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Microsoft SharePoint best practices begin with governance, experts say

IT managers who have been there say Microsoft SharePoint collaboration can go haywire without a firm foundation for governance, architecture and development.

Companies that want to implement Microsoft SharePoint collaboration should first have detailed governance and development plans in place, according to several analysts, manufacturers and integrators who have implemented the Web content management and collaboration software. They offered their Microsoft SharePoint best practices and tips.

Such expertise can’t come fast enough for manufacturing IT departments, many of which face a desperate game of catch-up as demand for SharePoint rises, according to Tim Hickernell, lead analyst at Info-Tech Research Group Inc., based in London, Ontario.

Hickernell said most IT departments haven’t learned to develop useful solutions on SharePoint, creating a window for outside integrators, many of which already have the expertise. So IT managers will need well-considered development plans that include business analysts in the design process – or risk being frozen out of the decision. “It’s going to be business units coming in and demanding solutions,” he said.

A SharePoint governance policy is another must-have. “Once you start rolling this stuff out, you can’t just turn the keys and let everybody have it,” Hickernell said.

Because SharePoint is relatively easy to install departmentally, companies face a Wild West situation that calls for a solid governance strategy, according to Info-Tech, which provides its clients with SharePoint deployment tools and advice. It strongly warns companies to view SharePoint not as a file system, but as a content database, which makes features and management “exponentially more complex” and difficult to alter once the software is set up. Without governance, SharePoint systems become harder to manage over time, which makes a positive return on investment virtually impossible to achieve, according to Info-Tech.

Microsoft SharePoint governance plans require first co-developing the governance plan with business managers, then creating an information architecture model, setting up permissions according to individual user profiles, and having a policy for retiring content.The company also recommends developing strategies for architecture, security, maintenance, storage planning, development, and usage policies, ideally before deploying.

Laying the SharePoint technical foundation
Similar advice came from Rajesh Gupta, associate vice president and sales head for the Microsoft practice at Infosys Technologies Ltd., the global IT consulting firm headquartered in Bangalore, India. Infosys recently integrated its SAP customer relationship management (CRM) system with SharePoint 2010 (see sidebar).

Gupta advised manufacturers to first lay down a good technical foundation, then add governance and deployment strategies.

Deciding which enterprise databases should integrate with SharePoint is the key technical crossroad, though database compatibility has improved since the SharePoint 2007 release, he said. “Once you have built the foundation, it becomes difficult to add onto [it].”

Gupta agreed that governance is critical because SharePoint’s easy setup can allow nonstandard implementations to get out of control. “A similar problem happened in our project groups,” he said. It’s important to have a policy that defines who has permission to load content and applications into SharePoint, and how much say stakeholders will have in its operation, Gupta said.

With the release of the 2010 version last year, SharePoint gained social media and business intelligence features that make it a more effective platform for global collaboration and knowledge management, according to Catherine White, a research analyst at IDC Manufacturing Insights, which is based in Framingham, Mass. At a previous employer, White helped deploy a SharePoint system that could display data from the cloud-based CRM application,

She co-wrote a recent IDC report that offered the following guidance on using collaboration tools like SharePoint to manage global teams:

  • Don’t forget technology basics, such as network bandwidth and overseas technical resources, or the unique challenges of coordinating activity among multiple time zones, languages and cultures.
  • Consider what operating around the clock means for the IT department. For example, will employees in one region have their access limited during batch updates when financial books are closed or new analytics are run?
  • Review the security implications of having an IT-based collaboration platform, including identity management and single sign-on.
  • Provide training and incentives to spur adoption while bearing in mind that not all employees will use the system the same way. A chemical manufacturer, for example, allowed a less technically savvy worker to capture the company’s know-how by walking around the plant with a camcorder, while another employee loaded the resulting video into SharePoint.
  • Don’t assume informal office interaction requires the same technology and documentation that is needed to provide a paper trail for important decisions.

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