Over the years, I’ve been working on some amazing SharePoint solutions, both for organizations that want to solve some kind of specific problem and for vendors who want to build generic solutions for a group of problems.
Sadly, though, I’ve seen and often rejected a lot of projects that used SharePoint in a horribly bad manner. There are some common patterns to these projects, and I’d like to explore some of what is wrong with these projects.
Or rather, the attitude of those behind them.
You’re an Idiot!
Let me start with a basic premise: You’re an idiot. You should accept that and there probably isn’t much you can or should do about it either.
If you’re terribly angry over this, then please move on to a different article and preferably a different blog. You see, I write for idiots, largely because I am one myself.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be an idiot. It is a bad thing if you are an ignorant idiot, but if you are an aware idiot, that is probably a good thing. You can take the ‘probably’ out of that sentence if you are aware that you are an idiot and you work to circumvent the limitations that puts on you.
One way to work on that is to simply accept that you’re doing something stupid most of the time and seek to learn how to do stuff better or hand it over to someone who will do it better for you.
This is vital for anyone working with SharePoint and especially for those who seek to utilize SharePoint. You should be an idiot at SharePoint because you’ll suck at it for years if you try to become great at it.
If you are or seek to be a SharePoint professional, you need to realize right now that you’ll completely suck at most of what SharePoint does. That’s fine; you’ll be much happier and your clients will be too if you work with things in which you are good. Try to be everything for someone and you’ll be nothing for everyone.
If you are or seek to be a SharePoint user or customer, you need to realize that your business is what you do best, and SharePoint likely isn’t your business. SharePoint is there to support what you do in your business, but getting to a point where developing SharePoint to work that way takes a very long time, and you’ll do it very badly at first if you do it on your own.
Now that we have established the rationale behind the “idiot” premise, let’s move on and look at what you are doing wrong with SharePoint.
SharePoint Out-of-the-Box – Just Say No!
“Stop it, you’re being silly. SharePoint Out-of-the-Box is so much cheaper than custom development!”
I do private presentations and webinars for companies around the world, and whenever I talk to aspiring SharePoint using organizations, I ask them this:
Is advertising a competitive advantage?
Most of the time, people will answer “Yes!” thinking that if they just advertise more, they will gain a competitive advantage. Just look at Coca-Cola, they advertise, right? Red Bull?
The trouble with that is that if buying more advertising is what keeps you competitive, then your competitors can just do exactly the same thing, and your competitive advantage is gone.
In fact, advertising is a commodity; you can just buy it from pretty much anywhere, and so can everyone else. It’s like buying Office; it doesn’t give you an advantage because your competitors can do exactly the same thing to wipe out that advantage in a minute.
This applies to SharePoint too. SharePoint is a commodity and isn’t a competitive advantage. Every idiot can double-click the installer and spouse-mode through the installation (Yes, I agree, Yes, Yes, OK). If installing SharePoint is the only thing you’re doing to get an advantage, then the idiot working for your competitor can wipe out that advantage quickly, at least if they have a spouse and know how to just agree to everything someone tells them.
It doesn’t help that you add a few out-of-the-box features to save money; throw up a team site, setup a document repository, store your corporate templates in a template library… None of these things are giving you any benefit. You’re playing with toys, not using tools to better your organization.
SharePoint’s greatest advantage is its ability to be unique and adapt to you. You’re wasting SharePoint if you’re just using what someone in Redmond thinks is great for everyone; there’s no benefit to you in that because your competitor gets exactly the same thing by just acquiring the same bits as you have.
So yeah, just doing out-of-the-box stuff may be cheaper in terms of what you pay someone. However, that is usually because those you pay know nothing about how to make SharePoint work for you and your unique situation. And if it was that easy and cheap to get a competitive advantage, your competitors are likely doing it already and you’re wasting whatever little effort you are willing to put in.
SharePoint for Web Content Management – Just Say Hell No!
“But it’s already there and we pay for it!”
The WCM story in SharePoint is one of tragedy, wasted resources, and broken promises. It’s a long story that goes back over a decade where Microsoft has tried to move from competing with giants at the time like Netscape and today wanting to offer something for which there really isn’t a realistic market.
SharePoint is best when it works with structured data and orderly but ever changing business processes working on that data. Use SharePoint like that, and you’ll both be happy campers. SharePoint at its core is just a database, and the web is a collection of HTML documents.
Granted, there are plenty of database driven web applications out there, but that’s not what WCM in SharePoint is about. In fact, if you’re using SharePoint’s for its WCM capabilities, you’re essentially using SharePoint to hold a single document library only. A bit like, I don’t know, replacing the file share of yonder days.
So what are the alternatives? Well, you can get something like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal, platforms that have been specifically designed around delivering web content management. These platforms embrace their main purpose and focus on that, and their success blows SharePoint out of the water when it comes to WCM.
Still not convinced? Well, consider this. It’s not for nothing that more and more of the SharePoint community superheroes migrate to WordPress from SharePoint. It’s not that they don’t know how to get stuff done in SharePoint but rather that they realize that SharePoint is utterly lacking in WCM capabilities.
And yes, those superheroes generally have SharePoint hosting for free, so it’s not a matter of saving money either. In fact, they have to go through a lot of pain to convert to other platforms, and I know because I help a lot of them to do so, but rather that even if it costs them time and pain, they still prefer to use other platforms.
Listen to what those superheroes are saying; even if SharePoint is free and we know everything there is to know about SharePoint, we still prefer our web presence on more costly, in time and learning, web content management platforms.
And it isn’t going to change either. By the time the next version of SharePoint comes out, you know, the version that promises to finally be the right way of doing WCM, the web has moved on years ago. Guess what; in SharePoint 2013, we finally got reasonable SEO. Of course, that happened a year after SEO changed completely and is now completely different than when Microsoft designed the SEO capabilities in SharePoint 2013.
So, Microsoft is as always playing catch-up, and with the pace of the web, they’ll never catch up. It will be worse for you because by the time you actually get your chosen version of SharePoint WCM out the door, your competition has had years to harness the web for all its glory.
So… What’s Right, Then?
Like I mentioned previously in this article, SharePoint is about supporting your business in whatever your business does. Use SharePoint to build support functionality for what you do best. Make your business processes more smooth. Remove potential human errors in manually dealing with data. Organize your business data to get awesome business intelligence.
You are at your best when you do what you know and what makes you unique. Your competitive advantage is not in the commodities you buy but in the knowledge that you possess and the way you do your tasks.
If you focus on buying new trinkets rather than developing your business, then you will fail. If you focus on improving your business and use tools to make those improvements more effective then you’ll succeed.
And guess what, that’s exactly what SharePoint does right.