Many organizations evaluate Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 to improve how employees collaboratively author, manage and share document drives. Yet varying work styles, the wide range of business content use and the mix of business processes make it difficult to identify when to use SharePoint for business content needs. Forrester interviewed Information and Knowledge Management (I&KM) professionals responsible for SharePoint initiatives to understand what works and what doesn't when deploying SharePoint. The result: five lessons learned from early adopters that indicate firms should focus on business context to determine SharePoint's suitability and proactively plan for the consequences of SharePoint's success and proliferation.

LESSON 1: "The masses" means those working with business content. In light of the expense, complexity and steep learning curve of some enterprise content management systems, SharePoint has been called "ECM for the masses." Many project leaders we spoke with noted that SharePoint's strength rests in core business content areas.

LESSON 2: Base decisions on type of IP, role and business processes. I&KM professionals interviewed took greater care when moving SharePoint deployments beyond general business content use cases and into more specific business content areas. These organizations controlled the scope of SharePoint deployments by supporting higher-value IP with other already existing systems; focusing on roles, not just employees, which helps identify both the type of IP that needs to be managed and the work styles typical of the role; and avoiding high-volume transactional business processes.

LESSON 3: Don't forget the need for an authoritative library. Many enterprises, uncomfortable with the support available for retention management within SharePoint, plan to use or currently use a two-phase approach for supporting many business content needs. These companies use SharePoint for work in progress and then publish complete work to an authoritative library for others to access and consume.

LESSON 4: Storing all content elsewhere, while possible, is costly. Some enterprises we spoke with, recognizing the limitations in SharePoint's document repository and retention management, planned to bypass SharePoint's native document library entirely and integrate with another ECM system for all content storage. However, some challenges they identified when executing this approach include falling short when using web parts to mimic the SharePoint user experience, difficulty pushing ECM vendors to offer pricing that reflects their lesser role and avoiding resource-intensive integration scenarios.

LESSON 5: Plan to address SharePoint's scalability issues. The ease with which business users can provision sites and team spaces means that SharePoint instances tend to multiply quickly. However, while Microsoft's own scalability guidelines seem generous (50 million objects, or 100 gigabytes per database), enterprises can quickly exceed them with rollouts of SharePoint to thousands of people. Those experiencing SharePoint success addressed this by striking a balance between the need for security, responsibility and consistency while still allowing teams to self-provision SharePoint; sizing an archive based on existing fileshare and exchange volumes; and using metrics to regularly archive content to minimize SharePoint-managed storage volumes.

The success of ECM often depends on business context - the extent to which the solution supports the way knowledge workers actually use content on a daily basis - rather than IT or risk contexts. These lessons learned show that SharePoint deployments should mimic this best practice.

Tim Walter, PhD [] is a senior analyst at Forrester Research, advising Information and Knowledge Management professionals on web content management, Intranet design, globalization, content-centric applications and Microsoft SharePoint as a content and collaboration platform.

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