The Sharepoint Effect Revisited

  • September 1, 2009
  • Scott

Like the hydra, Sharepoint is a beast with many heads.  You chop one off and three more grow in its place!  A recent posting by Jim Sinur posits that Sharepoint starts many processes.  As Jim indicates, the use of Sharepoint is pretty pervasive.  Interestingly, in a previous post, Jim Sinur referred to Sharepoint as a virus (for good or ill).  In this article, Jim asks two key questions:

  1. Will the SharePoint Processes be Upward Compatible?
  2. Will the SharePoint Content be Managed Well?

I think the answer to both is essentially no.  Oh there may be upgrade paths defined, but the ability of the average firm to execute those adequately is probably not high. This isn’t upgrading from Word 97 to Word 2003. All those customizations you’ve made will probably need to be redone/rewritten.

Sharepoint is a bit of the wild west of process.  Slightly better than the random collection of spreadsheets that often are just as pervasive within organizations as the best way they have available to manage their processes.  The proliferation of Sharepoint is, to my mind, a reaction by business users to not having the right tools and training available to deliver real business process solutions to their business.  Often they aren’t allocated IT budget for the applications they need, and so they cobble together solutions in Excel, Access, and Sharepoint.

A few things I’ve noticed about sharepoint “processes” though:

  1. Usually very few people understand what the process is supposed to be.  You kind of have to know what it is to leverage it.
  2. There are lots of deadwood Sharepoint sites/sections/processes. More than live ones… Making it harder to find the stuff that is “active” – nothing worse than thinking you’ve submitted your vacation form only to find out that the vacation request process has moved!
  3. There is a tension between control and chaos that is particularly problematic on Sharepoint.  To get wiki-like collaboration benefits, you need to open up the gates for users to do their own designs/layouts/etc.  But when you do that, you lose the control and policing necessary to make sure that everything in Sharepoint is “managed” in an enterprise sense.

For a more amusing take on Sharepoint and BPM, see a previous post on this blog, noting the 6 major barriers to BPM adoption.  Quoting directly:

The Sharepoint Effect. This is almost the opposite of the Bus Brake Effect.  Where the bus brake effect concerns too many vetos and not enough yes-votes, the Sharepoint Effect represents the unbridled proliferation of ungoverned, adhoc processes using unmanageable technology.  Sharepoint becomes a substitute for process, or a substitute for the Excel-based or Access-based processes of the past.  However, there’s no way to find the appropriate Sharepoint site for the appropriate process or process task. […]

It isn’t that enterprises shouldn’t use Sharepoint, but the business and IT should be careful not to let the tail wag the dog with the proliferation of such sites… otherwise you run the risk of Excel/Access purgatory part 2.

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  • Jesse

    For Large Enterprises –
    Does everything need to be an Enterprise business process? IM groups can't keep up to begin with.

    Sharepoint business processes can be implemented in little time and quickly solve a specific problem. For example, a PM has a large project and wants to automate project related processes.

    For Mid/Small Markets-
    Mid-market and small companies can use the SharePoint framework to develop People Driven processes that span the enterprise. Way cheaper than developing custom.

  • sfrancis

    Not everything needs to be “enterprise” by any means. But there are several really good BPM products targeted at being driven outside of IT – precisely because often IT groups can't keep up.

    But sharepoint isn't about automating processes in the sense that most of us think of it. The process isn't captured by sharepoint, but if you “follow the process” then sharepoint can be a good repository of information for the process. Sharepoint processes rely way to much on word-of-mouth to explain what you're supposed to do in the process.

    And while Sharepoint may be cheaper than “custom” – that doesn't mean that it is necessarily cheaper than ActionBase or Lombardi or some of the opensource solutions or SaaS solutions out there.

    In the spectrum from pure control to pure chaos, Sharepoint is one notch to the left of pure chaos. An ERP tool is one notch to the right of pure control. Most BPM tools are somewhere in the middle – and I think that's where most organizations should be targeting their process efforts -agile, flexible, but without a total loss of control or governance when needed.


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