Tag: Collaboration

SharePoint Blogging Tips

I am seeing more and more interest from organizations wanting to use SharePoint’s Blogging capabilities internally.  Blogging can be a great way to communicate and collaborate in an organization, but it is just now getting the mainstream attention and consideration.  Here are some tips and considerations that can help your organization maximize the effectiveness.

New Communication Uses

While the feature has not changed much, it is being perceived differently now.  In some cases it is being used to replace things that perhaps would have been communicated via something like a standard Announcement list.  While the Announcements support expiration, they leave a lot to be desired.  A blog article can be categorized more effectively without needing to configure any extra lists, and they can also be used to solicit feedback or comments. 

Blog Authoring Tools

The content authoring in SharePoint 2007 was a bit cumbersome in 2007.  It is better with 2010, but I would highly recommend using a tool like MS Live Writer for anyone that blogs on a regular basis.  This tool works great with all major blog platforms including SharePoint.  It can also provide a real advantage for anyone maintaining multiple blogs (Company Personal, Project/Product Team, Public). 

Blog Extensions

For anyone interested in widely using the Blogs and would like more features and flexibility, I would highly recommend you take a look at the Community Kit for SharePoint, Enhanced Blog Edition (CKS:EBE).  The current version 2.0 was built for SharePoint 2007 (WSS/MOSS) with a new version in the planning stages for SharePoint 2010.

Migration Tools

If there is significant content currently housed on another blog platform that you want to migrate into SharePoint you may want to consider a migration tool.  As an example the Metalogix Migration Manager for Blogs and Wikis can quickly and effectively move content and images into a SharePoint blog.

Summary

SharePoint’s blogging capabilities can provide a effective mechanism for communication and collaboration throughout an organization.  With these tips hopefully you can better leverage it in your organization. 

Unlocking The Potential of SharePoint With Remote Access

I have been putting a lot of work lately into some general 2010 presentations and one of the messages I’m really concentrating on is Connect anywhere, from any device, with any browser.  I think this is a critical ingredient in enabling SharePoint to be a great Unified Business Collaboration Platform.  It comes down to removing all of the unnecessary hurdles of accessing and working with the content in a secure manner.  While there are some technical changes that were made such as better support for mobile devices and true standards support allowing cross-browser consistency, the real change for me is philosophical.  Until recently I have been somewhat uncomfortable opening up internal portals and content to the internet.  My biggest fear has always been network security.  Gateways like ISA, now Forefront Threat Management Gateway (TMG), are not new but many IT groups have had difficulty implementing them or managing them effectively so I have not pushed for them in many of my implementations unless it was needed to fulfill a requirement.  With the Connect Anywhere, from any device, with any browser mantra in mind that will no longer be the case.  I will now advocate for secure access to be provided wherever possible without the requirement to connect via VPN or be on the local network.  This enhanced access will easy collaboration for remote workers and has the potential to speed up the collaboration process in addition to making it richer. 

If your organization is not sure how to implement or configure one of the gateway applications, seek out experts in the form of consultants or community members that are able to help.  You users will thank you for it!

My Sites in the Enterprise: Today and Tomorrow

As we inch closer to SharePoint 2010 and the vast improvements made to the My Sites feature set I thought it might be time to revisit some key concepts when looking to leverage My Sites in an organization.  In many organizations I see My Sites as still under deployed and under utilized.  In some cases it is because leaders do not know what to do with it while in others they are not sure how to support it.  I hope to address both of those issues here along with offering some other advice.  By addressing the topic now I hope that business can get a jump on implementing the tools based on the current technology as well as bring it to the forefront of the 2010 upgrade planning so that they will be able to better leverage the tools in the years to come.

What is the purpose of My Sites?

In its simplest form, My Site is a SharePoint site collection owned by an individual giving them the ability to have both personal and shared content.  It also includes the bases for many personalization features including a Colleague tracker, My Links, and the ability to aggregate content like tasks and documents they are involved with throughout the entire farm.  Since the sites can be automatically provisioned in most environments it takes little or no IT interaction for a user to get started.

In some environments the the feature is limited to IT and some power users, while in others the service is available but its benefits have never been communicated to the organization as a whole.  By widening the audience and its participants more value can be derived from the tools.

Enterprise 2.0

These tools are a good foundation for an Enterprise 2.0 strategy helping your users find and communicate with each other.  In most organizations people are already using these types of tools, but they are doing it for different purposes and with tools hosted outside your company’s network.  Look at LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter which probably already have unofficial groups or networks organized around your company.  By pulling some of this into your network you can expand productivity around internal information assets, provide some level of information security, and increase the overall socialization activities.

In a recent post I wrote about Overcoming Obstacles in SharePoint and Ent 2.0 which addresses a few of the biggest issues; Fear of Change, Information Power, and Lack of Interest.

Governance

Like most SharePoint topics we cannot have a full discussion without mentioning Governance.  Oddly enough, this is one area that I think perhaps can be over governed.  The cornerstone to Social Computing is social interactions and for it to be social there needs to be room for an individual’s creativity.  That isn’t to say that anything goes, but in many cases things should be generalized into more of an appropriate use policy. 

Personal Photo – One of the most personal aspects of personal computing is the individual’s photo or avatar.  Hopefully within an organization people feel comfortable enough to have a photo or at least an avatar.  While a photo of the person is great it probably shouldn’t be a requirement and hopefully isn’t their mug shot from the badge or security system. 

Dressing up the My Site – The individual should be allowed to change the theme to personalize the color scheme and select a personal icon or banner for the site.  Even if the rest of the SharePoint sites are fully branded with the corporate identity, small things like this can really increase the interest level since it gives them a chance to be creative and truly gives them ownership of the site. 

Quotas – Quotas should be set at a reasonable amount.  Too little and users will end up going back to Shared Drives which will undermine use of the tool.  Of course too much and there is the possibility that storage costs can escalate quickly along with backup and recovery times. 

If used appropriately it should draw down the storage requirements in email and shared drive storage thereby just shifting storage from one system to another.

Taking it to the Next Level

SharePoint 2010 will add in both the Facebook “Wall” concept as well as some enhanced social bookmarking, both of which have been painfully missing from the 2007 offering. 

While both of those features are welcomed additions, there are more opportunities to extend the system as well.  One of the things I like best about systems like Facebook and LinkedIn is there are all kinds of tools that have been created to help interact with the platforms.  This includes everything from mobile browsers to make posting updates easier to the LinkedIn Outlook Toolbar that can expose user’s LinkedIn profile, status, and network information in Outlook.  The Outlook team has responded by offering the Outlook Social Connector which promises to offer an extensible provider platform for integrating with multiple social platforms including SharePoint 2010 as well as Windows Live and anyone else that can create a provider. 

Other extensions and tools are still needed though.  In the past I wrote a bookmarking component that supported adding items to My Links from both inside of SharePoint as well as other ASP.NET applications.  As soon as I get a handle on the final features of SharePoint 2010 I plan on updating that and making it available as a project on CodePlex.

Simple content components like a Quote of the Day or slide shows can also increase the personalization of the system. 

Isn’t this for Business?

This is for business, but it can still be fun.  Increasing the fun factor will get people to be more engaged and interactive.  Also, it is a proven fact that teams that know each other at a personal level and can maintain relationships function at a higher level.

Related Posts

Social Computing – Communities

I was very excited when heard that “Communities” was going to be one of the pillars for SharePoint 2010.  I think the Social Computing and Communities aspect is where SharePoint has the potential to really revolutionize business collaboration and computing.  Administrators and Developers don’t have to wait until upgrading to SharePoint 2010 though to start taking advantage of some of these concepts.  By making the adjustment now you and your end users will be better positioned to leverage these concepts sooner.

 

Key Features and Recommendations

Collect Feedback – Find ways to gather community feedback on content.  Take advantage of features like Content Rating and Comments, develop Surveys, and make it easy to access user contact information.

Notifications – Show the members how to take advantage of the Alert features so that they can receive timely notifications for relevant information.  In my experience, most know the Alert Me feature is there, but few know how to configure it to only get the notices they want to see.

Tagging – In the past few years tagging has been a popular way to describe and categorize content.  While it is not built into SharePoint 2007 (MOSS /WSS 3.0) there are a number of custom or add-on features available.

Show Related Content – Find ways to show related or relevant content.   If you are currently running MOSS, now would be a good time to dig in and learn how the filtering web parts work, as well as the search web parts.  If there is related data on the page, be sure to filter views.  Configure some search results web parts that can automatically show results based on what is being viewed.

Use Content Types – Using content types will help you better aggregate and work with the data.  This also simplifies the process of identifying the data in search.

Content instead of Documents – Think in terms of content, not just documents.  Most traditional information workers still think in terms of documents, but long time users of the SharePoint platform are starting to come around. 

 

Advantages

Member Involvement – These solutions get people involved which can lead to a self-sustaining effort.

Easier to find golden nuggets – Following these concepts will let the good content rise to the top.

SMEs and Knowledge Management – This gives you an opportunity to better utilize your SMEs in a group setting instead of one on one communications.  This can also be used to identify and develop new SMEs greatly increasing your Knowledge Management capabilities.

 

2007 Add-Ons and Solutions

SharePoint Tool Basket V2 – A number of features that can be enabled for collecting user Rating and Comments feedback on all types of content.

Community Kit for SharePoint (CKS) – Templates and features that extend the standard SharePoint feature set.

SharePoint Search-As-You-Type with jQuery – Instant search results by adding in jQuery.  Always an end user favorite!

 

Things to Consider

While I think that it a good idea to leverage these features now it is important to consider the upgradability.  In some cases the features may be built into the next version of SharePoint (Content Rating, Tagging).  If you add those features in now, you will likely loose that data during the migration process.  When approaching a version upgrade for a Knowledge Management or community application it is almost always best to build a new solution and migrate the existing content anyway though.  This gives you the chance to take advantage of the new features. 

 

Wrap up

Any questions, comments, or other solutions that you would like to recommend for extending the current 2007 platform? 

 

Related Posts

SharePoint Resources and Knowledge Management

Lack of “proper” training is a common end user complaint in many SharePoint environments. Hopefully training plans have been developed, but in addition to formal training I have also focused on providing online resources for task and audience based training.

Going through this exercise can also provide a great introduction to Knowledge Management concepts that can be applied to other aspects of your business and processes. SharePoint includes many core features that are very well suited for Knowledge Management and that can be easily configured to match your requirements.

Microsoft has many good resources available on their Office Online website. I’ll frequently identify specific content that is especially helpful and provide links to that content.

A good place to start is to include the following content:
• SharePoint Contacts
• Video Tutorials
• Task Based Instructions
• Training and Event Calendar
• Helpful Links
• Frequently Asked Questions
• General Discussions

When identifying content, try adding custom properties to help organize it based on the Audience (User, Power User, Site Owner, Developer, Administrator) and maybe some categories (Documents, Lists, Wikis, Blogs, Security, etc).

Identifying the content is a good start, but in the second phase look for ways to deliver that content targeted to the specific audiences or categories. For example if you provide a filter web part with the list of Audiences you can connect the filter to each of the list views. It is also a good idea to try and keep the content fresh. Add additional information as needs arise and try and get involvement from the user base.

I would like to thank Laura Rogers a.k.a. @WonderLaura for inspiring this post after a brief tweet this week about updating a SharePoint Resources site in her org. The mere mention of this topic opened the creative floodgates.

Enterprise Communication Paths

The communication options and paths within the enterprise has changed dramatically over the last 15-20 years.  More recently though there are some new options on the scene including Micro Blogging tools like Twitter and Yammer.  I think it is a good time to evaluate how your organization communicates in order to better enable them to meet business objectives and enhance collaboration.

Email

Email used to be great, but now it tends to frustrate me.  My guess is probably 80% of the messages I receive have no long term value.  I am a bit of a packrat and have a hard time determining what to keep and what to delete.  The time spent organizing, deleting, or archiving those messages is not a value added activity.  On top of that many organizations strictly limit mailbox size and many of those sizes are decreasing despite the Google Mail’s of the world offering increased storage space.  Storage and backup times are one reason, but with others there are Records Management implications involving compliance and legal discovery.

    Pros

  • Everyone is comfortable with and understands email
  • You do not need to know or care if the person is currently online, in the office, or on vacation
  • Easy to save and flag for further action if needed
  • Many software applications can send notifications and alerts via email

    Cons

  • High percentage of the emails have no long term value and have a short shelf life
  • Require effort for quota management and organization
  • Overhead to store, maintain, and backup messages centrally

Instant Messaging

Shortly after email use started Instant Messaging came along to distract people.  In the early days people mostly did this for personal conversations so it was looked at negatively by many organizations.  Slowly but surely it is getting a second look within the enterprise as major enterprise vendors have started to push their Enterprise Messaging wares.  I believe strongly that it does have a place within the Enterprise, but it is not the only tool or solution.

    Pros

  • Most people are comfortable with and understand IM
  • You know before sending the message if the person is online, and most provide some additional status indicators
  • Some IM tools support discussions between multiple people at once for ad-hoc group chats
  • Lowers the load on the email system and storage
  • Requires little to no message maintenance

    Cons

  • Company policy may be against it’s use
  • Adoption is not widespread in most organizations
  • It is another client based application the organization would have to support
  • Not all IM programs can interact, so program selection is important
  • Some of the internally hosted Enterprise tools do not work so well for distributed users or field users

Micro-Blogging

Micro-Blogging is a form of communication involving brief text based messages.  What started as a personal, consumer based, social activity, now has implications to the organization.  Tools like Twitter or Yammer fall into this category.  Most organizations are still struggling to understand what it is and how it can fit into the communication paths, but I think it offers a real opportunity to revolutionize Enterprise communication.

    Pros

  • Dynamic and able to adapt to the social fabric of an organization
  • Messages are brief
  • Reduce the clutter and storage needs of the email system
  • Messages have a short shelf life
  • People can tune in or tune out, supporting a Pull model instead of a traditional Push messaging model
  • Can lead to better collaboration and interaction within teams
  • Can lead to new connections and collaborations between teams with commonalities

    Cons

  • Not well understood by most organizations
  • Not well understood by many users
  • Most applications and networks are currently external, which may not be able to handle secure internal communication

Communication Soup

Technology leaders need to work with their business units to help figure out which tools to use, and for which purpose.  Without business buy-in and high enough adoption rates to reach critical mass people will slip back into the traditional way of doing things.

A good place to start is to do some analysis to figure out why types of communications are being currently taking place.

General Activity Info, location info to group
One on One Conversation when Online
One on One Conversations when offline
System Status Notifications
Exchange with external contacts
Exchange with attachments or RM needs
Group conversation when Online
Workflow notifications
Task Notifications

Then Take a look at what might be the best tool or communication path for that specific type of communication.

For example, system alerts and task notifications are currently sent via email.  I think it would be more convenient to have those sent to the MB message stream. 

Sending most messages to your team could also benefit from the MB path.  If you are seeking real-time collaboration between multiple people then email is inefficient and IM isn’t as flexible.

Fifteen years ago I never would have predicted that online communication and transactions would have replaced the postal system so quickly.  I feel confident in saying that in ten years from now email will not be the primary written communication path for either personal or business communications.  The sooner your organization starts the transition, the better prepared they will be to capitalize on it and use it as a competitive advantage.

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