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Sharepoint, Sharepunt

Here’s what astounds me: Sharepoint is Microsoft’s fasting (sic) growing business ever. Faster than windows or office. It’s also a source of 1 bil+ revenue a year. YET, comments from 40+ educated people who know technology very well cannot explain its purpose or real value.   From Here

So what is it you do here?

If you have seen the movie “Office Space”, you will immediately recognize the query from a pair of consultants– the “two Bobs”–  hired to optimize the business operations of some hi-tech company that writes banking software (consequentially using only two digits for the dates).    They interview all of the staff and are sometimes perplexed at the role played by a particular individual.  They look at him, indulgent, perhaps, and open-minded, at least at first, and ask: what is it, exactly, that you do here?  One employee, desperately trying to justify his position, gets angrier and angrier as he explains that he takes the specifications from the customer and brings them to the development team.  The consultants repeat:  Yes… but what is it you do?

The truth is that “Office Space” is one of those movies that I like in spite of the fact that it really isn’t very good, on any artistic level.  The acting, script, and direction are pedestrian at best.  But it hit on an area of human life neglected by Hollywood: work.  And it’s amateurishness works in its favor there in the way it tries to show you something about working relationships that you won’t see elsewhere.  Like:  “PC Load Letter?!  What the fuck does that mean?”

In this case, the employee, Tom Smykowski, could have given an answer more in line with “I develop strategies for customer relationship development to enhance corporate branding” or something like that.  What he says instead is that he brings the specifications from the customer to the developer.  He “deals with” customers, which is actually more of a real job than what most managerial employees do.

So, in trying to inform myself about Sharepoint– what is it exactly that you do? — I found this guy.  Oh good, I thought.  He doesn’t look too corporate.  He’s sitting in a car.  Maybe, at last, I can get a real explanation of what Sharepoint does exactly.  So I watched.  He blathered on about how great it is, how fabulous, how foundational, and how it …. it….  it….

All right.   In spite of the car setting and the lack of a suit, he sounds like a shill for a consultancy group that sells Microsoft services and support.  When we need collaboration, when we need workflow… communications: few to many…  the many to many conversations crossing teams… applications … granular security… think Sharepoint.  And there’s teams: teams is where we’re doing things because we converse and we’re working on different things… where we meet and share files and the other aspects of what we do as a team…   Enhance employee engagement….  Yammer are those large  topic-focused typically self-serviced type conversational groups… teams!  Teams are where I do my work and get it done. …   They actually work together in a synergistic fashion and usage will vary from org to org depending on their own requirements.

Yes, but what is it you do?

That last line– my God!  You really hit on something there!   “Synergistic fashion”.  Something so profound and specific it will make the hairs on the backs of the necks of every high-priced consultant in North America tingle.

But what is it you do?

I think of Sharepoint, at this stage, like the layer of management just below the CEO at most organizations.  There are people who do real work at any organization, institution, or company.   When an organization starts out, that’s all anybody does, though there are always people with real power among them: the owners or appointed positions with the authority attached to them by the owners (it’s really always the owners who have the real power).  Then the organization grows and gets more money.  The appointed leaders promote themselves.  The last thing they really want to do every day is real work, so they crate new categories of “work”: management.   But even management can involve real work, like supervision, scheduling, processing time sheets, coordination, and so on.  So, as the organization gets bigger and bigger, they appoint other people to do the real management while they attend training seminars, retreats, and leadership conferences.  Eventually, they stop working altogether: their entire job consists of coming up with phrases like “synergistic fashion” and “topic-focused typically self-serviced type conversational groups” and “enhance employee engagement” to justify paying themselves more than the people who actually produce things of value for the organization.  Way more.

It provides you with an “intuitive” experience, so he says.  That’s not what “intuitive” means, really.  The experience is what you get to.  The skills required to navigate to this result are not intuitive, and real-world experience shows over and over again that Microsoft does a very poor job of making interfaces that allow users to “intuit” how to do something, like set up an international meeting via the internet with white board, powerpoint presentations, and video-conferencing.

“Your employees can create sites to share documents and information with colleagues, partners, and customers”.  Yes, it sounds like the internet.

Or listen to this (from here, an otherwise fine article):

Yammer the startup had a vision. It was to make the world of work more transparent and connected, to break open the rigid structures in corporations and to let information travel freely for the good of more collaboration, innovation and responsiveness. Yammer the platform was the conduit, the trojan-horse so to speak, to achieve such an ambitious social change agenda.

Is there any world in which you can imagine that any of this can take place without the actual work of collaboration being performed by smart, engaged, well-compensated employees?  Now, is there any world in which you can imagine that all these good things would not have happened anyway, without the expensive technological framework being sold to you by Microsoft?  There’s not a thing that Office 365 does that could not be done by Groupwise, Thunderbird, ExpressionWeb, WhatsApp, or Google.  The biggest obstacle this this process is not addressed by any software: stupid leaders who are more afraid of being exposed as the useless appendages that they are than they care about productivity and efficiency and rational management strategies.