Using Metrics to Justify Your SharePoint Investment

There is no dearth of opinion on this topic, whether it be from Microsoft or any of the many, many vendors out there who want to help you justify, plan, design, implement, or support (or paint, or count, or whatever) your SharePoint installation.  So, I thought it would be absolutely critical for me to toss my ideas into the mix.

Ever since my Knowledge Management consulting days way back in the mid-1990s’, clients that I have worked with have struggled with how to justify their investment in SharePoint or any other collaboration platform.  SharePoint isn’t really software that supports operational processes, after all, though it certainly can at some levels.  SharePoint is more about enhancing productivity or accelerating creativity or driving revenue.  These have always been difficult things to measure or predict.

When it comes to how to think about SharePoint (or any other similar technology) metrics, I think of a spectrum.  (The PowerPoint guy in me wants to draw a slide for this, but I’m going to stick to words.)

At the left of the spectrum are things that I think of as "care and feeding".  These are the typical things that an IT department watches with a Web application: uptime, page hits, unique users, clicks, etc.  To me, you just have to do this stuff right.  If you don’t you’re not good at your job, are you?  The application needs to work well.  (Luckily, our friends at Microsoft have invested quite a bit to make sure this is the case.)

Next is the category of cost reduction.  Teams being more efficient, global communication being more effective, and reduced reliance on email (and therefore reduced capacity requirements) fall into this category.  This is nice stuff, but it still is just paring back on money that would have otherwise been spent.

Improved consistency starts to cross the line between cost-cutting and revenue generation.  If you can enable a sales team to get a better proposal to a potential client faster, you’ve got a bit of both.  If an R&D team can benefit from previous research that has worked rather than starting from scratch, they may generate a better product, faster.  Training costs may decrease so that you can hire better people.  This category starts with little things like consistent document templates and best practice examples, through project templates, and repeatable processes.

At the far right of the spectrum is serendipity.  These are the things that wouldn’t have happened if the SharePoint platform hadn’t been there: a new $3M product idea, the hiring of a perfect resource into a position that has been impossible to fill, the close of a huge sale because someone in the organization you’d never heard of had the right slant, etc.  If these things happened because of some connection that was made due to SharePoint, then you can take some of the credit for it.  Make sure that you get explicit agreement from the parties involved that SharePoint made it happen and their willingness to tell the story for you.  This is the stuff that management really wants to hear about, but it has to be real.  Don’t try to take credit for something because it was stored on a disk drive that you bought.

A few more ways to think of this (aligned to the same spectrum):

  • Quantitative —–> Qualitative
  • Traditional —–> "Out of the box"
  • Defensive —–> Offensive (by this I mean that the numeric metrics tend to prove that you’re doing your job right; the qualitatives tend to prove that you are making a difference)
  • Frequent —–> Rare
  • Incremental —–> Huge
  • Hard —–> Soft (don’t be afraid to claim credit for fuzzy gains, but be prepared to back them up — or better yet, to have others back it up for you)
  • Leading —–> Lagging
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Have a thought or opinion?