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SharePoint Information Governance and the Zombie Apocalypse

SharePoint Information Governance and the Zombie Apocalypse

In a zombie apocalypse, a widespread (usually global) rise of zombies hostile to human life engages in a general assault on civilization.

– Wikipedia

We have just discovered we have 80,000 abandoned Microsoft SharePoint sites on our corporate network.

– Pharmaceutical Company Senior Executive

The Walking Dead provides an entertaining look at a fictional zombie apocalypse. However, there’s a real-life one going on right now in much of the business world, due to Microsoft’s SharePoint platform. Don’t be alarmed, however —there is hope.

SharePoint is meant to be a web-based document management system any company can use to gather content and share it throughout the organization. Any authorized user within the business can make a site and add whatever documents and associated privileges they want. In theory, this makes the platform seem flexible and easily customized.

In reality? Zombie apocalypse.

A few years ago, many large enterprises couldn’t deploy Microsoft SharePoint intranet sites fast enough. Now? At Northern Light, we’re observing an across-the-board retreat from SharePoint. Why the sea change? Common complaints include disappointing search results, lack of pre-built functionality for some important use cases, the high level of expertise required to use the platform’s site admin functions to create and edit content portals, and the IT overhead required to manage and administer SharePoint deployments.

However, the key to the zombie apocalypse scenario mentioned earlier lies in a huge hidden problem which few companies adequately consider in advance before putting SharePoint to work: information governance. When every employee can make an intranet portal and put company documents on it, control of corporate information effectively evaporates. The result is a management, regulatory, and compliance nightmare.

For example, a large pharmaceutical firm realized last year it has 50,000 active SharePoint sites on its intranet. What’s on each of the sites? Who knows? Is the content on each of these sites current, superseded, or perhaps dangerously wrong? Who knows? Do any of the 50,000 sites have highly valuable information which was expensive to develop and hard to replicate?  The answer is, you guessed it — who knows?

At least those sites are still “alive.” The real shocker, which the pharmaceutical company discovered at the same time, was it had an additional 80,000 abandoned SharePoint sites on the company’s intranet. The original creators of those sites had either left the company, moved on to another job, completed the project the site was for, or just lost interest in whatever they were doing with that particular site.

There, in a nutshell, is your corporate zombie apocalypse: 80,000 SharePoint sites that aren’t quite alive, yet aren’t quite dead. And, as anyone experienced in apocalypses will tell you, once one starts, it inevitably ends badly.

Consider this. By what process could the organization possibly retire those sites without business risk and legal liability? Who can you even ask to review them all? How many years would it take to even review all the content on the 80,000 abandoned SharePoint sites? And what skills would be required to make the proper call on whether to get rid of one? The answer to this last question is virtually every skill, since any given “zombie site” might contain any kind of content — marketing, technology, legal, manufacturing, regulatory, IT, compliance, HR and/or other subject matter. Even if an accurate assessment of these inactive sites could easily be completed, you would first have to be able to track them all down — a very tall order.  What the pharmaceutical company in question did was assemble a team of over 120 staff members covering all the disciplines to go through the zombie SharePoint sites.  As of this writing, the company is half through the process and has already spent $100 million on the project to retire them.

How can a company avoid all these SharePoint headaches? Of course, strong processes could be established for employees to follow when working with Microsoft SharePoint sites. But there’s a much easier and more efficient alternative, at least for market research, competitive intelligence, technology studies, and licensed reports from outside research firms — and that’s using a purpose-built platform which facilitates sound information governance practices. Such a platform could control who can post, what material could be posted and who can access the material once it is posted. Such a platform would make it easy to determine what content is stored on the platform through powerful search technology and easy-to-manipulate reporting.

Northern Light’s SinglePoint is exactly that kind of platform. It was purposely designed to address the information management deficiencies in Microsoft SharePoint, as well as offer machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities enabling automatic content retrieval from the deepest levels of the internet.

Let’s return to the pharmaceutical company which found itself having to deal with 130,000 active and inactive SharePoint sites. Fortunately, none of the Microsoft SharePoint zombie sites were in the market research department because to the market research department had migrated to Northern Light SinglePoint years before.   Sound information governance is built in from the ground up in SinglePoint – so the market research team was able to watch with bemused detachment as the other departments in the company struggled to hold back the zombie apocalypse of walking dead Microsoft SharePoint sites that was threatening to engulf them. —

And the market research department realized substantial other benefits as a well. For example, prior to SinglePoint’s implementation, they had to assign three staff members for  a period of 45 days to assemble responses to FDA requests for the market research supporting a treatment claim because they had to search through all of their market research without the benefit of a powerful search engine that was guaranteed to surface every relevant document.  That led to a lot of manual review of documents to see if they should be included in the response.

Now? The same FDA request can be addressed by one person in 30 minutes.

If you don’t want to deal with zombies on television, the answer is simple: just change the channel. Similarly, if you don’t want to deal with tens of thousands of zombie sites in your company, well… just change the platform. You’ll be glad you did.

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