Sunday, 14 April 2013

Cooking Up a Storm: Ten Reasons Why SharePoint™ Clients are Often Rightly Wrong

"The types of clients we were dealing with weren't taking SharePoint seriously..." Partner CEO 

The issue of clients not seeking or taking professional advice has been on my mind for some years but listening to the increasing vocal agreement by expert consultants in SharePoint™-land, it is time to scope out the simple problem – that the client isn’t always right and more often than not they are wrong, rightly or wrongly.

Having worked with SharePoint over the last decade as both client and strategist I know that at first and without any guidance (hence Salem™) it takes a long time, and I mean a long time to come to grips with what SharePoint really is and what it can do. It is in many senses conceptual and everything from an applied science to an applied art form. Like many people, there is a ‘penny drop’ moment at around the year to eighteen month mark where things start to become clear and the multifarious elements of SharePoint and their interconnectedness start to make real sense.

In client businesses, eighteen months can be a very long time indeed and in that first eighteen months you can be sure it can be the start of serious implementation and adoption problems where SharePoint is concerned. Whilst SharePoint can satisfy the revenue fix of a one-off point-solution seller or a licence seller, it can leave a client in the SharePoint doldrums with a large initial investment and nowhere to turn later. Whilst there are many reasons why this happens, it is increasingly clear that the client themselves must take much of the wrap.

For those of you who have ever enjoyed the TV show Kitchen Nightmares with hard-hitting expert chef Gordon Ramsey you will know that each week he enters a restaurant business which is falling apart and in a wholly independent way reads the owners the riot act to save their bacon. He uses various techniques after initial observations from early and simple rectification tasks all the way on to threatening to walk out if the owner is unwilling to listen or take heed of his overall wisdom. Welcome to the world of SharePoint Nightmares.

The problem for many consultants is that whilst they really are at the top of their game there is a subtle difference between their own position and that of Chef Ramsay. Ramsay is not on their payroll and ultimately it doesn’t matter whether the restaurant owner listens or not. If they don’t their business collapses and he walks way. For the SharePoint consultant however, there aren’t so many (though there are a few yes) who are able to speak so freely and walk out of the door with no recompense for their time. Not being paid by a client and being able to say what you really think is a luxury that is often only afforded in conference presentations, articles and occasionally in pre-sales sessions.

When encountering your own SharePoint Nightmare scenarios it is easy to be viewed as part of the problem where a client is concerned and quickly become embroiled in a burgeoning blame culture pointed squarely at you. Don’t shoot the messenger? You are in the firing line for sure as the harbinger of bad news – they got it stubbornly wrong for not listening.     

Here are ten rogue reasons why clients must take some responsibility for getting things wrong when embracing SharePoint:

1. Sounds like a job for the IT guys

Disenfranchising SharePoint from its natural business ownership is the biggest error any client can make. Clearly every IT department in the current climate is defending its reputation and fighting its corner but all too often SharePoint, without a business roadmap, without a logical plan with all its technical features and functions is placed directly in the hands of IT ownership. The reasons below highlight many of the wrong reasons why this occurs.

Once in the hands of IT, internal personnel frequently take the opportunity of ramping up their own resumes by playing with, practicing and learning SharePoint internally with little or no outside help before latching on to a business pilot that then rapidly runs out of control and demands non-existent IT budget and resources that the CIO had never dreamed of or anticipated. This begins the downward spiral of discontent, change controls and of ‘future projects’ that rarely materialise. 

2. The worst vice is advice 

Have you ever wondered why the client believes they know better than the subject matter expert? It is an increasing trend based primarily on the basis that any independent professional is trying to fleece them and lives only in an ideal world of fantasy SharePoint installations and doesn’t have practical, real-world experience of running a business. The consultant recommendations are based on the perfect idealism of a Microsoft manual somewhere, so they wrongly think.

What this lack of heeding advice actually means is that the client is often scared; scared of hearing and therefore accepting that they may have got things wrong or of hearing the truth that advice has been ignored. It is easier to prove the consultant wrong than to shoulder the responsibility for blame, lack of planning, budget, resources and strategy right? When the doctor says stop smoking or the garage mechanic says that the car is broken from bad driving or the electrician tells you that you need a re-wire or the dentist tells you that you need some work, you argue with them do you?

One of the reasons why we don’t argue with long term, time served, trained professionals is because we acknowledge that they are the experts in their chosen field and we regretfully accept something generally needs to be done to fix the situation. We may request a second opinion however if the repair bill is too expensive. It is very possible that because of the undisciplined nature of the SharePoint profession with its plethora of unqualified and uncertified contractors that IT is not taken seriously as a profession and therefore advice is optional, only accepted in the final eventuality and often only when it is reassuringly expensive.

It is the responsibility of client to select and heed the professional advice of the experts they choose to work with and live with the consequences if they do not listen.

3. SharePoint is just more software (or a service) isn't it?  

Due to the history of Microsoft software bridging the gap between business and the home (think Office and Outlook) and therefore its relatively easy installation and engagement, it is easy to see why a client may take the view that SharePoint is simply more software to be installed and used, just like Excel or Word. That excuse would have been very plausible back in 2003 but doesn’t work so well in 2013 where there is a colossal history and learning of the SharePoint product and platform. With hundreds of conferences and masses of internet information, fifteen minutes of any client time online would educate anyone enough to  realise that SharePoint is very far from simply a piece of software to install and be up and running in minutes with.

Consequently the continued excuse by clients that they didn’t realise so much was involved really doesn't wash and points firmly back to the first two points in terms of internal playing with software and the absolute refusal to work with subject matter experts who are deemed unnecessary and expensive. As Red Adair, the oil fire rescue genius said, “if you think working with an expert is expensive, wait until you work with an amateur”.

The continued failure of clients to approach SharePoint with the respect, seriousness and budget required to ensure it brings the value and benefits required is at the heart of the problem. It has a Microsoft badge on it so it must be easy.  Office 365 will not make the situation go away, it may simply exacerbate the problem further because there is even less for the client to plan to get them going - only to find that once they have the service, they have absolutely no idea how to engage with SharePoint Online but have already started playing with it with live business data.

It is the responsibility of every SharePoint client to spend time understanding the product, understanding how to engage with it, defining a business strategy, roadmap and service blueprint as well as ensuring both business and IT governance are aligned. It isn’t hard, just choose an expert to help.

4. I'm far too busy to do my homework 

Anyone who has ever tried to manage a SharePoint project from either the IT side or the partner side will know the problem here. Client stakeholders are rarely available because they are far too busy doing more important things like day to day work, having lunch and meetings and answering their phone and emails. Expand this issue exponentially across the entire stakeholder team and you will be lucky to get a meeting of all stakeholder members more than every 4 or 6 weeks, if at all.

Just like a pet at Christmas, with SharePoint comes responsibility, serious responsibility. I was once asked at a keynote I gave at Microsoft how I succeeded as a business owner in delivering SharePoint successfully to over 20,000 people and I said matter-of-factly, that I hung myself out to dry, I lived and breathed SharePoint, its commitment and responsibilities to my business and owned it as if it was my very own baby.

From the outset the client must appoint a business sponsor and committed stakeholders who can themselves make budget decisions and own the SharePoint program on behalf of the entire organisation. If they are unwilling to do their homework, they will undoubtedly fail the exam and will only have themselves to blame.

 5. That's far too big to consider, let's just do this

For many organisations, SharePoint is a business program rather than an IT project. This program-centric view occurs naturally due to the interconnectedness of related business services that must be delivered in unison or in parallel. Due to the overlap in feature services it makes a great deal of budget and resource sense to take a program approach to SharePoint and something that lays at the foundation of the Salem™ value proposition for SharePoint.

Taking the program approach is not something that always comes naturally with SharePoint because it has largely not been sold as a program to date. Instead SharePoint has been largely sold as a development platform or some kind of flexible and agile development tool. It reminds me of a Microsoft author who once told me that he had been requested to remove the word ‘program’ from his chapters and replace it with ‘project’ by the editor as it was viewed as a less expensive proposition and would be ‘less scary’.

As the client has rarely planned for a program, does not have a program manager or program budget and the best they may go to is a (cheaper) ‘senior project manager’ in IT so it is far too tempting to jump straight into a short-term IT-centric project and get things going. What this all too often means is that the client believes that if they put something in short term the business will like it and then someone else can go and ask for more money later from an ever-angry Finance Director or CFO.

It is called introducing SharePoint organically, by stealth and as many can testify, this tactic rarely works or convinces anyone and such short termism has been demonstrated time and time again to fail. A CIO being scared of the CFO really is no excuse when approaching the subject of the  SharePoint budget but fear occurs because as in step 1, the client placed the responsibility for SharePoint and its relative budget wholly and wrongly in the hands of the CIO. Once again it is the client responsibility to define the business strategy for SharePoint in advance or work with a strategic partner to define a roadmap that can then be assigned the required budget and resources. Turning a project into a program is not an easy thing to achieve later in the day if the initial project itself undermines the intrinsic program.

6. We are a huge company and we know our business

Being brow-beaten by companies with large internal teams with their own agendas and vested interests is commonplace and you are often simply left feeling overwhelmed. What this means is that many organisations don’t want to be told what to do with SharePoint or how to approach it and will do it themselves in the same way they have approached everything else. It is caused by a detachment to the services that underpin their business. The large client will take the view that they have hundreds of incumbent IT staff and generalist managed service providers. Once again we come back to the issue that the client is taking the view that SharePoint is just software that has pre-defined services that just get picked up as they go along. One thing that SharePoint is definitely not is Exchange.

The end result is that the client all too often passes responsibility to those who do not know SharePoint, have no history of it and will not be told differently. To provide an example, I have encountered a number of organisations that have requested complete farm designs from highly qualified Gold Partners only then to witness the potential implementation stall due to internal IT architects re-architecting the farm design believing that they know better, not trusting the expert partner and frequently breaking many best practice design rules. On more than one occasion I have heard it said that best practices are for ideal worlds and not for the real world! The client must shoulder the responsibility for this scenario.

7. We are far too busy implementing SAP

Relative to other points made earlier in this article, why is it that implementing SAP or PeopleSoft, Dynamics or other enterprise platforms is taken seriously and thus planned for, resourced and budgeted for with over-zealous programmatic seriousness whilst SharePoint is treated as the poor, project second-cousin? There are many reasons why this occurs but it is largely due to perception, marketing and associated costs as well as internal divisional stakeholder sponsorship. SharePoint typically lacks any form of direct sponsorship at the outset because no one is sure what they are going to use it for, or that it is viewed as a general development platform for everything apart from the big services.

SAP and similar platforms are accepted as big, heavy duty, Finance and HR-related platforms sponsored by Directors with political weight with the relative investment requirements. From the very start these platforms are understood for what they are and what they are likely to cost. How an SAP platform could ever produce an ROI to cover a $half billion investment is personally beyond me but I am sure there are examples. However SharePoint doesn’t have a fundamental business raison d’etre because it has never come under direct attack from a business-orientated competitor, therefore it has never needed to develop a specific business value proposition according to some and subsequently lacks natural business sponsorship. Its natural flexibility may also simply be its problem.

The result of this is that SharePoint has not set out its stall in the international market as a heavyweight enterprise platform that requires X, Y and Z in terms of typical investment, resourcing and approach to be viewed by clients in the same way as SAP or PeopleSoft. Consequently it lacks a degree of business seriousness which in turn means that the client does not treat SharePoint with the gravitas it deserves. Don't misunderstand the point, I am not suggesting that SharePoint is SAP, what I am pointing out is that where large enterprise platforms have clarity, raison d'etre and an applied benefits model attached so they are approached by the client in a far more serious way. 

According to Salem™, SharePoint is modular at a business service level in a parallel way to that which we find in other major enterprise platforms like SAP. However until Salem™ becomes all pervasive in setting out the SharePoint stall the client will fail to interpret the SharePoint platform as anything more than a lesser cousin of larger enterprise platforms which in turn means the client will misjudge the SharePoint platform, its weight and continue to treat it with a lack of due diligence. There is a danger that this may be exacerbated further via the vagaries and flippancy of ‘social’ and the (perhaps wrongly termed ‘light-weight’) consumer proposition of Office 365.

One may argue that SharePoint is not SAP or PeopleSoft or anything similar and its strength lays in its alternate ways of being adopted. The point here is that clients frequently pay far more attention and make a far greater investment in the platforms that they apply a major business value proposition to. It would be fantastic if this was the case of SharePoint as it really deserves it. Whilst the client fails to grasp the enormity of SharePoint, and they have been told, they will continue in the main to treat it as far ‘lighter’ than we know it is and that impacts a great many other things.

8. Don't be ridiculous, how much?! 

Ah yes, this little chestnut – cost. How many times does the SharePoint professional face the unrealistic budget expectations of an ever hopeful and budget challenged client IT manager. “So you would like to deliver 10 separate business enterprise services by the summer? Yes please. How much will it cost? Well it depends what specifically you want? Well I have $10,000 but we already have the software and licences, we will need to get the servers in that…How much?!! We will do it ourselves then…”

You know how it goes – completely unrealistic expectations or wanting everything for not very much. An interesting game to play is to ask a client audience to place a value proposition against each service to be delivered. In other words, how much do you think an intranet costs? Don’t bother determining what it contains just get a figure to be stated out loud. You will frequently be surprised how little client audiences think things cost.

There are a number of issues with budget and they often stem from point one in this list which is that IT has been tasked with delivering a business solution using SharePoint but without any associated business budget. This is due to lack of business ownership, sponsorship, involvement and because the client didn’t take the time to understand what SharePoint is, what the aligned business strategy is and what it requires in terms of budget and resources.

Whilst it is very much the tasks of the professional partner consultant to educate the client in terms of detailed costs, it is the direct responsibility of the client to apply adequate budget to commence a SharePoint engagement and to have an in situ method of raising further capital in a timely manner and at a realistic level to engage with the platform effectively. Having unrealistic budget expectations for a full enterprise platform does nothing except create more issues and leads to insistent corner cutting, which starts to contribute to SharePoint program and project failure.

Looking at the cloud and Office 365, some budget issues are alleviated such as per month, per seat costs which can far more easily be anticipated. Whilst the client may be thinking that there is no infrastructure requirements think again. A well connected cloud service will need associated connectivity from Active Directory and other things that will require infrastructure onsite as well as the ubiquitous issue regarding corporate bandwidth. Let’s make this simple, a 4mb link for your 10,000 users to the cloud will simply not cut it for an enterprise collaborative platform irrespective of any WAN accelerator solutions you may be convinced to invest in by the infrastructure team.

I am on record for asking Steve Ballmer the corporate bandwidth question in front of 1000 people so this isn’t the first time this issue has been raised and it certainly won’t be the last. Like many things in life, you get what you pay for and for clients their ultimate SharePoint service is to a degree aligned with the level of investment in the correct areas. It is the responsibility of both the client and the partner to ensure that this is money well spent and spent in the right way.

9. I can get a contractor for $200

Picking up from the previous point, with little budget in place and no plan or business strategy the next step for the client to get things wholly wrong is to go for the cheapest route in terms of service delivery and that usually means resourcing.

Prior to the implementation of SharePoint there will be little if any SharePoint experience within an incumbent IT team, though these days there could be some. There is no way of knowing at the outset whether any incumbent SharePoint experience is actually good, solid, educated experience. Again the client may be tempted to see SharePoint as nothing more than software or some service that can be picked up and learned in an hour or two and which anyone in the team can master by Friday.

Once this has been demonstrated to be a mistaken belief the next step is to hire a skilled resource that can sort things out and gain rapid progression for the least possible cost. I have yet to meet many organisations that hire a CEO, CIO or CFO on the cheap. Similarly you know what happens when you go to the cheapest garage, the cheapest kitchen fitter or buy the cheapest clothes, they tend not to do the job or last as well as their more expensive cousins. They say you often get what you pay for.

So why then does a client believe that expert SharePoint skills can be gained for so little? Expertise is not gained overnight and can take years to obtain, mature and refine and therefore there is an associated cost of hire. Professional skills cost money but professionalism saves both time and money in the long run. Fees are not defined by recruiters, recruitment agencies with high margins or the misleading ‘market rate’ statement, fees are aligned to the professional skills and services that are readily available.

Hiring a cheap plumber may fix a problem for an hour but a professional plumbing firm is likely to fix the issue permanently. Anyone who has ever seen Holmes on Homes knows that. Similarly hiring a professional SharePoint partner brings the variety of professionally honed skills from an experienced team that live and breathe SharePoint for a huge range of clients, day in and day out. It is also likely that the professional partner team has been fully trained with professional certifications to prove it. This is rare if not impossible to find in a single person for $200 a day so frequently, inevitably and wrongly described as a ‘SharePoint expert’.

Inevitably it is the client responsibility to understand the cost of skilled partner resources, the range of resource requirements for on premise or cloud and their availability when embracing SharePoint and thus budget accordingly. If the client chooses to ‘go cheap’ then that is their responsibility for what may happen next and the subsequent cost of remedial action.

10. They told me it is easy 

Why would SharePoint be easy? Why is defining and delivering any enterprise business program easy? Why would the delivery of any enterprise business platform be easy for that matter? There is no evidence for this in the last 30 years. Unless something is almost completely pre-built, pre-deployed and pre-designed and performs exactly per your established requirements, it is very likely not to be easy and requires involvement, thinking and sustained commitment.

Any organisation contains three ages of workers, the young, the middle-aged and the old and therefore there are three completely different audiences to engage with for a start. This means than any single service delivered may have a range of educational and adoption challenges. An extensive, feature rich, comprehensive platform such as SharePoint is naturally going to contain complexities and these complexities take time to learn, embrace and work with. Therefore misjudging what is required to embrace a product like SharePoint must be the fault of the client and not because Microsoft should have told them. When SharePoint proved more complex than first thought (Microsoft doesn’t state what SharePoint should be used for or how it should be adopted) surely most can work out that a product that contains everything from enterprise content management to business intelligence is going to take some serious work to adapt and adopt. I have a feeling that, historically, the free versions of WSS/Foundation etc. set the scene for problems here by making clients believe things were easier to adopt than was really the truth.


So where do these ten points leave us. A difficult one, this, the client is always right, they are paying the bills, your bills but if you don’t stand up and be counted and say what you know is right with all your professional experience and knowledge then who is really the wrong one in the equation?

Clients cannot be expected to know everything about a product they have yet to embrace which is why there is a parallel, global SharePoint industry of qualified professionals. However when a client starts to argue with SharePoint professionals, believes they know best whilst having no evidential experience and chooses to ignore professional advice then eventually and inevitably things will start to fail, you will be proven right, they will be proven wrong, they will distance themselves from you or worse still they will blame you. It may be far too late to rectify things by that stage, the business adoption then starts to fail and we have yet another long term dissatisfied SharePoint customer who moves on to playing with their tablets and seeking more gratifying alternatives.

The entire long term future of the SharePoint industry, whether in the cloud or not depends on its inherent professionalism, the client seeking out and then heeding advice professional advice, qualified advice, advice that is respected and valued,  advice that is accurate and valuable. Failure to speak out now may mean that in the years to come you have nothing to speak out about at all. 

The question is whether you are strong enough and prepared enough to be the chef?

Copyright Genius! by Morgan & Wolfe. All Rights Reserved 2013.


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