Sharepoint and Magic

In Singapore we’re surrounded by people who are struggling with dense jungles of Lotus Notes databases and Team Rooms which, because they were so easy to use, sucked up vast amounts of wonderful collaboration… but because they had very little governance or structure, grew like Topsy in all directions and eventually became too confusing to use. So they’re all migrating to a “simpler” document sharing solution in the form of Microsoft Sharepoint which, because it’s so easy to use, will… well you get the picture.

Sharepoint, by all accounts (I mean user accounts, not salespitch accounts) is a good collaboration platform, but it’s not naturally good at large scale enterprise document management. It doesn’t handle metadata, taxonomy management or search well for that kind of function – at least out of the box. If you work it pretty hard and add non-native functionalities, you can make it serve your knowledge organisation purposes. But you need to know what you want it to do beyond “get me out of my Lotus Notes jungle problem”.

The actKM forum has been discussing the idea of Sharepoint as a perceived “magic bullet” for some weeks now. In the midst of a generally good discussion came one of those occasional lucid, brilliant, succint, experience-based summaries you sometimes get on listserves and for which they are worth their weight in email. Mike Gardner of EDS wrote:

“From someone who has been very closely involved with SharePoint / MOSS over the last few years in terms of implementing it as an information repository for our company I can certainly talk about the tool and the related business requirements. SharePoint is like any other tool, implement it without thinking about what you are doing and you can end up in a bigger mess than you started with.

Many companies have looked at SharePoint as a useful collaboration tool and allowed their folk to use it that way. This can be appropriate, but you need to think of the potential consequences. This can easily result in everyone starting to create their own siloed repositories and want started out as a way to get folk to collaborate has resulted in thousands of little repositories with mountains of duplicated content, making finding what you need even more difficult than before. If you just want folk to have a collaboration area then SharePoint can be appropriate but you need to think what happens to the content in these collaboration areas. How does it get promoted in to the corporate information repositories (in whatever tool these are)? Do you simply allow collaboration sites to exist for a period of time and then delete them (and all their content)? – could be appropriate but are you losing the value of the content?

SharePoint can be used as an information management repository for the corporation and then this can be supported by using it as a collaboration environment as well (which is what we have done). However, this needs to be properly structured so that the “best” content can more easily be identified and found by search tools (be they out of the box SharePoint search or other search tools). It also needs some careful consideration of metadata management (column management, something SharePoint is currently very weak in).

By building (or buying) additional tools you can maintain consistent metadata across thousands of sites enabling very effective metadata search capabilities across millions of documents. You then have an information management repository solution that can be fairly simple for the users to use.

However, the tool needs to be supported by the right business processes to encourage folk to store and share their content (as well as to look to reuse content where it is already available). This may also mean looking at reward cultures and thinking about these (do you reward subject matter experts? if so, are you encouraging them to hoard their knowledge and not share it?) If people are not sharing, think about why not? Look for ways to encourage them. These may even be short term to get them in to the habit of sharing. Make sure the senior managers are exhibiting the right behaviours. All of the obvious KM type factors.

SharePoint can be a very effective tool, but it does need to be thought through.”

Nuff said. Thanks Mike for permission to quote here.

2 Comments so far


Aah! Sharepoint...corporate repositories...taxonomy...and team spaces! What are the examples of other tools that provide better taxonomy elements and why? I would be thrilled to know because I have seen only a few document management systems and probably don’t understand the gravity of the situation as referred to in the post. Are we talking about tools that have inbuilt taxonomy/taxonomy dashboards etc? Please throw some light! TIA!

Posted on September 30, 2008 at 06:37 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

There seems to be a pscyhological and design divide between applications that are built for collaboration but don’t do large scale content organisation very well, or applications that are built for large scale content and document management but don’t do collaboration that well.

The point of this post was not so much what the tools can do, but being clear about what you expect to get out of your tools, and to know what you are buying into… and more specifically, I guess that even a collaborative tools needs careful thinking through on the knowledge organisation aspects, and where necessary supplementation or customisation to meet those needs… and conversely document management tools need to become more collaboration friendly.

There are LOTS of tools out there in both camps, one of them that leaps immediately to mind as being fairly friendly on both sides of the fence is Ektron.

Posted on October 01, 2008 at 11:57 AM | Comment permalink

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