Service provider takeaway: Before embarking on a SharePoint implementation project, systems integrators and consultants need to do some careful planning. Find out exactly what issues need to be addressed and how best to address them.
While each implementation of Microsoft SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 varies from the next, the portals are unified by the complexity that underlies them. MOSS is a horizontal, rather than vertical, platform, tightly integrated with Windows Server 2003/2008, Internet Information Services (IIS), Active Directory, .NET Framework and SQL Server.
So, before you get started on a SharePoint implementation, you need to ask your customers and yourself one key question: Are you ready for SharePoint? This isn't an academic question. SharePoint implementations require thorough planning; without it, a SharePoint environment can quickly turn into an unreliable and unruly monster.
As part of the planning process, there are a few important infrastructure concerns to be addressed. One involves server uptime. Since 99% of all data is stored in SQL databases, the availability of the SharePoint environment will largely depend on SQL Server uptime. To ensure that uptime, you should recommend that your customers cluster their SQL Server databases.
In addition, the importance of SharePoint backup is often overlooked. Before moving forward with a SharePoint implementation, your customers should consider the possibility of upgrading their existing backup solution or, alternately, decide whether a SharePoint-specific backup product would suit their needs.
While there are other, more minor details to be concerned about, database clustering and backup capabilities could eat up a big chunk of your customer's SharePoint budget and so need ample attention in the planning process.
Assuming your customer decides, after careful consideration, to move ahead with the SharePoint implementation, it's important for you to keep in mind who's driving the project. If SharePoint implementation has been an IT initiative, do not presume that department knows what the company's business needs are; often, IT's vision is myopic, circumscribed by its day-to-day responsibilities. Despite that limitation, the IT department can help you understand the current environment, assess all disparate data buckets within the system, plan for capacity, security and authentication, as well as prepare you for any unforeseen issues that might arise during the implementation.
Benefits of discovery
Once you have a basic idea of the current environment, the discovery phase of the project begins. Even if the initial goal is to implement the portal for just one or two business groups, it's important to interview representatives from all business units within the company. Those conversations will bring you an understanding of:
- How groups collaborate with one another.
- What applications they are using in their daily routine. This will help you determine information sources, legacy systems and line-of-business applications.
- The intended audience of the information that is produced.
- Where internal activities overlap between groups.
- Everyday challenges. (By determining this, you will identify your customer's pain points.)
- Auditing requirements.
The interview stage will help you determine the scope of the project and discover more about the internal processes of the entire organization; this information seldom gets identified. It is critical to conduct this discovery phase before demonstrating SharePoint out-of-the-box functionality to end users or giving them a "sandbox" environment. Otherwise, their ideas might be boxed in by their knowledge of SharePoint -- or their lack of knowledge, for that matter.
While there are many teams/departments within a company, roles are often clearly defined by the business activities within the organization, with individuals falling into either a "supporting" group or a "business" group. A supporting group facilitates smooth operation of the company while the business group generates revenue. In the long run, the success of the SharePoint implementation will be determined by the use the business group derives from it. By providing solutions to mitigate the pain points of the business group and automate their processes, the portal will leverage business productivity and provide ROI, justifying the investment of the implementation.
By the end of the discovery stage, you should be very well equipped with enough information to go to the drawing board and start laying out the initial ideas in terms of the taxonomy and topology of your SharePoint Farm (the overarching structure of a SharePoint server at a particular site). Plan your application pools, Web applications, site collections and subsite structure with future growth in mind. Refrain from basing your portal's architecture solely upon the infrastructure of the company; instead, concentrate on the business operations. The acceptance of your proposed solution will largely depend on the stakeholders' views and overall culture within the company.
Identify goals for the initial deployment and focus on the pilot group champions. Finding the "wow" factor and setting clear expectations is imperative for the initial deployment. While it might be tempting to try to satisfy everyone involved, don't stray from the project's defined path. Be careful about trying to spread your resources too thin since that will degrade the quality of the end product.
Finally, integration with legacy systems and line-of-business applications should always be an option to keep in mind. These integration options will directly affect your portal topology, security and enterprise search. As the potential of the SharePoint server and its integration ability are recognized, the SharePoint environment will grow accordingly. By thorough documentation of the environment and strict adherence to your customer's governance model (which essentially defines how the company will use SharePoint, by documenting policies, roles and processes), this growth will be facilitated more easily. Development of the governance model has been heavily documented by Microsoft.
About the author
Natalya Voskresenskaya, MCTS, is SharePoint architect at Conchango, a consultancy and system integration company. She has been working in the IT field for 10 years. With experience in design, architecture, development and deployment of Web-based applications, Natalya has been developing and implementing portal solutions since 2000 and working with SharePoint since version 2003. For more information, check out Natalya's SharePoint blog.