Looking Past the Technology Sugar-High

Even with the continued growth and renewed energy around Microsoft Teams, SharePoint Online, and the entire Office 365 platform, there are still major issues surrounding the transition toward the cloud for many organizations…but not the issues you’re thinking of.

Major topics that have taken up mindshare from the community and customers in the past include upgrade and migration, governance, improving the user experience (UX), and the search and discovery experience. All valid topics, all deserving of our thoughtful consideration. But as organizations begin to consider moving to the cloud, whether to Office 365 or some kind of hybrid deployment, the bigger problem is that organizations are losing sight of what their businesses actually need from the technology.

What has happened over the past couple years is that the conversations have shifted, understandably, away from these traditionally infrastructure-minded topics toward user-centric topics, such as end user productivity, adoption and engagement, and personalized apps. Which is great, right? Give the people what they want! Adoption and engagement are king!

And let’s be honest — some of the most exciting innovations to come out of Redmond within the last year have absolutely nothing to do with those infrastructure concerns of the past, and everything to do with improving the end user experience. Am I right?

CandiesOne of my favorite childhood memories is of the Halloween that my older brother and I made the bold move to add to our secret candy stockpiles. We had gone out with our Mom and siblings for a couple hours, but not too far down our street had come across a lonely house with no porch lights, yet a *giant* bucket of candy with a “Please take one” sign to which our mother ensured we obeyed. Once back to the house, with mom confiscating our precious candy to dole out a little bit at a time over the coming weeks, we devised a plan.

Waiting until my parents were in bed, we quietly popped the screen to our bedroom window, climbed out with pillow cases in hand, ran the half mile or so to the house in question, and found the still full bucket of candy, which we divided in half between our pillow cases, and made our way home amongst the shadows. Once back in our room, we reinstalled the window screen, and hid our candy stash at the back of our closet.

Unfortunately, mom caught onto us fairly quickly. I don’t quite remember the details through my sugar-infused delirium, but apparently one or both of us refused the next day’s candy because we had already engorged ourselves that morning, and by breakfast we were already feeling quite ill.

Much like those candy-engorged boys, many organizations get caught in the sugar-high of exciting new features and roadmap promises, and tend to forget that healthy breakfast of business outcomes, adoption metrics, and governance and compliance standards.

Remember what it is you are trying to achieve for your businesses. The danger of focusing too much on everything *new* is that it often distracts us away from the core business requirements. In my experience, the majority of SharePoint failures come from our own inability to understand and deliver on what our organizations truly need. When AIIM.org says that nearly two-thirds of SharePoint installations are stalled in their progress, I would argue that many (if not most) of these engagements lack clarity around both purpose (why they are using SharePoint) and deployment strategy (how they will deliver).

As we kick off a new decade, and Microsoft prepares for another season of events where they’ll talk about all of the new features, the time has come for organizations to bridle their excitement for all that is new, take a long and hard look at their own requirements, and make an honest assessment of their real business needs. Sure, some of the latest features could help you better meet your requirements, but what can you deliver now while you wait for those new features to become available?

With so many changes so quickly within the Office 365 ecosystem, it can be difficult to make sense of Microsoft’s overall strategy, much less your own organizational goals. Successful technology deployments have never been about the technology. SharePoint, for example, is just a technology platform. A powerful, flexible platform that sometimes causes severe headaches, yes, but one that also enables organizations to unlock productivity and innovation. Experts in the community have long spoken out against the idea of deploying SharePoint and walking away, leaving it to the end users to find their way. Even with organizations who have had SharePoint in place for years, it was assumed that with an upgrade the end users would figure it all out without additional training or IT resources. Those attempts, more often than not, failed.

As you begin to think about adding to your intranet, team site, or knowledge management platform, begin with a coordinated effort across all of your stakeholders: end users, management, developers, and anyone else who will use or support the platform. Approach the technology with a shared understanding of what the business wants to achieve, and define the specific and measurable outputs of the system. What you will likely find is that the version you have in place today can meet most or all of those business requirements, putting you in a much better position to evaluate the new features and capabilities as they become available — and extend your environment even further.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.