version. You could go back to buying the best of the best of the best, then get out your big ball of twine and try to get everything working with each other. You might even be successful at it. Bully for you. I’ve been exposed to places that tried that and involved in a few failures of patching things together with bubble gum and bailing wire and it’s not pretty and it’s pretty expensive. So go for it.

There is a silver bullet here for you to take away. Ready? Here it is:

There is no silver bullet.

Stop trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and stop trying to make SharePoint do what it wasn’t meant to do well. If you’re entertaining a relationship with SharePoint, like any relationship, you wouldn’t want your partner to change for you to match your wants. If SharePoint isn’t Mr. Right for you, move on and get over it. It’s not the be-all and end-all for everyone and every situation. You need to determine that, and not through a marketing session with a bunch of glossy brochures.

Like Uncle Ben (smart man, shot in the back, very sad), said “With great power comes great responsibility”. I take it you will do the same with your own SharePoint solutions.

10 Comments

  • Way to tell it like it is.

  • Here, Here!

    Cheers! Well said. It's lots of 80 20s.

  • Great post Bill! Perfectly explained the reasons why SharePoint is good and the main reason (totally agree with you) of why sometimes it gets a misunderstood reputation.

    I am reminded of something Mike Fitzmaurice said: SharePoint is like us human beings. We aren't necessarily the fastest or the strongest. It's our adaptability and how we apply our abilities/ideas that can make us faster or stronger than the fastest animals... (Or something like that... I think...).

    Like any technology, SharePoint is a tool. You need to understand how to use the tool, care for it, and what its purpose is before you have any chance of being successful with it. Otherwise you might as well be trying to hammer screws, or drill nails.

  • what I would have done if my ex-boss thought like this about SP

  • Fantastic post! Thank you for the rebuttal post. I couldn't even gather myself to comment on the post that inspired this one, but you said it perfectly.

  • @vanderwal "Last year at Enterprise 2.0 Microsoft made a really strong pitch keynote along w/ Lotus Connections that Sharepoint was a strong candidate for Enterprise 2.0. It had its head handed to them there by Lotus who really understood what customers were looking for." - huh? *I* was the one there doing the bake-off against Lotus. I positioned SharePoint as a *platform* that enables Social Computing apps - some you'd have to build, some (like NewsGator Social Sites and Telligent Evolution you can buy). I also positioned SharePoint as a platform for many other apps that businesses need. Alas, the audience just wanted eye candy, and Lotus provided plenty of that. :-)

    The fundamental problem here is that some people think of E2.0 as Social Computing while others think of it as Business (and Industry) 2.0. Personally, I'd prefer the latter, but I frequently end up using it in place of the former because so many other people still do. Can we just stop using E2.0 and start using more succinct buzzwords?

  • Lawrence, most people I know see enterprise 2.0 as both social computing and enabler for business / industry 2.0. Businesses are trying to embrace the more open (as much as makes sense with in regulatory limitations & competitive restrictions) to move toward horizontal organizations. I think one of the big things from the SharePoint and Connections bake off was Connections pitched as understanding both the social computing and though that enabling.

    The Connections pitch really resonated with nearly every business person I talked with at Enterprise 2.0 and echoed what they had in mind for a product set. I could not find anybody at Enterprise 2.0 that was thought that of how Enterprise 2.0 was framed. Many of the big tool makers stated they were really interested in trying to hit was Connections was doing with their entrance to that market.

    I completely agree that more narrow terms of understanding are needed. There is a lot bundled into Enterprise 2.0, but mostly find it meaning inside the firewall social tools, tools that lead toward collaboration, and vastly improved collaboration tools.

    I believe strongly that organizations that are looking for these tools and like SharePoint for what it does well are would like to stick with one platform are well served considering Telligent and others who add this layer on-top of SharePoint than building and maintaining it themselves.

  • I'm going to hazard a guess that you simplified your post for easy digestion. The real strength of Sharepoint is as a user interface for the entire Microsoft-aligned product stack, combined with its basic, standalone function:

    Integrate your CRM through Biztalk to the back office, throw in a workflow tool for good measure, and present the user with a list of tasks in their SharePoint desktop / mobile device that 'closes the loop' on the back office processes. (yes, I've done and have videos that paint the picture)

    Having said that, Microsoft product groups are still incentivised in a way that allows, nay, encourages them to override the strategic interest of the customer and the Microsoft integration advantage. Only when the visionaries regain control of the business from the bean-counters will the ture potential be delivered, and that applies as much to their customers as it does to Microsoft.

    No surprises there, then...

  • I agree completely about SharePoint. Now maybe all of you "SharePoint consultants" can stop going into businesses and selling it AS the silver bullet, saying whatever you have to say to get the business. Then, in 6 months and several hundred thousand dollars, I won't have to come in there with a custom application solution, or a bunch of custom glue to make up for your over zealous sales pitches.

    I'm afraid you are preaching to the choir with this article. Try getting sales people to follow this advice instead.

  • How about recognizing the responsibility of 'making' the tool into something? Most technology shops 'install' (or "stand up") technologies. They RARELY -- design a solution for which the technology is shaped to support. IT is fairly devoid of real designers.

    That said, there are a whole lot of basic Enterprise 2.0 capabilities that SharePoint isn't good at (that is, it takes a LOT of work to turn it into a reasonable solution). Shall I name one? Here's a wonderful architecture designed for plug-in web-parts: brilliant decision. So why was 'blog' as a function developed as a page 'template' rather than a web part to be plugged into any page? These basic architectural flaws can drive any good designer mad.

    As for social, SharePoint missed the boat so far, that it leaves the waters wide open for a whole passel of ex-MSers to start companies like Telligent to create all the social wrappings that SharePoint is missing to help deliver solutions that can begin to approach E2.0.

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