DIY SharePoint

David Kruglov
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When SharePoint began to emerge as the intranet platform of choice, Microsoft touted it as a self-service solution.  This is certainly true in terms of the myriad things a non-technical user can do in SharePoint without writing code.  Along this line of thought, many companies also want to stand up SharePoint themselves in-house.  Depending on your organization’s skillset, this may or may not be a self-service endeavor.  When considering such an undertaking, I encourage organizations to do an internal skills inventory before launching a Do-It-Yourself SharePoint initiative.

SharePoint truly is self-service once you’ve done extensive planning, configured the platform, implemented a governance strategy, created a taxonomy, organized, identified and imported all of the content, built the necessary forms and workflows, done a few customizations, and so on. 

In order to do these things correctly, and to ensure adoption, an organization has to possess a broad array of skills that fall into the following categories:

  • IT Pro
  • Information Architecture
  • Software Development
  • Evangelist & Trainer

The IT Pro’s job is to set up and configure the platform which requires, at a minimum, a firm understanding of hardware, virtualization, Windows Server, IIS, Active Directory, SQL Server and  SharePoint (configuration and administration).  With SharePoint 2010, PowerShell gets added to required skill list, unless you use a design and deployment product such as SharePoint Composer.  To be proficient in all of these things, the IT Pro will likely have to have a few years of experience with each of these technologies.

Information Architecture is at the heart of SharePoint.  Wikipedia defines Information Architecture  as “a structural design of shared environments, methods of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, and online communities, and ways of bringing the principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape”.  The Information Architect’s primary job is to inventory, classify and organize content into a coherent structure, preferably one that most people can understand quickly, if not intuitively.  Becoming a good Information Architect takes many years of study and practice.  Not having a well-designed information architecture leads to problems with administration, governance, search/Discovery, overall usability and ultimately adoption – leading to what we call a "SharePoint Meltdown".

Software development skills come into play whenever you want to extend SharePoint beyond what it does or looks like out of the box.  SharePoint branding and custom web parts are common development activities for almost every SharePoint implementation.  When ShareSquared hires consultants, we put them through a minimum of two rigorous technical interviews centered on object oriented design principles and patterns, the .NET platform and SharePoint architecture, administration and development.  A good SharePoint developer will have a firm grasp of ASP.NET, the SharePoint Object Model, Web Services, IIS, XML/XSL, and hopefully some knowledge of Windows Workflow Foundation and other ancillary technologies often used with SharePoint. 

SharePoint evangelists in an organization play a key role in both promoting the ROI, and ultimately the adoption, of SharePoint.  These people should be well-versed in the use of SharePoint from a Content Owner and End-user perspective, as well as have some knowledge of SharePoint Administration.  They need to be able to articulate how SharePoint fits into the organization and what is possible using the platform.  They should also be able to scope initiatives as large, medium or small based on how well the requirements are supported by SharePoint features out-of-the-box.  Most importantly, they need to get End-Users excited about using SharePoint and assist/train them so as to mitigate the learning curve.

Finding all of these skills in an organization is oftentimes a difficult task, especially when the “SharePoint guy(s)” also need to understand the business domain.  SharePoint 2010 exacerbates the problem because the platform is 2-3 times what the 2007 product was, albeit it is a markedly better product.  That said, if you’re planning a DIY SharePoint implementation, I highly recommend you do a skills inventory of your organization to make sure you have the muscle in-house to do it successfully.  Otherwise, your DIY SharePoint solution may turn out to be Dead In a Year.

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