Among other things, IT Leaders in law firms are tasked with keeping the lights on and driving innovation in the name of making our attorneys and users more efficient. So, the question needs to be asked: Why are firms continuing to install and advance SharePoint when in reality it has never really lived up to all the hype?
The tech world is buzzing about SharePoint 2013: the new interface, the new cloud and SkyDrive Pro features, document versioning, upgrade paths, and tighter integration with the Office Suite and Windows 7 and 8. The new SharePoint version seems great, but we need to step back and ask ourselves what is the added value that the collaboration software brings to the table especially given the enormous hard costs of hardware, licensing, customizing, and supporting it. The soft costs are also significant, such as lost productivity in learning another system, user uncertainty in saving documents in multiple locations, introducing multiple locations to search for documents, and user resistance to learning another system.
One would think that SharePoint has moved off the radar as a priority, but the 2012 Law Firm CIO annual survey, sponsored by IntApp, revealed that the top legal industry investment priority for the next twelve months isn't security, mobility, or Windows-Office upgrades it is SharePoint. What? Really?
To be fair, SharePoint has some good uses and it can be a decent intranet solution. So, it would seem to make sense to expand and add features to the internal knowledgebase system and information portal that links to all of the disparate systems in the enterprise. Although SharePoint is probably the most expensive option to address these needs, it is hardly the only game in town. It is just the platform many IT leaders have installed or inherited because it has been the go-to standard. Part of the problem is also related to the need to spend more money to defend the money already spent on SharePoint; with the promise that it will eventually deliver a business value.
We need to wake up to the fact that most firms will never fully recover the investment in SharePoint. Some firms use SharePoint as a document management system, but the reality is that many firms maintain both a traditional DMS along with SharePoint. When you give users a choice of where to store things, you lose control over your data. There should be one and only one place for the firm's electronic files: the DMS. Smaller firms can use SharePoint as a DMS (not easily or cheaply), but most firms with a traditional DMS also have SharePoint; and that is the group who should really rethink their strategy. You could argue that universal enterprise search will index all of our data sources, so search is not a concern. That may be true, but you have just further increased your costs because of a self-inflicted problem.
There is no question that Microsoft continues to innovate and add features to SharePoint. Legal vendors continue to develop portals and create add-ons to SharePoint to enhance our end-user experience with the system. But it is critical to evaluate the long-term costs and the true added value our attorneys and support staff are deriving from SharePoint. If you really take an honest look and do the math, you may be surprised to find that firms with a DMS and SharePoint are perpetuating a storage and support problem while increasing costs with limited or no added value to end users. DMS vendors have cloud-based features, versioning, extranets, intranets and security all baked in. So, what's the point?
William Caraher is CIO at von Briesen & Roper, based in Milwaukee, Wis. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the Web