Got SharePoint? Got Troubles…

Jim Lee's picture

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.


jim.russell's picture

Using SharePoint as content management has its own issues - largely based around how skilled your SharePoint administration and implementation team is. As user adoption increases, so does the amount of data that must be stored in SharePoint. Although rapid adoption indicates effective collaboration, this content explosion can easily outstrip SharePoint’s basic storage configuration. This causes an outcry both from end users, who complain about SharePoint’s slow performance, and SQL Server DBAs, who protest that SharePoint is taking up too much expensive server space and processing power. All of this can lead to dissatisfaction with a once-loved platform. If using SharePoint for content management the SharePoint administration and implementation team must consider and answer: What is the Data structure (how is stored)? How is the data organized? How to deal with old content? What is the plan to scale the solution up? What is the exit plan if it does not work? SharePoint can do a lot of things out of the box. The key to success is knowing what you want and having the skilled developers to implement it. Too many specially developed features make upgrading difficult. Integration points other MS products may quickly overwhelm your well intentioned plans. To paraphrase Jim Lee; if you are going to fight 800-lb gorilla you better have a plan, specifically a content management strategy. Using SharePoint as content management has its advantages as it plays so well MS products. The disadvantage is its flexibility. To minimize SharePoint’s disadvantages you need a really good and knowledgeable development team to compliment your content management strategy.

Jim Lee's picture

Jim Russell, thanks for your insights. Of course, I think you're spot on with your description of the need--and the tradeoffs that must be made to include both the SharePoint flexibility/extensibility and any customizations that may limit that in the future. At the end of the day however, it's not so much what SharePoint or any other collaboration space (or even legacy repository approach) can do, as you remind us, it's all about the smart content management strategy. Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous's picture

Our organization is currently going through the process of developing a content management strategy and there is no question that it is hard - it is very hard to come up with a WCM clear strategy that works well for a dispersed global organization. I have previously worked in companies that have tried a highly centralized as well as a decentralized approach and neither seem to work very well. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle but it is difficult to figure out an effective model. Broadly speaking I am interested in knowing what dimensions of WCM are others considering when developing a strategy for this.

trefethen4's picture

As a librarian in corporate practice, I can tell you that my colleagues have been dealing with internal content management for decades - much longer than computers existed. Now, many of my colleagues are engaged with developing taxonomies that work for their customers using SharePoint. IT departments love them - the IT folks aren't trained in content management and don't usually want to do it.

Need to develop a content management solution for SharePoint but don't know where to start? Contact your organization's library or information center. Don't have one? Then consider hiring an information professional with content management and taxonomy credentials on a contractual basis to help you develop one. Special Libraries Association ( is the leading professional association for library and information professionals in corporations, government, and non-profits. They have a jobs posting service, if you want to hire a professional to help you master your SharePoint universe.