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May 18, 2009

SharePoint study

We're commissioning a study looking at the uptake and use of Microsoft SharePoint by Higher Education Institutions and currently have an ITT available.

This is an unusual study for us - in the sense that it focuses on an individual product - a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed either internally or in the community. When we announced the study on the WEBSITE-INFO-MGT@JISCMAIL.AC.UK mailing list, David Newman (Queen's University Management School, Belfast) responded with:

What a remarkably narrow research scope. It would be interesting to find out what groupware HEI institutions are using to support particular functions (co-ordinating international research projects, helping students work together in group projects, joint report editing, keeping track of expenses, ...). But just one product from one supplier?

I think David is right to raise this as an issue but there are reasons why we've done things in the way that we have and I think those reasons are worth sharing. Here's a copy of my response to David:

Hi David,
Firstly, I agree with you that this looks to be a rather narrowly scoped piece of work. It is the kind of study that we haven't funded to date and it's something that we didn't fund without a certain amount of internal angst! On that basis, I think it is worth me trying to explain where we are coming from with it.

You should note that this study comes out of our new Research Programme

http://www.eduserv.org.uk/research/

rather than the previous Eduserv Foundation (which has now been wrapped up, except in the sense that we are continuing to support projects that we previously funded under the Foundation). Our previously announced ITT for a study looking at the way Web content is managed by HEIs (currently being undertaken by SIRC)

http://www.eduserv.org.uk/research/studies/wcm2009

came from the same place.

The change from a Foundation to a Research Programme brought with it a subtle, but significant, change of emphasis. Eduserv is a non-profit IT services company. We have a charitable mission to "realise the benefits of ICT for learners and researchers", something we believe we do most effectively thru the services we deliver, e.g. those provided for the education community (particularly HE). Because of that, we felt we would get better 'value' from our research funding (more bang-per-buck if you like) if we tried to align it more closely with the kinds of services we offer. That is what we are trying to do thru the new Research Programme.

Our services to HE currently include OpenAthens and Chest, though we have a desire to improve our Web hosting/development offer within the sector as well (something we currently sell primarily into the public sector). For info... we are also in the final stages of developing a new data centre in Swindon and we hope to use that as the basis for new services to the HE sector in the future.

As a service provider, we sense a significant (and growing) interest in the use of MS SharePoint as the basis for the provision of a fairly wide range of solutions. This is particularly true in the public sector, where we also operate, but also in HE (for example, the HEA are just in the process of initiating a SharePoint project). Please note, I'm not saying this is necessarily good thing - my personal view is that it is not (though my personal view on all this is largely irrelevant!).

We tried to broaden the scope of the ITT in line with the kind of "groupware" suggestion you make below [above] but ultimately we felt that in doing so it was hard to capture the breadth of things that people are trying to do in SharePoint without ending up with something quite fuzzy and unfocused. On that basis, we reluctantly narrowed in on a specific technology - something we are not used to doing.

Let me be quite clear. We are not looking for a study that says MS SharePoint is the answer to everything (or indeed anything). Nor, that it is the answer to nothing. We are looking to understand what people in HE are doing with SharePoint, what they think works well, what they think is broken, why they have considered but rejected it and so on.

In that sense, it is a piece of market research... pure and simple. However, we believed (perhaps wrongly?) that the community would also be interested in this topic, which is why the findings of the work will be made openly available under a CC licence. The intention is to help both us and the community make better long term deployment decisions and, rightly or wrongly, we felt that decisions about one particular piece of software, i.e. SharePoint, was a significant enough part of that in this particular case to make the study worthwhile.

Hope that helps?

Note, I'm very happy to continue to hear if people think we have gone badly wrong on this because it will help us to spend our money more wisely (i.e. more effectively for the benefit of both us and the community) in the future.

Best,

Andy

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