Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dissecting a Decade of SharePoint Consulting Success - Article 2 of 4: Whiteboarding

Whiteboarding Your SharePoint Road Map

In most any enterprise SharePoint implementation, SP 2010 or 2013, one of the single most valuable tools I find that most frequently provides that “Aha!” moment to both the business stakeholders and I.T. (Information Technology) management is the $99.00 to $199.00 OfficeMax (or your favorite office suppliers) whiteboard. This magical piece of bolt on the wall plastic has provided me and my team at EPC more progress with our clients in the initial envisioning and requirements gathering phases than any other tool. (It’s time to break out the red, green, and blue markers!)

SharePoint initiatives are in many cases described in the initial phases of an enterprise implementation in abstract which can sometimes cause the (business) project stakeholders to get off track as they think they are possibly hearing or understanding something different that the technical side of the table is explaining that may not mesh in detail with known business terms.

Your Overall SharePoint Hierarchy - Whiteboarding

There is always a challenge in describing the SharePoint front-end (the Sites and Hierarchy) with the back-end Site Collections and Content Databases. The business, understandably, just wants to store their content and are typically wondering why it is such a big deal for them to describe the exact type of content (size, type, content types \ metadata, etc.) to I.T. in this initial phase. I like to use the analogy when I whiteboard an enterprise or global SharePoint solution with EPC Group’s clients that the hierarchy (sites, landing pages, templates, etc.) are the front-end visual pieces but if “we were to remove this whiteboard from the wall” behind it we would find all of these “50 gallon drums or buckets” that represent our content databases.

The content databases are critical (as the technical team knows) to store the content in a governed manner for which the growth of these content databases is scaled and new content databases will be created once the other content database(s) reach a specific size limit.

I like to then ask the business and technical teams to imagine strings connecting sites and site collections to these content databases which will then connect to other areas of SharePoint in the overall hierarchy which will affect areas such as search and even more importantly tie into security (Active Directory \ SharePoint Security Groups, etc.)

Why Can’t You Just Give Us Sites

I think many of us have heard countless stories of SharePoint 2007 and the comparison to HBO’s Deadwood or the “Wild Wild West”. I have experienced a lot of users detracting from SharePoint 2010 before they have even used it because of their “experience at their previous job where SharePoint was just not governed.” I think we can all give a bit of blame to Microsoft’s marketing or sales department (just a tad bit) for the “build it and they will come” Kevin Costner movie the “Field of Dreams” mentality.

Build it and they definitely will come but the SharePoint Golden Rule, storing content in one place or one version of the truth is key to SharePoint’s long-term success. There is no reason you have to call your SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint 2013 implementation “SharePoint”. Give it a name that is relevant to your company and think of it as a core ecosystem to your business rather than just a piece of Microsoft software. You will be amazed at the response you get from your user community when you tailor the name, logo, or implement a bit of branding to make SharePoint your own.

My (Insert Company Name) or some other clever name for this new “powerful and game changing platform” for which you are offering to your user base can be named anything you like and there is no reason to just stick to “its SharePoint”. Naming contests to name the new SharePoint deployment are always interesting but I swear the owner of the contest tends to stack the deck and ends up naming it something they like in the end but I guess they held the cards.

Whiteboarding and the Big Picture

The great thing about getting the key stakeholders in a room and Whiteboarding not only the SharePoint site hierarchy or site collections but the ability to get into detail about Active Directory Groups that exist within the organization that may manage the permissions to the sites or to be able to identify when these AD Groups are not sufficient to meet the needs and where SharePoint Security Groups may then be identified as a security solutions.

Another major element of the Whiteboarding process is the population of the Profile Service in relation to My Sites and how these fields are going to be published. There are always curve balls in this realm when dealing with Global organizations. For example, in Germany you are not allowed to publish the manager of an employee or specific other fields. This can become a bit of a governance challenge but can easily be overcome when the key stakeholders are talking through the entire technical process and workarounds for specific regions or datacenters.

Branding \ UI \ Mockups

When implementing a SharePoint 2010 or 2013 deployment, you will get the best user experience and user buy-in if you implement an organizational specific “master page” or look and feel. With mobile being more and more prevalent there are multiple ways to approach this but for this articles sake I would recommend at least some CSS and logo updates to your sites to bring people into the portal. The development of custom “master pages” can be a 4 or 5 week project so it’s key to determine your budget allowance and\or constraints around this type of tailoring of SharePoint.

EPC Group rolled out a deployment for several different NASA locations and the locations that did have the branding (custom look and feel) did have about a 20% increased usage over the “plain” SharePoint Out-of-the-Box (OOTB) templates. Branding is something that can be done in later Phases but it’s key to keep in mind your organization’s mobile device strategy when road mapping and planning your custom SharePoint branding initiative.


I will continue and complete this article series with parts 3 and 4 over the coming month and please look back at 3 important posts for which I believe will deeply benefit you going forward in your SharePoint enterprise implementation for which have led myself and my organization to well over 650 successful implementations:

  1. SharePoint 2013 Preview Summary - Managing Your Current SharePoint 2010 Initiative with 2013 in Mind
  2. 650 Successful SharePoint Implementations – Dissecting a Decade of EPC Group Enterprise SharePoint Success - Article 1 of 4
  3. SharePoint Consulting Best Practices for a SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Deployment

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Q&A: SharePoint Cloud Migration Advice -

Q&A: SharePoint Cloud Migration Advice

EPC Founder and CEO Errin O'Connor shares tips for a smooth cloud experience with SharePoint.
SharePoint can be a heckuva product. For some it's even better in the cloud, where you don't have to worry about servers, licenses, NICs and all the rest. You can let your hoster handle all those worries. At least that's what Errin O'Connor, founder and CEO of EPC, believes. He recently spoke with Redmond magazine Editor in Chief Doug Barney.

Q In what cases are users better off doing SharePoint on-premises versus the cloud?

A For organizations that require the ability to have total or near-total control over their SharePoint environment, an on-premises SharePoint environment is definitely the way they should go. I've been involved in more than 120 SharePoint 2010 implementations, and 85 percent of them have been on-premises in the organization's private cloud due to their requirements. Larger organizations -- Fortune 500 or 1000, or really even environments of approximately 500 users or more -- tend to go toward the on-site, on-premises private cloud to ensure they're able to connect to other external data sources, easily federate with their Active Directory security configurations and implement any custom solutions or configurations they require.

The SharePoint off-premises, hosted cloud environments work extremely well for small to midsize businesses (SMBs) that are looking for a collaboration solution that involves little or no support from the organization's IT department and has a very straightforward set of requirements. The hosted off-premises cloud usually involves a set of quotas and a set catalog of Web Parts from which the organization can choose to keep governance requirements to a minimum.

The reason that larger organizations go toward their own private, on-premises environments is that it allows the IT department to quickly react and more easily meet the needs of their customers -- the users within the organization. There should still be a strict set of governance requirements, such as a SharePoint steering committee or a SharePoint code-review board, and power user leaders to ensure that governance is enforced. But there are other items -- such as Personal Health Information (PHI), Personal Identifiable Information (PII), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) information, tax data and other sensitive or proprietary data -- that organizations are just not comfortable storing outside of their environments.

Q SharePoint is all about collaboration, document sharing and social media, so is it better positioned for the cloud than other apps?

A The methodology approach to implementing SharePoint that will help answer this question is to implement SharePoint in a hybrid approach. Planning for the SharePoint information and system architecture as well as document sharing -- or document management -- and social media will allow this to be hosted on-premises or in the cloud.

Microsoft's recent [agreement to] purchase Yammer really throws a wrench in this area, as NewsGator has been the add-on of choice for those organizations that wanted to increase SharePoint My Site capabilities. Some organizations also go for a customized My Site platform in a build-versus-buy scenario, but Yammer is currently a cloud-based application. I have a feeling that in a year or two Yammer will be integrated within the next wave of SharePoint for either on-premises or for the cloud.

Yammer's functionality can easily be taken and integrated into the next SharePoint wave -- in about two years -- regardless of whether it's on-site or in the cloud. Yammer, I believe, was an attractive buy for Microsoft because it allows Yammer's customers -- who were possibly skeptical about the social and professional networking capabilities of SharePoint -- to gain added confidence. NewsGator customers were always all SharePoint all the way because the platform was built only for SharePoint. Combine an added customer base and supercharged SharePoint social networking features with the already industry-leading enterprise content management document management, intranet and mobile capabilities -- along with integration with Office, the amazing reporting capabilities of Microsoft PerformancePoint and features coming out in SQL Server 2012 as well as SharePoint 13 -- and you have a platform that can't be easily matched by Documentum, OpenText, Oracle or other companies' solutions.

Q What are the economics of SharePoint in the cloud?

A For the organizations -- those SMB clients -- who can stick with a more out-of-the-box implementation of SharePoint and want something configured, provisioned and stood up quickly, the economics of SharePoint in the cloud are extremely attractive. The cloud offers software and hardware costs all rolled into a per-user or monthly fee that can easily be budget-capped -- and that comes with business and functionality capping as well. 
That may not be a bad thing for users who want to avoid the need for hardware, avoid managing a virtual machine (VM) environment, avoid worrying about disaster recovery and backup, or avoid accessing external data.

Q Many shops use SharePoint tactically. In fact, SharePoint instances often spring up without IT or corporate knowledge. How does the cloud support this?

A I've seen a large number of SharePoint "test beds" or sandboxes turn into production environments, due to either requirements that need to be quickly met or when the business and IT are not on the same page. This quickly becomes apparent to IT and corporate because users will start requesting sites and sending out links rather than attachments in e-mail, or make SharePoint a key topic in watercooler conversations, or request customizations.

The cloud can be a way for small departments or specific organizations within a larger organization -- or even project teams -- to quickly stand up a SharePoint environment in the cloud. Rather than going through a procurement process, it's possible for users to engage a SharePoint cloud provider and have a site up and running in about 72 hours.

Q How does the cloud bring discipline to this?

A The SharePoint off-premises cloud can ensure the site is configured properly, as the hosting company has a site-provisioning process that's very repeatable. A key item to take into consideration here is to ensure the cloud hosting provider allows for or has a process of migrating the hosted off-premises cloud into a possible future on-premises environment.

Rather than users setting up a quick internal sandbox that could go against company policy, software licensing or organizational governance, or give users the full features and functionality of SharePoint, a hosted, limited-functionality cloud could bring some discipline to this requirement.

Q Does the cloud allow IT to be more strategic when it comes to building SharePoint apps?

A I think the cloud actually stifles IT's building of SharePoint applications because hosted, off-premises cloud environments don't allow for minor or even major customizations organizations may require. The "14 hive" being completely blocked is not a bad thing, but being able to easily and quickly deploy features into SharePoint is key. In my personal experience, this is slowed, and can mean having another CIO or security department tell your company what you can and can't do. That's not always something an organization can deal with due to many different circumstances.

What if you have another search solution or want to implement FAST Search into your organization? Or design a custom .NET workflow using Windows Workflow Foundation, then package it up and deploy it? You'd need to first send it over to the cloud provider, determine their approval process, and wait for a determination on whether the solution could be deployed.

Q Can the cloud give IT the kind of control over SharePoint apps that IT may be used to?

A The cloud can give control over SharePoint applications in a similar way as on-premises, but it can also give a way for IT to have an additional control over the SharePoint Web Part or Solutions catalog. This is because the change-management process is more stringent when a third-party outside provider also must approve the application. It's critical to implement a change-management process in both on-site and hosted environments in not only the content and security, but in custom applications.

Q What should IT look for in a SharePoint hoster?

A There are a wide variety of hosting providers and any one that's selected really needs to match up with your organization's 24- to 36-month roadmap for how you envision SharePoint to evolve in the hybrid approach over time.

Q What else should IT consider?

A It's absolutely key to whiteboard and pull together all of your organization's requirements and match them to your IT roadmap. Take into consideration the current versions of not only SharePoint and SQL Server but elements like Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer, the next release of SharePoint coming up around the corner, the amazing increase in VM software platforms, and how it's possible to throttle performance to specific servers to meet your needs.

Mobile devices should be a key part of that strategy. Also take into account how your users, customers and external partners will require the ability to easily access data.