6 questions to ask a potential SharePoint partner

By Myriad Technologies managing director Perry Smith

Back in the day, I was a solution architect at Suncorp Bank's information technology division. It was around that time I went looking for a SharePoint partner that could provide people, skills, and knowledge beyond what a single individual could offer, because – and let's face it – we all have some skill, knowledge, and capability, but when it comes to something as diverse and broad a product and platform as SharePoint, no single person is the fount of all knowledge.  

For my purposes, I needed to cover a number of specialist areas, including; 

  • Technical infrastructure 

  • Application knowledge and understanding  

  • Collaboration specialist knowledge 

  • Knowledge management  

  • Training and governance 

  • Intranet and document management knowledge and skills 

  • Technical and business integration capabilities 

  • Branding and graphics  

  • Records and compliance  

I found a number of partners and went through a long and painful learning journey to deliver Intranet to 20,000 people and a collaboration platform to 8000 information workers across 30 operating companies.  

When I started looking for a SharePoint partner, I went in blind and it took me years to understand I had not asked the right questions of the prospective partners. Today, I know more. Here are some useful questions to ask a prospective partner (or at least, to research) in order to help you avoid the mistakes I made. I hope they help on your SharePoint journey! 

1. Are you a Microsoft Gold Partner?
Being a Microsoft Gold Partner was integral to establishing the organisations credibility to deliver services. The accreditation process for this level of partner strips out a lot of the 'fly by night' SharePoint shops that talk a big game, but basically are a simple veneer over a bunch of contractors working together. 

2. Do you have more than 10 technical and consulting specialists that work exclusively on SharePoint?
Again, this strips out the 'bit players' and established that the partner will almost certainly have established a specialised practice and thereby have started to develop core IP around their services. This IP is what you want, and its worth its weight in gold. I have seen many disasters avoided simply by having the right level of experience guiding a project and an outcome. You probably won't even see the person providing this guidance. The practice managers play a background, but critical function. 

3. Do you have more than $5m annual turnover as an organisation, and have you been around for more than 10 years?
This might seem unimportant, but if you want the right size and shape of partner, look for one that has been around a while. Organisations come and go and sprout like weeds. They exist for a few years, but often then wither and die. 

4. Are there multiple qualifications (e.g. Microsoft MVP statuses for Office 365 and/or SharePoint) among staff within your organisation?
This question can provide you with some insight as to whether the organisation is actively striving to be the best they can, by hiring experienced workers and, better yet, supporting them in developing innovative technical solutions.  

5. Do you have capability in information management, and can you provide references for this capability?
This one is critical. The point of SharePoint is NOT the technology; it is what the technology can do for your staff and colleagues. Information management, knowledge management, intranet, and collaboration are all great features, but useless without the core point of understanding how the governance framework can and should operate, and how to align the business and technology outcomes to make a great outcome for the business.  

 6. Have you ever been in administration or operated under a different name?
This is a crucial compliance question. Essentially, you are looking to avoid a phoenix; a company that didn't stay afloat due to financial mismanagement. The owner(s) put the company into administration (probably without paying all debts) and then re-established the same operating name under a different legal construct. Avoid these like the plague; they will burn you and your business - imagine having to explain to your boss you overlooked basic corporate due diligence checks because the sales guy talked a big game or they had a nice website! 

In my next post, I'll explore the journey of SharePoint further, and again share what I have learned over the last three decades.