What – No SharePoint?

imageEarlier this week a group of volunteers gathered in Woburn, MA to chart the educational course of the AIIM New England Chapter. We’ve been working for several years to “put the program on rails” but we decided to derail a couple of old standards. One of those appears to be the notion that we should have one event every year dedicated to SharePoint.

This used to be a slam-dunk event for the Chapter; in its heyday, tossing the word “SharePoint” after anything was an immediate win.

Join the parishioners of the Triple Rock Baptist Church for a day of preaching and music, followed by a bake sale, potluck dinner and some SharePoint – Jake; get wise, you get to church

We always tried to give our SharePoint events an AIIM-ish twist. We explored ‘Usability’ in SharePoint. We explored ‘Governance’ in SharePoint. We teamed up with the folks over at ARMA Boston to explore ‘Records Management’ in SharePoint and we tried to figure out what people are really doing with SharePoint. We had some success, but two things seem clear. OK, one thing seems clear and one seems a little fuzzy. Clearly, interest in SharePoint as a subject is waning among our members. Fuzzily, (oh my goodness, that is a word), the direction in which SharePoint is moving, or trying to move, is getting hard to predict. I’m not suggesting a doom and gloom scenario, but if we try to build an event around a product, we need to have a clear picture of the road ahead.

So, rather that market a “message for SharePoint” that has benefit to the broader masses of Information Professionals, we are going to offer a series of messages for that broader group that we hope will attract people from the SharePoint community, too.

Now that I’ve let AIIM NE’s agenda co-opt my blog space for a few hundred words, I think I’ll give you a break and bring this to a quick end. I would ask for a little help though. As many of you know, I am the Program Director for AIIM New England. We are trying to chart a different course this year, partly because, like many professional associations, we are struggling to find the right mix of topics that you (information professionals) will find interesting.

If you have a few minutes, would you please fill out this survey? I promise you that it will only take a few minutes of your time and the results are very important to us. We, by the way, are a small group of like-minded information professionals (well, maybe not entirely like-minded) who volunteer our time to spread the word and provide meaningful educational events at a ridiculously low price to the broad community of (say it with me now) information professionals.

Note: if you have problems with that survey link, for example, if WuFoo asks you to open an account, paste the URL below into your browser. We don’t care if you become a WuFoo customer (although we like them) but we really do want your input – https://aiimne.wufoo.com/forms/aiim-ne-2014-program-survey/

ECM is an Activity not a Product

imageLast week the AIM New England Chapter held an event with the goal of trying to figure out how people are using SharePoint. You can read about the event, the discussion and the wisdom the expert speakers shared in the Event Experience Report, but I want to talk about a note found on page 6:

One person described a decision to move a customer facing solution out of SharePoint because the customers were not interested in the features SharePoint has to offer. The solution has evolved into a ‘content publishing’ solution and management feels that there are better platforms than SharePoint on which to build such a solution.”

I’ll confess to being that person. Are we giving up on SharePoint? No. Is our content management program changing? Yes.

When we first began using SharePoint in 2006, we liked what we saw. While we were struggling to figure out how to best use the product in-house, someone asked if we could use SharePoint to exchange documents, information and perhaps collaborate with some of our customers and business partners. As you might expect, good little techies that we were / are, we jumped at the chance to add a second farm and build an Internet-facing SharePoint server.

We developed solutions. We formed pilot groups. We tested, tweaked, added and perfected features and we held training events. We met with our customers and we spoke with our coworkers and what we heard was that our customers don’t need SharePoint. Our customers want to share files, and share is 90% retrieve and 10% submit. Do the math, there’s nothing left for “collaborate on” or “construct a process around” or any of the other things we have been trying to get people interested in. That’s OK! We understand serving customers, and we don’t want to make customer service harder than it needs to be.

But wait a minute. If we already have SharePoint, why abandon it? SharePoint can certainly be used to share files with people over the Internet.

That’s true, but we’re not in 2006 any longer. SharePoint can be made to be a simple repository of shared documents and SharePoint can certainly handle segregating and protecting private documents while also providing access to public documents, but so can lots of other products. It is one thing to put some effort into SharePoint to create a solution that looks, feels and acts like a more expensive product. It’s quite another thing to put some effort into SharePoint to make it look, feel and act like a less expensive product. Sometimes, SharePoint just isn’t the right answer.

One of the problems with technology and the notion of businesses adopting technology, is that technology changes. One of the most important responsibilities of an IT group is to make and to keep other people aware of what those changes are and what those changes mean to the already adopted solutions. A critical element of that understanding is the fact that installed solutions are not free. We cannot look at something that was developed in and deployed on SharePoint and say “that’s done, let’s move on to something else” – systems, including the things we build in SharePoint, are never done.

SharePoint was the right platform in 2006 because it was just about the only affordable solution we had for securely sharing content over the Internet. We tried to take advantage of the platform, to offer more features and to entice people into turning file sharing into collaboration, but the demand isn’t there. I understand that, the underlying task isn’t a collaborative effort. The underlying task is a mature business process that doesn’t need to be “improved” by SharePoint or anything else. Now that there are simpler, less expensive solutions for securely sharing files over the Internet, it’s time to consider them. Guess what, they work and they work better than SharePoint.

They work better, and they are cheaper, because they are less capable and because they have been perfected toward a narrower goal. The solutions that we are looking at were born in the cloud; they don’t have to be migrated into the cloud. The solutions were born into a mobile world so they come with desktop apps and apps for every mobile operating system – good looking native apps! The people who built these solutions know what they are doing and they know what we need to do, so integration with Outlook is baked in, drag & drop integration with Windows is baked in, permissions, controls, auditing and reporting are all baked in. Yes, these are file-sharing only solutions, but when that’s all you need, that’s all you need.

We are still a SharePoint shop and this is still a SharePoint blog, but my focus has always been Enterprise Content Management. The title of this post is from a comment I made recently on a friend’s blog: ECM is not dead, but ECM is an activity, not a product. The ‘M’ in ECM is also a responsibility and it’s one that I take seriously.

How Do You SharePoint?

clip_image002Maybe I’m missing a verb in the title, or maybe “to SharePoint” has meaning, suggests action of a sort or at least makes a few of us shake our heads. I left out the verb, because I’m not sure what the right one is. How do you “use” SharePoint, “get rid of” SharePoint, “stop bad SharePoint sites from spreading like kudzu?” “get the most out of” SharePoint, “teach people how to use” SharePoint, and so on. Do you have answers for any of those questions? Do you live in New England? Can you spare some time on Wednesday, November 13th? There’s a lot of questions, but if you can answer a few of them, join some of your New England neighbors in Cambridge, MA on the 13th – share a snack, share some coffee and share your answers, or at least your reactions.

On November 13th, the New England Chapter of AIIM (AIIMNE) will hold our second educational event of the program year and, no surprise, it’s focused on SharePoint. In case you aren’t aware, AIIMNE is doing events differently this year – well sort of differently. AIIMNE events have always been fairly lively, with a healthy amount of audience participation. This year, we decided to tap that energy and add some value for our members in the process. Each event is organized to encourage that audience participation and we are then publishing a white paper from the event. To get an idea of how this works, check out the white paper from our first event, where we focused on handling secure and confidential information amid an always connected always sharing workforce. Go ahead, download that report, it’s free and we aren’t even asking for your email address.

For this next event, we arranged for Marc D. Anderson, Co-founder and president of Sympraxis Consulting, Derek Cash-Peterson from Blue Metal Architects and Russ Edleman, president of Corridor Company to join us to get things started. Between them, these guys have seen just about every kind of SharePoint or SharePointery there is (hey, if we’re making up words). Steve Weissman, President of the Holly Group will be on hand to facilitate the discussion, should that be necessary; our audiences have a tendency to fire at will. Not to worry, our speakers are adept at crowd control.

What’s the goal? Well, besides gathering fodder for our next Event Experience report (as we call them), I hope to learn something. I hope to hear about ways of using SharePoint that I haven’t considered. I hope to return to work on Wednesday afternoon with a head full of ideas that will keep me busy until the next SharePoint event. I’ve heard some of these guys speak before, so if I’m going to get a head full of new ideas, I need you to be in the room. I want to hear your SharePoint Story (ooh, there’s a catchy name).

If you’re planning to join us, we will be at the Microsoft building at 1 Cambridge Center. It’s the one in the picture up in the corner. It’s not the building at 1 Memorial Drive. It’s a great facility and the Chapter truly appreciates being able to use it. We will also be using Microsoft’s Internet connection so if you can’t be in Cambridge, consider joining us on-line as we stream the event live. We stream a mix of presentations and video and we do our best to submit the comments and questions from our remote audience into the discussion in the room. You can read or share this event with others at the Chapter website, and if you are ready to sign-up, you can do that over at Eventbrite. But wait, there’s more. If you register by November 1st, enter the discount code “sharepointstories” and save $5. Thanks for reading!