Over the last 13 years, I’ve witnessed many horror stories regarding SharePoint. Many of the issues that I’ve seen stem from businesses not having a clear vision around what they want to do with the product. Part of the problem is that SharePoint isn’t your typical Microsoft product. When you want to set up email services, you think of Exchange. When you want instant messaging and video chat, you’ll set up Skype (or Teams). You want to create content? Then you’ll install Word to author documents, you’ll get PowerPoint to create presentations, you’ll set up Excel to work with and manipulate data. Each of these products have a clear purpose. SharePoint on the other hand? Well, it’s not that simple.
What is Sharepoint?
SharePoint is a productivity tool. It’s a platform that your organization can mold to address your unique needs. If organizations are to properly utilize SharePoint, they need to define their business problems and ideally, they should be able to measure whether their solution is achieving the desired goal.
Some of the more common requests are:
- We want to move away from our file share
- Users can’t find mission-critical documents quickly enough
- My large organization operates in silos, and we need a way to connect people by their skills and interests
- We’d like to automate the tasks related to ‘x’ to reduce the lag time in between tasks and eliminate some of the manual tasks
- We’d like a single place for content and business intelligence
- We need an Intranet to communicate information to the organization like newsletters and product information
- We want department sites where each department can collaborate on content
Everything goes well until
So an organization defines 1 or more needs like the ones above and they’ll create a handful of sites, lift and shift their file shares, create some workflows to automate a sales process or employee onboarding process. Everything is going well and after some time, the problems start to creep up. Sites get spun up without any regard for information architecture so people are starting to find it difficult to find files. Admins may notice that some sites are being lightly used or have been abandoned. Some users start using other services with overlapping functionality. Content becomes stale and search results start returning content that isn’t relevant. By this point, you’ve allowed a build up of issues that result in a negative experience for users and you now have a horrible SharePoint experience. The good news is that it can be fixed.
How can we fix this?
1. Re-evaluate to find the gap
For starters, I recommend that you survey your users to re-evaluate their needs. SharePoint has a survey list and in Office 365, you may consider using Microsoft Forms. Find out where the gap is. What is the current state, what is their desired state, and identify what needs to be done to get to that desired state.
2. Map the new requirements and purge irrelevant content
Once you have an understanding of their needs, you can start mapping the new set of requirements to SharePoint features. If your SharePoint environment has been neglected for a while, you may not want to try to fix all of the problems. Instead, you may want to focus on the important things like making sure that search is properly configured or identifying irrelevant content and purging them possibly with retention schedules that will automatically delete content based on defined rules. An example of a retention policy rule would be to automatically delete files in a document library 1 year after their respective creation dates.
3. Go back to the basics
As you begin to correct some of these issues, you’ll need to go back to the basics and focus on governance, user adoption, and training. Governance and user adoption are very important. Training is also important but in most cases, training is often necessary but rarely sufficient. In the case of SharePoint Online, that might be especially true, because Microsoft introduces new functionality very often and you can’t possibly train on all of the features. You will also want to identify people in the organization who can help you promote SharePoint. Enthusiastic people who will look for different ways to achieve their goals with the products and can possibly create compelling solutions that you can use as case studies for the rest of the organization. Lunch & Learns can also be effective and possibly finding a way to hand out prizes to people who come up with innovative uses of the technology can be an effective way to promote solutions.
Whatever your business cases are, whether it’s defined thoroughly or not, there is a high probability that your plans will be tweaked, changed, or overhauled in due time. Whether it’d due to neglect, organizational changes like mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring, or something else, don’t expect your SharePoint environment to look as it did when you first set it up and don’t expect it to be used the same way it was used when it was first released to the organization. The product releases new features periodically and the way you do business will also shift or evolve. Make sure that you periodically evaluate the site usage, make sure your users are getting what they need out of the product, and make sure that adoption isn’t driven solely by IT. The beauty of SharePoint is that as your needs change and evolve, it can evolve with you.
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SharePoint/Office 365 Architect