Imagine all the people…knowing what they need to know, when they need to know it.
A Thumbnail Case Study
We’re developing a SharePoint 2010 solution for a client of ours, a small software company. Here’s a real email exchange between two of our client’s employees. They are trying to determine how many net new deployments of their software product have occurred this year:
Email 1 — Sandra: As of today’s date, we’ve had four new deployments (DR, NJ, YD, and JG). As far as I know, we’ve had one customer decline their license renewal (WRW)
Email 2 – Jonathon: DR is an evaluation deploy and YD is an upgrade, not a new sale. So, I would call this a net of 2.
Email 3 – Susan: And now we have three with the CS sale.
Email 4 – Mark: Do we have a CS sale?
Data Uncertainty Is an Epidemic in Business Today
What strikes me about this exchange is the amount of uncertainty about something so critical to the survival of the company. The company is in business to sell software and no one is quite sure how much they’re selling. Sandra uses the phrase “As far as I know…” and Jonathon replies with an interpretation rather than an irrefutable fact: “I would call this a net of 2.”
Even the employees who have an answer don’t know the answer with 100% certainty.
What does this do to the company’s ability to make agile, strategic decisions?
You can’t make informed decisions if you can’t trust the information available to you.
I’d love to be able to tell you that our client’s situation is unusual. Unfortunately, it’s not. In fact information black holes like the one I’m describing are far too common in business today. A study by Interactive Data Corporation determined that 25% of employees’ time is spent searching for people or information. Not using the information, just looking for it. And in a recent AIIM study, 71% of respondents said it was easier to find information on the open internet than on their companies’ own systems.
In the case of our client, everything is currently tracked in spreadsheets. Each spreadsheet currently lives on the computer of whichever employee created it. So the emails I’m quoting above actually were preceded by a series of emails of the “Does anyone know where I would find the answer to this question” variety. That question was emailed to a group. Someone in that group forwarded it to a wider group. And someone in the wider group had a spreadsheet with an answer.
Fixing This Problem with SharePoint
I’m going to dramatically oversimplify the description of our solution for two reasons: 1) we’re already 522 words into this post; if I explained all the strategic planning, needs assessment, and system architecting we’ve undertaken, it would take you a month to read this, 2) My view of this project is high-level. If you want to know about the specific considerations that go into designing a project like this or the specific features of SharePoint that come into play you should contact me and I’ll put you in touch with an Allyis team member who knows more than I do.
Speaking very basically, though, to address this problem, we’re upgrading the company’s SharePoint system to 2010 and creating a SharePoint intranet. The SharePoint intranet will be integrated with the company’s financial management suite and their sales tracking suite. And the data that is currently tracked in spreadsheets will be migrated into a centralized database. All 3 data sources will then feed a dashboard tool that users will be able to customize to display the company performance data most relevant to each of them. Because the data will be real time data pulled from a central data store users can have confidence in what they’re seeing. Some of the data categories users can choose to display include:
- Pipeline reports (what sales are imminent?)
- New Deployments
- License Renewals
- License Expirations
- Net new deployment total
- Gross dollar value of new deployments
- Monthly gross and net revenue (budget vs actual)
Just Talking Possibilities
I’m under no illusion that I am the first person to introduce you to the idea of dashboards. What I wanted to present was just one simple example of how expanding SharePoint from a simple document storage suite to a true integrated business data management tool holds real promise for more efficient and agile business operations. SharePoint is so versatile that often times companies don’t know how to make the best use of it. If the scenario I’m describing feels like one you’re facing in your business and you’ve been wondering about the solution, maybe SharePoint is the place to start.