Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Struggles with user adoption

This blog post covers the weak adoption of some SharePoint implementations.

According to a recent survey of over 300 business e-mail users, 80% of email users with SharePoint access continue emailing documents back and forth, instead of sending document links and using library services for check in, check out, and version control. This is consistent with the overall population of email users surveyed. 83% of email users prefer to email documents back and forth, instead of uploading the document on a public folder, shared drive, or workspace.

Getting users within the enterprise to adopt a new software tool can be difficult. Can the weak adoption rate be attributed to the company culture or is there a need for better software?


  1. Horrible software. Sharepoint often requires a corp-URL shortener... which you then can't send to external users without VPN access. It's CM of documents is doo-doo and not intuitive (if you bulk upload files you can't bulk check them in; you need to do it one at a time). Integration with Office 2007 is cool but anyone who's ever tried to search a Sharepoint hierarchy knows it's impossible. The best solution is to just create a bunch of web links... which you need to open in IE to get the CM features to work well.

    And I say this as maybe the heaviest user of Sharepoint at my corp. The need for singular documents and CM is too important that I force it on people who don't even realize its an option.

    Sharepoint is the Rio waiting for the iPod to come along and eat its lunch

  2. Sharepoint is awful for this type of collaboration. I've been a part of a consulting organization who used eRoom and many clients who used Sharepoint and even eRoom, with its basic enhancements over Sharepoint, ultimately fails to fill the need. Plug-in based services like Dropbox are going to steal this market as soon as they deploy an enterprise tool (i.e. an appliance that can sit behind the corporate firewall) for file synchronization. This boils down to simple user adoption and user preference. Dropbox makes sync'ing files amongst a team as easy as it is for each user to open the same file from their My Docs folder.

  3. I would attribute the weak adoption rate to the software, not the company culture. Like the previous posters, I worked in a large financial services firm that used (or tried to use) Sharepoint for collaboration on large-scale IT projects. Generally speaking, some drawbacks are that it's microsoft-centric so some of the features won't work with non-Office products and limits it to certain servers (Microsoft IIS) and the social networking functionality is way behind other known tools.

    eRoom was also used but it too was cumbersome, but a step above Sharepoint. I think these tools actually slowed down collaboration! So people just avoided it and emailed each other directly out of frustration. So the software attributed to the culture of users not believing that the company's eroom/sharepoint had the latest version since they know people dread using it, so would just email them and ask for it.

  4. From my experiences with the product (admittedly only within a number of medium to large sized enterprises) I would characterize it as consuming more corporate resources than it returns (through productivity increases,/innovation). So I’m in agreement with the theme of the posts above.

    BUT I would also suggest that the issues of culture shouldn't be overlooked. Cultural norms are extremely sticky - and it often catches many deployment leaders of tech by surprise. It took one organization I was involved in almost three years to have Salesforce be embedded into the natural way of doing work... In this case it was critical enough that the high ranks of the organization continued to drive this deployment - they didn't give, they didn't fold, they were continually persuasive, and they were caught off guard about how difficult it was to become embedded into the work processes.
    It’s really interesting to watch an organization make this transition– after a time, the thing that was resisted comes to define the work itself – and any further changes to it starts the whole cycle again.

    Some organizations are more flexible than others though – but that’s another tangent…

  5. SO, maybe there's a third consideration. Does SharePoint fail to appeal to the highest levels of the organization? From my previous example, a half-hearted attempt to deploy Salesforce would have resulted in failure. But, in the executive’s eyes, Salesforce had very tangible benefit (their almost real-time view of sales activity was a powerful and real benefit). SharePoint’s benefits, from an executives view, may be perceived as diluted/intangible, as risky - therefore any deployment project would be left to the lower ranks of the organization - leaving the executive to play the role of potential critic or being indifferent about its success. SharePoint though, is one of those products that require a huge push to move the cultural norms. SharePoint might suffer from being in this "no-mans land" between being critical enough to the executive, or being a simple enough addition to current working practices.

  6. Worked at a company that had executive pushing sharepoint, never went anywhere. It was not good software.

    It was too hard to navigate, people often had to email you a link to where the document was in the hierarchy (note they could have just emailed you the doc by now). But just knowing where wasn't enough, because often there were access problems, so you had to go to some far off manager for approval to view the document, and wait for them to be out of a meeting or whatever.

    Shared network drives were more practical, though it also suffered from search issues (windows search is slow), and sometimes the network would be slow.

    Given the large amount of documents though (many 1-time use), mostly files were emailed even though the share drive is popular... Once you move a file to a network store, you need to copy the network path, which can involve replacing the drive mapping with the server/share directory, then copy the file name and paste both... then hope they can access the same shared directories as you can. Finally shared drives aren't version control systems, so if you don't want someone making changes, you are better off sending them their own copy of the file.

    Document management for the end user is fundamentally a search problem, finding what you are looking for, when you need it. Sharepoint made this harder and not easier...

  7. I've deployed a number of portal solutions in my years as a software architect. My experience is, no matter how good the technology, there are three things that are need for an enterprise portal to work properly:

    1. Training : the worst thing an implementation team can do is assume that the tool is simple enough for anyone to use. This does not mean creating a load of online documents to explain functionality. There should be hands on training sessions for even the simplest features.

    2. Critical Mass : there needs to be a strong push to get people using the tool so that a tipping point of users will create the momentum for the solutions to catch-on to the rest of the company.

    3. Incentive : process needs to be in place to incentivise employees to use the tool. Many times, management gets lost in knowing what the tool does for them, and lack the foresight to create the situation where the tools benefit the employee.

    Don't get me wrong, I think Sharepoint is one bad portal solutions. Personally, I don't know why corporations select it over open source solutions like Liferay.

  8. I agree with previous comments regarding the user-friendliness of Sharepoint. But I would also argue that people email files back and forth because they have free and unlimited email boxes. Recently, my Gmail started showing that I'm using 45% of my allotted memory space and I started worrying about sending 1MB+ files back and fort, switched to Dropbox and now use their fantastic Public Folder feature.

    Email clients aren't perfect either. Gmail is getting slow and it's hard to search mail and impossible to sort it. I wonder if the real solution to collaboration and file sharing that a software like Sharepoint tries to create actually lies in creating a better email service.

  9. Using sites and document libraries vs. email for everything is one small aspect of Sharepoint. I guarantee I have one of the most non-skilled user bases of any company, but they have adopted it well..but more for the custom lists, workflows, notifications and centralized architecture I've used to simplify complex manual processes. Sharepoint is the foundation for solving common business challenges. It's fast, flexible, easy to use and manage. Looking at only email vs. SP document libraries is rather myopic.