One of the things I like to mention to those trying to make SharePoint work for them is to understand this: A powerful feature of SharePoint is its flexibility; the biggest drawback of SharePoint is its flexibility. So it’s no wonder that so many people have found the ubiquity of SharePoint in their organizations to resemble the map location marked, “Hic sunt dracones.” Actually, depending upon an organization’s resources, SharePoint can be Jekyll or Hyde. Those with skilled developers can make rather elegant SharePoint implementations. Those of us who use it out-of-the-box often rue the day our IT strategy foisted it upon us.
In either case, however, there is a more pressing problem that is almost always overlooked: the need for smart content management. Whether you put lipstick on SharePoint or admire its standard charms, the ability to morph it into almost anything you want is indeed the problem. Faced with a tool that can be a repository, an alert minder, a calendar, a question-and-answer forum, a picture manager, a workflow device, a hotlinker—you name it!—organizations simply say, “Da*n the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” (apologies to ADM David Glasgow Farragut) and ignore the need for a content management strategy. I would say a corollary to this is: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
So what’s the key success factor for the effective implementation of SharePoint? It’s the rather plodding, tedious, decidedly unsexy work of content management strategy. Many organizations don’t go down the path of developing content management strategies for one reason: it’s hard. Hard, sure—but necessary. Anyone already in the throes of using SharePoint has experienced the feeling of loss of control when trying to find a document among the many-Windows-Explorer-folders metaphor of content organization, or wondering if it is better to attach a document to a discussion thread or to link to it from the aforementioned folders, or trying to figure out which discussions have already been read, or—horror of horrors—dealing with the multiple alerts on a single item that fill an email inbox faster than a colony of Tribbles.
My advice: Create a content management strategy—Just Do It. And that goes for any application, whether the 800-lb gorilla or otherwise. By the way, if you haven’t had enough fun with SharePoint yet, just wait until Skype, Lync, Outlook, and Office 365 come to play with it.