A constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. While blogging sometimes feels like a solitary activity, occasionally readers pay a writer the compliment of commenting on her work. Then the conversation begins. When the participants in that conversation are good-natured and well-intended, that conversation can become a constructive one that leads to greater understanding.
Last week I hoped to start a conversation that I believe is long overdue in the legal industry. That conversation concerns how law firms go about deciding to purchase intranet/portal technology. Law firm knowledge management departments often see an intranet as a core part of their offering to the firm. Yet too often the technology is chosen by the IT department and does not always serve the needs of the KM department. Unfortunately, some KM professionals are not aware that there are alternatives readily available in the market, so they cannot engage their It colleagues in a more productive conversation about the relative merits of the various technology offerings. The result is rarely good for the KM department or the lawyers it serves. Consequently, my assertion was that Intranet Ignorance is NOT Bliss.
My solution to this problem was not to recommend a particular technology solution. Rather it was to urge my law firm KM colleagues to make sure they had done their due diligence to understand fully what the market offers before choosing any product. I closed my blog post by asking my readers to do themselves the favor of exploring alternatives to SharePoint before they make their purchase decision. If SharePoint is the right choice, then they should go ahead with it. If it is not the right choice for them, then they should choose another intranet product.
There is nothing radical about this advice. I would give it to someone contemplating a home purchase, a car purchase or even a toaster purchase. We make better decisions when we have better information. I’m simply asking my law firm colleagues to ensure they have better information.
In the spirit of better information, I am reproducing below two comments I received on my blog post via LinkedIn. Normally I would simply have responded in LinkedIn, but the word limitations there did not permit a thoughtful response. Therefore, I have moved the conversation here:
Comment from Doug Horton, President and CEO, Handshake Software:
Mary, I realized you got paid to review this software but having downloaded and read their SharePoint v. Interact whitepaper, there are many false assumptions in their comparison when viewed in the context of law firms. You know that Handshake Software is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market. You may not know that we have at least one client that is using our software and integrations to create an Intranet without SharePoint. Anyway, I would be happy to discuss offline with you or anyone else.
My response to Doug’s comment:
Doug, thanks very much for reading and commenting on my blog post.
I was asked by Interact to prepare a knowledge management white paper for the legal industry. I was not paid to review their software. My blog post on intranets was intended to start a conversation about right-sizing intranet investments in law firms. The white paper has the same goal. Your comments help by pushing this conversation forward and, for that, I thank you.
You mention in your comments that the company you founded and lead, Handshake Software, “is the #1 provider of SharePoint products and services to the legal market.” I congratulate you on the success of your company. In light of that success, I must note that my economic interest in Interact is infinitesimal in relation to your economic interest as the founder, president and CEO of a company that continues its Microsoft SharePoint-focused growth in 2015. Consequently, I was disappointed when you suggested that economic interests would sway me. This seems unfair in light of our relative economic interests.
You mention there were false assumptions in the Interact document to which I linked, but you did not provide any specifics. That paper cites sources such as Gartner and AIIM. Are you questioning those sources or something else? I would like to learn more specifics about your concerns. Until then, it is hard to respond to a general allegation. You offered to have an offline conversation on this, and I would welcome that opportunity.
Finally, I am delighted to learn from your comment that you have at least one client that is using your software and integration to create an intranet without SharePoint. Would you be willing to tell me more about that case so that I can feature it in one of my blog posts? The experience of that firm would undoubtedly be instructive for other firms weighing an intranet purchase decision.
Comment from Ted Theodoropoulos, President, Acrowire:
Like Doug, I would also challenge the validity of Interact’s assessment of SharePoint. SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms? You can’t have a SharePoint environment stood up in weeks? There are no search analytics in SharePoint? All these assertions are completely inaccurate. I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products. I know a few legal CIOs personally who were let go for embarking on initiatives in which SharePoint was leveraged for uses in which it is not particularly well suited (i.e. legal DMS).
My response to Ted’s comment:
Ted, thanks for your comments on my blog post.
You noted that you share Doug’s analysis, so I’d invite you to take a look at my response to Doug.
In your comments, you referred to assertions that (i) SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms, (ii) you can’t stand up a SharePoint environment in weeks, and (iii) there are no search analytics in SharePoint. I did not make those assertions in my blog post and I did not see those assertions in the Interact document to which I linked from my post. Can you tell me where you found them?
Finally, you stated “I would also challenge the assertion that no CIO has been fired for deploying Microsoft products.” In fact, that was not my claim. I said: “No CIO of a law firm was ever fired for buying Microsoft products.” (emphasis added) My point was simply that Microsoft is often seen as a safer choice at the purchase stage than smaller, less-established vendors. However, I understand that the Microsoft label will not protect a CIO who has not deployed the software appropriately. Your example proves my understanding to be correct.
Would you be willing to tell me more about the examples you have in mind regarding CIOs who failed to deploy SharePoint properly? In particular, I would be interested in learning about the failed SharePoint-as-DMS examples you mentioned. This topic comes up frequently in law firm KM circles, so it would be good to have more facts at hand about why SharePoint does not deliver as a DMS.
As I stated earlier, a constructive conversation is one that leads to greater understanding. It is my hope that Doug, Ted and others in the legal industry will join me in creating this constructive conversation regarding intranets. I know there are some law firms that are happy with their SharePoint deployment. I also know that there are law firms that are not as happy. As we raise everyone’s understanding about intranet technologies and opportunities available in the marketplace, we ensure that people make smarter purchase decisions. Obviously, the implementation is in each purchaser’s hands, but if they correctly make the first critical decision — buying the right software — that should put them miles ahead in terms of implementation, adoption and engagement.
At the end of the day, isn’t that where all of us want to be?
[Photo Credit: Roosevelt and Churchill in conversation (Zorba the Geek) / CC BY-SA 2.0]
Mary, First, I’d like to thank you for providing a forum to have a productive discussion on this topic. As part of that discussion let me answer your questions first. In your response you said:
“In your comments, you referred to assertions that (i) SharePoint doesn’t include workflow and forms, (ii) you can’t stand up a SharePoint environment in weeks, and (iii) there are no search analytics in SharePoint. I did not make those assertions in my blog post and I did not see those assertions in the Interact document to which I linked from my post. Can you tell me where you found them?”
I found them in the link you provided in your blog shown in the graphic below.
If you scroll down that page you will see the following matrix that makes the assertions I referenced. For clarity I labeled them below with the (i), (ii), and (iii) as referenced in your response. Hopefully that clears up the confusion there.
As to the comment that no CIO has been fired for buying Microsoft products I am struggling to find the distinction made by emphasizing the word buying. Are we saying that CIOs are sometimes fired just for buying products from other non-Microsoft vendors? We all know that the rubber hits the road in the implementation. It doesn’t matter what vendor’s products you buy. What matters is that you deploy those products in a way which meets stakeholder objectives. If you fail to do that you’ll be shown the door regardless of what vendor makes the product you failed to implement correctly.
You asked if I would be willing to say more about the examples of CIOs and firms who have failed to deploy SharePoint properly. I will not call out any person or firm specifically and I am sure you can understand why. Several of these implementations got plenty of public attention and many of your readers will have knowledge of them. What I will share is my knowledge of SharePoint and the level of disappointment a law firm (of more than say 200 attorneys) would face if they chose to use the platform natively as a DMS.
SharePoint does a lot of things really well. Providing native document management for law firm sized payloads isn’t one of them. There are several reasons why SharePoint doesn’t perform well managing tens of millions of documents with the main one being the product’s architecture. SharePoint stores everything in a content database on SQL Server. Documents are unstructured data and SQL was designed to accommodate structured data (i.e. rows and columns). Binary storage is a second class citizen in SQL Server which makes a lot of sense given it’s intended use in life.
What makes SharePoint a great intranet platform are its strengths: search, content publishing, hosting LOB apps, AD integration, BI capabilities, etc. I did a webinar for ILTA a few months ago on this very topic if anyone wants to know more about what SharePoint does well in a legal context. The link is below.