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Collaboration in the post SharePoint era

Alex Bookless discusses an approach to choosing the right collaboration tool which adds business value rather than deliver technology for technology’s sake

Rewind to 2007, a few things were happening – I started work at Waterstons as a graduate developer, Manchester United won the premier league, Microsoft released the latest version of their collaboration product, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, Apple released the first incarnation of the iPhone and people were beginning to start talking an awful lot about this thing called the 'cloud'.

Some things have stayed the same but a lot has changed in 7 years!

If I look back at MOSS 2007, as it was known back then, it was an exciting time for anyone involved in SharePoint delivery. It seemed like every company we spoke to had or wanted to deploy SharePoint. Our development team were busy styling, writing custom webparts and deploying custom workflows for clients to make SharePoint fit their needs.

SharePoint was, even back then, a massively powerful tool capable of filling a lot of gaps in a company’s IT systems. Whether it was acting as a corporate intranet, an extranet or even a website, a project management tool, being used for business process automation or just a place to share documents, SharePoint seemed capable of doing anything.

However…

The massive hype around SharePoint back in 2007 has also proven to be its biggest enemy. Too often SharePoint was chosen – it seemed like a no brainer at the time – because it was pitched as being able to make all our collaboration problems go away. It was bought without the necessary considerations for what business problem it was actually solving, installed by IT, migrated to by the business and then left alone. There was no consideration for the change which the business would have to go through or how it would be kept up to date following the initial implementation.

The truth is SharePoint is a fantastic, flexible, powerful product but it is not a silver bullet to your collaboration troubles. I wonder how many people reading this have heard someone say (or said themselves) that SharePoint “is rubbish”.

If you fast forward to 2014, the world in which we collaborate is a very different place. Our business user’s expectations are higher – the iPhone and its sibling the iPad have allowed people to effectively work whilst on the move. Unified communications tools such as Microsoft Lync allow people to communicate with their colleagues wherever they are. Consumer aimed cloud based services such as Dropbox and OneDrive have shown how simple file sharing can be – even on all sorts of devices. Social media is now making its way into enterprises as another option for enabling collaboration.

Even choosing SharePoint has gotten complex – on-premise or in the cloud, perhaps you’d like a hybrid? Would you like Yammer with that? Have you considered Google apps?

We can’t afford to blindly install SharePoint or enable Office 365 and expect our collaboration problems to be solved. Putting in place a collaboration strategy is key for any business to understand the business challenges it is trying to solve and identifying the correct tools to solve them.

Waterstons’ approach for defining and delivering a collaboration strategy has 4 key stages:

Start with the business – Alignment

Understand the business – its business strategy and the IT strategy. Any benefits which are identified must be related back to the strategic objectives of the company. Consider also the existing business processes and supporting systems. Any collaboration tools should supplement – not bypass – these systems. Integration with line of business systems can often lead to huge benefits for users.

It’s also key that the challenges the business users are having are understood up front. Tools such as the customer journey can help identify the pain points that business users face on a regular basis but also just meeting with and talking to the wider business is vital. This is the first step of your change management exercise as well as being useful for understanding their collaboration problems.

Use all this information to define measurable targets which your collaboration strategy aims to deliver and when we say targets, we don’t mean usage stats. We mean measurable business improvements – forget numbers of unique users hitting the intranet every month and think in terms of percentage reduction in queries to HR or decreased time to answer customer queries.

Planning

Choose your tools – once you’ve understood the problems you are trying to solve, you can begin to look at the tools you need to tackle them. This can be a fully-fledged system selection or more basic – a lot of companies already have collaboration tools – can they be better leveraged to meet your targets? Once you’ve picked your tools you can begin to architect your solution in more detail. Use the targets defined in step 1 to develop a more detailed business case for the solutions.

Once you’ve identified your solution, you should also be thinking about two key aspects – things which are more vital than the functional specification or the infrastructure design but are rarely considered:

Change management – any collaboration tool, if it is to be truly successful, will need to change the way the business works. This change can often be disruptive and scary to business staff. It’s vital that appropriate change management activities are considered and given the same priority as any technical delivery and the activities should be considered as a major cost in the business case. It should include aspects such as an engagement plan – identifying key business staff who are going to be the champions for your solution, a communication plan and providing suitable training resources for existing staff but also for induction of any new staff. Delivering a couple of training sessions following go live probably isn’t going to cut it for most scenarios!

Governance – Ok so this is where most people switch off. It’s not the most exciting word is it? Unfortunately without proper governance you’ll end up in trouble. It’s the equivalent of spending £100,000 on a supercar and then never getting it serviced – you might get away with it for a little while but sooner or later, the car is going to break down.

When I talk about governance, I mean a couple of things really. One is your information governance – what types of information will be affected by your solution? Where will they be stored? What legal requirements have an impact on your information? How long should it be kept for?

The other aspect is your solution governance – who owns it? (Hint – it’s not IT.) How is it reviewed and updated? How is it maintained on an on-going basis? It’s really important that you consider how the solution is kept up to date as your business changes.

Delivery

So this is the fun bit, right?

Install the tools, configure them and roll them out. This might be a SharePoint install and configuration project or rolling out Office 365 or could be as simple as signing up for a cloud based service and inviting the users. If you are leveraging existing solutions then doing the necessary remedial actions such as cleaning up content and bringing the branding of the solution up to date might be necessary – especially if the solution is not well regarded by the business.

Alongside the technical delivery should be the change management activities identified as part of your planning phase.

Review

The review should initially consider two key points; are we meeting the targets we set out to? Are the targets we set still valid?

Any collaboration strategy is seen as an iterative process. Your business changes and new technology becomes available. Are the tools we chose still doing the job we need them to do? Can we do any better? What benefits are we actually realising? Continuous improvement is key. The method by which we do this should be defined as part of your governance work. It might be as basic as having a regular meeting of business stakeholders to discuss and review aspects, or maybe something more involved – it really depends on the organisation.

The post-SharePoint era

Phew. Simple and obvious right?

I bet this isn’t the first article you’ve read telling you to relate technology back to business problems. It’s harder in practice, especially when budgets are tight and deadlines are looming. There isn’t always an easy answer sadly, but focus on whatever you introduce adding measurable business value and it will be a success.

My somewhat contentious title was intended to grab your attention – hopefully I’ve held it so far but really it’s not a post-SharePoint era at all. SharePoint was, and is, a fantastic platform which you might still choose to build your collaboration strategy around, but it’s just another option amongst many. Really what the focus should be on is not the technology we use, but the problems we are trying to solve. Once we focus properly on that, whichever technology we choose becomes much less important and much easier to rollout.

Is the cloud secure enough?

13 February 2019 , London Office

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