Is the SharePoint Administrative Model really working?

I like the Admin model in SharePoint. We have a structure of Farm administrators, who keep the system running, backed up and reliable. Then we’ve got Site Collection admins, and Site Admins.

Delegation of administrative responsibility is, in my eyes, a Good Thing. IT departments are busy, and have to prioritise work, which can make them seem unresponsive to an individual user’s/team’s needs. By giving the users the right to administer their team’s/department/group’s site, they can get on with getting things done without having to bug IT all the time – which ultimately annoys both parties.

However, I’m not convinced it is working.

Let’s have a look at the types of administrator again.

  • Farm Admins, who we’ll assume are techies in the IT department. Their job is to keep the farm running, and that is a technical job. This level is quite distinct, and makes sense to be so.
  • Site Collection Admins. Depending on what your site collection is for, these could be technical staff or advanced users. (Normally people talk about ‘business users’, but that makes it sound like having a suit give you technical ability, or that the Luddite MD isn’t part of the business). Site collection admins are in charge of the settings for the top-level site in the collection (which is usually the most high profile in the collection), and has control of Site Collection wide settings, such as search settings, usage reporting, policies, and collection-wide features. This is in addition to the usual Site administrator’s tasks, so being a site collection admin can be a pretty technical task.
  • Site Administrators look after individual sites. They create lists and libraries, configure the look of pages with Web Parts, add columns of metadata to lists, set up site features, configure site navigation and set up user permissions. That’s before you look at other settings, like versioning on lists, use of content types, use of workflows, audiences. This level is supposed to be open to advanced users rather than just technical staff.

I’m not convinced this works for site admins, for several reasons:

  • These roles are technical. All the concepts controlled by even just a site admin make it a technical role. You have to understand the idea behind things like Web Parts, lists and columns and views, and the slightly non-intuitive permissions structure. You have to be able to understand data and it’s relationships, and that doesn’t come naturally for everyone (thankfully, or I probably would have work).
  • Advanced users don’t necessarily want to be advanced. They just want to get on with things. ‘Business’ users particularly are busy people, and don’t want to take time to learn or train – they just want to get things done.
  • By reducing the IT department’s work, we’ve given advanced users more to do. It’s the classic thing in changing business processes – if one group’s job gets even slightly harder they scream foul, even if it is much better for the rest of the organisation.
  • The wrong training is given… …or none is given at all. It’s become a standing joke that companies prepare their advanced users by… sending them on a SharePoint Designer course! This has nothing to do with how to set up or administer a SharePoint Site. Worse, some companies just skip the whole training of administrators (and often users) entirely. SharePoint is not as simple as a network drive, and under-trained admins and users will fail to use it correctly.
  • Organisations themselves don’t won’t delegate responsibility. I guess this is the crux of things – some companies want all changes coming through an IT department. I think that there are a number of reasons:
    • IT departments have first hand experience of what their users are like and are correctly worried about giving them control. This is a pretty legitimate concern.
    • IT want to protect ‘their domain’.
    • Wanting centralised control for branding, structure, etc..
    • Departmental/branch power wrangling.
  • Alternatively, the organisation has outsourced it’s IT. In this case giving the users lots of power just results in lots of expensive support calls. This factor alone has resulted in a number of pretty reduced-feature

Now, you could get around some of these issues by changing your structure, but how many organisations are going to change how their IT function works just for the sake of SharePoint? That main (and easiest) wins are, I think:

  • Investing in adequate training. This is usually skipped. I’ve not yet met an organisation that planned to train it’s SharePoint users in how to use, well, SharePoint.
  • Achieving buy-in from the people who’ll be doing the site administration. They might have just been given more work – you need to show them the benefits. If you don’t, they won’t do the work, and they’ll find ways of avoiding the system you’ve built.

So where does that leave us? Well, if we’re not going to change any of the parameters like training, IT structure, etc., you could well be back to having trained IT staff, in their own department, looking after SharePoint and it’s sites for the users. And actually, that’s not a bad place to be, but I do feel like it could have been so much better.

Personally, I just think that we need to be clear that SharePoint sites need to be administered by technical staff. You could still have a distributed administration model if, for example, your Finance department has their own technical administrator – but often, that isn’t the case.

Is the SharePoint Administrative Model really working?

One thought on “Is the SharePoint Administrative Model really working?

  1. Cool,

    I agree with you totally the sites shoud be administrated by technical staff otherwise it can couse the company some problems

    Thanks for writing, most people don’t bother.

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