Microsoft SharePoint for Business Executives: Q&A Handbook

By Peter Ward , Pavlo Andrushkiw , Richard Harbridge and 3 more
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  1. Free Chapter
    Defining a SharePoint IT Strategy

About this book

The depth and breadth of SharePoint as a technology can be daunting to any executive managing a SharePoint technical team or pondering the next steps for an upcoming SharePoint deployment within their organization.

This book demystifies SharePoint and its potential business value with simple, non-technical answers to the everyday SharePoint questions that business executives should be asking.
SharePoint is Microsoft’s fastest selling product, and from the outside has the perceived ability to do anything for anyone in any business. Microsoft SharePoint for Business Executives: Q&A Handbook is the starting point in the SharePoint knowledge process. It asks and answers the simple questions that business and technical managers should all understand about the challenges and opportunities that executives face when deploying SharePoint.

Unlike other technical SharePoint guides, “Microsoft SharePoint for Business Executives: Q&A Handbook” is the ultimate primer in SharePoint education, helping business executives understand what it can do, and preparing you to make the right decisions.
Along the way you’ll learn about cloud deployment approaches, managing your first SharePoint project, as well as taking a deep dive into how to define a SharePoint strategy and governance.
With this Pocket Guide in hand, you’ll be able to ask the right questions of your technical team and business stakeholders before pulling the SharePoint trigger.

Publication date:
May 2012


Chapter 1. Defining a SharePoint IT Strategy

Your organization is considering whether to install SharePoint, and you are now envisioning what it can do for your company. But you also need to consider costs versus benefits, keeping in mind your company's directive of "being more strategic with IT spending". The time has come for your team to clearly define an IT strategy to guide your upcoming SharePoint deployment.

This chapter outlines a series of simple, common-sense steps to help define and implement a strategy that is aligned with the business, while simultaneously not being a huge distraction to operational work. This presents a different approach to typical "strategy sessions" which generally lead to a long-winded document, rife with complex diagrams, impressive-sounding technologies, and perhaps even some Excel clippings (with financial machinations in an attempt to give the whole thing an air of business legitimacy).

Q: Can you define what a strategy is?

A: A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a specific, long-term goal or result. This plan of action has explicit methods and maneuvers designed to accomplish pre-defined goals, but it can also be steered to perhaps achieve a level of differentiation against the competition, or to gain a competitive advantage. A strategy can also be implemented to guide and drive the overall aim of an organization.

The time dimension of a strategy should be subdivided into definable milestones and should include employees, shareholders, vendors, and customers. Obviously, timeframes will vary by organization and project type.

Strategies, however, are not tactical plans detailing the technical implementation of a technology your company is interested in. If your "strategy document" mentions IP addresses, networking equipment, or server farms, it's likely that your original initiative has mutated. Strategies are usually defined by senior management who do not want to be bogged down with technical details; developers and administrators generally dislike and don't participate in long strategy sessions.


A strategy could even be considered proactive observation: gathering information on the activities of specific departments, the company as a whole, the marketplace, the competition, and making decisions based on an analysis of this data.


Q: Can you define what a strategy is?

A: A strategy is a plan of action designed to achieve a specific, long-term goal or result. This plan of action has explicit methods and maneuvers designed to accomplish pre-defined goals, but it can also be steered to perhaps achieve a level of differentiation against the competition, or to gain a competitive advantage. A strategy can also be implemented to guide and drive the overall aim of an organization.

The time dimension of a strategy should be subdivided into definable milestones and should include employees, shareholders, vendors, and customers. Obviously, timeframes will vary by organization and project type.

Strategies, however, are not tactical plans detailing the technical implementation of a technology your company is interested in. If your "strategy document" mentions IP addresses, networking equipment, or server farms, it's likely that your original initiative has mutated. Strategies are usually defined by senior management who do not want to be bogged down with technical details; developers and administrators generally dislike and don't participate in long strategy sessions.


A strategy could even be considered proactive observation: gathering information on the activities of specific departments, the company as a whole, the marketplace, the competition, and making decisions based on an analysis of this data.


Q: What is an IT strategy?

A: An IT strategy is a plan to achieve specific IT goals and results. In short, it is a roadmap of what, when, and why, regarding the IT ideas/initiatives that have been agreed on between the business users and IT department.

These goals should be defined by both the business and IT department. They need to balance competing objectives from multiple departments, take into consideration the breadth of the goals, prioritize them, and reclassify accordingly.


Who makes the ultimate decision on the prioritization depends on the organization's structure and internal politics. If the CTO/CIO report to the CFO, then the priorities tend to swing towards reducing costs. If the reporting structure is to the CEO, then the priorities reflect company growth. Additional priorities that may overlap into an IT strategy include marketing and brand recognition of the organization.

An IT strategy is a journey which leads to a series of milestones, perhaps defined and redefined quarterly, annually, or every five years (yes this is a long term in IT). These milestones should be shared among all senior management, employees, and contractors involved in the projects.

It is not a single meeting and a series of PowerPoint slides to impress management that are then e-mailed to a group.


Someone senior within the organization must be accountable for the process.

For the purpose of this chapter, typical strategies could be aligned with your organizational goal, along with the assumption that most of the IT goals aid business operations.

These goals are stated in two lists as follows. The first is business-centric, whereas the second set is more IT-centric. It is how an IT strategy should be defined and implemented:

  • Improve decision making

  • Improve compliance for accurate records/policies for future access

  • Reduce overall manpower requirements by improving efficiency

  • Reduce overall risk

Other examples of goals, which could also be classified as objectives or subgoals, may include the following:

  • Enable wide adoption of application

  • Invest in platforms that are easier to maintain

  • Reduce overall maintenance costs

Both sets of goals are equally important not just in what is actually being delivered but also in the timing of each goal.


The most important goal is not that the SharePoint application was delivered on time, but that a user adoption level was reached at a certain point. This is a key issue with SharePoint applications.

The following figure illustrates a deployment using the strategic approach. The strategy is split into definable phases and goals with a defined end date. Notice how some of the activities (Projects, Adoption, Organization, IT, and Infrastructure) of the phases are split between business and IT initiatives.

Some of the goals are continuous to the endpoint of May 2013 as illustrated. Of course, additional phases can be added to the IT strategy.

It is recommended that, at the end of each phase, a meeting should be held among IT personnel and the business to discuss the phase that has ended, identify successes, failures, and how improvements can be made for the next phase. This post mortem review process should be documented, and applied to the next steps.


Q: How do you create a SharePoint IT strategy?

A: The business and IT department need to meet and discuss objectives and capabilities. This will take more than an hour. Depending on how large the organization is, the strategy meeting would take at least a day, perhaps two and it would be beneficial to have an outside person with SharePoint expertise facilitate the discussions.


Before embarking on an IT strategy specific to SharePoint, it would be a good idea to understand the capabilities of this technology. Before scheduling any strategy meetings, it's important to understand, at least at a high level, the value that SharePoint brings to an organization, what it takes to achieve this value in terms of time, money, and resources, and also what SharePoint will not solve or fix (such as bad business methodologies).

A typical strategy workshop should cover the following agenda:

Day 1: Diagnostics

Typical agenda for the day would be:

Intro to workshop — discussion

It will cover the following points:

  • Introductions and objectives

  • Workshop methodology

Company background — discussion

It will cover the following points:

  • Company size and background.

  • Business drivers — people, processes, and business.

  • Imperatives and priorities.

  • How is IT challenged? Are there legal implications and would the legal department need to be involved?

The Focus on IT environment — discussion

It will cover the following points:

  • IT roles

  • Projects/initiatives and applications

  • Dependencies — costs, resources, services, and service levels

  • IT Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) Analysis

  • Current SharePoint deployment (if this exists)

Current IT core applications — discussion

This discussion will cover the following points:

  • Overview

  • Availability

  • Performance

  • Security

  • Compliance

  • Mobility

  • Application categories

  • Ownership and control

Future IT core applications — discussion

The following points will be covered:

  • Projects/initiatives and applications

  • Cloud

  • Third parties

  • Application categories

  • IT priorities

  • Risks — security, compliance, performance, availability

  • Overall profile

Review — discussion

At the end of the day, the workshop facilitator should write up notes for the next day. This process is similar to an ill patient visiting a doctor (Day 1) and the doctor presenting a treatment plan to the patient (Day 2).

Day 1 complete at 5:00 p.m.

Day 2: The treatment plan

Typical agenda for the day would be:

Initial findings and review — discussion

It will cover the following points:

  • Application categories

  • Overall profile

  • Priorities risk register (SMART)

  • SharePoint match

  • Impact assessment

  • Ownership and control

  • External considerations

The Gap analysis

Gap analysis will cover:

  • Technology

  • People

  • Processes

Priorities, actions, and agreement

It will cover:

  • Risks

  • Budget

  • Adoption — IT, users, and business units

  • Political wins

  • Mapping SharePoint to business needs

  • Third-party tools and customization

Review — discussion

The review covers:

  • Maximizing impact (cost versus value versus number of people impacted)

Day 2 complete at 5:00 p.m.

During day 2, the group will identify in-scope applications that could be moved to the SharePoint platform, or determine whether to build them or not. This is logged on the priorities register.


During these two days, discussions and actions occur. If decisions cannot be made during these days, they need to be made shortly after this strategy session. If this is a large company, maybe extra days are required.

The result of this could be:

The results of the ranking of the priority register is illustrated in the previous figure and the methodology of the business impact ranking process is illustrated as follows:

Day 3: A successful SharePoint implementation plan

Typical agenda for the day would be:

Next steps — discussion

It will cover:

  • Strategy plan (strategy deployment approach figure)

  • Table of actions

Summary and close out

The following points will be covered:

  • Overall findings

  • Outputs

  • Action plan for 90-day actions

Day 3 complete at 4:00 p.m.

Your SharePoint IT strategy will also need to work in tandem with other existing IT strategies and resources, so it is important that they are synchronized with this strategy session. In addition, the strategy should be shared with other groups within the business such as infrastructure, sales, and marketing, such that they are on the same page in understanding the requirements and potential competing resources.


Q: What is the intended outcome of the workshop?

A: This workshop's findings will need to be discussed with other senior management to determine who will be the ultimate budget and resource approvers. For post-workshop conversations, the deployment roadmap approach figure at the beginning of the chapter provides a visual description of the roadmap for management's understanding, as well as a Gap Analysis. This tool identifies where your organization currently is with its SharePoint deployment, and defined future steps. The following figure is a typical Gap Analysis that shows the current and future states that relate to the organization's technology, people, and processes. It asks two core questions: "Where are we?" and "Where do we want to be?" By asking these questions, management has the opportunity to allocate resources to projects and initiatives, and to identify the gaps between goals and resource allocations.

This tool does involve determining, documenting, and approving the variance between business requirements and current capabilities.

If you wish, the Gap Analysis tool can be used to benchmark your goals with other companies and other assessments. Once the general expectation of performance in the industry is understood, it is possible to compare that expectation with the company's current level of performance.

Another post-workshop tool is a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). The following figure is a SWOT analysis diagram that identifies the four components of the analysis:


Management often loves these figures because they are good talking points for members of the workshop and are definable and actionable for the teams.


Q: Who needs to be involved with the process?

A: A variety of organizational personnel will be involved in the development, execution, and analysis of any IT strategy at different times.

The key to success is the input from IT and business management who have the ability and authority to assign resources to the project, and to authorize business initiatives as they relate to SharePoint.

Because a strategy is not a single project, there generally is not a single business sponsor, but rather senior members from both the IT and business sides of the organization. To increase the chances of success, these individuals should be involved from the beginning of the strategy defining process. The business sponsor is responsible for communicating the overall objectives they seek to accomplish with the assistance of IT. During this dialogue, the IT sponsor is responsible for understanding the high-level feasibility and risk as well as the desired functionality; this is the Risk Registry. Once these items are understood, the IT sponsor will need to come back with the proposed IT strategy to meet these goals. It is the IT sponsor's responsibility to understand the resources required to ensure successful execution of the IT strategy. Initial resources to consider may include IT personnel, operational personnel, and helpdesk personnel.

Your advocates may come from various disciplines. A good place to start would be the management teams of those individuals most likely to benefit from the prioritized list. However, do not forget resources that help to drive the adoption and solicit feedback once your solution is live.

If you work in the IT department, you may witness continuous requests for IT resources or initiatives with the SharePoint platform for business users. This is good, because they see you or your department as a strategic asset that can help them solve problems. If this is the case, then some of these requestors should attend the SharePoint workshop or at least see the post-workshop findings.

If you work in the IT department and the business community in your organization does not make requests, then there is a chance your department is not viewed as a strategic asset and you may be even viewed as an operational cost. If this is the case, the workshop is an opportunity to bring perceived value to the business.


Funny you should say that...

Up to this part of the chapter the reader has been introduced to a process of how to define an IT strategy for SharePoint for their business. This section of the chapter answers questions that the reader may now have about how to apply knowledge from this chapter to their organization.

Q: Do I need to get the CEO involved?

A: A typical IT strategy does not require the CEO's hands-on involvement. However, an IT strategy, at the end of the day, truly serves only the corporate strategy.

Ultimately, there is really only one true strategic player in the organization: the CEO and his or her counterparts on the board. All the other officers of the corporation must use their respective departments to help the CEO execute the company's strategy. Most business units align their activities to the corporate strategy and similarly, IT must wrap its strategy around the business's.

Therefore, by all means, share your finding with the CEO to demonstrate that your department is supporting the corporate strategy. Most CEOs care about dominating a market or increasing sales and not necessarily whether or not you have a deployment plan for any product. So the last thing you really want is a non-technical person being very influential with an IT strategy that they don't understand.

Q: Why is a SharePoint strategy different than other IT products?

A: It is because SharePoint is a platform. It can be difficult to define the functionality that has or could have been deployed to the business, so the milestones/endpoints are different than those for a typical application such as a CRM system.

Also for a SharePoint strategy to become a deployment reality, there are several dependent technologies that SharePoint relies on, which need to be in place and set up correctly for the initiatives to work. For example, user profile synchronization needs to be configured appropriately with Active Directory in order for the organization chart in My Sites to work.


You will read "SharePoint is a platform" endlessly throughout this book. So what does this mean? A platform has multiple functionality that can be applied to different applications such as search, workflow, document management and content management, and .NET development, which takes time to configure and deploy within an organization.

An application is like Microsoft Word, a program that is very clearly defined for the single purpose of writing documentation. As stated many times in this book, SharePoint is a platform for web applications to be developed on.

This is why SharePoint can be difficult to define and describe to people. Another term you will hear is that it is the Swiss Army knife of Microsoft's web offerings, because the tool has many blades.

Microsoft will often explain SharePoint with the pin wheel, which is illustrated as follows:

Given SharePoint's broad functionality and its potential to be used by any employee in an organization, defining a strategy can be a challenge. This is unlike a Customer Relationship application where generally only the sales and marketing departments are involved and processes are already defined.

Another reason why defining a SharePoint strategy is unique is because employees may have had an experience with SharePoint at a previous job, and want to repeat this experience again. What they often do not realize is that their previous experience may have consisted of a customized SharePoint environment, or one augmented with third-party components. These employees end up surprised and disappointed when their expectations don't comply with the current deployment.

It is essential to educate the user community about SharePoint if you really want to leverage it's functionality. It is important to gauge the level of interest and time that business users have and are willing to spend on SharePoint awareness.

Q: What are the pitfalls of a SharePoint strategy?

A: The biggest pitfall would be to neglect involvement of the business in forming an IT business strategy.

If IT attempts to create its own "strategy" centered on technology, there will be a problem. A division between IT and the rest of the organization will increase as most other business units have aligned their activities to the corporate strategy.


The name of the game is for an IT strategy to support the corporate strategy.

It's a bit like the used car salesman trying to peddle the high-margin two-seater sports car on the lot, despite the fact that the customer explicitly mentions a wife, three kids, and the 80-pound family dog. The salesperson may have a deep mastery of the technical and aesthetic attributes of the sports car, but his "strategy" is at odds with the customer, no matter how knowledgeable he is about the product or how it could be applied to the customer's problem.

As a technologist and business person, you can avoid these pitfalls by marrying technologies with the corporate strategy and keeping in mind that a successfully executed strategic objective is more important than the tools used to get there. Yes, this may mean that .NET development may have to wait. This mindset adds a healthy dose of pragmatism to IT and aligns IT with the rest of the organization and brings a results-oriented focus to IT.

Rather than cooking up ROI numbers, or attempting to assign a "business benefit" to the cost of sending a single e-mail, this mindset puts IT in the business strategy and produces or enables business results and can be seen as a true business partner.

Thus you can begin to see that business involvement is crucial for validation of goal, approach, and partnership during the development and go-live phases. Once the business is involved, you can set a path for success and most of the remaining pitfalls can be avoided with effective project management.

Planning pitfalls may include aspects such as failing to schedule well-defined project milestones. Specific to IT planning, having the right skill sets in place is critical. This is where experience and up-to-date training will pay dividends. Take time to identify gaps in knowledge or experience. As long as the void in skills is identified, you can plan around it with a combination of training and outsourcing. Otherwise, you risk embarking on a very expensive training exercise and possible project failure.

"Scope creep" is another common pitfall when dealing with IT projects. It's common to come up with additional ideas on how IT technology can be applied. The challenge will be to decide how to track and accommodate requests for changes in scope. As project budgets and timelines are established at the beginning of the project, it is important to incorporate a methodology on how to respond to scope changes up front as well.

Knowing how to say no or when to push back is a great trait to avoid this pitfall. Having too rich a functional goal mixed with a delivery timeline that is too ambitious will set you up for falling far short of expectations. By keeping business values top of your mind, you will be able to make the right trade-off in this area.

Another common pitfall with an IT strategy is failing to properly accommodate for dependencies. These dependencies vary from needed resources (hardware, personnel) to availability of system interaction (parallel IT projects, test data, migration windows of opportunity, and so on). As is the case with skill sets, take time at the commencement of the project and strategic milestones to check your dependencies and have a contingency plan where needed. Of course this does not help when a five-year strategy is at the mercy of the yearly budget review.

Adoption is also often overlooked while considering IT business strategy because it is easy for IT personnel to neglect adoption. This is because they will undoubtedly know more on how to use the system or application because they built it and they may fall in love with their own project while forgetting to put themselves in the shoes of the end user and business management. IT adoption can be aided with a mix of proper training, evangelizing, and desire to understand the business.

Lastly, it is important to remember that an IT business strategy is more of a journey than a destination. Just as business needs evolve, the technology that we can apply to aiding the business seems to evolve even quicker. With this in mind, your knowledge of the IT world should always be growing and your methodologies should constantly be refreshed.

Q: Why do we really need an IT strategy?

A: In short, the strategy will help prioritize IT efforts to support the business requests. The key aspect of an IT strategy is to manage expectations of both the business and IT department so that both parties know what to expect and when.

In the first figure of the chapter, there is a clear roadmap of SharePoint deliverables for the business so budgets can be defined and resources allocated. The details of how this is done do not necessarily need to be agreed upon in the strategy meeting. In fact, given that the budget is not defined at the workshop, some initiatives may not be feasible.

By having an IT strategy for SharePoint, return on investment can be identified with some effort and initiatives being approved and prioritized.

Without a strategy, there is normally a passive approach to a SharePoint deployment, where initiatives are not coordinated among departments and low value processes are used with SharePoint, such as fancier and more expensive set of shared drives rather than a usable ECM system with findable information assets.

Research by AIIM stated that half of SharePoint implementations proceed without a clear business case (which shows lack of direction from the start); only 22 percent of the organizations provide users with any guidance on corporate classification and use of content types and columns; one third of the organizations have no plans as to how to use SharePoint, while one fourth of the organizations say IT is driving it with no input from information management professionals.


Digging deeper

This section of the chapter outlines areas of an IT strategy that the reader may wish to know more about.

Q: Any final words of advice on this?

A: Rushing off to "the next big thing" after completing a phase or a project of the first phase of the strategy road map is a bad idea. But even in the most successful projects, there are usually items still remaining. Additionally, after a few weeks or months "in the wild," the people using the fruits of your labor may have some great and often simple-to-implement ideas for improvement. However, the project is complete, deployed to the specified scope, and your resources are working on another project.

This problem often happens with SharePoint projects, when phase II functionality is urgently required to meet business expectations and perhaps prevent an initiative stalling, yet the additional resources and perhaps an already large investment of time and money is allocated to other projects.

This is typical of SharePoint projects partly because the end user actually knows what they really want, once they realize that they have to use SharePoint and experience what they requested.

In short, a small additional effort can have dramatic effects, accelerating and amplifying results. Therefore, you may want to factor in a six-month revisit on projects and should not be afraid to move projects out of phases, or even eliminate them if the business value will be trumped by a phase II project.

Often IT will say to the business this is the initial foundation for future growth, but if you allow the project team, momentum, and leadership to scatter, never to return again, the effort and time of building that complex foundation is reduced to nothing. SharePoint deployments like other deployments require a support team.



In this chapter you have been guided on how to create a SharePoint strategy for your organization, and been shown the information and actions that are produced after the strategy workshop.

The strategy challenges and pitfalls were also explained.

This is the first chapter of the book and has given the reader the knowledge to begin to explore SharePoint deployments within an organization. We recommend that you review this chapter again once you have read all the other chapters of the book so you are fully aware of the deployment strategies, and what is needed to staff your resources and build capacity, and ultimately have a successful SharePoint deployment that delivers business results.

About the Authors

  • Peter Ward

    Peter Ward has worked with collaboration technology for over 20 years and is the founder of Soho Dragon Solutions, a New York based SharePoint consultancy. He has worked with some of the largest and most profitable companies in the USA, but also with the small ones that he calls the "Fortune 5,000,000". This is his fourth co-authored SharePoint book, the other three being Microsoft SharePoint 2010 End User Guide: Business Performance Enhancement, Workflow in SharePoint 2010: Real World Business Workflow Solutions, and Microsoft SharePoint for Business Executives: Q&A Handbook. He has been a software guy forever, but is not much of a gadgeteer. In fact, he's probably a late adopter. He teaches yoga part-time in NYC and likes to serve up the perfect vegetarian dish.

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  • Pavlo Andrushkiw

    Pavlo Andrushkiw has spent nearly a decade in the Microsoft space delivering complex infrastructure solutions to a plethora of clients in various verticals. He currently works as the chief cloud architect for a major cloud services provider, migrating and deploying complex production environments for enterprise clients into the Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure. This is his second co-authored SharePoint book, the first being Microsoft SharePoint for Business Executives: Q&A Handbook.

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  • Richard Harbridge

    Richard Harbridge is an internationally recognized expert in Microsoft SharePoint. He has defined, architected, developed and implemented well over a hundred SharePoint solutions from small implementations on a single server to over 80,000+ user implementations in international organizations. He is a contributing author for the business side of and is also an active facilitator for the SharePoint Business Community to enable people, groups and organizations to work more effectively; to collaborate and achieve a greater level of shared understanding around non-technical SharePoint-related challenges.

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  • Paul Galvin

    Paul Galvin has been working in the IT industry since 1991. He started as a staff programmer and began consulting in 1994 and never stopped. In 2008 he was awarded an MVP and in 2010 is acknowledged to be in a group of the 50 most influential people within the SharePoint business community.

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  • Michael Hinckley

    Michael Hinckley MCITP, MCTS, has over 10 years specializing in solution architecture for organizations that span from small businesses and global corporations. Michael is a recognized speaker and evangelist for Microsoft SharePoint and Business Intelligence stacks. His driving goal is to deliver successful and efficient Business solutions for clients

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  • William Nagle

    William Nagle is the Director of Field Operations at K2, where he helps organizations and partners realize the business value of process automation around SharePoint and other Microsoft technologies. He joined K2 after eight years of service at Microsoft Corporation where his career spanned the E-Business Server product groups including Commerce Server and BizTalk. His interest shifted towards helping companies efficiently manage business processes while working as a Senior Consultant at Microsoft Consulting Services.

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Microsoft SharePoint for Business Executives: Q&A Handbook
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