Tag: Enterprise

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

Overcoming Obstacles in SharePoint and Ent 2.0

One of my favorite general IT blogs is Michael Krigsman’s IT Project Failures blog.  Michael provides a balanced view with great insights into the failures of many organizations.  These are lessons that every implementer, integrator, or system stakeholder should pay attention to.

In a recent post titled Resistance to change:  The real Enterprise 2.0 barrier Michael discusses some of the challenges to implementing Ent 2.0 systems.  As always it is a great and relevant read, but I think it matches much of my experience with implementing SharePoint in the Enterprise.  The top obstacle listed was Resistance to change.  The capabilities of the tools are not the biggest limiting factor, user adoption is.  Some of the reasons discussed include fear of change, the power of information holders and lack of interest.

Fear of Change – This is a natural human response.  Much has been written about how to drive change in an organization, but I think the most critical technique is end user involvement.  When people are involved they are much more likely to have a positive view of the change and you are more likely to value insight into how things are actually done in practice. 

This also provides a good opportunity to fine tune your feedback collection techniques so that all stakeholders continue to have a voice after go live. 

Information Power – In some organizations there is a culture in place where people feel like they have to be a gateway to information.  With the recent economical downturn people are all the more desperate to be seen as irreplaceable.  Organizations need to work towards transparency and openness.  A positive side effect of this is better use of the subject matter or domain experts who are normally over worked in closed organizations and frequently have to answer the same questions repeatedly.

Lack of interest – Lack of interest can definitely have an impact on the life of a system.  Some users still do not understand or have any interest in Ent 2.0 systems.  I think easiest way to get passed this is to show sustained value.  It is easy to establish and maintain interest with small groups, but it gets exponentially harder as the size of the group increases.  Keep the tools current, and show incremental advances to keep stakeholder interest.

I’ve also seen turnover in key positions or management impact a groups use of these tools.  It is important to work with the new stakeholders to review what is there and what can be done to align it with any changes to the group’s direction.

Closing

I’m always interested in hearing feedback.  Do you agree, disagree?  Have any other tips to decrease the resistance to change?

Related Posts

The SharePoint in the Cloud – SharePoint as a Service

The cloud debate continues to rage in the offices of many business and IT executives.  They look for it as a way to control or reduce costs and to better focus on their core business functions instead of managing complex IT systems.  As a technologist though I see the cost benefit not just in dollars but in opportunity and the potential for the system to enable the organization to innovate and collaborate in ways they were not able to in the past.

I see plenty of value in SaaS for commodity systems, with email being a great example of that.  Email systems both large and small can be expensive to run and there can be very little difference in the service if it is run in house or in the cloud.  Is SharePoint a commodity system though?  Certainly some organizations are doing their best to not customize it.  Last year’s AIIM survey results reported many organizations underestimating the cost and effort to customization and integration which I’m sure will scare executives of any new implementations.  As a developer and integrator I have seen tremendous valued gained from implementations that are extended to work with other enterprise tools whether it is an ERP, HRIS, CRM, ECM or 3rd party BPM/Workflow systems.  The level of effort to implement and maintain those environments does need to be included in the decision process.  The cost is significantly higher than a vanilla SharePoint implementation so the value derived should also be measurably higher. 

If it is a plain vanilla environment then it is a great candidate for SaaS including MS Online.  The new “Sandbox” feature of SharePoint 2010 may help to provide a mechanism for minor customizations and an “App Store” that could benefit users of a hosted SharePoint environment.  This should definitely simplify the process for making some customizations possible. 

It will be interesting to see how the SaaS and hosted solutions evolve over the next few years and how they are perceived by organizations.  It will also be interesting to see if the Sandbox feature is made available to those services and what kinds of solutions are made available through that interface.

Site Requests, Provisioning, and Governance

Yesterday I posted a link to Michael Sampson’s survey on Site Creation Rights which is intended to collect information on the process and governance around who can request new sites and how they are provisioned or “actioned.”  This is an important topic, so I’m looking forward to seeing the results.

This is a topic I have had to put a lot of thought around recently in my current organization.  Like all things Governance, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.  Instead there are topics that needs to be discussed in the context of the organization to determine an appropriate path.

 

Some items to consider:

Who can create a site; Anyone, Project Manager, Manager and above?

True collaboration doesn’t always happen based on a mandate from above.  Whenever possible, it is good to encourage and accommodate requests from anyone that will use the service.  Some of the most innovative sites I’ve seen were lead directly by information workers sometimes even without the knowledge of their supervisors.  If there is a charge to the site, this may not be possible.

Does a site request require approval?

Does a site request require approval from a manager of the requestor’s group or from IS/IT?  If so is it for financial reasons, or does the scope and purpose of the site need to be validated?

What types of sites can be created?

Are there only certain types of sites supported like Division, Department / Functional Area or Project?  What if somebody wants to setup a site to organize the Bowling League or discuss Social Media’s place in the organization?

Where are the sites placed and how are they organized?

Are all sites placed into the generic “Sites” path or are they logically grouped in containers that represent the org structure or purpose?  This can definitely have an impact on the process if sites are automatically provisioned. 

If they are logically organized, you need to make sure you have a plan on how to move the sites and content if the purpose of the site or the organization changes.  These sites need to be dynamic and adapt to change.

Does the site need to be logged somewhere like a Site Directory?

If one or more Site Directories are used, the provisioning process should include steps to list the new sites. 

Does anyone need to review the site’s Design, Structure or Security?

This question is pretty central to the Governance process.  If you establish standards or guidelines you want to ensure people follow them, but it is also a good idea to have some form of a review available so that advice and best practices can be exchanged to help maximize the value the group derives from the site and system.

The scope of this review can run the gamut, I’ll save that as a topic for another day.  I will however say that it is important to the overall success of the platform unless the capabilities and understanding of the site owners/administrators are very high.

 

Site Requests and Provisioning in the Small Organization

In small organizations it is pretty easy to handle things manually.  Site provisioning really doesn’t take that long so it is easy to help the site owners/administrators along and get things organized correctly so that it meets the group’s information architecture objectives and is easy to use.

If the process is automated in a small organization it is likely to be a pretty simple process.

Site Requests and Provisioning in a Large Organization

In larger organizations it quickly becomes apparent that manual processes cannot scale and at least portions of the process need to be automated.  Depending on some of the topics above relating to charges, approvals, and topology the process can vary quite a bit from organization to organization. 

If the Governance model is properly though through it should be easy for people to request sites, and they should be provisioned in a way that offers additional value. 

 

End Notes

Thoughts, feedback, critiques?  I’m always eager to hear other people’s thoughts on this topic and eagerly await the results of the survey.

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

Supporting Multiple Active Directory Domains

In many environments there is more than one Active Directory forest with users that need access to the SharePoint farm. Setting up support for users on multiple domains is pretty easy and can provide new collaborative features for users throughout the extended organization.

Trust Relationship
The only prerequisite is that there has to be a trust relationship between the forests. Users from the other domain(s) will need to be able to authenticate and access resources on the host domain.

If that trust is not in place, here is a good resource: Support for Cross-forest deployments

Setting up the Import
The Profile import settings are in the Shared Service Provider’s User Profile section. Setting up the primary domain, the domain the server is on, is pretty straight forward and the default settings should be fine.

To setup an import for additional domains click on the “View import connections” link from the main User Profiles and Properties page followed by the Add Connection item in the toolbar. Fill in the domain information and click the Auto Fill Root Search Base button. If the SharePoint Administration account does not have access to read from the target domain you will need to supply an account to read the directory.

People Picker Control
If there is a one way trust, or there are duplicate accounts (display names) on different domains it may be a good idea to set some additional properties. In the article Select user from multiple forest domains it provides a path to specify which forests to search, and allows the passing of credentials if the SharePoint Administration account does not have the required privileges.

Summary
The platform does a good job of supporting cross domain collaboration, and it is a lot easier to setup than many enterprise systems. In one environment I had to support over thirty domains so the information included above really came in handy.

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.

%d bloggers like this: