Another version of SharePoint is here and once again organizations large and small are in a frenzy to start their upgrade. Before the release of SharePoint 2010 the consensus in the community was that it will take at least a couple of years for organizations to upgrade, yet it happened with nearly lightning speed as many SharePoint surveys indicate that almost 70% of organizations now run SharePoint 2010.
So with some organizations having gone through one maybe two cycles of upgrades there should be a very optimistic mood out there and upgrading to SharePoint 2013 should be a home run. Expect that its not the case. Many organizations are hesitant to upgrade because of their past experiences and some have been burned in the past by what I call “The SharePoint Upgrade Myth”.
So what is this myth? Well in my experience it comes down to these three items:
Better technology = More business value
Instead of focusing on the current state of affairs and trying to accurately decipher why things are not currently working, many organizations fool themselves into thinking that if we only improve the technology then all the current issues that they face will be a thing of the past. By throwing more technology at the underlying issue you might be fixing the symptoms but not the underlying cause. Unfortunately most the issues that they face aren't directly to do with the technology but are merely surfacing organizational business issues such as lack of governance, misalignment of expectations or cultural issues.
“By throwing more technology at the underlying issue you might be fixing the symptoms but not the underlying cause”
If you have a business process issue or cultural issue then better technology will not provide you with the answer.Look at it another way. Every organization has created many point solutions on Access or a spreadsheet that succinctly address the business issue that it is intended to solve. Do you ever hear users say "You know if we upgraded that old Access 2003 database into Access 2013 then we would be twice as effective!" No you don't because users understand that solving a business need can sometimes be achieved with relatively crude technology, as long as the problem is understood and the solution is implemented correctly.
Better technology can provide more business value as long as you understand the issue at hand and how this new technology can be leveraged to solve it. Don't make the mistake of thinking that simply by implementing another version of SharePoint that somehow issues that existed will be mitigated. More than likely they won't.
Latest Version = Better Adoption
This is my personal favorite and one that I hear in almost every customer that i speak to:
No one uses SharePoint currently but the new version is so much more user friendly that people will be lining up to use it
So does a new version of SharePoint increase user adoption? I doubt that it does because I think that there are three types of users in an organization as it relates to SharePoint:
- The SharePoint Haters: These people don't like the idea of SharePoint and actively curse it. Good luck trying to convince them that the new version will change their lives. As far as they are concerned its just the same tool and shinier but will not provide them value.
- The On the Fence Users: These people use SharePoint sporadically but aren't really enamored with it. They might be convinced that a new version will make their lives easier but without giving them a real reason then they will probably not change their tune.
- The SharePoint Lovers: These people love SharePoint and will actively promote it to everyone that will listen. Regardless of version they will use the product.
Upgrading = A purely technical Endeavour
Another common mistake when performing an upgrade is to only consider the technical aspects. Basically lets take what we have in this version and make sure that it appears the same in the new version, more or less.
Yes upgrading versions involves a whole host of technical tasks but you should also consider this a great time to review and possibly upgrade all the other components of your SharePoint environment including Governance, Training Plans, Change Management and so forth. I am sure that there is many an organization out there that has been burned with badly written code and hacked together solutions that simply do not upgrade but do not forget the business issues.
Try to stop and re-evaluate how SharePoint is performing in your organization. It can be very difficult to do in the day to day operations side of things but an upgrade project is a perfect time to look holistically at SharePoint.
So what is the answer?
Am I anti SharePoint 2013? Quite the opposite actually I believe that it is a far superior platform in every way compared to its predecessors and can provide incredible value. What I am opposed is seeing organizations continue to think that simply upgrading SharePoint will magically solve the issues that the vast majority of organizations struggle in: User Adoption, Governance, Strategy and ultimately getting real value from the platform.
Yet we have been through this before for most organizations. Remember how you had no governance or an Information Management Strategy in SharePoint 2007? Remember how you upgraded to SharePoint 2010? Remember how that didn’t really make the situation better? The below quote sums it up best:
Insanity is doing the same things again and again expecting different results
So what should you do when upgrading to the next version? Well here is what we at Dynamic Owl suggest:
Review your current SharePoint Success and Challenges
First work out what is working well and what isn’t. For the parts that are working well see how you can further leverage these things in the new version in terms of technology (for example people are using metadata but now they can edit Managed Metadata in datasheet view) and also from a business perspective (our SharePoint Center of Excellence is working well, how can we promote it further)
For challenges group them into technical and non-technical challenges and see how the new version mitigates them. For example a challenge could be that users can’t move documents around easily in SharePoint 2010, the technical solution in SharePoint 2013 is that now they can do that through the browser.
However you will find that many of the issues are non-technical issues that manifest themselves in SharePoint. For example people don’t use metadata to classify content and just use folders. A new version isn't going to solve this for you but combine a business solution and some new SharePoint features and you could have the solution that you need.
Review your strategy and business requirements
As always it comes from the business. Yes SharePoint 2013 has a range of very cool and powerful new capabilities but without crafting business solutions that add value then it doesn't really matter. If you only drive at a maximum of 60km an hour then it really doesn't matter if you have a SmartCar or a Ferrarri, the extra features won't make an ounce of difference.
So before running around telling your users about all these great new features ask them what their current challenges are and then see how you can leverage these new capabilities. Remember that without knowing what you will be using these new features for in your business that all they will be – features. By combining a understanding of business requirements and features you create business solutions, and that my friends is the name of the game.
Determine the current most pressing issues
Sometimes it might be better NOT to upgrade from a platform perspective but to make better use of features that you have. For example if people in your organization are still emailing content around then why don’t you spend the funds on an education campaign and training to help them transition into another style of working. Thinking that a simple platform upgrade will solve this issue is just foolish.
However there are certain features that are only in the new version that can make the decision easier. For many organizations the new search or social features can provide significant value, for others the advent of BYOD mean that their current version of SharePoint simply doesn't work across multiple form factors and SharePoint 2013 can change that. What ever the issue is the main point is that you understand exactly what it is, prioritize what needs to be done first and then determine if an upgrade will provide value.
Upgrading SharePoint is much more than a technical endeavor and needs to be planned and executed according to the needs that the business has. These needs can be technical but also non technical such as change management, adoption or strategy based so make sure you understand what the new version can facilitate and what it can’t.
As always comments are most welcome!