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SharePoint: Do we have a problem?

SharePoint “The Business Collaboration Platform for the Enterprise and the Web”, according to Microsoft - has enjoyed many years of steady growth. Its low cost, ease of use and almost endless applications make it an attractive proposition to IT departments, CEOs and project teams alike. Wikipedia lists some of SharePoint’s applications as “managing and provisioning of intranet portals, extranets and websites, document management and file management, collaboration spaces, social networking tools, enterprise search, business intelligence tooling, process/information integration, and third-party developed solutions. SharePoint can also be used as a web application development platform.” With the ability to pick and choose the functionality to suit your needs it’s not surprising that so many organisations are choosing the SharePoint platform.

NCC Guidelines
Volume 1 - Number 4

SharePoint seems to tick all the boxes, so why are so many people experiencing so many problems? The National Computing Centre (NCC) carried out a survey amongst its membership to find out...
SharePoint Online (48%) and SharePoint Server 2010 (42%) are the most commonly used versions currently in use. Users of earlier versions reported that they are in the process of moving to more recent versions or plan to soon. Some respondents are experiencing problems updating highly customised earlier versions - a problem that they hadn’t foreseen.

38% of respondents stated that ‘improving performance/efficiency’ was the main driver for implementing SharePoint (see Figure 1) and it seems that most think the best way to do this is through the intranet as 75% of respondents state ‘intranet’ as their main use of SharePoint.

‘Employee collaboration’ is also an important driver as 29% stated this as the main business driver. This ties in with the most popular main uses of SharePoint as respondents stated ‘intranet’, ‘document management’ and ‘collaboration’ as main uses of SharePoint within the organisation. (Respondents were asked to select all those that applied – see Figure 2.) ‘Knowledge sharing’ and ‘workflow’ are also popular responses suggesting that respondents feel that the effective sharing of information is the best way of improving efficiencies.

Not surprisingly (as NCC members tend to come from larger organisations) over half of respondents (54%) say there will be more than 1000 users when fully deployed. 37% currently have between 21 and 300 users, which suggests that respondents are following the much preached advice of starting small and expanding throughout the rest of the organisation when the introductory group can act as champions of the new software.

End user buy-in

Getting end users on board can be difficult no matter what changes you’re trying to implement, but it’s made all the more difficult if users can’t see the reason behind the change. 47% of those responding to our survey stated that it was the IT director/manager who initiated the need for SharePoint and only 21% said it was down to the board, CEO or CIO. This may have some bearing on why SharePoint projects encounter problems. There has to be a clear business requirement. If there is no business need and no enthusiasm from the board, CEO or other areas of the business, then it becomes just ‘another IT project’ – and we all know what happens to them! Respondents report “Users like it initially... Unfortunately the enthusiasm doesn’t tend to last – we have dozens of unused team and project sites. Software can make collaboration easier, but it won’t make it happen”, “Even with a single solution going forward, engaging colleagues to make use of the new technology has proved to be problematic” and “(we) soon realised that the biggest challenges were for the business, not the IT”.

The need for comprehensive user training (make sure this is budgeted for) is highlighted; this need for training was echoed by many, one person wrote of Teamsite proliferation, many of which had fallen into disuse. The lesson to be learned here is the need to have very clear governance around not just how to use the product, but a clear understanding of who is able to carry out which activities.
Justin Waters, Serco, international service company

If you’ve read any advice on implementing successful IT projects you’ll already know of the importance of getting board-level backing from the start, having a real business problem to solve and involving and seeking feedback from end users. No IT project should be seen as being purely about technology. It should be promoted as a technology solution to an enterprise-wide problem. It has to be based on a real business need which the whole organisation is aware of.

In nearly half (47%) of organisations the SharePoint initiative was initiated by the IT director or IT manager. This may have this resulted in an IT, rather than a business led implementation – something that is known to be problematic. Indeed we see that a quarter (24%) of respondents said that it delivered less than expected. Successful SharePoint implementations are business led, aligned to organisational objectives, and meet a well-defined need. The comments emphasise just how essential it is to align use of the product to business objectives. Typical comments are
  • Be prepared to work and engage with the business to ensure they understand what it is and have bought into the investment needed to get the most out of it
  • Be clear in what you want to use it for
  • Have a good business case
  • Have a business use in mind and concentrate on that use
Ian Woodgate, PointBeyond, Microsoft SharePoint consultancy


The problem with end user buy-in.

It may seem surprising that only 20 percent of businesses report that getting users’ buy-in is an “easy” task. Step into the shoes of the end user for a moment however, and you’ll understand why adoption is such a thorny issue.

Today’s office workers have to deal with a dizzying array of stand-alone collaboration, communication and social tools. Most people have to toggle between multiple windows and skip between disparate contexts in order to complete everyday tasks. On average, workers have at least six windows open on their computers at any given time, robbing them of their ability to focus. Worse even, every time they need to switch applications, time is lost.

In the NCC survey, the majority of businesses stated their number one reason for deploying SharePoint is to improve employee performance and efficiency. Yet ironically, SharePoint exacerbates the context-switching problem by adding an extra six-to-nine steps to users’ workflow every time they search, access, or share documents and document links. Because users have to modify their work routines and leave their familiar comfort zones to access their sites, most users simply ignore SharePoint. As one respondent to the NCC Survey remarked, “We have dozens of unused team sites and project sites. Software can make collaboration easier, but it won’t make it happen.”

A successful strategy for overcoming the SharePoint adoption gap is to minimise distracting context switches by aggregating SharePoint collaboration and social channels into people’s familiar work window, such as the corporate email client or CRM. Such an approach helps bring SharePoint collaboration and social networking to every business user and increases worker efficiency without requiring users to change their work habits.

David Lavenda, Vice President, Product Strategy at, enterprise collaboration providers

25% of respondents said that ‘user-acceptance’ was problematic. Although a higher number reported ‘technical perspective’ as problematic (31%), gaining user acceptance is probably a more critical problem. It doesn’t matter how fantastic your corporate information strategy is, or how technically ‘easy’ your implementation was, if it isn’t being used you may as well bin it.

NCC Guidelines - Volume 1 - Number 4: SharePoint: Do We Have a Problem? (pdf)



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