Microsoft SharePoint is ubiquitous these days. By hook or by crook, with planning or subterfuge it has found its way on to the corporate servers of many, many organisations around the world. Over the years Microsoft has subtly altered its marketing messages from an ‘all things to everybody’ to ‘there’s something here for everybody’ stance. That early claim was an ambitious one and as the business IT landscape constantly matures, so too does the claim that SharePoint is the answer to everything.
There seems to be two typical installation scenarios. The first is driven by the base software being provided at no charge with Windows Server. It gets picked up by someone in IT and installed to see what it can do and if it can perhaps help solve some perceived ‘collaboration/document sharing’ problem. Rollout by stealth. This as you can well imagine tends to lead to a confusing and fragmented user experience and an ever escalating administration challenge. SharePoint is nothing if not viral. Once the genie is out of the box it proves pretty difficult to stop it finding its way into people’s hands for any number of ill-defined or poorly considered purposes.
The second installation scenario is eminently more sensible and encompasses a level of planning, the design of an information architecture of some sort and ideally a governance plan regarding content management. These all add up to a good start and a plan to succeed.
But more and more organisations are starting to seriously revisit how SharePoint has been implemented and what purpose it serves in the business and more to the point, what purpose it should serve in the future. Much of this consideration and review is driven by the not insignificant demands of an upgrade to the latest and greatest version 2010.
And this leads me to strategy, and the fulfilment of such. A common and constant CIO goal is for SharePoint to be ‘the place where people go’ to get information and get things done. One place from which to start that allows someone to answer the question or perform the activity that is currently in hand – ‘don’t make me go somewhere, just let me do something’. So SharePoint must become the launch pad for two of the key elements of every business – content and process.
The first of these SharePoint has covered in spades. Content is no challenge to any SharePoint implementer worth their salt. Yes there is plenty to do in terms of architecture and governance but once that is defined it is all systems go. Tag it, store it, search it, extract it, track it, update it. Knock yourself out. We have clients that, following our design guidelines, are now easily and happily managing tens and hundreds of thousands of documents.
But processes? Real-life, complex, multi step and non-linear processes? Processes integrated to other business applications, web services and transactional data sources? Even though SharePoint 2010 has much improved ‘workflow’ controls from previous versions, this is also where the Microsoft marketing message has radically changed over the years. Real-world workflow logic and business process management is not the comfortable domain of SharePoint and Microsoft willingly acknowledges this. However it is camouflaged in language that does not make it clear exactly what they are talking about – in the SharePoint world they call it “composite applications”. That is code for ‘if you want to perform some process, access another application or do transactional based activities then you will need to use tools and technology above and beyond core SharePoint componentry’.
In a September 2011 Forrester report, SharePoint Adoption: Content and Collaboration is Just the Start
, nearly 80% of their research respondents had already deployed or were planning to deploy composite applications (that means processes to you and me) to varying levels of success. However there is an almost unanimous acknowledgement that this adds significant complexity and levels of risk to a SharePoint environment in terms of deployment, performance, audit control, interoperability and upgradability.
So where does that leave the visionary CIO with a SharePoint strategy that now looks unachievable?
There is a magic bullet and it is called XMPro. Developing and deploying composite applications (you can also call them processes) is exactly what XMPro is for. And with native SharePoint integration at the core of XMPro, these very processes are instantly and easily exposed and executed within SharePoint. The way XMPro delivers composite applications in SharePoint completely addresses the challenges raised by Forrester with the added benefit of full mobile device integration. XMPro processes can also manage the SharePoint lists and actual document content within, thereby bringing sophisticated audit control and good governance to the implementation.
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