I read an interesting ComputerWorld article last week, called SharePoint Challenges IT as the Excel, Access of the Day. The article summarises the findings of a report from Forrester Research, which highlights some of the issues an IT department must face following the introduction of SharePoint within their organisation. The report lists similarities between SharePoint and the uncontrolled spread of user-developed Access, Excel and Lotus Notes applications in the 1990s. To quote from the report: “It’s the same idea that drove the Access and Excel phenomenon, but users have more rope to hang themselves with”.
Coincidentally, some other posts and news items I read this week kind of connected with the report, so I thought I would comment on them in a single post.
The Explosion of Access Applications
I can’t argue with the fact that when Microsoft Access introduced the Access into the Office suite, we saw a huge increase in the number of user-developed databases out there, many of which grew into business critical applications which IT Departments found it difficult to support and maintain. I’ve come across several instances of IT Departments, banning Access completely, and I recall attending a presentation from Peter Vogel in which he mentioned an IT Manager he met who considered Microsoft Access to be almost as bad as a virus. But I can also guarantee that there are a lot of very robust, professionally developed custom Access applications out there which work extremely well, and have given their user organisations an excellent return on their original investment. What distinguishes these from the Access databases which cause IT Department headaches is that they were planned and developed by someone who understood how best to use the product, and what its limitations are. And the same certainly applies to any SharePoint implementation – planning, control and high quality training are essential.
A very long time ago, I was a Lotus Authorised Consultant. Much of the work I was doing revolved around custom document creation using a word processing package called Lotus Ami Pro, in the days when the corporate word processing market had more than one product. At this time I was also working with various database products, developing custom applications. Often when I was talking with Lotus product marketing people, telling them about the type of database application I was working on, their first question would be “why aren’t you using Lotus Notes for that”. The reason was of course that Lotus notes was absolutely not the right development platform for the type of database application I was working on. They didn’t seem to grasp this though, and over the years I saw a lot of corporate applications which should obviously have been developed using a proper database platform get developed in Notes.
During the time I’ve been working with SharePoint, I haven’t come across an example of a Microsoft person trying to convince me that an obvious database application should really be developed using SharePoint. That doesn’t of course stop end users making the wrong decision, and again it highlights the importance of planning, control and high quality training.
As an aside, it’s worth recalling that the original creator and lead developer of Lotus Notes was none other than Ray Ozzie, now Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft. And I also noticed last week that Microsoft is seeking to gain 5m Notes customers in FY 2009.
Keeping Control of Your SharePoint Deployment
Whether it’s a Windows SharePoint Services or Office SharePoint Server installation, make sure you have a strong, fully supported plan in place before starting your installation is vital if you want to make sure you don’t lose control. Here are some recommendations:
There’s a good SharePoint Governance section on TechNet, including a Governance Checklist, and downloadable governance plan. You may not need such a comprehensive governance plan for your own organisation, but this is a useful template to get you started.
Read the new book Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Best Practices from Bill English, Ben Curry et al which has lots of real-world information to keep you on the right track.
Take a look at Paul Culmsee’s set of articles on Why SharePoint Projects Fail and Thinking SharePoint. Very useful stuff and also very amusing.
Think about how your site collection(s) will grow and how you will control it. This End User SharePoint post on Managing SharePoint is a good start. If you want to control the type of sites your users can create, consider Site Creation Plus from Bamboo, or the Site Provisioning Assistant from SharePoint Solutions.
And of course, make sure you have a good training plan. There’s no substitute for a well-trained set of administrators and end-users.