Deploying SharePoint Successfully - 15-25% chance for Success - 01/12/2010

Requirements for Success
Purpose of Content Management System - Is it right for you?
Content Editors and access to the site content
Empowering / Training Content Editors
Information Architecture and Site Usability
SharePoint Features and Deployment
Web Parts and additional Features
Limitations and issues

Requirements for Success
The last Greystone.net healthcare internet conference I went to in 2008 the attendees there were asked how many used SharePoint and 90-95% of the users rose their hands. They were then asked how many of them had successful implementations and only a few hands remained. This showed that most organizations were using SharePoint but very few had mastered it. Most companies invest in the hardware and software to deliver solutions to their people but seldom invest in the leadership to make sure that their investment is successful. Complex systems such as Content Management Systems cannot be deployed successfully by the traditional IT staff nor can it be deployed by any marketing Communications team. Systems of this complexity must be deployed by a cross functional team and have the full support of senior leadership to succeed. Success criteria lies about 50% in the hands of the organization and senior leadership and 50% in the hands of the IT team delivering the services.

Purpose of Content Management System - Is it right for you?
First of all let's examine the fundamental nature of SharePoint. The purpose of SharePoint or any CMS is to empower the organization. This means the intent is to allow multiple content editors/owners throughout the organization to be active in creating and maintaining the content that they are an expert on. If an organization is heavy handed and only wants a few people to have control over the online content then a CMS system like SharePoint is of little value to that organization. If your goal is not to empower content editors throughout your organization then using a CMS is just adding a layer of complexity to your website that is unnecessary. I have personally seen quite a few SharePoint deployments where only a few people had access to update the site and my first question is "Why?" In cases like this, just deploy a Java, PHP, ASP, Cold Fusion or .Net site and keep your life simple. The whole purpose for a Content Management System is to allow organizations to manage their content effectively across the organization. If only IT or MarComm. has access to the site content then a CMS makes little sense. The point of an effective CMS system is to give the content owners throughout the organization access to their content. It is proven that the more people have accessibility to their content the more likely they are to maintain it. This is especially true if their name is on it. The goal here is to empower the organization and to remove IT and Marketing/Communications from being the bottleneck in getting updates to the site. Now that we have established that the organization has to need and embrace the concept of empowering individuals throughout to create/maintain their content we have almost half of the battle won to insure a successful SharePoint deployment. Most organizations with failing CMS systems have deployed them when their business requirements did not really need them. Systems need to be deployed because the organizational needs drive them not because the IT team wants a new toy to play with and learn about.

Content Editors and access to the site content
Most companies have point people throughout the organization who have access to the content for just their organization. This concept gives direct accountability to the content and also keeps the people with access to change the content limited to create a quality assurance that the content will be handled properly. Senior leaders are more willing to allow departmental control of content if they know it funnels through 1-2 people within that department. Control of content is maintained however the bottleneck of 1-3 individuals having access to the entire site is alleviated as well. This type of solution is a "Best Practice" and what most successful companies end up with and it works quite well. In general the administrative assistants for each functional area end up with the responsibility for the content on the intranet for that area. On external websites, content is generally developed in a coordinated effort between a departmental expert and a marketing / communications expert. Knowing what types of individuals maintain the online content is important as it defines what steps must be taken to help these individuals be successful. SharePoint can support approval process flows for content so an entire organization can change content while only a limited number of approvers can actually move it online to production. This concept sounds better in theory than it is in reality. In reality the approver gets inundated with Email requests to approve changes and it ends up consuming them. Content approval ends up in these cases being a full time job. Most organizations cannot afford this and end up with having point people throughout the organization responsible for updates as initially discussed. The key element to keeping online content up to date is to assign visible accountability to that content. Putting content owners name and updated date on every page lets users know who to go to to fix an error as well as the date tells users how current the information is. This is a key element to success, especially on intranets and extranets. This cannot easily be done on customer facing websites, generally on external sites Communications and Marketing have final say on page content anyway as it is outward facing.

Empowering / Training Content Editors
Making sure the individuals who are expected to create and maintain their online data are successful is very important. In many cases these individuals have other primary job functions which mean they may not update SharePoint on a regular basis. This creates a huge training challenge. The best solution I have seen is to create an excellent online tutorial section and an interactive tutorial using Adobe Captivate really helps. http://www.gregguth.com/Portfolio/Support.shtml These tutorials can be customized so the graphics are actually from your site as this makes the user experience best. Some people argue that in person training is important but considering most content editors may only make updates every few months you can't realistically retrain them that often. Online tutorials are excellent if done well and they can literally walk users through the steps they need. This also works excellent for large national or international organizations with many remote offices. The tutorials I have created have been used by individuals throughout the world. Once the tutorials are refined users can get their answers and seldom if ever have to call back for in person support. It is important to have this support ready upon the launch of a new site as the content owners need to know how to do their job right away. It is also very important to develop an online Writing Style Guide to be followed by all content editors so the site will have consistency and will all have "One Voice". http://www.gregguth.com/Portfolio/WritingGuide.shtml The Writing Style Guide should also be accompanied by a general Web Style Guide that will cover issues such as incorporating graphics on web pages. http://www.gregguth.com/Portfolio/StyleGuide.shtml This will insure a consistent voice and look throughout the website. It also can be used to remind content editors in an easy way when content is developed that does not follow the style guide. With no style guide in place, content editors tend to get really creative and the site develops an inconsistent look and presentation that is unprofessional. The good thing about SharePoint page layouts is they can be very restrictive to seriously limit what content editors can do to a page beyond simply adding text. A balance between being too restrictive and too open must be found so the corporate businesss requirements can be achieved in an efficient manner.

Information Architecture and Site Usability
There is no substitute for good site design and good information architecture. This can only really be done by someone with experience and know-how. This step should never be undervalued and not getting this right will almost certainly doom any site whether it be external or internal. This point is relevant on any site whether a CMS system is under the hood or not. Common sense usability features should be followed at all times to make site navigation intuitive to your users not a chore. Until recently most companies put little to no thought in designing an effective information architecture. Now this has become a career unto itself. Let an expert lay out the basics of your site to make sure it makes sense. Follow "Best Practices" and if budget allows get an information architect and a usability expert to consult on the design of your site it can make the difference of a success or failure on any implementation. Another thing to keep in mind, is to never let your IT staff tell you usability features cannot be done with SharePoint. Any good IT person can embed most any feature into your SharePoint master page. SharePoint out of the box comes with many usability features built right in such as bread crumbing, dynamic navigation and most CSS options. The last deployment of SharePoint I was involved with the IT team added JQuery to our SharePoint master page. This allowed us to use all of the cool web 2.0 features of JQuery on any of our SharePoint pages. The previous IT team I worked with told me this absolutely could not be done with SharePoint. The About Us page on this site uses this feature for the “Fun Facts” link on the right hand side. http://iom.invensys.com/EN/Pages/IOM_AboutUs.aspx With JQuery embedded into SharePoint we don't need Flash to do many effects as JQuery replaces the need for Flash for most things and is much more standards compliant. There is much available research available to show "Best in Class" websites and what features make these sites award winning. Look at the best before creating your own. SharePoint Studio gives excellent access to most of SharePoint to create the exact custom website your usability guru has envisioned.

SharePoint Features and Deployment
Assuming you have developed the framework for a good site here are some important tips you should follow for success. SharePoint comes with many example "Page Layouts" to show what can be done. Before deployment any page layouts that are not intended for use on the production site should be removed. Extra layouts will confuse content editors when they create pages. On the page layouts that are to be used make sure the correlating graphic on that layout is accurate so when users see their options when creating a page the images show them exactly what they will get. Make sure the name makes sense and tells the editor what the layout is for. SharePoint also comes with many excellent built in features but unless they are used and there is an online user guide as to how to use them they will never get utilized. For example, SharePoint 2007 comes standard with an excellent tool for creating online surveys. If content editors are not told about this built in feature it is most likely they will never create a survey. http://www.gregguth.com/Portfolio/CreateSurvey.shtml SharePoint also comes standard with many nice web 2.0 features to allow users to customize the site. This is extremely useful in Intranets and creates a true portal effect for SharePoint users. SharePoint also delivers many web 2.0 features out of the box such as Wiki's and Blog's. Deploying these features really demands the organization develop policies around the use of online resources to make sure these kind of open features maintain a sense of professionalism. This is why guidelines for usage and expectations are important. Because of this, many organizations have yet to deploy such features throughout their organizations. Deploying these features are most successful when there is a clear intent for their use. Sun Microsystems has deployed a Wiki for employees to define acronyms that are commonly used throughout their organization. Blogs have been successfully deployed when they are used to discuss a specific issue. This keeps the topic on a professional and focused level. Technology is really not the barrier anymore it is getting the organization ready to embrace the technology in an effective manner that is really the issue.

Web Parts and additional Features
Beyond the many features that come out of the box from SharePoint there are many free and inexpensive "Web Parts" available to add extra value to your SharePoint deployment. For companies looking to create an effective portal with SharePoint they will want to turn on the user customizable options for SharePoint. This will allow users to create their own pages or parts of pages based upon web parts offered to them. Users can put their favorite sports scores, news RSS feeds, stock tickers or even Daily Dilbert comics on pages if the web parts are added. Google "SharePoint Web Part" and you will see the magnitude of what is available off the shelf for your users. There are web parts that will connect to SAP or other HRIS applications. Web Parts is the feature of SharePoint that opens it up like an Open Source solution. Web parts empower programmers across the globe to develop all sorts of web part solutions. The explosion of available web parts is key to SharePoints success and one of the main factors SharePoint has blown away the competition. Web Parts give SharePoint the same kind of Power and success that Apple has seen with 3rd party applications for the iPhone. SharePoint can truly become the web portal your organization needs to bring your many disparate systems together with. If you can't find an already built web part to suit your custom needs then the next step is to look into creating custom applications or web parts to do exactly what you need. In this case you will need a good .Net programmer who is also familiar with creating SharePoint web parts or custom SharePoint applications.

Limitations and issues
While SharePoint can out of the box deliver site navigation, web 2.0 features and much more out of the box, it also has it's limitations and issues. Here are some of the major ones to know about. SharePoint puts everything into a SQL Server database. This is good and it's bad. It's good as everything is backed up as Source Safe is built in and you can go back to any old version of any page at any time. Nothing is lost. The bad part of this is as you can see the database gets huge very fast. It doesn't take long for this to impact SharePoint performance. There are 3rd part applications that address this issue. It is best to separate the SQL server into its own dedicated web server. Many large organizations separate all major SharePoint operations onto their own stand alone servers. Configuring systems like this are very complicated and difficult to set up. Another problem is everything is in a database. On one level one would think this is great! Normal queries should allow me to modify the data globally and easily. Unfortunately this is not true. From my experience it is impossible to globally do a search and replace of a word or phrase and affect all pages within a SharePoint site. This is a disaster and means users have to manually go through every page on the site and fix the issue or desired change. As sites get larger the database gets huge and things slow down so having to go through a large site to make a simple text change can become a monumental task when it should not be. This issue also causes trouble when trying to migrate quantities of data from existing sites into SharePoint. We asked our company to send us Acronyms to be added to our acronym library and we received 8-9MB of information in various formats. We could not come up with any way to get this data into SharePoint automatically beyond building a custom application for this one time use. So with all of the data being in a database users cannot fully realize the power of this as the database is not truly accessible. If Microsoft fixes this limitation, SharePoint will quickly become an unmatched Content Management System.

Author - Greg Guth
Greg has 10-12 years of intranet/portal experience
He has designed, deployed and maintained SharePoint intranets, extranets and external internet websites.