Category Archives: SharePoint Consultants

Back to basics – Doc Management 101

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Image courtesy of http://www.efffective.com.

As with any new rollout of SharePoint, a lot of industry talk is dedicated to the suite’s emerging functionality. And certainly we have dedicated a lot of airtime to reviewing features like mobility and social collaboration in recent entries.

But we are often reminded – as was the case during a new client discovery workshop last week – that many businesses out there are still heavily reliant on old school file shares and document libraries. Which prompts us (upon request) to get back to basics and talk about one of SharePoint’s most core features – Document Management (DM). And while this piece won’t be of interest to fully-fledged SharePoint users, we’re certain it will resonate strongly with the relative newcomers who get in touch with us almost every week.

The most common situation we come across is organisations who still rely upon complex, multi-layered folder structures, which can sometimes disappear down as far as 50 levels – into a dark abyss of useless, irretrievable business knowledge. These kind of structures hinder discoverability, and make any kind of version control next to impossible.

A classic example is when a user locates a file, and when trying to open it they receive a message that it is locked by another user. It is (unfortunately) very standard behaviour for the person to then save themselves a copy of the file, rename it and suddenly two versions of the document exist. The knock on effect is then felt when a third person goes through the (very painful) search process and, if lucky enough to locate any files with a keyword search, two files now appear with no distinction as to which is current.

SharePoint’s check in/check out system reduces the risk of this occurring as there are more controls around DM. A user can easily see who has control of the file and by using integrated functionality such as Microsoft Lync, they can quickly open up an instant chat and ask if they are finished. If they need to work on the file at the same time, users can leverage a feature called multi-tenant authoring, which allows multiple users to edit Word and PowerPoint documents at the same time. This allows for the rapid creation of content and removes the tedious task of someone having to try and consolidate multiple versions of the same file into one document which is time consuming, and often leads to human error.

Next to version control, searchability is the other great limiter of file shares. During the abovementioned discovery workshop we asked the Project Manager how employees feel about their current file share environment. To which she responded, “I can only find the files I put there. If you didn’t create it, you know you won’t be able to find it, so you save yourself the hassle and just email the document owner for a copy.”

A fairly clear indication that they weren’t exactly kicking goals on the searchability front! And yet connecting people and information is one of the most powerful drivers of collaboration and productivity.

We encounter this issue regularly with organisations who have tried to implement SharePoint themselves. Many do not understand the concept of an Information Architecture (IA) and how it relates to storing files in SharePoint. Not surprisingly, they recreate what they know, which in many cases is a replica of the complex folder structure they had on their file share. So they haven’t fixed the problem – they have effectively transplanted it straight into SharePoint! Which is why we invest a lot of time teaching our clients the fundamentals of SharePoint and demonstrating the advantages of leveraging functionality such as content types, views and metadata as a way to store and categorise information.

This involves a paradigm shift for many organisations as, like most people, they are comfortable with what they know. But as organisation’s come to realise that their current structures make collaboration and discovery difficult, they become more open to taking a different approach to information management. Primarily, recognising that an intelligent IA and powerful search functionality within SharePoint allows their users to surface information in a logical, simple way. If people can access information easily there is less risk of them working in silos, which ultimately leads to employees having a more global view of the business they are working in.

According to a report published in 2012 by McKinsey Global, the average knowledge worker spends up to 9 hours a week searching for information. That’s over two months a year. Find out how SharePoint can explode productivity within your business. Or if you already have SharePoint installed, that it is governed by proper IA, so you are able to achieve genuine ROI from the technology. 

Guest Blog: Why Change Management can make or break your project

In a recent blog we talked about increasing productivity and revenue by enhancing User Adoption. Three areas outlined as important for People Engagement included the development of taxonomies, education and training, and strong leadership support. Today, Vanessa Ferguson from our partner company, Apricot Consulting Group, takes a look at the People Engagement and Business Alignment components of User Adoption and outlines how Apricot works with nSynergy to implement change.change man

Business Alignment

Grounded first in assessment, we prepare our clients for the journey that they need to make by assessing their current organisational climate. Business alignment is essential to the adoption framework because without it, businesses will not be able to build momentum or keep adoption levels high enough to provide continuous, ongoing value. It involves the assessment of five key areas:

  1. Organisational Assessment
  2. Coalition
  3. Vision, Mission and Values
  4. Project Management
  5. Governance

Organisational Assessment involves understanding organisational structures and leadership paradigms. We identify the ‘key players’ who we will be working alongside to initiate change, and who is best equipped to influence change among the group.

Coalition highlights the need to create a sense of urgency and momentum around the need for change with key stakeholders. We work to convey the message that change is being implemented for the greater good of the business, to help staff function more efficiently, not simply for the sake of change.

Creating a simple vision and mission that people can grasp and remember is central to the change process. We ensure that staff members (at all levels) are involved in the development of organisational values. This helps employees who may not be commonly involved in decision-making processes to identify with, and express ownership over the long-term vision of the organisation.

When implementing change, Project Management involves establishing a holistic strategy, plan, timeline, and milestones to ensure that the change lasts. When ‘wins’ are made (i.e., successful completion of certain milestones) we aim to implement processes that recognise and reward achievement.

The final piece to the Business Alignment puzzle involves us making an assessment of Governance. It’s vital that terms of use, policy and procedures encourage appropriate participation while protecting critical IP and meeting compliance obligations.

People Engagement

Following the assessment of processes relating to Business Alignment, People Engagement strategies can be implemented. The five key components of people engagement include:

  1. Cultural Assessment
  2. Recognition
  3. Communication
  4. Education
  5. Key Influencers

Culture is the engine room of the organisation. The best way to measure an organisation’s culture is to engage with its employees and learn about “how we do things around here.” Any consultant entering a new organisation is required to take note of its culture and adapt accordingly. Apricot founder and CEO Derek Linsell was once the CEO of the AFL Foundation, a predominantly male sporting environment where irreverent language is often considered the norm. In stark contrast, Derek has also worked extensively with the Salvation Army, an evangelistic organisation dedicated to helping the poor and unfortunate.

In both cases, it was imperative that Derek be aware of the organisational culture in order to engage employees and be accepted by the group. It would have been inappropriate for Derek to use poor language in the presence of Salvation Army Officers, just as it would have been inappropriate for him to initiate a meeting with AFL executives by opening in prayer. Culture is related to productivity, and we at Apricot are aware that it heavily impacts analysis, planning, risk and ultimately the success of User Adoption initiatives.

Recognition processes promoted by Apricot encourage positive behaviors by linking them to performance, rewards, and goal achievement. Similar to the implementation of taxonomies for collaboration, recognition process provide clear guidelines and promote standards of behaviour that employees are encouraged to strive for.

When introducing new IT solutions, we ensure that employees understand new methods for viral and programmatic communication. Employees should feel supported and understand that there are structures in place for when assistance is required.

Importantly, establishing programs for ‘onboarding’, ongoing learning, and knowledge retention is vital for the change process to be effective. New staff members need to be properly educated and trained in new processes, not simply shown the ‘old way’ by employees who have not properly adopted the new system. In addition, employees should have access to ongoing training, and learning should be assessed regularly, either formally or informally.

Similar to understanding organisational structures and leadership paradigms during the business alignment process of change, we believe it is necessary to identify and empower advocates who will inspire others to engage. It is equally important to defuse resistors (i.e., find out what forces or people might dampen enthusiasm). In most cases, 20% of the group will feel positive about change, 20% will feel opposed to change, and the remaining 60% will be unsure about change. Our aim is to engage the middle 60% to bring the proportion of the group who are positive to 80%. In order to this we work with organisational leaders and make sure that they are intentional about promoting change and demonstrating their own adoption of new strategies.  After all, a new IT solution is only successful if people use it.

In summary, adding User Adoption solutions to technology enablement leads to a more attractive, comprehensive package and an improved ability sell. Deeper engagement with customers can also lead to ongoing relationships, additional projects and increased revenue. A win for everyone.

Thanks Vanessa. Anyone looking to find out more about Apricot and nSynergy’s combined approach to delivering winning SharePoint solutions, please get in touch today.

Why get social? SharePoint 2013 social collaboration tools

We will be kicking off a series of posts about the new features of SharePoint 2013 shortly, but in the meanteamworktime, we’ve been fielding a lot of queries about one aspect in particular – and that is SharePoint 2013’s new social capabilities. So let’s take a look.

Enterprise social collaboration has been gaining a lot of momentum over the past few years, and certainly in the last 12 months, we are having more and more conversations with clients who are ready to introduce it to their business.

Far from being just a passing phase – as some predicted – social collaboration tools are helping businesses around the world unlock unprecedented levels of productivity and profit. According to The Social Business: Advent of a New Age study published by IBM, 57% of CIOs whose companies have invested in social media tools outperform their peers. The study also revealed that 55% of companies reported social networking played a significant role in the growth of their business.

SharePoint 2013’s social tools are a great start for companies who are ready to begin their social journey. In our experience this technology represents a much safer, more scalable option than free social collaboration tools like Jive and Yammer (incidentally now Microsoft owned), as it allows for greater integration with other systems, whilst providing a higher level of governance and control. Plenty of companies come to us reporting that their workforce are readily engaging through one of these free sites, having never stopped to consider lack of governance and security as an issue. In the case of one client, ex-staff members who were now working for the competition were still very much engaged in their old communities six months after leaving the business. We can only imagine how much IP and strategy walked out the door during this time!

In most cases, the free cloud based social platforms mentioned are not subjected to the internal de-provisioning processes which traditionally ensures ex-staff members can no longer access valuable information. As the aforementioned studies have shown, staff are happy to use social tools to collaborate with their colleagues – but the same rigor and security should be applied as with any other business application.

Through SharePoint 2013 you can promote an even higher level of collaboration safely within the confines of your own environment. More than this, conversations can be categorised using hash tags and keywords, which can then be easily searched for at a later date. This information can then form the basis of a powerful knowledge database for the future.

Consider all the IP that has traditionally sat within an employee’s email account. Insights, work arounds, problems solved, ‘how to’ conversations – valuable knowledge that dies with the end of an email thread and gets filed away out of your reach. Now imagine all of that knowledge been safely recorded within your SharePoint environment, available to your entire workforce at the click of a button.

From a user’s perspective, SharePoint 2013 also begins to understand what information they want. They can follow people, sites, content and conversation and receive activity feeds each and every day – and the best part is, they already know how to use this technology. Social media is more than just familiar, it’s how they want to receive information.

What could your employees achieve with hours of productivity unlocked? Feel free to get in touch with us for more information about SharePoint 2013 or social collaboration tools.

Building the ultimate test case in our own backyard

nSynergy has offices in New York, London, Shanghai, San Francisco, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane

nSynergy has offices in New York, London, Shanghai, San Francisco, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Hobart

While it may seem slightly unorthodox to write a blog about our own business platform, the reality is, we rely heavily upon Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 technologies to keep our processes optimised and our business profitable.

With eight offices across four continents, we have a strong presence in all global markets and push our project teams to be competitive among the world’s best providers. This is great news for our clients! But it does require us to maintain a highly collaborative, communications-focused environment, so our SharePoint consultants and developers from around the world can easily share insights and information.

In addition to running a dynamic SharePoint intranet with enterprise search capability through FAST search, we have adopted NewsGator’s Social Sites add-on to extend SharePoint’s existing capabilities. We estimate that social collaboration functionality reduced email traffic by around 50% in the first six months – although our CEO happily reports that the reduction on his personal email traffic was more like 60%! Even more importantly however, is the ability to use social collaboration as a way to harness internal knowledge.

(Great news for customers – SharePoint 2013 now includes a range of social collaboration tools – and we’ll be covering this in a separate entry soon).

Office 365’s cloud-based technologies also play a daily role in the growth of our business. For example, video conferencing and desktop sharing through Lync enhances our ability to work as a cohesive unit. From Shanghai to New York, and London to Sydney, Melbourne and several cities around Australia, our staff are able to constantly collaborate in real time.

When they are not engaging with each other, our team are contributing ideas to an innovation centre we call the Think Tank. These range from insights about SharePoint to major creative ideas, which are then fleshed out by input from other team members. These contributions to the Think Tank are regularly explored and have resulted in some exciting innovations. But more than this, we now have a culture where people want to contribute to the success of the business – and they encourage each other to challenge the status quo and come up with better solutions.

A final piece to the puzzle is the real time project collaboration we are able to have with clients through our extranet site, Engage. Through Engage, project teams from both sides can access properly governed shared files, review design concepts and track project milestones – without any concerns about version control or security.

Having our business activities underpinned by such powerful technologies as these creates the perfect backdrop for innovation. Read the full case study hereImagine what it could do for your business – get in touch with one of our professional SharePoint consultants today.

Driving collaboration and mobility with Office365

CloudsMany businesses come to a crossroads when, having outgrown their existing IT infrastructure, they have to make the call to invest in a new operating system. Some businesses bite the bullet and approach us to help them take this step, while others continue to shed money looking for quick fixes and patch up solutions.

Microsoft’s cloud offering – Office365 – is a powerful, business-focused suite of technologies that can revolutionise the way your business operates and start sending savings to your bottom line immediately.

Think about all the lost hours of productivity, the limitations of poorly governed shared drives, not to mention the bottomless pit of licensing and support provider fees. With a professionally installed Office365 environment, these issues all become a thing of the past. By integrating Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and Lync, Office 365 creates a dynamic digital workplace, which is the perfect backdrop for collaboration and ideation. This cloud solution is also fully mobile – access is available to your workforce anywhere, on any device.

Take our client Be Learning for example. As an award-winning business, renowned for innovation and big ideas, they were being severely hindered by their on-premise infrastructure, which simply couldn’t keep up with their growing needs. As they had expanded quickly, over a short period of time, a number of ad hoc IT solutions were patched over existing issues or limiting technologies (like file shares and shared drives). Email and server crashes, and constant unpredictability was costing the business thousands.

Be Learning’s greatest need was for unified communications and advanced collaboration tools – and the Microsoft Office365 suite offered precisely that – and a whole lot more. By investing in having these technologies expertly installed, Be Learning can now lay claim to a sophisticated operating environment where knowledge flows in multiple directions and interaction is seamless. Collaboration time between employees has been reduced dramatically, giving individuals more time to focus on product development and innovation. In addition, Be Learning’s sales force can retain a link to business operations while on the road through the cloud.

Be Learning can now be confident that they are fully protected and supported in their continued expansion into the global market. Read the full Be Learning case study here.

Is your business ready to take the leap into the Cloud? Get in touch with a member of the global nSynergy team today and we will tailor a solution for you.

Introducing nSynergy business collaboration solutions

IMG_20130205_162440nSynergy and OSC (Online Services Corporation) have been providing specialist SharePoint Consulting Services since 2002. With substantial experience across all industry verticals, we can ensure you give your business the competitive edge. Our services are regularly engaged by both Enterprise and SMEs. We are global, yet agile: we practice what we preach – our Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Shanghai, London, San Francisco and New York offices are one team, connected by one of the most dynamic, interactive Intranets in the world.

Each week we will be posting blogs on all things to do with Intranets: SharePoint, Office365, User Experience, User Adoption and Social Collaboration – the workplace of tomorrow. Stay tuned and feel free to respond, question, critique, contribute.