Five Lessons from Implementing SharePoint

November 15, 2011

Today’s post was written by our Vice President of Finance & Operations, Carol Pollack.

A year ago, we started thinking about improving “how” we did our work. Could we enhance our processes or our tools to make us more efficient and effective? To answer this question, we undertook an organizational assessment with the help of Blum Shapiro Consulting.  Two key recommendations included: 1) better use of technology to facilitate more staff collaboration and 2) reduce our dependency on on-site servers for data storage. Based on these recommendations, we’re moving to the cloud-based version of Microsoft SharePoint.

When I first started talking and thinking about SharePoint I envisioned a piece of software, like Word or Excel.  After working with it, I now understand that it is really a way of organizing, displaying, managing and using information.  For us, it is an intranet with a set of web pages (sites) where we will interact with our data.

SharePoint will allow us to be more effective by allowing us to:

  • Allow multiple staff members to collaboratively work on documents and discuss issues simultaneously and in real time.
  • Enable staff members to access data from anywhere allowing them to be productive when they cannot be in the office.
  • Reduce redundancies when multiple people keep the same document and ensure everyone is working off the most up-to-date version.
  • Improve our data file-share process and enhance data back-up since this would now occur off premises.

As you can imagine, this is a big undertaking! There were multiple ways to get started.  We are in the midst of two simultaneous activities:

  • File clean-up:  We have some redundant and outdated data that doesn’t make sense to migrate to SharePoint. We’ve dedicated time for staff to purge and archive data according to our record retention policies.  This is also helping us understand the type of file structure that must be created for SharePoint.
  • Develop the site infrastructure:  This is hard work and requires a number of steps. To lead the work, we formed a Steering Committee that comprises representation from all departments as well as experienced SharePoint consultants for guidance. Those delegates then take information back to their functional teams to develop web page infrastructures.

We are learning as we go along.  Some key takeaways to date are:

  • The infrastructure design has been time-consuming and labor-intensive as we have all had to re-think how we will do our work and how information in SharePoint can best be organized to accomplish this. We still believe though that this investment is the key to long-term benefits.
  • We have to keep pushing ourselves to envision how we want to work together so that the final design facilitates collaboration. For all of us, it is hard not to want to just recreate our current file structure in SharePoint!
  • Understanding our current files helps us think about how to structure the new environment. By understanding the formats in which our data currently lives, we are better able to create workflows and functions for SharePoint.
  • Don’t go it alone. Multiple viewpoints and experience with other implementations ensure that we’re considering all the options to best work together.  We’ve engaged a few consultants to keep us on track.
  • Don’t get bogged down in the details. We don’t have to know the intricacies of using SharePoint (e.g., how to check out a document) to do the design work.  This allows us to stay focused at a higher level of development.

The good news, however, is that SharePoint is flexible. While we’re working hard to lay the right framework ahead of time, if we change our minds about a design decision, we can easily change SharePoint.

If you have implemented SharePoint we could really benefit from your thinking, particularly on design, training and migration.  If you’ve done another technology project and have “lessons learned” to share with us we would love to hear them too. Or, if you’d like to know more about how we did this work, please fill in the Contact Form.

 

Image by Oskay used under the Creative Commons license.

6 Responses to Five Lessons from Implementing SharePoint

  1. Grandjordanian says:

    I applaud your forethought in the way you structured your environment and your willingness to clean the old environment up and get sensible about how you will do work in the future. My advice based on some past experience is to “keep it simple” once you get it up and running. I can’t stress that enough. Keep permissions as open as you possibly can (permissions management can become a full time job and is one of the chief frustrations of users. Think “Access Denied”). Don’t customize your sites. Stick to the thing SharePoint does well – storing and editing Microsoft Office files – and leave it at that. Beyond files, it’s pretty good with discussion forums and lists/worfklows, but keep those simple too. Oh, and consider using Microsoft OneNote on top of SharePoint to do most of your collaboration (http://dif-fer-en-ti-ate.blogspot.com/2007/09/onepoint-combining-onenote-and.html). It’s very lightweight and flexible and abstracts all the clunkiness and complexity of SharePoint from the user. And don’t even think about doing anything “social” with it. Stick to file sharing! Avoid using SharePoint designer because it can be a dangerous tool (we’ve seen it delete entire site collections accidentally with one button) in the wrong hands. Face it – internal websites don’t need to be pretty, they just need to work. I’d also recommend ringfencing SharePoint to internal file sharing and keep your open source web CMS solution for your internet site. With the way you guys tap into social media, you’ll want the speed and flexibility of plugins that open source CMS systems offer.

    • Carol Pollack says:

      Stephen,
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful and comprehensive advice! The goal to “keep it simple” has been a challenge, particularly the temptation to build sub-sites and multiple layers of libraries and folders. We will stay focused on this. We are with you on the open permissions and resisting customization and SharePoint designer. I am not familiar with Microsoft OneNote but it sounds intriguing. I’ll definitely discuss it with our consultants and Steering Committee. I’m not sure what you mean by doing something “social” or what “ringfencing” the intranet involves. Can you say more? Again, many thanks! Carol

  2. Grandjordanian says:

    Hi Carol,
    Microsoft SharePoint 2010 is billed as having a lot of “social” features – activity streams, profiles, blogs, wikis, tagging, “liking”, etc – that (in my opinion) are not all that compelling and, for a group like yours that is just getting started with SharePoint, could muddle the deployment. It’s also billed as a platform to build social applications, external websites, and host third party software. By ringfencing I meant building a wall around the scope of your project and defending your strategy of keeping it a simple, vanilla deployment for lightweight file sharing and nothing more…at least to start.

    Do look at OneNote. If you get stuck, feel free to reach out to me via email as I can help point you in the right direction. There are very few people who have done OneNote in conjunction with SharePoint, so don’t be alarmed if your consultants don’t quite get what I’m talking about.

    • Carol Pollack says:

      Stephen,
      I am getting quite an education!
      We will definitely avoid the social features for now and I can’t see us venturing into social applications, external website development, etc. Also, the concept of ringfencing really appeals to us.

      Thank you for your kind offer on OneNote. We may take you up on it down the road.
      Carol

  3. Les Zatony says:

    Carol:

    I was wondering how things went with this project 9 months later. Are you fully implemented? Any final lessons learned?

    Would you have some time to talk about this project (we’re located in downtown Hartford and I am putting together a proposal to implement SharePoint)

    Thanks!

    Les Zatony
    IT Director
    Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Company

    • Carol Pollack says:

      Hi Les.

      We are slowly making progress. The biggest lesson is the realization that it requires dedicated time to design the site infrastructure and to re-align existing files and this is hard to come by in an organization with many other priorities. We are looking for opportunities to use SharePoint as new work occurs and have deferred the effort to move historical files in bulk. I am happy to discuss this further. E-mail me with your availability and we can work something out. My address: carol@cthealth.org.

      Regards,
      Carol

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