Sterling International Consulting Group

That SharePoint Architect (or Company) You’re about To Hire is Anything but….

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Seems everyone these days is a “SharePoint Architect” but 90% of the companies confuse ‘knowledge’ with actual skill. The average one out there now might know how to administrate SharePoint, maybe even install it properly but there’s always a deficiency in practical application. This might explain why you’ve missed dates and even the ‘architect’ goes MIA when critical dates begin to slip…probably with an excuse of “My kid is sick”, “Got into a car accident” or “Having marital difficulties” then they suddenly disappear for days or weeks at a time until the project completely fails (and the egg my friend, is on your face).

Of course this is all, and let’s be honest, crap.

In reality, understanding a particular application or being able to build an app is hardly what’s needed when providing technology to an entire organization. You can have the very best ‘knowledgeable’ person that can answer any question on a test, but when put into actual application, folds faster than a bad hand in poker.

I used to deal with this in Energy Management Systems – fresh out of college, Electrical Engineers don’t understand simple grounding (disastrous in some cases!) as the earth itself is a ground. Those of us that have done the practical applications know what will happen when you’ve crossed wires or failed to establish a true ground. I’ve seen more than a few stunned faces of EE’s sitting on the floor (being hit with 250 volts) with their first application wondering why putting metal into an electrical field was a hell of shock as they shake it off.

An architect is really one that helps you design a house to your actual needs – they design the actual layout but know to include how the roof handles snow, how the driveway and garage will complement the view, how the rainwater gutters will work, that the landscape addresses the functional need for drainage and that the lighting scheme actually enhances security, etc. Anyone can give you a picture of a house, but a real architect designs one you can live in.

In terms of SharePoint, this is the lifeblood of an organization that all too often decides the success of the organization and the ability for it to respond to needs, issues and of course failures and worst case disasters.

In all too many cases, “architects” are nothing but a fake title. You spend a huge amount of money to get it installed – all fine and good. But typically, there’s a number of holes (and red flags):

  • They’ve never actually taken the time to understand your organization and most never even consider talking to your Communications group.
  • They tout their experience in SharePoint that can’t be defined by successful transformations and the wide ranging benefits they have provided but instead, how many they’ve done (omitting of course the number of screwed organizations they’ve left in their wake).
  • Never provide any real documentation such as an installation guide (needed for Disaster Recovery) and never even mention Business Continuity Planning (what do you do when the lights go out and your documents with it).
  • Don’t know anything about how people will actually use the technology and how to get the most benefit out of it based on you and your organization’s needs.
  • Think “turning it on” is sufficient with no consideration of how the organization will get a return on the investment.
  • Leave you in the lurch with a system that is unusable and unsuitable for the intended needs it was supposed to address.

A real SharePoint Architect (or Senior Consultant in Microsoft terms) prevents these issues. This takes YEARS of experience in multiple industries (or at least multiple companies) and a whole lot more than ‘book experience’ that can intuitively tell you “Yes, you can do this” and more important “No, you don’t do this!”. There’s at least 3 or 4 ways to do things but knowing the best way is through actual experience (and cannot be done ‘off shore’).

A true architect (even regardless of SharePoint) has a wide breadth of knowledge and doesn’t need a ‘team to advise them’ (or googling the answers) – and can cover the entire technical footprint AND the business side of why you do one thing or another.

Most miss the boat – they never:

  • Provide (or evangelize) a true sense of urgency – understands the costs and personnel efforts required to make it a success and doesn’t just leave the car in the driveway with an empty gas tank.
  • Own it like you own it – supports the organization’s personal mission and buys into the ownership as if it were their own with an understanding of the business and people impact.
  • Knowledge Transfer – either skip it entirely or don’t understand the importance of it; your people are lost in a fog. But they are always willing to bill you for more time when you have questions (that never really end up in an answer, just an excuse that they need more time).
  • Mentoring – ability to guide the organization from the basic user to the developer trying to add Apps to the business users to get the most benefits of the technology.
  • Master Data Management – knows and knows how to advise how to integrate Metadata (in SharePoint, “search, sort and filter” with your other enterprise systems (SAP, Peoplesoft, etc.) to conform to data needs and ‘tagging’ of data and documents).

Technically, companies don’t ask the right questions of the providers. And bean-counters focus too much on “I can get x number of bodies for y price”. Nine people don’t make a baby in a month. A true architect understands ALL of the technologies involved, not just the one product. In terms of an enterprise application like SharePoint, it requires a very a broad spectrum (and a true architect can do ALL of them, by hand, by scratch – and without any help):

  • Virtual Technologies – Knows the actual creation and configuration to support either Hyper-V or VMWare such as knowing how to the host system should be set up, how Virtual resources should be assigned, etc.
  • Active Directory – Understands how accounts and OU’s are setup for organization and security and the permissions required by the application to operate.
  • SQL Server – Know the applications of Always On, Mirroring or Clustering, when it’s appropriate to use one or the other and how it will support the volume (and can design it, from scratch).
  • Networking – Know the importance of dual NIC’s, network traffic internally (in the farm) and access.
  • Caching – Know what it is and how to take advantage of it for public facing, extranet and intranet usage at all levels (Pages, Browsers, Application, IIS and LAN accelerators).
  • Internet Information Server – Knows how to implement it properly to support both services (WCF & Web services) and SharePoint’s access.
  • SharePoint – Knowing how to configure it to provide all of the services necessary, Excel Services, Visio Services, Performance Point, PowerPivot, integration with SQL Reports, etc.
  • Windows Azure – Knowing how to integrate with hybrid/cloud solutions and the security needed to support them.
  • Office Services – Knowing how Office products integrate with SharePoint and the impacts to end users.
  • Business – Knowing what services apply to what the business will use and how they will use them in a beneficial manner.
  • Business Continuity – Can help the business to know how to deal with problems and mitigate risks (what happens when the lights go out?).
  • Disaster Recovery – Can design a solution to make sure nothing is ever lost and easily recoverable.

Know one thing – you cannot do SharePoint in the blind – it’s a mission critical system. Just imagine you walk in and find all of your file cabinets and network file shares are gone. What to do should be easy, not a guess.

Most companies will give you a taste of the above – before you sign that contract, particularly  with “offshores” that tout how ‘cheaper’ they can do it, decide if you can afford the risk. Be your own best advocate. If they’ve never been to your office or work a different time zone of 13 hours, you should question whether you’ve done your due diligence. If they can’t produce success after success as evidence, the number of ‘experts’ they can supply means nothing. Again, a gaggle of people cannot make a baby any faster, just bill you more saying they can, even when you know they can’t deliver or execute.

Architect means a lot of things – don’t mistake a title on a resume or what the sales rep says they’ll supply you ‘offshore’ to mean the real thing or a genuine asset to your organization. A SharePoint Architect is an artist with a blend of business analysis, actual hands-on and demonstrable skills, insight into the implementation and a keen sense of the organization’s goals – geared to taking ownership of a success for all. In the end, the architect should be able to provide that warm and fuzzy feeling (and actual success) to everyone.

Think about that before you select someone to do it for you. Will it be a success or will you be left holding the bag and questioning your firing posthaste?

Want to know the difference and avoid falling into the trap? Ask me – [email protected]. We know, I know, we’ve done it and we’ve been there and I personally guarantee it. Regardless of the technology, SICG has the practical experience and knowhow that gets the job done, the first time and only time you’ll need.

by Sterling International Consulting Group

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