Random Thoughts on Life and Work

June 15, 2007

Project SharePoint

Filed under: Charities,Charity,Management,Non-Profit,nptech,Philanthropy,Software,Strategy,Work — Darren Mullenix @ 8:47 am

One of the challenges that we face (and I am sure we are not alone) is the rapidly changing “project status” reports.  For those that deal with gathering information and writing status reports for funders, you will probably shout a loud “Amen” to this challenge.  The challenges often come from two sources:

  • different information received from different project sources
  • different information needed by various funders (i.e. individuals vs foundations vs organizations, etc)

So a couple of us started brainstorming quite a while ago about how we best manage the information that we have at our fingertips and the reports that are generated by our creative team.  We started with a simple document library concept thinking that if we put our reports in folders organized by subject we would be able to cut and paste as needed.  We quickly learned that this wasn’t going to work.  So we continued to limp along a little while.

We began to realize that one of our biggest problems was not the accumulation of reports.  That was easy.  The hard part was the gathering (and dissemination) of consistent, accurate information.  Often, if one staff member called their source for an update about a particular project, they received one packet.  If a different staff member called a different source, they might get a different packet and not even realize that a) information was already available and b) what they were just given might be different from what the first person received.  (Okay, I realize that this may point to a much large systemic issue that we will get to later.  But for now stick with me.)

Then, thanks to the blogging of some of my peers such as Michele at Bamboo Project and Beth at Beth’s Blog, the light bulb came on.  Why not use a wiki to manage the information?  After setting some simple rules for how information is formatted when it is added to a page in the wiki, we should be off and running.  The fluidity of a wiki is really perfect for keeping track of the most recent information about the various projects that we have at any given time.  In addition, it allows the staff who write reports to gather the information that they need quickly and share new information with other staff just as quickly.

So then the question became – what platform?  So I went to our IT team to see what help I might get for a hosted solution.  Being somewhat familiar with what is available I knew we could get something that would work well for us.  But I received a rather surprising response – “Why not try Microsoft’s SharePoint?”  Not knowing much about it other than conceptually I agreed to at least consider it.   After spending some time in quick review, I realized that we may have stumbled on a great solution!  (Notice I didn’t go so far as to say the “p” word . . . perfect.)

And so, Project SharePoint is born.  I’ll try to post more details as we complete the setup but for now, here is a brief synopsis:

  • SharePoint has built in shared document functionality
  • SharePoint has a built in wiki which (so far) seems to be very easy to set up
  • SharePoint runs on the corporate intranet and can also be configured for remote access
  • Calendar, task, and communication duties in SharePoint can be integrated with a user’s Outlook

Much of this we are still working on so I’ll keep posting as we go. 

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6 Comments »

  1. Beware! Sharepoint has a lot of hidden costs. When it breaks (and it will), you’ll have a tough time finding Sharepoint consultants at nonprofit pricing levels. You’ll have to compete with all the corporate people.
    Also, Sharepoint doesn’t scale very well for remote access unless you plan to keep the offsite client numbers low.
    Also, make sure to use the newest Sharepoint. Migrating from one version to another is very difficult.
    I’m a big Sharepoint fan but those gotchas can really make for difficult administration issues.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Thanks for the info. We have experienced some of those issues already. Thankfully, we have a fairly robust support team to help with all of that. And we are on the latest version (the upgrade did “break” the box the original version was on).
    Rallyfan

    Comment by abenamer — June 15, 2007 @ 10:40 am | Reply

  2. My employer is getting ready to implement Sharepoint for information sharing between the employees. At this point I have not seen it and know very little, I look forward to hearing about how it works out for you. I am the only member of the program staff that has any tech savvy so I know the burden of the system will fall on me.

    Comment by M — June 15, 2007 @ 7:48 pm | Reply

  3. That’s great! How big is your shop? My current recommendation is that smaller shops (1-2 people) should definitely stay away from Sharepoint implementation until Microsoft figures it all out. That may be this version but most likely the next one.

    Comment by abenamer — June 15, 2007 @ 9:29 pm | Reply

  4. You may want to start subscribing to the SharePoint Team Blog – http://blogs.msdn.com/sharepoint. If you run into any blockers or have any questions, just ping me via email. Good luck and any feedback you have on the product, send my way 🙂

    Comment by Tom Rizzo — June 16, 2007 @ 10:17 am | Reply

  5. I think ultimately we’ll have about 16-18 people using it. Optimistically.

    My fear is just getting the less tech savvy program staff to use it, they are not exactly good with computers. I celebrated when i got one of the members of the senior staff to start saving documents to our network folders instead of emailing them to everyone with the request that I save it to the network. I had to go onto her PC and create a desktop shortcut to the network folder to get this to happen, but hey, it’s progress.

    Comment by M — June 17, 2007 @ 11:54 am | Reply

  6. Hi,

    I think you will find that SharePoint will more than meet your requirements and would recommend you look at the wider functionality for your reporting requirements (of sharepoint services in particular) as it offers some useful list functions, combined with alerts and workflow.

    Best Practice: Put in some forethought and planning about what you want to do now, medium to long term and create a ‘templated site so you are able to update/modify it as you go on. A little planning now, will save you some painfull moments later and better equip you to get out of issues when they arise.

    And whilst you should consider the scaleability comments, if planned appropriately, they won’t be an issue. This platform if planned properly will more than meet your requirements.

    As for remote access, why not use a hosted sharepoint site in the first place, that way you let others worry about the scaleability/access issues and you just focus on using the products great tools to help resolve your business issues.

    Regards
    Andy

    FYI… though this product (current version WSS v3 or MOSS 2007) hasn’t been out that long, the platform as such has been around since 2001 so is reasonably mature.

    Comment by Andy Walmsley — June 17, 2007 @ 12:41 pm | Reply


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