STP Asia: Mark Miller’s ‘The Missing Link Between SharePoint & Your Business’

The topic of Mark Miller's Sharing the Point (STP) session was dedicated to exploring the "missing link between SharePoint and your business." The business process automation (BPM) focus of his STP session is representative of Mark's role as Chief Community Officer at Global 360, builders of BPM solutions on the Microsoft stack.

In laying out the agenda of his presentation, Mark said that in an examination of the existing SharePoint landscape, what one sees time and again are "frustrating problems looking for a solution." The trick is to identify what SharePoint can do to address these problems. In his session, Mark would also look at some available enhancements to out-of-the-box SharePoint experience and, finally, answer the question, "What's the next logical step in SharePoint for the business?"

Examples of some frustrating scenarios for which SharePoint might provide a solution included:

  • Lack of a formal on-boarding process. When not done right (or at all), the result is "Poor work, and people redoing work because they don't know how to do it properly."
  • Lack of expertise. Exacerbated when "People are moved into a position they're not qualified to handle."
  • Unnecessarily repetitious work. For example, on a first visit to a doc's office, you're presented with "a load of forms this deep and they all ask you for the same information." "When there's no value to duplicated effort, it leads to low morale."
  • Missing or incomplete information. Which, all too often, leads to a stoppage of work.

Mark's point was that the best approach to combating such frustrations is to identify the business problem first, then figure out how the problem might be alleviated, with the understanding that "SharePoint can help." Mark defined SharePoint as, at its core, a product that "Stores data or documents, processes in a minimal way those documents, and displays [the document data] through Web Parts." Mark said that "At its core, SharePoint is [used for] document-centric storage and management," primarily in lists and libraries.

Mark explained that "A document library is a specialized list that holds documents, [and] can process information a little bit with automated workflows ("a step by step process that you're able to automate.") Regarding workflows, Mark said that there is "Basic processing built-in at a minimal level for [use by] your team or department," but cautioned that SharePoint out-of-the-box does not offer "enterprise-level workflow."

Once you've populated a document library with documents, how do you display the information on a page? Through "Web Parts, little widgets you can drag and drop to expose information visually." Mark engaged me in a brief discussion of Bamboo's product line by way of explaining the sort of third-party enhancements are available. Mark then showed some of the Web Part solutions that are available as free downloads at EndUserSharePoint, such as: the calendar used to create the SharePoint Community Calendar (Web Parts expose different lists in a tabbed presentation), dynamic charts and graphs ("A SharePoint list with in-line graphics in the list"), jQuery solutions ("If you're a site manager in SharePoint, you can implement these because you're not touching the server."

What's missing in the picture described above is, as Mark calls it, "The sweet spot." "When it comes down to solving real-world complex business problems, we're going to need something on top of SharePoint to do the processing of that information." Mark said that with complex business problems, "Exception-handling is where the real knowledge comes in when you're trying to do your job." As Mark explained, "A real business process, [such as]processing a home loan, changes on the fly … and once a process has started, usually no one can tell you where things are in the process until it's come out the other end. "With a complex problem, this is where SharePoint starts to break down [and you need to] start to look for a business process management suite" to handle an adaptable, complex process.

Mark said that "Every user needs to see data in a way that's useful to them," referencing and demonstrating the out-of-the-box data entry view by way of example, and explaining that "A good BPM suite can integrate everything into such a view. " Mark pointed out that "The need is to get interfaces that work for different people." Different interfaces based on the same information, as appropriate to the worker at hand, and set up such that "a change filters down to everyone it affects … that's a good BPM." And since "SharePoint is not built for transaction processing," additional BPM on top of SharePoint's native workflow capabilities is what's required for the enterprise.

In summary, Mark said that the missing link is that "workers know their jobs (they have to know what they're working on), simple workflow doesn't mimic real world processes, and SharePoint is not ideal for process adaptability."

In conclusion, Mark encouraged attendees to "Start thinking about your business problems … forget about SharePoint," making the point that only "Once the problems have been identified, then we can start talking about how SharePoint can address them."?


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