Seven Steps to Prepare for SharePoint 2010

Everyone loves lists.  Top 10, Top 5, 7 Habits, etc.  This is Seven Steps to PREPARE for SharePoint 2010.  There are a few lists regarding how to prepare for SharePoint 2010 out there, but all of the ones I’ve seen are for IT users.  It will include everything from SP2, Cumulative Updates, stsadm preupgradecheck, upgrading (or migrating) to 64 bit, and more. 

This list is for everyone thinking about SharePoint 2010.  SharePoint Foundation, SharePoint 2010 Standard, or SharePoint 2010 Enterprise.  Whether you are implementing SharePoint for the very first time, upgrading from SharePoint 2007 (or 2003), migrating from other ‘non-SharePoint’ systems, or adding yet another SharePoint farm to your organization, these seven steps are some of the most important tools for your SharePoint implementation.  What if you’ve already started your SharePoint project?  The good news is that it’s never too late to start doing it correctly.

  1. Education.  For yourself, for your team, for your users – education is the most powerful tool available to you as a SharePoint user, architect, developer, or administrator.  Everyone learns at their own pace and learn in their own way.  Some people learn by doing.  Some people learn by watching.  Some people learn by reading.  Some people learn by being shown how to do it.  SharePoint has achieved the critical mass necessary to provide materials, classes, books, samples, websites, user groups, and can be learned in any of the above methods.  Microsoft provides fully configured Virtual Environments and trial versions of the product so that you can learn everything about the product before ever making monetary investments in the platform.  
     
  2. Community.  Join the community.  Communities are based on collaboration.  SharePoint is all about community and always has been.  SharePoint is big.  No, really big.  SharePoint is global.  SharePoint is everywhere.  There is plenty of room for you to participate in the community.  The SharePoint community consists of local user groups, online user groups, dedicated blogs, dedicated websites, MSDN, TechNet, hundreds of books, literally hundreds of SharePoint conferences annually, and so much more. I’ve spoken at quite a few of these conferences, and my personal favorites are SharePoint Saturdays and SharePointConference.org.  Of course, I’m a little biased on the last one.
     
  3. Governance.  If given the proper opportunity, SharePoint love will spread like wild fire throughout your organization and even beyond.  SharePoint is a powerful enabler that will free your IT staff from day to day configuration tasks and enable your business users to configure solutions that meet their needs immediately.  Great power demands great responsibility.  A SharePoint Governance plan should be put in place to include major facets of how SharePoint will be used both within and outside of your organization.  Your SharePoint Governance plan should be clearly articulated, clearly documented, and frequently revisited by your Governance team.  When will new environments be configured?  How will sites be managed?  Who will manage taxonomy?  When will Content Types be created?  When will items be archived?  IRM?  Records?  Search configuration?  Who will make up the governance committee?  How will governance be enforced?  Policy?  Workflow?  I recommend SharePoint Governor as a title because this role does not need to have an IT skill set.  This is vastly different from the SharePoint Administrator skill set and should be designated as such.
     
  4. Integration.  SharePoint will integrate with your other systems.  That may be a bold statement, but I’ve yet to see any SharePoint configuration that was completely standalone.  SharePoint 2010 includes a variety of ways to connect to other systems, but the most powerful way may be the Business Connectivity Services (BCS).  The BCS components provide an extremely powerful tool set for CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) operations with external data (.NET, Web Services, SQL, etc.).  Give serious consideration and planning to system boundaries well in advance to simplify implementation decisions.
     
  5. Hosting.  Determine where to host SharePoint.  For most organizations, this seems like a simple decision.  “We’ll just host it ourselves” is what I hear most often.  It is worth giving serious consideration to hosting SharePoint in the cloud.  There are wonderful fully managed hosting solutions available at a variety of price ranges.  These managed hosted solutions provide excellent service and support, ability to deploy custom solutions, integrate with your environment (whether AD domains or custom LOB systems).  The best of the managed hosting providers closely monitor services, apply updates, provide rapid deployment options, and take care of all maintenance as well.

    Microsoft BPOS is yet another option.  BPOS provides the option for SharePoint only, or you may opt to include a variety of other tools such as Exchange Online, Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online.  One of the options that suprises so many people that I work with is that you can opt to leverage your BPOS subscription for BOTH hosted AND on-premise licenses.  This means that you can host some of your environment in the cloud (using Microsoft) and host some of your environment in your own hosted environment.  You may opt to put you collaboration environments in the BPOS cloud while you keep your HR, contracting, and financial documents and tools on your in-house servers – all with the same licenses.
     

  6. Configuration vs Customization.  Where are you going to draw the line?  This is a big decision that may include a heated debate.  Let’s define Configuration as manipulating SharePoint without using Visual Studio.  You can use the web interface and SharePoint Designer to manipulate the IA, content types, views, list structures, libraries, workflow, design, UI, data views, Business Connectivity Services, External Content Types, Themes, Security, and much more – without ever writing code.  Now let’s define Customization as using Visual Studio.  SharePoint provides extremely robust tools and utilities for completely customizing SharePoint to make it exactly what you need.  Custom authentication, custom workflow, custom web parts, custom solutions, custom UI, and much more.  If you can dream it, you can build it in SharePoint.  With such a flexible and powerful platform, what is the correct answer?  There isn’t one.  Some decisions are easy, but this one has a lot of options.  If SharePoint can’t be configured to meet an exact business objective and the business objective is inflexible, then Customization may be required.  The best advice that I can give is to refer to Item Number 1 above: Education.  Knowledge of SharePoint’s capabilities is the most powerful tool available to any SharePoint developer, user, admin, or architect.  I’ve seen custom code that was very elegantly implemented.  the only problem was that it was written to perform a function that SharePoint did out of the box.  The developer was given a requirement, and the developer knew how to write custom .NET code to elegantly achieve the requirement.  The only downside was that the developer didn’t have enough core SharePoint knowledge to know that SharePoint already had this functionality. 
     
  7. Pilot.  SharePoint is a perfect platform for building, testing, and deploying using a pilot before formally releasing to your entire audience. There are two main types of pilots with software releases: functional software pilot or pilot users.  A functional pilot is a proof of concept – a ‘beta’ version of the software that could include the user interface, functionality, data storage, and user experience in order to test the scenario to ensure that the requirements can be achieved within the allocated time and budget using the selected approach.  This is also frequently referred to as a proof of concept.

    Pilot users are test group users that are tasked with using the application to give feedback quickly and accurately so that the solution can be tuned, updated, or fixed prior to releasing to the entire audience.  Pilot users could be using the full application or a proof of concept.  With an Intranet scenario, a pilot group could be a department or project team (other than IT) that will begin using the solution before it is deployed to other departments.  With social networks, committee sites, or member-based sites, the pilot group is a group of users to solidify the solution before deploying the template(s) and solution(s) to other site users. 

Conclusion.

SharePoint is big.  SharePoint has a big community with thousands of members.  SharePoint is a big platform that provides thousands of solutions.  SharePoint has a big ecosystem with thousands of MVPs, experts, consultants, vendors, hosting providers, and add-on providers.  Hopefully, these seven steps will provide a solid foundation that will help you implement SharePoint in the most effective, efficient, and correct way for your initiatives.

By John Stover

John Stover Bio.

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