The Shire Hall and Sharepoint

July 30, 2008

This post is actually about IT and Sharepoint in particular but bear with me while I build context. I spent the formative years from five to eighteen in the country town of Mold in North-West Wales and while I was taught to regard Cardiff as our real home I am still fond of the place. Back in the 1960s there was a need for a new Shire Hall for Flintshire, and a political need for Mold to outpoint Denbigh for the about to be created super country of Clwyd. The site was a wooded hill on the outskirts of town with commanding views to the Clwydian Hills. Any county architect worth their salt would have jumped at the chance to create a building appropriate to the setting. Unfortunately a prefab monstrosity that represented the worst of architectural practice at the time was procured and installed; see the picture if you don’t believe me.

So how does this tie into Sharepoint?

Well over the last year I have talked with many a company and government department about knowledge management, and in particular the use of social computing. A all too common response is along the lines of Yes we think that is a good idea, but the IT department have told us we have to use Sharepoint. Maybe now you see the reference to the concrete monstrosity of the Shire Hall in Mold? IT departments are simply deciding to go with a single procurement from a dominant player, rather than allowing locally contextual solutions to emerge. They don’t even have the excuse of cost saving as implementing one of the all things to all men solutions is expensive both on procurement and consequential loss of opportunity. In this space IT should focus on sound architecture and secure file management then allow a thousand flowers to bloom by encouraging diversity of tool use. One software package cannot replicate the richness of the web, and your employees deserve that richness as does your organisation if it is to be effective and successful.

In a moment of frustration a week ago in North America I said the following to one IT Director (in public so I may not be forgiven): OK so you are getting your users to sign a document about what they want, when they have no idea of what technology can deliver, you are then using that to get large IT companies to tender and deliver to said spec. You have removed all risk, but you have added no value to your company, instead you have subtracted value and damaged its long term prospects.

What we need is for IT Directors to realise that they should take the opportunity missed by the country architect of Flintshire back in the 1960s, and allow contextually appropriate solutions to emerge from the co-evolution of technology and need. If not then there is only one other valid response and it involves concrete, but in this case overshoes and a nearby dockside.

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