Oct 17 2008

Sharing SharePoint Strategies

State and local government experts offer tips for getting the most from collaboration deployments.

Offering a cornucopia of features for enterprise communication and collaboration, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 has proliferated across state and local government.

Yet while the six pillars of MOSS — collaboration, portals, enterprise search, enterprise content management, business process and forms, and business intelligence — seem to offer something for everyone, the broad-based solution often raises as much confusion as it does excitement. So here are some tips on how to use the collaboration platform from government experts who have already dipped their toes into MOSS waters.

Let Technology Guide, Not Lead

Just because MOSS has a plethora of capability, don’t let the technology seduce you. “First, decide what it is you’re trying to do, and see if SharePoint is the right fit,” says Craig Roth, vice president and analyst at the Burton Group. “Try not to work backwards based on what the technology can do.”

For state, county and local governments, the value of SharePoint is that it offers an easy way to communicate and collaborate with people — interoffice, interagency and with constituents.

Whether used for one-way broadcast communication (such as posting documents, events or information on a project up for bid) or for two-way collaboration on projects in public work spaces, Roth suggest slicing up SharePoint’s capabilities and evaluating which part is useful to your organization. “Looking at it as a whole can be baffling,” he says.

Plan for Success

Vermont is deploying SharePoint, and many state agencies are lining up to use it. However, rolling out the platform before it’s ready isn’t an option.

“From our perspective, planning is the key component to implementing an enterprisewide SharePoint,” says Tom Jenny, enterprise project manager with the Vermont Department of Information and Innovation. Jenny is bringing in potential stakeholders to help him formulate a strategy for building a SharePoint infrastructure. For example, to avoid having users cram data into SharePoint in an unproductive way, Jenny has tapped the state’s archivist as a key project partner.

“We want to ensure that agencies are participating in a records management program and policy before moving ahead with SharePoint,” says Jenny, noting that records management is a huge challenge in state government, and it’s imperative to ensure that any deployment fits with legal requirements.

Bring in Experts

The state of Arkansas is also in the midst of establishing a SharePoint enterprise architecture and has defined several pilot projects.

One is a shared portal project for managing the state’s telecommunications moves, additions and changes, which reportedly produces the highest volume of workload across its 192 state agencies, boards and commissions. The goal is to transform existing processes to more of an Internet service delivery model, in which users order and track the time and delivery of telecommunication services online.

Another MOSS project involves streamlining the state’s IT notification system for network outages. The IT department runs a safety network, a wireless network and a state network for agencies, boards and commissions. Plans are also in the works to move the public government website, www.arkansas.gov, to the SharePoint platform to enable operational efficiencies and work flow.

Arkansas CTO Claire Bailey says that partnering with an outside SharePoint leader adds value to their efforts. “Having experts work with our staff allows us to build knowledge about identifying the right tools, the right people and the right jobs,” she says, equating it with on-the-job site training.

After all, she says, as CTO, her job is to quickly and efficiently deploy quality solutions for the state.

Test and Verify

As Arkansas moves forward with several SharePoint applications, Bailey also stresses the importance of prototyping to achieve successful outcomes. “It’s important to get user requirements, create a prototype and follow-up with feedback,” she says. SharePoint applications, she adds, lend themselves to quick prototyping to see if the look and feel of an application is in fact what the user wants.

Another tip from the CTO is that configuration management is key to making sure that integration with different systems, such as back-end databases, is implemented properly.

Recognize Limits

The state of Colorado is running almost a dozen SharePoint applications, primarily portals for document sharing and calendaring. For example, there are portals for House Bills, data governance, GIS and disaster recovery, to name a few. Chris Morgan, security engineer with the Information Security Operations Center, has learned a few things about MOSS over the past year and a half.

One lesson: When building applications, the 4-gigabyte limit of the Windows Internal Database can be reached pretty quickly. “For long-term development, use a Microsoft SQL database at the onset,” says Morgan. “If you do it initially, it’s pretty straightforward. Switching midstream is trickier.”