Don’t Make the Shared Drive Mistake Twice

A couple weeks ago I sat in a meeting with a client and a team from Microsoft to discuss an enterprise deployment of Office 365. The client plans on using SharePoint in the cloud as the organization’s default system for non-records. At one point, my colleague asked Microsoft how they would advise that SharePoint be rolled out.

"We advise folks roll it out enterprise-wide immediately and allow end-users to self-provision."

I think my colleague nearly had an aneurism. Doculabs spends an enormous amount of time helping companies build plans to dig themselves out of the swamp of SharePoint sprawl, and here was Microsoft advising our client to run full speed into the swamp! Fortunately, we have a plan in place to roll SP365 out in a systematic way that will support business processes instead of just distributing a bunch of "buckets" for documents. But across the industry, companies just like yours are discovering that they have lost control of their SharePoint environments.

I spoke with two global manufacturing companies last week who have 100K+ SharePoint sites globally, and now they want to begin doing governance and RM on these environments. We have an oil and gas client who is attempting to turn SharePoint into a system that can be the UI for all enterprise documents, regardless of their records status, and then manage the records on the back end with extended ECM capabilities. They have tens of thousands of sites, with an estimated 30 percent of them orphaned sites.

Isn't this similar to what happened with our network drives? Didn't we roll them out en masse to users, with no way to govern how they are used or what happens to the content they contain? (Not that there are many controls available anyway.) Now, we have IT trying to provide that shared drive functionality in SharePoint, hoping for better governance, but in most cases we are seeing SharePoint becoming basically another network drive – a much more expensive network drive! Didn't we learn anything?

How do we stop ourselves from repeating history?

  • Don't swap buckets; transform the business. Organizations need to realize that rolling out a SharePoint site is an opportunity to transform the way they do business. But it will be missed if we just treat the rollout like a bucket swap. We treat a system like a bucket when we roll out SharePoint sites or ECM applications that are “vanilla” locations to store a document with little or no understanding of the business process they will be supporting. If we are treating the design phase of an application rollout like we are designing a more secure shared-drive, we are going to end up with a shared-drive like application. But if we sit down with the business to understand the actual process that they go through with documents, we can then develop sites that support these processes. There are huge gains to be made here with respect to usability, adoption, and governance. But it starts at the design and rollout.
  • Develop a global metadata standard. It is shocking how few organizations have developed a global metadata standard for their documents. But the lack of a clear metadata standard underlies many of the information management issues we face on a daily basis. This doesn't need to be complete Linnaean taxonomy for all documents. In fact, it is actually better if it isn't. Instead, what are the top eight to ten metadata elements you need on every document? Establishing this will improve search and allow for better management of your information.
  • Throw it away. What is your plan for managing the lifecycle of your SharePoint sites? Let me take a step back. What is your plan for managing the lifecycle of content? If your organization is actually disposing of information according to the records schedule, you deserve the Medal of Honor for EIM. The fact of the matter is that most organizations can't even bring themselves to dispose of files that aren't even authorized to be on company systems. (I'm thinking of the six HD versions of Star Wars that we found on an HR network drive. You probably have your own horror stories.) If actually throwing away old SharePoint sites or content is too radical for your organization, you should at least begin dark archiving information at the appropriate times. The information can always be restored if need be. More conservative organizations will be more likely to allow dark archiving than full disposal. It is a great way to begin boiling the frog.
  • Automate. To paraphrase Bill Gates, let me ask, "What is the best way to turn a million-dollar process into a billion-dollar process? Automate it." If you take a bad process and do it more often, it just hurts you more. You do need tools to manage the governance of your SharePoint environment. The best program is still going to be impossible for an IT organization to administer manually. And despite the great improvements to SharePoint 2013, it doesn't handle the complete lifecycle – from request, deploy, monitor, and archive – at a level you will need to support an organization of any size. This comes with a word of caution. The ISV network for SharePoint is 70K companies strong. Be very careful with the organizations that you choose to supplement your SharePoint environment.

SharePoint has the ability to transformative for your business, but there is a huge danger that it will just become another shared drive. What is your experience? How is your organization handling it today? I'd love to continue the conversation in the comments below or on twitter @doculane.

Rich Medina
Lane Severson
I’m a Practice Leader, managing relationships with Doculabs’ West Coast clients to improve information management and security.