I need to take a quick detour off the path to get something off my chest that has been frustrating me since I heard the word SharePoint in Nov 2006 and nothing has changed in this matter. Please don’t see this as a personal attack on any company or person; it is merely my perspective on the situation and a sincere cry for help. I apologise upfront if I offend you. I realise this is a very long post, so I beg your indulgence.
From where I am standing there is no assistance available for business users. It has been my experience that SharePoint is purchased at enormous cost, installed and then left to its own devices or people like me and my users to make it work. Now while it has been my fortitude that has allowed me to learn about the product, how many people do you know can do that, specifically the average business end user, (which essentially is what I am too)? Most don’t have the time to read all their emails, let alone teach themselves a new technology. And yes, we supply training in-house, but it has taken me nearly 2 years to get a half way decent understanding of the product and I work on it full time. How can we expect business users to do the same almost overnight when they have other jobs to do? The training that is available in the market is of a shockingly low standard, (barring 2 trainers that I know of), and I have had to resort to buying manuals and teaching myself as I am tired of paying thousands of Rands for a course where the facilitator does not know the product and I end up either teaching them, or asking them questions they cannot answer. (But don’t get me started on that; it’s a whole other issue that gets me worked up).
I sincerely believe there is a huge gap in the market here. To use my example, we have 4 SharePoint developers and around 42 000 business users – where do you think my user base lies? The forums and sites out there do not cater for these types of users, one’s who have no IT background – and all my attempts to get assistance from vendors and forums has fallen on deaf ears. Is it really only about the money? Do you really care that little? That once the product is in and you’ve been paid, you don’t care what happens? Does it not concern you that SharePoint has a real probability of failing if not managed and cared for properly? Right now it is all about developers, developers are hot property and all the forums out there are geared towards developers. That’s all fine and well, but you do realise that without business users, there would be no need for developers don’t you. How do you expect to grow this product without looking after your business users? If we stop using the product, (and believe me, I see more and more dormant sites every day), what are you going to develop? What is the plan to get users to a level of competence and excitement to want custom development done on their sites?
You try and sell us these Ferrari solutions, but we don’t even have driver’s licenses yet, you won’t help us get one, nor teach us how to use hydraulic gearboxes, nor the difference between the 6-speed manual and paddle shift model. So what happens, we buy a license on the black market, grind the gears till we get the car moving, burn out the engine because we only drive in first gear, then blow the gearbox because we don’t know how to change gears. And because we don’t know how to fix the Ferrari either, we just get out and leave it on the side of the road. Then all the car fundi’s (techies) come along and act all shocked and horrified, fix the car and drive off muttering and shaking your heads. And where did Mr Business User go? Walked right back to Excel Corner and carried on with his spreadsheets. Great customer service guys. Great way to sell more Ferraris. Maybe you should have sold him a Beetle instead. You know, give him a few lessons, made him take his drivers test, enrolled him in an advanced driving school, introduced him to the Ferrari club, let him hang around with them for a while, teach him about engines and why its important to get driving lessons, then give him lessons in Ferrari driving, the finance to buy buy one, include a decent maintenance plan, and just because you’re nice, the first tank of petrol free, then make sure he feels he is part of an exclusive club that he worked to achieve. And then give him the option to help other Beetle owners make the transition which he will accept because he was taken care of so well and wants to share the experience.
You all push the sale so hard, when all you need to do is genuinely care about the end user to make a real difference and get some ground. Don’t you get it that if you win over the people that actually work with the product they will do all the work for you, they will drive the requirements? I see it on a weekly basis. I don’t know what sales techniques are being taught out there, but when you see as many vendor pitches as we do, it gets real tired real quick. There is no uniqueness, there is no genuine best interest of the client – it is all mechanical and practised and comes across as truly fake. You hear our company name you start drooling because we are such a potential huge client. But you don’t really care; it’s just about the money. And believe me; it is so transparent it is scary. It makes me ill. You take and take and take, and when we ask for help, you suddenly become very hard of hearing and difficult to get hold of. (Again, I better get off this subject too or I’ll never stop typing).
My business users have a major requirement for a business driven forum and they give me a lot of flak because there isn’t one. They don’t realise that the SAKS forum I instituted was specifically for that purpose so they could network internally, but maybe I haven’t been communicating properly, I will remedy that. I know how they feel. As much as they need an internal business, non IT forum, as do I in the industry. I would love to speak to other business users to compare notes on challenges they are having on the ground. As usual, IT doesn’t listen to business, (and yes, I realise I am in the IT department, but I spend so much time with business users that I understand their frustrations completely. And because I have no technical background, I can understand what business is saying and empathise with them fully).
Have you techies all forgotten where you started? Do you not remember the days when you knew nothing? Did you have mentors to which you could turn, ask the stupid questions to? Lucky you. It amazes me how the world has turned. There are so many students now, people begging to be taught – but there is a distinct lack of teachers. It used to be the other way around. Now no-one wants to share information (so ironic considering we work with SharePoint), no-one wants to take the time to mentor anymore, it’s just kill or be killed. What a sad state of affairs. What category do you fall into in the SharePoint space? Can you honestly say you have tried to make a difference? Or are you one of the greedy, ‘take it all’ crowd? It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you give away, that knowledge will always still be yours. Why are people so afraid to help now? Have the corporate giants out there really succeeded in putting the fear of God into you that there are no jobs available and you will be dead without them, so you don’t tell anybody anything in case they take your job? Nothing could be further from the truth. Don’t you realise how clever these strategies are? They are designed to keep you fearful, because scared people are easy to control. (But ok, I’m digressing again, another subject I better not get started on).
My point is; what happened to customer service and a complete end to end solution? Surely it would be beneficial for everyone concerned if SharePoint was placed at the customer and full training and support offered on an ongoing basis? The techies out there don’t understand my point of view because they already know it all, but I cannot tell you how difficult it is to get support or guidance as a business user. It is simply nonexistent. And as for this concept of some of other call centre / help desk thing, I don’t want to be told “please hold, your call is important to us” (sure it is), get given a reference number, then have to wait 2 days to get a response when all I wanted to know was how to change a site logo. Why do you not have support people sitting in teams taking calls and helping instantly? I do that. I’ve trained my new assistant to do that. We have 80 business units on board so far; I do demos, training, build solutions, do error resolution, research, mentoring, and business analysis every day – yet my users can pick up the phone or email and get an answer instantly. It takes a few seconds to explain to them and they can carry on with their day. If I can’t help them instantly because I’m giving a demo, they never have to wait more than a couple of hours. I don’t have that luxury – there is no-one I can turn to. So I post stuff on the forums and wait, or Google it. I don’t feel I can just pick up the phone and ask someone out there, I get made to feel like I am a nuisance and stupid, (and I get this from my own team member techies too, not just externally). How much time could be saved if this service was available? And that doesn’t amuse me when we spent R10million on our solution. I am one person and I can do it. I keep a register of everything I do, but I don’t burden my users with red tape. They have little tolerance for that and I hear them loud and clear!
Are you trying to tell me in the giant vendor corporations you all work for you can’t do the same? Please. It’s not that you can’t, it’s that you won’t. I guess there’s just no money in it. And you know what the scary thing is, I realise how little I know about SharePoint now, but I am top of the food chain in my company, yet bottom of the food chain in the industry. Do you realise how insane that is? How scared I am every single day that we are making a complete mess of the installation, yet there is no-one I can turn to? And because I am not technical I can’t explain to them what is wrong, I just know something is. They want specific examples; I don’t know how to do that. So instead they ignore me. I knew the backups would fail recently, I warned them a week in advance – they laughed. And when they did fail, my techies wanted to know how I knew. I can’t explain how, I just knew.
Look in all fairness, there has been one person I can ask the stupid questions to very recently, you know who you are and I can’t explain how grateful I am for you. But it has taken me nearly 2 and half years to get some help. The average user out there would have given up long ago and moved to another project. I love SharePoint so I stuck with it. Now I might not know alot about software shelf life and industry trends and that, but what is happening on customer sites where there isn’t a Veronique there? Who is helping those business users? Who is getting and keeping the platform running? How are we planning to build a proper SharePoint competency in South Africa. I keep hearing about Redmond Redmond, it will make Redmond so happy. Bugger Redmond, what will make the clients happy? What will make South Africa stand out in the crowd in the SharePoint space – and who is going to help do that? How are we planning to build a stable community of knowledgeable SharePoint users?
I find it very hard to believe I am the only one facing these challenges. I remember distinctly the first time I saw a SharePoint team site; I had no idea what to do with it. My lead architect showed me a couple of things, and then I just wandered around clicking things to see what worked. I remember too that I heard about SharePoint Designer right in the beginning and had it installed in no time. What a mistake that turned out to be, because I did exactly what my other users are doing now. Had no idea what the product was capable of, how much it could break – and so we did – break stuff. Where was the guidance people? We were never told how dangerous those products could be to your platform. Would it have cost so much to warn us? Or is purposely not done so when we destroy our environment we can contract in the big boys at exorbitant fees to come and fix it? Clever. Not very nice for the customer though.
I have been getting a lot of stick lately because “I am not technical enough” – that may be, but I have achieved a huge amount without that knowledge, and at least I can speak to my business users in a language they understand. I see the vendors coming to us punting these Ferraris – but let me tell you something. I have demo’d to and trained over 1000 users in the last year, and in every single session bar none, 90% of the audience don’t even know what wikis and blogs are – yet there you are trying to sell them BDC’s and custom developed solutions. Who is going to teach us business users how to use this technology? Training vendors? Hell no, useless bunch that charge a fortune! The Internet? TMI – where do you start. Manuals? Aren’t any that are low level enough for business users, (I’ve decided to write my own by the way). Mentors? Good luck finding one of those. Software vendors? Don’t seem to be interested. Microsoft themselves? Only offer technical training to a very select audience with Gold status, they’re not interested either. Other clients? No-one wants to tell me who they are so I can’t even network to other business myself either. So where then? You explain to me where people like me can go for support.
So Microsoft has sold close to 100 million SharePoint licenses, great – how many of those business users are getting the support they need too? Vendors are running out there selling SharePoint in droves – with no internal resources to support their clients, and you all know who you are. Do you really believe you will not be held accountable in the long run? With the amount of competition out there these days, shouldn’t you rather be asking what sets you apart from other vendors? As far as I am concerned, not one vendor that has come past us has provided decent customer service, and there are dozens of them, you are all “just another vendor”. Don’t you want to be known as the only one who provides a value added service that can be counted upon no matter what? We all know how small the IT industry is, surely that will give you such an edge that you will have more business than you will know what to do with? Or do you want people to carry on rolling their eyes when they hear your company’s name. And don’t be fooled, eyes roll.
Clients out there – be warned, make sure you have an agreement in place which allows for a lot of training and ongoing assistance; you are going to need it.
Do you not see the gap here? It amazes me that there are not (helpful!) helpdesk teams in every single vendor specifically designed to assist their clients for free. You can build the support into your installation costs. Surely a client who is using SharePoint optimally is a happy client and happy clients lead to more business? Ie: they push the boundaries of the out of the box features in quicker time, which means they need either Enterprise licenses or custom developed solutions which equals more money for the vendor? This is not rocket science people. Would it kill any of you vendors to provide this service?
You know how scarce SharePoint skills are, what is your plan to solve that problem? It’s not just about developers, it’s about business users too. There is no point in having 100’s of dev teams out there if the business users don’t know how to use the product. Out of all my users including myself, there are maybe 10 that have a genuine interest in SharePoint who want to get more involved, (out of the thousands that are on SharePoint now). I am coaching them myself and sending them resources as I find them. Some of them are over-taking me in skill level and that is wonderful, but they are busy hitting a brick wall. As have I. Who is going to help us? We don’t want to become developers, we want to become super users, but the path is near impossible at this stage. We don’t have internal resources to which we can turn, we are on our own and the frustration levels are very high. (Gee can you tell). I am trying everything at this stage, nothing seems to be working. And 10 users? We have a multi million Rand solution and there are only 10 that genuinely want to go further with it? Do you not see a problem here? Or is it that you have your money, you don’t care. What happens when business dries up? What’s going to happen to SharePoint then?
I can’t do it alone. I’ve tried, I’ve really really tried. One thing I have learnt is that SharePoint is a team sport, and you are only as good as your support team. We are 100% reliant on each other. I have tried to build our team internally and cross-skill, time will tell if I was successful. What we need now, is support from the vendors, decent training, experts willing to share their knowledge, proper assistance for business users and developers to have a little patience with us. We can only go so far on our own. I am begging you, stand out from the crowd – make a difference. Let me help you.
So that’s my grouch for the week. What I’d like to hear is some comments from business people on this subject. Do you think we need a monthly forum for business users, or a site dedicated to business users? But obviously I would welcome feedback from vendors and developers as well.
If I am wrong, and it is just me, I will be the first to post an apology to all developers and vendors.
Coming next : How SharePoint can make a difference in your day to day life, where is a good place to start using it, then tips and tricks for team sites.