Friday, April 09, 2010

FSA and Sharepoint

FSA is using Microsoft's Sharepoint to enable a Web 2.0 style collaboration. This promises to be interesting.  When I joined FSA (then ASCS) it was a hierarchal organization (think military, without the saluting, though that may be unfair--the effect of some Easter wine :-) ).  There was a tradition of pulling in field people for task forces or committees on various things. But otherwise Washington issued directives, state offices could take decisions within prescribed limits, and the county offices were expected to follow.  Committees of elected farmers hired the county executive director.

As technology changed, my impression is that local discretion has been limited. Partly that's a result of civil rights issues and partly a result of other issues.  Whenever something bad happens in the field, whether it's discrimination, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, or just good old stupidity, the reaction of Washington bureaucrats is to respond by limiting discretion and adding on more training, more rules, more audits.  And facsimile and word processing, improved telecommunications have made  it easier to do so.

When the agency automated in the mid 80's with its IBM System/36's and nightly transmissions with Kansas City, it also meant more consistency, more uniformity, particularly as we moved expertise into computer programs.

But technology doesn't necessarily mean centralization and uniformity.  I remember the advent of programmable calculators--some county office directors saw an opportunity in the late 70's to improve their operations, bought the calculators, and created programs useful for their counties. And there was a time when the old bulletin board system offered a chance for local initiative--people could post their spreadsheet programs, etc.  When we moved to the Internet, there was for a time the ability to maintain local pages, but I understand that's been curtailed in recent years. I had dreams once of using Frontpage to do a BBS equivalent, but that never got going.

So, bottom line, what's the outlook for heavy use of Sharepoint?

2 comments:

  1. Not so good, Bill. Here are some reasons why:
    - No SharePoint Site Administration training;
    - No SharePoint Contributor training;
    - No SharePoint Contributor rules & guidelines;
    - A non-effective SharePoint help desk;
    - The installation is virtually plain-vanilla;
    - Management concern of employee misuse;
    - The infrastructure like AD isn't ready for it;
    - Many offices that get past all of that lock down their own site and do not share their content, losing much of the information sharing benefit;
    - No integration with other platforms here, such as Mobile Devices.
    - Virtually no access from external machines, such as Mobile Devices, home computers;
    - Site Administrators don't like the tool;
    - Users don't like the tool;
    - It does many things, but none of them well;
    - Everything needs to be coaxed out of it - nothing is easy.

    I'll stop there, but you probably see my point. It's use almost always has too little support from either the grass-roots or from the managers. They both result in still-born unused sites.

    The only use that seems to be doing well are document libraries - basic file sharing. Essentially, a fancy browser-accessible shared folder.

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  2. I suspect there's the old problem--who's the washington sponsor? The program people may not have the software expertise and the IT people don't have the program understanding.

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