Eighty twenty rule:
When I talk to clients about their new SharePoint site design I often hear the question “Can SharePoint 2013 do that?” and quite frankly, it makes me cringe. When I hear this kind of question so early on in a project, it usually means there is a danger of the ‘tail wagging the dog’ unless dealt with swiftly. Website projects should be about generating revenues, raising product and service awareness, connecting with customers and elevating brands. They should not be about how you can fit a website around SharePoint (or any Web Content Management platform for that matter). I’m not suggesting you completely disregard the technology, after all, the business has made an investment in the platform and therefore needs the ROI, but there is a healthy balance between technology and delivering a digital experience that meets the business objectives. As a rule of thumb, when going through the initial requirements stage of a SharePoint website project, I talk about the business requirements and business value 80% of the time and SharePoint/technology only 20% of the time.
'Out of the box' won’t do:
SharePoint can be deployed 'out of the box' in many scenarios; whether for document management, light project management or a basic intranet, but not for your public facing website. Face up to the fact from the beginning that you’re going to need to do some customisation. I’ve lost count of the times where people think they are going to be able to use all of the out-of-the-box webparts on their shiny new SharePoint website and are disappointed when they realise it’s simply not going to work.
'Out of the box' webparts are not suitable for the public-facing web. As cynical as that may sound, it is true. 'Out of the box' webparts were originally designed and developed for behind the firewall applications, such as intranets and are generally not optimised for front-end performance. They don’t give the fine control over look, feel and interaction that is required for a public facing website. It’s also often the case that content managers want to manage most of their content on the page template level rather than on the page level where webparts are typically used.
The biggest challenge in heavily customising SharePoint for your website is the financial one, especially in the current economic climate. The key factor here is that the website will use the core platform services that SharePoint provides, including the publishing infrastructure, providing all the foundations and hooks upon which a website can be built. The publishing infrastructure itself provides all the core features required in an Enterprise Content Management platform; including version control and history content approval, page templates, WYSIWYG editors and reusable content.
Content is king on the web:
If content is king then content managers must be pretty important, but it’s incredible how easily they can be side-lined. A poor editing and content management experience will lead to low user adoption, which will ultimately result in content not being published as quickly (if at all). Because SharePoint isn’t a point WCM solution, it’s really important to consider their needs and make sure it works from a content management perspective as early on as possible. Practically this means; making sure pages are actually editable in edit mode, ensuring that content can be managed through taxonomy and tagging and that content managers and editors have a central place they can go in order to complete all the tasks in which they are required to keep the content relevant and fresh. In my experience, there is no substitute for getting content managers engaged with the website project as early on as possible and keeping them involved throughout the entire project. This will not only ensure that their requirements are catered for but will also build a sense of ownership around the project from an early stage which typically results in a high user adoption going forward.
It’s important for anyone about to embark on a SharePoint WCM project to know that they are not going to be able to switch SharePoint 2013 (or SharePoint 2016) on and build highly engaging websites 'out of the box' but this is true of practically all WCM platforms. In my view, the success of most web projects ultimately comes down to the people working on them and their drive, innovation and enthusiasm, rather than the underlying technology.