posted 7 May 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 6
Book review: Seamless Network: Using Microsoft SharePoint Technologies to Collaborate, Innovate and Drive Business in New Ways
Author: Michael Sampson
Pagination: 270 pages
Review by Matthew Moore
New Zealander Michael Sampson wants people to collaborate better. The tagline of his website is “Working with people you can’t be with”. So, while Sampson’s first book is published by Microsoft and discusses SharePoint, it is not only for those proud owners of a SharePoint license. It aims to provide a practical framework for any distributed teams using equivalent collaboration software.
The book puts the reader in the position of ‘Roger’, the project manager of a fictional project with a globally-dispersed team. The first four chapters discuss team recruitment and setting up a shared environment. The book then shows the reader how collaboration software can support five phases that make up a simple project:
Creating a shared vision;
Understanding the options;
Analysing the options;
Making a decision;
Concluding the project.
The print copy of the book does not cover the broader issues of collaboration software deployment outside a team (for example, governance) however, these issues are discussed in Chapter 12 online.
Sampson discusses the basics of project management and team leading, while at the same time indicating how the technology can enable specific activities, such as brainstorming or scheduling. There are numerous examples and screenshots to aid the reader. Most of these do deal with SharePoint, but tools such as MS Office Outlook 2007, MS Office Groove 2007 (both also Microsoft products) and Collingo Contributor (available from a Microsoft business partner) are also demonstrated to achieve specific tasks where SharePoint’s functionality is weak – for example, working offline.
I have to declare a bias here. SharePoint is now the 800lb gorilla of the content management and collaboration software market. Microsoft’s marketing muscle has played a role here, as have the relatively high cost and complexity of its competitors. It’s true that SharePoint’s breadth of functionality makes it attractive to many organisations, especially if they already operate as a primarily MS or .NET environment. However this breadth is not matched by depth (although the ever-growing ecosystem of third-party plug-in providers does not mitigate this) which can lead to frustrations for the user. To someone who has experienced these frustrations, Sampson has shown SharePoint in its best possible light but he has yet to persuade me to love it.
Chapters 11 and 12 are not in the book but are available on Sampson’s website for free download to all owners of the book. Presumably this was done to drive website traffic and to encourage us to explore the rest of his publications. While the ‘extra’ content is good and the website has some highly pertinent material, I wanted the whole book in hard copy in one place, rather than having to manage pieces of it in different locations. This strategy will be more effective when e-books become widespread but right now it creates some aggravation.
The book’s underlying project management framework is simple and sound. It avoids the common trap of focusing solely on technical functionality without sufficient appreciation of the work context and the broader goals of workers. People want to do their jobs rather than use software per se and Sampson understands this. This book comes recommended for all users of SharePoint.