Why I still love SharePoint

It has now been 15 years since I first started working with SharePoint. My journey started with a project to roll out Project Server 2007 at a large financial services company. Naturally, we couldn't just go with a little configuration and so a consultancy with expertise in Project Server and SharePoint was brought in.

At the time, I was a cocky mid-20s graduate and couldn't work out why we couldn't just spend a couple of weeks with the manual and a dev server to meet all the requirements. I probably wasn't very nice to the consultants as l took on the arrogance of working in financial services in the early 2000s. However, I was won over completely by the expertise and leant a lot about how to work sustainably with SharePoint. The project went well and we soon had hundreds of PMs tracking their templated project documents in SharePoint with risks and issues in custom lists for each project.

A bit of reality

Soon the pain of development with SharePoint 2007 hit. These were days before established PowerShell so we had hoards of text files to copy StsAdmin commands from. Deployments frequently went wrong with sites being customised so that our shiny new updated templates wouldn't load. We had constant support tickets from Project Managers who couldn't work out how to create a page with an image on it showing their latest RAG status or asking why so-and-so couldn't see a document. We felt their pain.

The power of SharePoint Self-Service

Through this pain though, I also saw PMs creating their own custom lists to track assumptions and dependencies. l found users who had discovered email alerts on specific documents so they could make sure their project team knew as soon as something was published. After a couple of years of this being a project, a dedicated SharePoint team was set up and I moved over to this. People across the business saw the benefit of collaborating with SharePoint so l met with teams from legal, risk, operations and trading and helped them to set up basic systems to help automate their processes and make them more productive. But even more teams helped themselves and we only found out when we saw usage peaks in the stats for new sites. People were helping themselves to solve their problems in ways we wouldn't have thought of as we didn't live these processes day in and day out.

There were certainly pain points with allowing people the freedom to do what they wanted. The Nintex Workflow with 5000 actions that breached the maximum file size for a work was a new one even to the Microsoft Support team at the time! Quite how that person had the patience to manually drag and drop that many actions was beyond us. We also found business critical systems running from SharePoint lists that had no version history and limited ability to restore if someone deleted them accidentally. So we engaged with these teams and publicised the help we could offer as well as people being able to help themselves and where it made sense to move things out of SharePoint, we helped with that. We became the prototypers, creating simple applications to help teams build out better ideas of what their requirements were.

Was it really that easy?

The biggest problem was to get people started with SharePoint. As the Web 2.0 movement was accelerating and social networks were being established, SharePoint felt very antiquated. Getting people started with editing pages and negotiating publishing was a problem for many years. Giving people access on mobile devices and outside the core network took million pound projects.

All of this reduced a lot of that self-service benefit as only small groups who were happy to invest the time to learn were really getting the benefit. The starting hurdle was too high. The appetite for people to give it a go started to reduce after the initial excitement. We had 97% of the organisation using SharePoint on a monthly basis even though it wasn't the core intranet but the grumbles were growing. I worked at more organisations and saw similar things. We worked hard to improve that introduction to SharePoint but it was rarely easy.

Then Jeff Teper rejoined the SharePoint team and Modern was born.


The new SharePoint

OK, I probably skipped a few years but this is a blog post and not a history of SharePoint. In May 2016, Jeff Teper launched an event called the Future of SharePoint and a vision for modern looking pages that would work across devices began. Suddenly, adding an image to a page was easy. For SharePoint Online, external access was a case of logging in for many people (with Multi-Factor Authentication recommended too!) and it would look good on all types of devices. It has taken a few years but the modern experience now covers the vast majority of the old functionality (yes, there will always be some things easier in classic pages before anyone starts).

Back to the point of this post, this has re-ignited the joy of SharePoint for me. The development model feels far more modern as well and more aligned to other ways of developing web applications. Extending SharePoint feels like you are actually extending and not just working another way to do similar things. The engineering team are engaging and open to discussions which is a huge shift to the earlier years.

Time for me to make a change

All of this has made me want to look at a more Office 365 and SharePoint focussed role and so I am sad to say that I will be shortly leaving Ballard Chalmers but very excited to announce that I will be joining CPS. One of the big reasons for this is I hope to get more engaged with the community and have more time to attend user groups, conferences and work on community projects. I have been following a lot with PnP and other initiatives but hope that this will be give me more headspace to focus on the Office 365 and SharePoint world more and not the broader Azure and cross Microsoft that I have been doing in the last two years.

So why did I open with a story about a consultancy that helped to teach me the right way to develop on SharePoint? That consultancy was Corporate Project Solutions, now known as CPS so I really have come full circle in the world of SharePoint. I can't wait to get started and get out to meet people to help deliver solutions that help people to help themselves.

p.s. If you are following the Cricket World Cup, keep an eye for my household reviews at https://www.instagram.com/the_household_worldcup_reviews.


Images courtesy of Hien Nguyen via Flickr and my own