Here is some insight into the role of the SharePoint Solution Specialist at Habanero.

What makes a SharePoint Solution Specialist different to a "traditional" Business Analyst (Solution Specialist)?

When working with SharePoint there is a fine line between the "prescriptive" and "descriptive" approach. Whilst a traditional business analyst will simply ask a client what their needs are, a SharePoint Solution Specialist needs to balance this with the capabilities that the platform offers and how it can be leveraged most effectively.

But this is where things get confusing... Talk to some people and they will say SharePoint is a platform, others will say it's a product. So what exactly is it? Well it's both, but how you treat SharePoint depends on the three tenets of any software project: time, budget, and scope. The SharePoint Solution Specialist is always trying to find that balance between business needs, platform capabilities, and cost.

SharePoint is both a product and a platform — how it is leveraged depends on the business, the analyst, the requirements, and the cost.

Leveraging the Platform

A good SharePoint Solution Specialist needs to know how to most effectively leverage the platform to meet the needs of the enterprise. In many cases this involves leveraging out of the box components and then deciding how to make up the difference on what the platform can do with minimal cost, and what the business really needs it to do to be effective.

From experience it is much more effective to make use of the out of the box components than to redevelop custom functionality that might be 90 percent sufficient — but this is exactly the conversation that we will have with our clients. "This is what the platform can do, this is what it will provide, this is what will provide the most business value, and these are the costs associated," should be the mantra of the SharePoint Solution Specialist!

To act as an advisor

The position of the SharePoint Solution Specialist is really one of an advisor. We have the knowledge about the many possibilities that the platform offers and it's up to us to advise the client on how to proceed through the murky waters of SharePoint. That advisor role cannot be emphasized enough when working with the product. The platform offers so many capabilities and options, the question is where to start?

We try to find the best solution for the client's needs utilizing the platform, but which part? For some clients they think that they need a search solution, when really they need a information architecture solution. Some clients think that they need a document management solution, when they really need a governance solution.

The advisor role allows us to both understand the business challenges that clients face and be able to link that back to platform capabilities. We are as transparent as possible in this process with our clients, whether this be discussing technical decisions in terms of development or customization, or simply by providing clients with the information that they need to make their own decision. SharePoint is a huge platform, with a myriad of possibilities and our advisor role lets us not only solve immediate problems, but allows us to create an ongoing dialog with our clients to help them on their SharePoint journey.

Technical and personal skills

Good SharePoint Solution Specialists need to have an intimate understanding and appreciation about the capabilities of the platform in addition to the personal skills to communicate this with a wide variety of users. Whilst SharePoint is a technical solution, ultimately it is used as a business tool and our Solution Specialists will need to effectively communicate with IT Administrators, decision-makers, power-users, end users, and even those who will absolutely hate what we are doing!

Believe me, its hard! Ask 10 people what SharePoint is and you will get 10 different answers! But we try to communicate the relevant information to the relevant parties. Do end users want to know that now the indexing role can be split out over multiple servers? No way, but do you think that end users want to know that now their content will appear in search results in 10 minutes instead of 1 hour? Hell yes! :)

Knowing the "what", being aware of the "how"

The "what" refers to what the platform can do and what it can't, and where the line is between configuration and customization. The "how" are the deep technical issues that this might entail.

As Solution Specialists we are aware of the how, and we have brilliant technical architects and developers within Habanero who have already forgotten more about the deep technical issues of SharePoint than an Solution Specialist will ever know!

But as a SharePoint Solution Specialist we do have a understanding of SharePoint on many levels: what can be configured versus customized, basic SharePoint infrastructure knowledge, out of the box features, applicability to business requirements, and last but not least, what the platform can't do without a significant investment.

Adding Business Value

It all comes down to this! As Solution Specialists we are here to add value to your business with SharePoint. This is sometimes a juggling act, but in the end if there must be tangible benefits to your business.

What do you need to be a good SharePoint Solution Specialist?

  • Be passionate about what you do — Project Managers are passionate about time, scope, and budget. Developers are passionate about technology. The Solution Specialist needs to be passionate about all of it! But perhaps most importantly we strive for a balance of a passion for technology with helping organizations meet their needs.
  • Need to have compassion for people — We help our clients understand SharePoint, we understand that some users won't be technically savvy, we don't sell SharePoint, we sell a solution.
  • Need to have restraint — We try not to use every possible feature of SharePoint, we try not to show every single feature of SharePoint, we try to show our clients what will make sense to them and ultimately solve their business problem most effectively.
  • A sense of humour — A good sense of humor is always needed when you do a demonstration or make a mistake in something that you say. Anyone who doesn't have a good sense of humor working with SharePoint would be locked in a padded cell by now!
  • Be humble — Fact is we won't know it all, every day there are 1,000 things to learn about the product and on many occasions we simply don't know... we try to be honest and let the client know that we don't know it all. Fortunately I have 70 people within Habanero, some of the most intelligent, brilliant people I know. Trust me, someone will know, and if they don't, guaranteed they'll we find out for you.

What does a good SharePoint Solution Specialist bring?

  • Clients — Clients want someone that will join them on this SharePoint journey, they want someone who is equally comfortable in technical and business conversation. This is our role! We are just as excited as you are about the possibilities and in many ways just as worried, but we are in for the journey with all of our clients.
  • Project Managers — Our Project Managers love that there is someone there who will control scope, time, and budget, which could derail even the best intentioned projects.
  • Developers — Love the fact that they can concentrate on building amazing custom functionality, while we are leveraging as many out of the box features as we can. Our developers love to be challenged and our Solution Specialists can provide the ideas that can make this happen.

So I hope I've provided some insight into this unique role. Truth is, we have an amazingly passionate, knowledgeable, and fun group of developers, architects, user experience designers and solution specialists who love working with SharePoint. It's fun, exciting, at times painful, but the most fun job that I have ever had.