SharePoint, Microsoft's software program offering everything from online document management to Intranets to social networking sites, has over 100 million users and a majority of them are from Fortune 500 companies, according to Microsoft.
But SharePoint is a sprawling piece of software and rarely does any business use it for all its features. Some organizations implement SharePoint for immediate needs like social networking or document management. Or it could be used as a platform to organize all your business apps and establish policies for content types and taxonomies. Some of the heavier SharePoint customers use it to plan their technology roadmaps.
There are three phases of SharePoint enterprise use, according to Microsoft's research, and which phase your company falls in often depends on your IT department's vision and foresight. Some companies progress from one phase to the next, while others stay in the first phase because it gives them all they need, says Jared Spataro, Microsoft Director of SharePoint Product Management.
Phase 1: Ramping Up
Companies typically start using SharePoint out of the box for team collaboration and portals. In SharePoint 2010, Facebook-esque profile pages called MySites, which include a profile picture, job title, skills, e-mail information and a list of co-workers, have been enhanced with personal blogs, microblogging, tagging and activity feeds.
In the ramp-up phase, the priorities are social networking to connect employees and document management to improve workflow and reduce e-mail.
[ For complete coverage on Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software -- including enterprise and cloud adoption trends and reviews of SharePoint 2010 -- see CIO.com's SharePoint Bible. ]
The companies that get the most out of SharePoint at this phase, according to Spataro, are the ones that tie social networking and document management to a specific part of the business that they want to improve, such as project management or customer service.
It's critical at this phase to have a SharePoint governance plan where IT dictates who can create and access SharePoint sites, how long the sites stay alive after people stop visiting, and what is the backup and archiving strategy.
Planning for scale is also a big part of the ramp-up phase.
"Companies start out small, but the smart ones plan for how to meet the needs of the organization if SharePoint sites grow like wildfire, and they often grow that way," says Spatoro.
Phase 2: Building Momentum
This is a "tipping point" phase where SharePoint transitions from addressing a company's immediate needs to becoming a platform that serves the business.
When a company reaches this phase, proactive content management is integral, says Spataro. Microsoft has enhanced content management in SharePoint 2010 by adding metadata and Web analytics tools, tools for rating content and more support for video and rich media.
"IT departments realize they don't just want to throw content into SharePoint," says Sapataro, "they need to put it there on purpose and be able to find it again, so they don't just create a big filing cabinet in the sky."
Companies that have the most success transitioning from "Ramp Up" to "Building Momentum" are those that have a vision for what they can do with SharePoint and articulate that to executive management.
"This happens when someone steps up and says, 'Here's what we can do with SharePoint, with no additional investment or licenses,'" says Spataro.
Governance again is an important facet. But instead of merely governing SharePoint sites, in this phase IT managers start to govern information by using SharePoint tagging and taxonomy tools to categorize content as "important" or belonging to a certain company project or group.
Companies usually tag content as business critical, business sensitive or public. Every piece of information in the organization is marked as one of those three categories, and each category has policies associated with it to control who can see this information.
Therefore, business critical content, such as an RFP or legal document, would require users to obtain permission from IT to access and view. In addition, metadata including who viewed it, when and for how long is logged in SharePoint.
Phase 3: Driving Business Value
The first two phases of SharePoint adoption focus on how to improve on what your business does today, but phase three often involves using SharePoint to do things you've never done before, says Spataro.
This is also the phase where companies integrate business-critical apps like SAP into SharePoint, work with Microsoft partners to build and deploy apps, and adopt policies for the lifecycle of those apps.
Here, SharePoint is not just a tool or a platform, but a way to build new technologies that solve problems for employees.
Last year the Associated Press was faced with the need to help its member organizations track online content. The AP designed a news tracking system using SharePoint 2010 called the AP News Registry portal. It allows publishers to track where and how their content is used all over the Web, which, in turn, helps them to make better publishing and business decisions.
The AP used SQL Server 2008 data management software and SharePoint 2010 to access and interpret the volumes of data for its news tracking system. Specifically the AP uses SharePoint 2010's data visualization, dashboards, user authentication and content management tools to allow AP employees and partners to track traffic patterns using a Web portal.
"The AP pushes out a lot of content and it was losing track of it," says Microsoft's Saparo. "It was able to use SharePoint 2010's built-in features like dashboards and data visualization to quickly deploy a new type of system they had never used before."
Shane O'Neill covers Microsoft, Windows, Operating Systems, Productivity Apps and Online Services for CIO.com. Follow Shane on Twitter @smoneill. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Shane at firstname.lastname@example.org