I have been spending a lot of time recently looking into some of the new features of SharePoint 2013 and trying to really rip them apart to see how they work. One of the most impactful additions has to be the new app model. This has implications for developers, administrators and end users by offering a completely new platform for delivering custom content.
SharePoint 2013 has taken much of the technical language off of the sites for end users. In the previous editions of SharePoint there were options for lists, libraries and web parts, but now everything that can be added to a site is called an app. While the app store has really done a lot to make SharePoint easier for end users, very little has changed for the admin. If anything, there are now even more responsibilities and intricacies to manage. My goal with this blog post is to touch on some of the larger topics and then follow up with some deep dives and how-to’s in the future.
What is an app in SharePoint 2013?
First, it might be helpful to explain what apps are and how they fit in with SharePoint 2013. Apps are essentially the replacement for the now deprecated sandboxed solutions. You can still use sandboxed solutions you already have but all new development should be focused on the 2013 app model. Though this might be a bit painful for some, there are some really good reasons for this change. There were (and are still) many people experiencing issues with sandboxed solutions. Namely, they are very resource intensive, difficult to maintain, break frequently and end users can’t customize them very easily. Despite this, they are still useful for those who want to utilize custom code within a particular area of their farm without the risk of exposing the whole environment.
In 2013, apps have filled many of the gaps that were left by sandboxed solutions. They are able to act outside of the site collection in which they are hosted and don’t have the performance implications that sandboxed solutions do. Sandboxed solutions also require a good amount of resources to be used so I believe that there will be less of a performance hit to sites. The use of Farm Solutions is still fully supported, but if there is a need to have custom code run in a restricted portion of the environment then apps are the way to go.
So where do these apps come from? One new source for apps in 2013 is the online SharePoint Store. This store is very similar to the Play Store or Apple’s App Store where users can see a catalog of apps and then request to have them on their site. Within the farm there will be an app catalog, here you can publish apps that you get from the online SharePoint Store or anything built in-house. If the admin allows it, the site owners can add apps from the catalog or on their own from the online SharePoint store. The deployment is completely customizable to however the administrator wants apps to operate within their environment.
Permissions and governance of apps
Governance of apps will also need to be a subject to address for each environment. The first option for an administrator is to prevent apps from being available within the farm completely. This might be a bit restrictive for most so there is also a system that allows the site owners to request for administrator approval of apps before they are able to be placed on a site. I imagine that many administrators would like to have a good idea about all of the apps that exist within their farm. This can be achieved be allowing owners to only install apps from the catalog and not the online SharePoint Store.
An interesting feature of apps in 2013 is that they can have their own permissions model, standalone. Apps take full advantage of claims in 2013 which allows the apps to act based on their own permissions as well based upon a claim made by the user. The scope of app permissions is either set to the site collection, web site, list or tenancy and can request read-only, write, manage or full control to the content.
In an upcoming post, I will go over what it takes to set up an on premise app catalog. One thing that I would like to point out is so far, my App Store setup adventures have been painstaking and arduous to say the least. Hopefully banging my head against the wall trying to get this thing to work out well prevent you guys from having to do it.
Considering the tremendous growth constantly happening within our market, we wanted to start a new tradition where we look at the major conversations, news and analysis that either presently impacts our space or can help guide future strategies and product innovations.
Below are three discussions that particularly caught our eye over the past month, which show that enterprise collaboration is a permanent fixture within organizations. However, we’re also noticing the conversation is evolving from “why do we need to do it?” to “how can my business really succeed in enterprise collaboration?”
The latter is a smart question to be asking and often much easier said than done. We’ve discussed several different strategies and solutions here that can help businesses achieve success, however, the bottom line: collaboration platforms need strong governance strategies that are directly connected to business goals.
Yammer has 7 million users as SharePoint integration continues
In February, Microsoft reported new Yammer statistics, which overall demonstrated that the platform is becoming further intertwined with Microsoft SharePoint. An interesting stat called out within their blog post included a reported end user growth rate of 75% in 2012. As impressive of a number as that is, the reporter, Matt Rosoff, notes the 2011 growth rate was likely around 150%, resulting in a halved growth rate for 2012.
Axceler’s take: Our own Scott Clancy also highlighted key SharePoint and Yammer integrations recently, so we expect this acquisition to continue to show its value. Additionally, we’re seeing more and more organizations turn to hybrid environments that combine versions of SharePoint, on-premises and cloud-based sites. Microsoft has demonstrated that they understand the importance of social and are absolutely working to deliver these integrations quickly, but we’re especially looking to see what the user experience will look like for hybrid environments.
All together now: cloud collaboration, social and docs
Cloud computing analyst, blogger and thought leader, Phil Wainewright, published an extensive and thorough post on the evolution of the collaboration landscape, the major enterprise players within the enterprise collaboration environment and how the cloud is opening up new avenues for enterprise software. Phil points to the major players such as Microsoft and Google, but also identifies several types of collaboration processes that are driving a significant portion of this industry.
Axceler’s take: We’re in an exciting space and I think we’re only beginning to see how the cloud is going to continue to make enterprise collaboration smarter. As we noted recently, businesses understand the importance of collaboration platforms, but as these platforms become increasingly integrated within an organization, a governance plan that ties the platform directly to business goals will be the key success factor in uncovering the platform’s value.
What Makes Collaboration Actually Work in a Company?
Kare Anderson’s recent article sheds light on an important point: it’s easy to talk about collaborating, but the hard part is getting employees to actually do it. There are valid points raised throughout the post, including “agree on common vocabulary” and “create a crystal clear and collaborative process for making changes,” which underline the need for clearly defined governance plan.
Axceler’s take: We’ve found collaboration is more than just saying the word and especially more than implementing a shiny new system and hoping for the best. Collaboration is capable of delivering fantastic results, but it does take leadership and specific processes to ensure employees are empowered, content remains secure and the business benefits from the investment.
Before joining Axceler, I was the Solutions Manager at a SharePoint-centric consulting company, and we did a lot of physical paper to SharePoint migrations. Oftentimes, the client would expand the scope of the migration project to include the files that were born digitally, and locked away in file shares. We used a variety of tools and techniques to perform the migrations because each scenario was different. What was constant across all of the projects was the need to have the stakeholders participate in the process.
These stakeholders have the institutional knowledge surrounding the documents that is critical for a migration project to be successful. They know what files to keep, what files to discard and most importantly what metadata to associate with the files. This metadata "tagging" is what makes the files more valuable and findable when in SharePoint. As a practical matter, involving the end users also helps distribute the workload so that the consultant or SharePoint administrator can manage the project efficiently.
The challenge was always, how do you allow users to participate without losing control? Some of the tools we used allowed users to operate independently, which was great from a workload perspective, but fell short from a control perspective. What it was lacking was any sort of review and no change management. End users were free to upload personal files, or worse -- old files that compliance departments wanted destroyed, and there was no organized process around when to stop working on the files in the file share, and when to start working on them in SharePoint. Some of the other tools we used were very centralized in nature and allowed us to tightly control our migrations but did not allow for any user involvement. ControlPoint FileLoader is different.
The architect of ControlPoint FileLoader (who is still with Axceler) was a consultant who understood this challenge and built the tool with that in mind. The way FileLoader handles participation vs. control is via the concept of a "Control File." The administrator or consultant can set the parameters that must be controlled for a migration in the Control File, and then hand the Control File off to an end user to start adding their content.
Perhaps a particular migration requires only Word documents and Excel spreadsheets created in the last 2 years. After setting these parameters, the Control File can be shared with the end users for their input. Once the end user has tagged their files with the appropriate metadata, the Control File can be returned to the administrator for review, and then scheduled for migration during off-hours. This scheduling allows for good change management procedures, and ensures that the original files are set to read only, archive, or deleted once they go live in SharePoint, eliminating any confusion -- and allows for one version of the truth.
The flexible nature of the Control File allows administrators to add formulas, to auto tag data based on other values, or create VisualBasic scripts to append the original files as .old. The possibilities are endless, and it is always interesting to see some of the creative ways it has been applied by our clients.
While the Control File allows for participation while maintaining control, it still requires the administrator to create the original Control Files. Some of the larger organizations and consultants that we work with had asked if we could push down this Control File creation to the end users to further distribute the workload. We thought this was a great idea, and so we released ControlPoint FileLoader 2.0 in September (2012). This version allows you to install the product in "Control File Generator" mode (CFG). In Control File Generator mode, the end user can create Control Files with zero involvement from IT. They can choose what files to upload, filter on specific criteria, choose content types, and add metadata. They simply cannot upload the files. The upload is handled by IT as part of a process. A typical process might include a review of the Control File by the end users, supervisor, the compliance department or perhaps legal. The process may be structured so that all Control Files that have passed the review process are Stored in a library and scheduled as a batch it run every Friday night.
ControlPoint FileLoader is a great solution for your file migration project, but whatever solution you choose, remember -- it's all about inviting participation while maintaining control.
There is a growing contingency of vendors and tools that give administrators and executives some degree of visibility into what is happening within SharePoint -- but the depth and usefulness of this data varies broadly. What analytics and reporting do you need to better understand how the platform is being used, by whom? Of course, having data is just part of the equation -- the other half is about taking action. What good is it to see what is happening if you cannot also change and automate your SharePoint environment based on what you find?
Webtrends (one of our partners) is a great example of a company providing rich data and insights into what is happening across your public-facing sites, as well as inside SharePoint. Of course, Axceler's ControlPoint complements that data, providing comprehensive data and reports on various SharePoint attributes -- and then helps you manage and automate how you receive this data, and the actions you take. One of the primary reasons why ControlPoint is the leading administration and governance solution for SharePoint is not only its ability to report on what is happening in your environment, but it also gives you granular control over those activities.
At the 2012 SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, Axceler announced several new products, including ViewPoint for SharePoint (VP4SP), which is designed to help organizations understand activity happening across your various collaboration platforms, with the first release to support both SharePoint and Yammer. As part of the VP4SP strategy, Axceler has made available a free version of the tool to provide enhanced visibility into SharePoint permissions. You can download a copy of this free tool here.
With ViewPoint for SharePoint you’ll be able to:
- Instantly find out who can see what content – and how users were granted permission
- View dashboards, and run reports on users and permission levels
- Save time and hassles — no more hunting through groups to figure out how someone received access
- Get the baseline information you need to step up permissions and enhance security
Why focus on permissions? Permissions issues remain as one of the primary and root causes to most issues in SharePoint administration. Having better visibility into what is happening -- so administrator can take quick action, or develop preventive measures -- is critical to the establishment and maintenance of your governance policies and procedures. Some key scenarios where better permissions visibility would improve overall administration:
Orphaned Users – If you are like most organizations employees come and go. How many employees have access to SharePoint sites that no longer exist in your active directory?
Runaway Control – With so many users of SharePoint have site administrators or power users been accidently given broader control then intended? Verify the number of people with admin or full control by site.
Site Drill Down – Delegation is critical to productivity but it can leave you vulnerable without the right visibility. Run a report by site to verify who has been granted permissions. Is someone giving out permissions that surprises you?
Visibility is the necessary first step to implementing and improving governance, allowing you to track and measure platform usage. You cannot manage what you cannot measure. Within SharePoint, it is critical that you be able to see what is happening inside the environment, and then, based on that activity, take steps to improve and automate the system. ViewPoint for SharePoint is a powerful new tool that will help you take back control of your platform. Download the free version of VP4SP today!
With Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer last year, the ever-evolving social collaboration space is changing once again. While SharePoint had social features natively built in, the addition of Yammer into Microsoft’s portfolio and the subsequent integration has ramped up SharePoint’s social capabilities. Here is an introduction to a few of the features that involve both SharePoint and Yammer integration.
Send to Yammer
Send to Yammer allows SharePoint users to send documents, announcements and tasks to Yammer. This allows users to collaborate real time on projects. Once in Yammer, users can monitor who has viewed or downloaded these files by using the recent activity stream. Furthermore, Yammer’s integration with Office Web Apps will allow users to view and edit these documents directly from the Yammer activity feed.
Primary Yammer Web Part
The Yammer web part allows users to monitor Yammer streams and notifications directly from any SharePoint site. For example, a user might want to place their “My Feed” as a web part on their My Site to consolidate that information. Or a business unit might want to place their Group Feed onto their department site. The Yammer web part also allows a user to send private messages and track those conversations through a separate tab. Placing this web part on their My Site just gives the user another way to track their collaboration from one central location. Of course, the ability to utilize Yammer features like metadata tags, mentions of other users, etc., within SharePoint will ultimately help increase collaboration, search and ultimately, productivity.
Admins can also configure this web part using native SharePoint web part controls. They can also make Yammer activity streams available as read-only, so those folks who don’t have Yammer access will still be able to access the streams in SharePoint.
Office Web Apps/SkyDrive Pro
Microsoft also announced their plans to integrate Yammer with Office Web Apps and SkyDrive Pro by summer 2013. The integration with Office Web Apps, as mentioned above, will allow users to view and edit content directly within a Yammer activity stream. This will enable users to monitor changes and collaborate real time.
SkyDrive Pro is online storage where a user can upload and access files within a personal library that can also be shared with others, both within and outside of the organization. Yammer will be utilizing SkyDrive Pro as its underlying platform for file storage. Just another way Yammer will tie into SharePoint, by allowing users to download content from SkyDrive Pro that was uploaded using Yammer.
Recently, we spoke with over a 1,000 SharePoint administrators and business professionals to understand the successes and challenges businesses are facing with enterprise collaboration platforms.
The good news: collaboration platforms, such as SharePoint, are adding significant value to organizations.
The bad news: many respondents admitted their collaboration platforms are disconnected from business goals.
While the news that collaboration platforms are capable of adding value is promising, the goal of the platform is not to let it go stale, but to instead enable organizations to make quicker decisions and do less with more resources.
In order to enable powerful collaboration that is directly aligned with business objectives, collaboration platforms need strong governance strategies. To put it simply, governance strategies are to collaboration platforms like a floor plan is to a home – a house would fall apart without a blueprint that was vetted by experts and built by qualified craftsmen. These same truths apply for enterprise collaboration, as governance strategies are the foundation and frame that support and secure the content and users within the platform.
A governance strategy is the link that directly connects all of the business needs to the platform and can easily be defined as the set of policies that directs and enables the business and IT teams to jointly achieve business goals. Nearly 65 percent of those we spoke with agreed SharePoint is a strategic, enterprise-wide platform – a governance strategy not only easily taps into all of the value that is potentially available within the platform, but also ensures platform activities map to business objectives.
Some additional stats pulled from our research include:
- Only 33.8 percent said their SharePoint strategy directly connects with their business goals
- 60.5 percent stated their governance plans ranged from being neutral to not at all linked to business objectives
- 30 percent of companies connect their governance plans with an end-user adoption strategy well or extremely well
Needless to say, many organizations have a governance gap that could be seriously preventing their business from realizing the full potential of their existing collaboration platforms and employee productivity. Raw numbers aside, here are a few additional reasons why enterprise collaboration platforms need governance strategies:
- End-user adoption – Enterprise collaboration suites are empowering technologies, however, if no one is using it or understands how to use it, the entire investment quickly goes to waste. When governance strategies are disconnected from employee adoption, businesses quickly lower the platform’s efficiency potential and miss out on building ongoing participation.
- ROI from the platform investment – Why introduce an entirely new platform to only hope for the best? Governance plans continuously uncover the value within the platform and identifies not only who should manage the platform, but also guides the strategic direction of the platform’s content.
- Reducing risk – In our research, just over 43 percent claimed they do not regularly run audits on usage, security, content or permissions, which is frightening to say the least. We’ve discussed governance compliance success here before, however, a governance plan that protects business IP and is aligned with the appropriate compliance regulations eliminates potentially devastating risk and losses in the future.
Governance enables actual business agility and protects the business from data leaks, risk and lost resources. Collaboration platforms create a deep pool of collective intelligence across an organization, arming end-users with the information and context to not only move faster, but smarter. For businesses, governance helps tap into true flexibility and innovation.
SharePoint is at heart a collaboration hub. If maximized, the team site should be the “go to” place for the latest and greatest information a team needs to perform their daily work. One out of the box feature that helps to communicate important information is the calendar.
The site owner can place a calendar web part on the team’s landing page communicating vital information, such as milestone dates, team meeting dates, or perhaps the team’s vacation schedule or telecommuting schedule.
One thing to keep in mind is a calendar is simply a list. Perhaps the traditional calendar layout is too large and a table is preferred. Since the table is a list, there are view options. The web part can be modified to change the view, just like the list itself.
Let’s look at a calendar web part displayed in a different view.
Views available include:
- Calendar – a traditional month view
- All Events – show all events past and present
- Current Events: show only current and future events (often this is preferred to All Events as it highlights only pertinent data for the team and lessens the length of the list in a view)
Often team members wish to utilize Outlook for viewing the team calendar. SharePoint integrates calendars with Outlook. Simply click the Connect to Outlook icon in the ribbon, Calendar tab, Connect & Export group.
Once the connection to Outlook is established, the SharePoint Calendar will appear in Other Calendars in Outlook.
While this integration is convenient, it must be understood that this is not a one-to-one integration, meaning you cannot add something to your main Outlook calendar and it will automatically show in the SharePoint calendar. But a useful thing is that you can view these two calendars side-by-side in Outlook and can drag and drop events between the two calendars. Note that any incompatible content will be removed when dragging and dropping from an Outlook calendar to a SharePoint calendar via Outlook.
Surfacing central information to the team is imperative to good team collaboration and SharePoint calendars make this essential communication easy! And allowing team members to view this information in Outlook extends the ease of use for everyone.
Another out of the box capability of SharePoint 2010 will assist in bringing vital calendar information regarding multiple sites or calendars. This is useful for reviewing multiple schedules and analyzing availability and timing between different aspects of a project or team.
Perhaps there is a main site calendar, and the team would like to see the sub-project schedules in the same calendar. We will use the example of the main calendar for the whole project and adding the sub-project of developing the SOW and vendor selection.
To overlay calendars, select the Calendar Overlay icon in the ribbon, Calendar tab, Manage Views group.
Now a new calendar can be built by clicking New Calendar in the new screen. This will open a SharePoint form to create the overlay calendar. Complete the boxes as indicated:
- Calendar Name
- Type – is the calendar to be overlaid a SharePoint calendar or one available from Exchange
- Description – it is important to include a fairly detailed description for the overlay calendar so team members are clear as to what is included in the calendar
- Color – a different color can be assigned to help differentiate each calendar from the other calendars
- Web URL – input the added calendar’s URL and click Resolve
- List and List View – then select which list you wish to use from the now populated list dropdown
- Always show – mark this checkbox if you wish the overlaid calendar to always show
And now all events from the two calendars are visible and the individual events are color coded for each different calendar represented.
It is important to note that there are only 8 colors to choose from for differentiating between calendars and there can only be a maximum of 10 calendars total in the overlay. Also, the overlay does not show in Outlook if the calendar is connected to Outlook – only the main calendar information will be displayed.
Keeping teams alerted to calendar events enhances communication and enables teams to see important data at a glance. This will build productivity and empower teams to work in a streamlined manner. Also, by utilizing Outlook teams can further productivity by working in a familiar environment. It is always helpful to reduce the places people have to look for information, thus capitalizing on team member processes already in place.
The internets are awash with SharePoint blog posts about how to increase adoption. After hours of searching and reading I can honestly say I think it’s the most discussed topic out there, which really isn’t any surprise. What fun is it to throw a big (expensive) party if nobody comes? And yes, it is a lot about building buzz, running contests and doing campaigns to encourage users to come and bask in the glory that is SharePoint, but if your SharePoint isn’t glorious, users won’t stay. If you tell someone to come check out the coolest car in the world and you show them a Ford Pinto, they’re going to forget about it and go about their business.
So how do you get them to stay?
A cool splash screen?
A dancing kitty?
The best way to get users to stay is to make it effortless for them to get what they need. The problem is, as with everything in this world, first impressions are everything. If your users come to SharePoint and it’s not faster and simpler to operate than what they’re currently doing, they’re just going to go back to doing what they did before.
Search in SharePoint has always been more of an art than a science. The concepts are fairly straightforward: crawl, index, query, rinse and repeat; but the challenge is getting the terms right. In 2013, these core concepts are going to stay pretty much the same, but there are some other fairly noteworthy features that have been added as well. For starters, there is now an analytics processing component that allows for search specifically by activity, and, fairly uncharacteristically, Microsoft has also added the ability to add custom code. Hmm….
So let’s start with the crawl component. Similar to before, the crawl component of search goes through the all the content sources (web sites, file shares, SharePoint, profiles, etc.) and temporarily stores all of the information in the temporary crawl database. The crawl database contains detailed information about items that have been crawled such as last crawl time, crawl ID, and type of update (full or incremental). If there is a large amount of content to crawl through, you can simply add more crawl components to do the work. A general rule of thumb is to add one crawl component for every 20 million items.
Once the items have been crawled, content processing takes the crawled information and feeds it into an index. The index parses the documents using iFilters, and then transforms the crawled content into indexed content. There is also a separate link database that writes the information about the links and URLs associated with the information.
Now on to the new hotness. The analytics processing component has two separate components itself. Search analytics goes through the crawled items to find activity information such as links, related people, and metadata. Usage analytics contains information like views on an item from a front-end event store. The processing component then returns the information to the content processing component to include them in the search index. Default usage events are things like views, recommendations displayed and recommendations clicked. Results from usage analytics are then stored in the analytics reporting database. Along with the new analytics processing comes some new default reports such as popularity trends and most popular items.
The index is different as well in 2013. This time around there is just a single index, but the partitions can be stored across multiple servers. The upside is it’s easier to add a new server to share the load, but it’s also difficult to remove one, should you need to. There are also separate index components and partitions. Each index component takes in the information from the content processing component. Queries are then sent to the index replicas from the query processing component. As a general rule, you should add one index partition per every ten million items and a replica should be created for each partition.
The last piece of this puzzle is the query processing component. This little guy sits between the search front-end and the index component. The purpose of the query processing component is to analyze and process the search queries and results. Once done, it submits the query to the index component and then returns it to the front-end.
Confused yet? It’s really not all that complicated. To sum it up, if your search is going slower that you’d like, add more horsepower. For faster crawl times, add more crawl databases and content processing components. If the results are taking too long to be returned, replicate the partition. Or in the case of a larger farm, split the index into more partitions. To increase the availability of query, create an extra query processing component on different application servers.
So why go to all the trouble of learning how all of this works? Because search is the backbone of SharePoint. The fact that you can search at all is the reason to migrate your network shares into SharePoint in the first place. So how do we get adoption to where we want it? Configure a fast, accurate, efficient search so your users can find what they’re looking for.
It’s not uncommon to get excited about discovering a new productivity tool, such as SharePoint, that will help the enterprise perform more efficiently. It is a good thing to bring tools to people to assist them in their job. The thing to keep in mind is that any introduction of something new brings change – multi-faceted change. Some of these changes include:
Processes, policies and procedures will most likely be affected by introduction of a new tool. These adjustments should be analyzed and planned for in the implementation.
New hardware and software will most likely be required. This affects budgets, capital planning, etc. and needs to be accounted for to ensure all pieces are factored in to make sure nothing is missed – especially in a phased approach to deployment. We don’t want to add ‘surprise’ to ‘change’ if it’s not necessary!
How will this new tool affect the overall strategy and goals of the business? Nothing should be introduced into an ecosystem that does not strive toward a planned goal or objective for the business. This is where organizations can easily hemorrhage in budget, profit and efficiency.
Teams can also view these tools as ‘just another thing to learn’ with no true value. And an often missed perspective for this change is human capital. How are the masses accounted for in this change? Miss this mark and despite the best of intentions, a deployment can become a grand failure.
In IT deployments, launch of the idea often is originated within that department. When planning starts, it is energetic. Excitement abounds with getting new gear and new software, and building the infrastructure. The main focus, especially in the beginning, is how to best fit this new tool and its requirements into the existing infrastructure and how to maintain the new tool. Much time is spent on evaluating different hardware options and review and analysis of the best fit.
Training seems to remain in the forefront of focus at this point. IT staff that are in charge of maintaining the hardware are often sent to training, especially if the gear is new to the enterprise and/or staff. Admins of the new tool will often get robust training as well. It is not uncommon that these folks are sent to weeklong trainings.
Now we have IT staff enthusiastic about digging into this new tool. Riding on this enthusiasm a testing environment is set up. Enthusiasm grows as IT staff has a place to test and stretch the tool, try out new things and analyze its capabilities within the organization’s environment. This phase is often done in organizational silence as the masses are not aware of the testing going on.
Now that the tires have been kicked so to speak, it’s time to share this experience with a pilot phase. This usually means that a small group will be the guinea pigs. This is the group that will use the tool in their workload to demonstrate day to day use. Here is also where the implementation tends to hit the skids.
As this pilot team begins using the tool, as they foresee they will use it in their normal workflow, issues arise. Barriers and gaps are identified. IT staff goes from a more playful interaction with the tool to more fixing how it performs. Interaction with the tool becomes more work than fun. The pilot team usually begins to express some frustration at limitations they are experiencing and patience begins to dwindle.
Even though this is just a pilot and is meant to identify shortcomings of the initial configuration, this process of criticisms, fixing, tweaking, feedback, more fixing, etc. can become tiring. Now in the timeline of the deployment, the teams involved are now road-weary. Enthusiasm can wane, especially of the pilot does not conclude on a positive note.
This point represents a large point of failure. It is here that a major implementation blunder can easily occur. Enthusiasm has waned. And all too often, rather than reevaluating the deployment to take into account the results of the test and pilot phase, the tool gets rolled out anyway. Timelines may have slipped creating a rush to get the tool rolled out. Budget may also have been burned through by this time. This is usually most evident in lack of training for the end users.
Now let’s think about this for a second. The organization has evaluated a productivity tool that should build efficiencies into teams. This tool is meant for the masses, yet this is the one demographic group that most often gets left out of thorough training. We have IT staff trained, a few pilot staff somewhat trained, and now the remainder of the organization is left to their own devices. This is a huge invite for end users to avoid using the tool entirely, or developing enough hacks to get by, yet clinging to the same processes the tool was meant to streamline.
It is imperative to plan for thorough training for all demographics using the tool. This will help to ensure user adoption. Now while this is not the only factor in user adoption, and there is never a guarantee of adoption, training will build a strong foundation of confidence for end users to utilize the tool as intended. If done right, the end users can also be allies in discovering additional efficiencies through the tool helping the organization to increase its ROI.
All levels and stages of training throughout the deployment lifecycle should be accounted for via a well-defined and realistic training plan. This documentation should include every layer of training from initial training of IT staff through end user training. This plan should help guide the implementation and keep the end user in mind. It follows the best practice of “keeping the end in mind” when performing a deployment.
Of course there are other factors affecting user adoption, such as making sure process and procedure revisions have kept up with the deployment, that an effective communication plan is being followed and is embedding excitement to the end user all along the way showing them the value of this tool to their everyday efforts, and adequate support has been established to help teams with the inevitable learning curve. But by establishing and executing a strong training plan for all involved this will go a long way in alleviating frustrations, building confidence and paving the way for success.
It is common to hear consultants talk about aligning SharePoint to “business goals,” but theory is often easier than putting it to practice. After all, if this was not the case, then business goal alignment would not be near the top of the list for SharePoint challenges. So why is there such a huge gap between theory and delivery? Why is it so difficult to ensure that all aspects of SharePoint delivery clearly align to organizational aspirations, that all stakeholder needs are considered, and, at the same time, your activities create a shared understanding and commitment through an inclusive, collaborative approach?
There are probably many procedural and cultural answers to those questions within your organization. What may be the hardest part of SharePoint delivery within your organization may be different in other organizations. That's the problem with "best practices" --- what is a best practice for you may not be a best practice for others. But one thing that is common across the majority of organizations is that most misunderstand governance.
In my keynote address at the European SharePoint Conference in Copenhagen earlier this month, I was joined on stage by my friend and fellow SharePoint MVP Dan Holme (@danholme) as we tried to address this issue, and help attendees to wrap their heads around this common SharePoint issue. You can find a copy of our slides here:
In my experience, the problem is that people try to solve too many problems at once. While governance is not a simple problem, most organizations complicate their problem-solving approach, further confusing an already complex business problem by trying to do multiple things at the same time rather than define each problem -- and each solution -- on their own. While there may be many components to your ultimate governance solution, the core of the issue is about bridging the gap between what the business needs and what service or services you consume. SharePoint is a service. It either meets the business needs, or it doesn't. Governance is what you put in place to fill that gap.
One of the most talked about slides from our presentation was when we told the audience that SharePoint doesn't matter -- only the business matters. Our point was that the bells and whistles of any new technology are irrelevant if yu are not meeting the needs of the business. That one slide (in the photo above) inspired many tweets and emails during and following our presentation, but the slide that best made the case for simplifying your approach toward governance came later (slide 23). This later slide actually summarizes a different presentation -- one that I gave with Nick Kellett (@NickKellett), CTO of StoneShare, a couple weeks earlier (available here).
The point that Nick and I tried to make, and what Dan and I tried to again summarize in our keynote address, was the idea of simplifying governance down into its basic parts: begin by understanding your compliance requirements, map those requirements to your technology (in this case, SharePoint), identify any gaps between requirements and your technology, and then build ongoing operational measurements and processes to fill those gaps. It's never difficult to make a problem more complex -- but in my experience, solving problems always boils down to these fundamentals.
I hope you find these presentations helpful. As always, I'd love to hear your feedback. You can reach me at email@example.com or via Twitter @buckleyplanet