Tag Archives: Intranet

Why a SharePoint project is like building a house – Part 2 The Build

By Simon Tyrrell, nSynergy Chief Strategy Officer. If you missed Part 1 please jump across and have a read before continuing on.

Images courtesy of Clever Design, www.cleverdesign.com.au. Photographer Ian Wallace.

Images courtesy of Clever Design, http://www.cleverdesign.com.au. Photographer Ian Wallace.

Where did we leave off? That’s right, my house project was about to enter the build phase and things got even spookier from a SharePoint project parallels standpoint.

The Build

Once we had selected the builder (note – the 3D walkthrough I mentioned in Part 1 was very helpful at this point) we went into build mode. Surprisingly, the whole experience was much less stressful than my wife and I had anticipated.

In hindsight I put this relative ease down to three key things: our relationship with the builder and his level of skill; the relationship between the builder and the designer; but most importantly, the fact that we had such a clear understanding of what the end result would be because of the process we went through in the vision, concept and detail phases.

On numerous occasions when we went onsite during the build a question was raised about a point of design. Our immediate action was to revisit the 3D model and view the design in its final context. This allowed us to refer back to the full story, and not just pieces of disjointed functionality.

Images courtesy of Clever Design, www.cleverdesign.com.au. Photographer Ian Wallace.

Images courtesy of Clever Design, http://www.cleverdesign.com.au. Photographer Ian Wallace.

What does it all mean?

The popular way of doing things with portals, intranets etc. is targeted at a technical audience (i.e. the builder). And, for a long time, we too accepted this as best practice – we would capture requirements and refer to business outcomes in our solution design. But often we did this expecting users to consume and understand a level of technical detail that simply wasn’t important to them. Significantly, we rarely showed them a visual representation of how we had interpreted their requirements or how we planned on meeting their vision early on in the piece.

I immediately realised we needed to dedicate more time to helping our customers generate a ‘mind’s eye’ view of what are often quite complex, multi-layered solutions. In doing so, we could reduce uncertainty by helping them understand it faster, and with more clarity, while maintaining the level of detail and complexity needed to actually build the environment.

This learning is supported by our experience with the house design. Although a number of changes were made to the initial 3D designs to deal with technical realities, my wife and I have made very few cosmetic or functional changes.

Why? Put simply – because our designer used rich visual representations from very early on, we knew where we were headed. We could see how he was meeting our vision and requirements, and were therefore very comfortable with what was happening. I am positive this made our designer’s life much easier and our builder made comments on more than one occasion that without the visual representations he would have struggled to build the house in the time and at the cost he did. He was able to get an immediate understanding of the design vision that simply couldn’t have been achieved from detailed technical drawings.

Architecture is an industry going through change in its tools and its processes. Some architects and designers are at the cutting edge using the latest tools and methods such as those used by ours. Others are doing what they have always done. I know which one I would work with if I was to do this all again!

Got a question for Simon? Contact us at info@nsynergy.com.

Previous nSynergy blogs you might enjoy:

SHAREPOINT VIDEO: Enterprise video killed the radio star

WEB DESIGN: The skinny on flat design

CHANGE MANAGEMENT: Pole-vaulting roadblocks to change

Why a SharePoint project is like building a house (or should be) – Part 1

Simon Tyrrell, nSynergy Chief Strategy Officer

One of the things I enjoy most about my role is that I get the chance to sit back and take a big picture view of our business, and come up with ways to improve processes. For the past two years I went through the very interesting experience of designing and building a new house, which led to a series of blogs shared with my colleagues – and ultimately resulted in a change in how I consider the projects we do and how we go about engaging with our customers.

I wanted to share my insights from this period with you, in the interest of demonstrating how it is important to constantly analyse the way we do things, and to learn from experiences that may help us to deliver even better SharePoint solutions.

My wife and I employed a Building Designer to create us a brand new house. Throughout the process – and if you’ve ever undergone a major house build you’ll know it is quite the process – we obviously grew more and more excited about our new home. But the experience resonated strongly with me due to the many parallels to running a major IT project.

Let’s walk through my experience and compare it the SharePoint model historically used on most projects.

The Vision

The vision for our new home started with a single page of dot points my wife and I wrote down, plus a scrap book of things we had liked in magazines. It was very high level, with statements like ‘lots of natural light’, ‘take advantage of water views’ and ‘low profile on block’.

We then had a number of phone calls with the designer, where he asked a bunch of leading questions, and met with him face-to-face once, before he turned our ideas into a three page design brief. The purpose of this brief was to determine whether he had correctly interpreted what was important to us.

What’s SharePoint got to do with it?

Had this been a traditional SharePoint project, the process would have virtually worked in reverse. The SharePoint provider would have jumped straight into business requirements, with an eagerness to bring their technical proficiency into play straight off the bat.

The Concept

After a series of emails with questions, clarifications and then a survey of the land, we met with the designer again and he took us through a 3D visual concept of the direction he was heading. He then provided us with some still frame images to refer too, like this example:

Images courtesy of Clever Design: www.cleverdesign.com.au

Images courtesy of Clever Design: http://www.cleverdesign.com.au

Underpinning this concept was the beginnings of the detailed plans. However, these were of little relevance to us. What we wanted to know was: would this house achieve what we wanted it to?

The ability to see the early concept in 3D (and even walk through it) showed us it would.

What’s SharePoint got to do with it?

Had this been a SharePoint project, it would still generally have been considered too early for design concepts, which means a lost opportunity for all players to enjoy an early visual reference point. Vision is, after all, the most dominant sense for human beings!

The Detail

During the next few months we heard very little from the designer. However, when we did, we were amazed by the level of detail that had been completed. We soon had 16 A2 size detailed plans, taking us through every possible piece of detail about how our house would be built – including slabs, framing, steelwork, foundations etc. These were the important details we needed to provide to the builder and the council – in other words, the technical experts:

Images courtesy of Clever Design: www.cleverdesign.com.au

Images courtesy of Clever Design: http://www.cleverdesign.com.au

Obviously this level of detail required either industry expertise we didn’t have, or a lot of study. If these 2D drawings were the only thing in our possession we would have had little idea of what the house would be like to live in. But luckily, we had our 3D walk though of the final design.

These were hugely important to my wife and I, because they allowed us to imagine what our home would ‘feel’ like at different times of the day. We were able to gain an immediate appreciation for design decisions as well an understanding of the geometry and space of the building.

What’s SharePoint got to do with it?

Again, IT solutions in the SharePoint space are largely focused on lengthy specification documents and technical detail. Rarely are users given a means to ‘experience’ the end result early in the process. Not only does this help inform their decision, it enables early buy-in to critical design decisions.

Stay tuned for Part 2 soon, when I will be talking about how my house experience and SharePoint aligned on an even deeper level during the build phase. I will also be sharing some key learnings which changed how we, as a business, tackle our projects.

Leveraging social tools to drive culture and adios 15,000 emails

Managing the content migration beast

User Experience: 9 things you need to know before you can call it UX

Leveraging social tools to drive culture and adios 15,000 emails

By Peter Nguyen-Brown, nSynergy COO and Co-founder

Peter and nSynergy Principal Consultant Daniel Goss collecting the 2013 Microsoft Collaboration & Content Partner of the Year trophy on 20 August.

Peter and nSynergy Principal Consultant, Daniel Goss, collecting the 2013 Microsoft Collaboration & Content Partner of the Year trophy on 20 August.

As COO of a company with 11 offices over five continents, it should be challenging for me to keep across everything happening in the business. But in reality, our social culture makes it easier than you might think.

To begin with, to anyone who believes social collaboration is just a passing phase or ‘Facebook for the enterprise’ – I’m here to tell you, you have been misinformed. Similarly if you are concerned that social collaboration will wind up being just another disparate business system to worry about – in actuality, this technology has the capacity to integrate with and share information from virtually every area of your business.

Social collaboration is the reason our business is able to remain connected, agile and profitable in multiple markets. It does this by acting as an unbreakable thread which connects each and every person, 24/7, 365 days a year. The prevalence and value of our social interactions has resulted in all employees regarding the intranet as their ‘home base’. Company HQ. The central point from which they start and finish their days, and coordinate their individual tasks. It’s also the place where they build real relationships with colleagues in other locations and gain awareness of activities occurring in and around the business.

Since implementing social collaboration technology, my personal email traffic has reduced by a staggering 60 per cent (the company-wide figure is closer to 50 per cent). Given the average number of actionable emails I receive is around 80 per day, this has banished some 15,000 emails per year, eliminating around 500 hours or 50 days of administration, and releasing me to focus on more strategic, higher value business tasks.

How does a social COO operate?

Let me show you. Here is a snapshot of my activity on our social news feed today:

  • Uploaded a follow-up document from our Board meeting and shared with the Board community (13 comments, 7 likes)
  • Shared monthly reports with Global Leadership Team in the Leadership community (18 comments, 8 likes)
  • Shared a collection of slide presentations from a recent Microsoft Conference with all employees (22 comments, 11 likes)
  • Followed up an all-company meeting with details on our new Modern Consulting Practice strategy (10 comments, 33 likes)
  • Recognised a team member from San Francisco for demonstrating one of our core values (8 comments, 19 likes)
  • Added my congratulations to our Sydney team who have secured a third contract with a major client (16 comments, 16 likes)
  • Answered a question by one of our Principal Consultants regarding which former extranet projects would make relevant case studies (24 comments, 9 likes)
  • Added three new colleagues from New York, Shanghai and Sydney
  • Followed two new communities

In addition to these actions, I scanned the news feed and noticed a number of activities and updates in regards to project milestones, people and communities, which adds huge value to my day in terms of ambient awareness.

The power of ambient awareness

This refers to how we absorb knowledge and store it for future reference – a very powerful tool to arm your employees with as it helps protect you from developing silos, as well as creating shared accountability. For example, before we adopted social technology my first port of call each morning was my email inbox. Now, opening the social newsfeed is the first thing I do every day, without fail.

It goes without saying that expectations around social use and awareness are within reason. There is a distinct difference between spending several minutes scanning and contributing each day, and wasting hours posting non-business related content. The good news is we have only had to ask an employee to dial down their social activity on one occasion, in almost two years. (I believe the fact that each leader in our business utilises social daily, but purposefully, help to set a good example).

Higher user adoption

The knock on effect of a highly-valued social culture is that it helps you to achieve sustained adoption of your intranet, adding continuous value to your employees (and your business). That social interaction also helps people be more productive, useful and visible also results in higher engagement and satisfaction levels.

Staff often tell me that one of the reasons they love working at nSynergy is that they feel so close and comfortable with the owners of the business, and that they can make a positive impact, which makes me extremely proud. However one example from outside our business comes from the CIO of a major client, who was responsible for managing a large intranet rebuild project. As such, he needed to get buy in from other business leaders and ensure it was well adopted by staff. With guidance from us, he leveraged social tools to share his vision, gain traction and receive feedback as soon as the intranet was launched. This resulted in many useful conversations and high awareness across the business. The best thing was that employees immediately saw the power of social collaboration, which led to high user adoption levels.

Measuring social ROI

In my view, social ROI is primarily about increasing productivity and efficiency. Social collaboration reduces the time and effort it takes to get things done, which is vitally important in such a dynamic business environment. These productivity gains help keep our business ahead by driving faster innovation, harnessing our IP and providing the most valuable outcomes for clients. This is why we are in business – it’s that simple.

Social collaboration is harder to measure when it comes to things like culture. However, in my experience, it certainly goes a long way towards building or enhancing a culture people want to be a part of.

I will wrap this up with a final anecdote. Last week, two staff members (both very effective social users) from our New York office came to Melbourne for the first time. Upon arrival at the office, they walked in to be greeted with handshakes, hugs and even a few high-fives. It was a particularly noisy few minutes with everyone talking at once and asking our guests questions.

You would never have guessed that these people had never met – they were like long lost friends. As I sat back and watch everybody interact in this way, it occurred to me that what I was witnessing was the power of a positive social culture in action.

Got any questions for Peter? Get in touch with him at peter.brown@nsynergy.com.

Recent blogs:

The skinny on flat design

Enterprise video killed the radio star

Responsive web design v. SharePoint device channels: Which is the new black?

Responsive web design or SharePoint device channels: Which one is the new black?

In an industry where trends and buzz words are coined on an every-other-minute basis, it’s easy to get a rush of blood and jump headfirst into the latest solution du jour. We love the fact that innovation is the cornerstone of our industry, and are incredibly passionate about pushing the envelope for our clients. But not all solutions are a suitable fit for every business – so today we’re putting responsive and adaptive web design and SharePoint 2013 device channels under the microscope.

In previous blogs we have looked at the implications of mobile device usage from a number of angles, and this conversation fits under the same umbrella. We know that the way people are consuming information continues to shift, with mobile devices generating more web traffic than ever before. As user needs have evolved, so have the practices and theories for delivering a superior User Experience (UX) being used by IT and web development professionals.

First, let’s take a look at the basic principles of each philosophy.

Responsive web design is about rendering the same website for optimised viewing on different devices. In technical terms, responsive sites are built upon multiple fluid grid layouts which utilise ‘media queries’ to detect which device is being used before sizing the grids and images accordingly.

Adaptive web design is built upon multiple fixed width layouts, which tailor themselves to a deliver rich, layered experience on whichever device a person is using. Adaptive sites use a theory called ‘progressive enhancement’ to first deliver a level of basic content, which is built upon as the browser or device becomes more advanced.

SharePoint device channels is a is a technology which allows you to render a publishing site in multiple views on different devices. To achieve this level of flexibility, SharePoint lets your predefined channels render pages using separate master pages.

If you’re thinking they sound similar, you’d be right. The aim of all three practices is to present an optimised UX on various devices. However it’s the manner in which they do so which differs, with responsive sites heavily reliant on CSS3 media queries, while adaptive sites use layers of scripts to help a site adjust to different screens/devices and SharePoint 2013 device channels relying on device channel parameters and multiple master pages.

Case study – RACT custom mobile site

Let’s take a look at our recent client RACT, a major state-wide insurer in Australia who have just shy of 200k active members. As part of a major IT infrastructure upgrade we built RACT a new corporate intranet, public website and mobile platform. The vision for the mobile platform was that it be convenient, user-friendly and focus on the key information a customer would need while ‘on the go’ (for example branch contact details, available services and petrol price watch). The mobile site also needed to be fast.

Simply recreating the master website for users with responsive web design would not have achieved this goal, as it would have presented the user with too much information and required them to scroll and search. Utilising the mobile development features of SharePoint 2013, we created a custom mobile site which delivered the information members needed straight into their hands.

The strength of this solution is that it took more than just device and browser limitation into consideration, but also user needs and physical location as well. Recognising that members were unlikely to want full site while ‘on the go’ – SharePoint 2013 gave us the flexibility to design a solution to fit.

So, do we need a fully responsive site or not?

In our experience there is a time and a place for both, and the two practices can even be combined. For example, you could create a mobile view using device channels in SharePoint 2013, but then apply responsive web design to ensure that the mobile site scales correctly to all device sizes.

As with most IT projects, it always comes back to discovering who your users are, how they consume information and what you really want to achieve. If your mobile traffic is minimal, responsive web design might be a good solution, as spending time and money on a purpose built mobile site is not likely to deliver a significant ROI. Or, if your organisation utilises SharePoint site for real time collaboration, and regularly adds or amends content/sites/documents, responsive web design is the best way to ensure pages will adapt to your content.

However, if you are attracting or want to attract mobile device traffic, it’s worth sitting down to work out how, when, where and why people are using your site, and then building an optimised experience based on these real user interactions. Creating a tablet strategy is an extremely worthwhile exercise at this point to establish the business justification and objectives of creating a mobile site.

As a test, grab your smart phone or tablet and search for the first thing that springs to mind. Are you seeing a full website or a tailored mobile site? How is this effecting your experience? Remember this is what your users, be they customers or employees, will go through when they interact with your site. To discuss responsive or adaptive web design, or SharePoint 2013 device channels, in greater detail, jump over a start a Live Chat on our website.

User Experience: 9 things you need to know before you can call it UX

Do you know why social giants like Facebook and Twitter resisted monetizing their sites for the first few years?

Because their sites wouldn’t have been cool if they did. Nor would they have gained the trust of millions of users.

By deveiStock_000020818259_ExtraSmallloping sites that focused exclusively on UX, both Facebook and Twitter built legions of followers who became so entrenched in the experience they couldn’t live without it. Then they launched user-targeted advertising and started raking in the billions. (Anecdotally, Facebook makes $3 million a day from their mobile ads alone).

What does this have to do with ICT projects? Pretty much everything. When it comes to deploying Office 365 or SharePoint solutions, if your audience doesn’t get on-board and use it, it will fail. So, how do you stop your investment from winding up in the big graveyard-for-unadopted-IT-projects in the sky?

You guessed it – by creating a rich UX. And, while UX conversations are not new, they are more relevant than ever with the range of optimisation features available out-of-the-box. E.g. SharePoint 2013’s mobile development platform, catering for the demand for superior UX across multiple device channels.

There is a depth and breadth of information about UX out there, so we thought it might be useful to give UX a shakedown, and highlight what we believe are the most important lessons.

1. What it is

Type ‘What is UX’ into a search engine and you will turn up dozens of results. However, in the context we are discussing, UX is the quality of human interaction a person has with a site or system. It involves creating a consistent, meaningful experience that drives engagement. UX frames the user as the hero in the story – not a bit player. And, as indicated above, UX can make or break an ICT project.

2. Why it’s top of the pops

The digital revolution has permanently shifted the balance of power. Forget what you think you know about how information should be packaged and presented to an audience – be they employee, customer or other – it no longer matters. Mobility, tablets, BYOD, cloud computing – have all put the user in the driver’s seat when it comes to access to and consumption of information. Your solution needs to be as agile as they are. End of story.

3. The UX attributes you need to nail

Good UX should make a user’s interaction with your site or system easy, dynamic and reliable and includes things like intuitive information architecture and content. Great UX will also be meaningful, reduce pain points and help the user be productive on any device. (Deliver a great UX and you’ll get adoption levels to where you will derive the required ROI). Going one step further, exceptional UX delivers what is referred to as an immersive digital experience, meaning one which deeply involves the senses. Just like the social giants, deliver an immersive experience and you will have loyal users for life.

4. Accept that great functionality comes second

Firstly, we should point out that it’s perfectly OK to come second. To all the developers and technicians out there, your work is equally as important as UX, maybe even more so because you turn a vision into reality. But UX planning should be first. In our experience, if people see something they like, they will use it. Which is why we evolved our approach beyond the traditional SharePoint project model several years ago – because we saw how dazzling clients with technical expertise and high-level solution ideas straight off the bat was limiting our ability to deliver standout UX. Why? Because we had gone too far down the technical path, so by the time UX became part of the conversation, our clients already had expectations in mind about how the system would function.

5. Do the leg work

Requirements gathering is the strategic process of learning about an audience – who they are, what they like, how they access and use information, and so on. It’s vital to invest time in this early on, as the outputs from this research will help you to make informed choices when it comes to UX design. Also, poor UX is expensive to remedy once a solution has been deployed.

To gather requirements, we utilise several best practice UX methodologies including:

  • User Stories – helps us to understand how different people will interact with a site by ‘storytelling’ and evaluating real situations.
  • Persona Profiling – the process of identifying several core types of users within your organisation, how they work, what is important to them etc.
  • Low fidelity wireframes – lo-fi wireframing is the process of quickly mapping out a basic interface to use as a starting point for discussion.
  • Rapid prototyping – the extension of lo-fi wireframing, this involves building a ‘proof of concept’

Talking to your actual audience is also crucial. It’s natural for project steering committees to put their ‘user hats’ on and draw on their own needs/desires, but these are unlikely to reflect those of the broader user group.

6. UX is more than just good design

There are a number of players required to create a rich, meaningful UX. Jobs in the ‘usability’ space have increased significantly in the last few years, and we ourselves now benefit from the value these experts bring to projects. However our graphic designers (and your content authors) also play a key role in translating a strategic UX vision into a complimentary, exciting visual design.

7. It’s not something users’ needs to think about

Good UX should almost fly under the radar, in the sense that if it works, it just works. The user is not likely to finish engaging with your site and want to contact you to say how memorable it was. Particularly in a professional environment. (Rest assured you will soon know about it if you deploy a site with poor UX). For this reason it’s a good idea to set up the correct success metrics e.g. user adoption levels, regularity and duration of use etc. As your users are unlikely to tell you how good it is unless you ask.

8. The tools are out there, so innovate

SharePoint 2013 comes with number of new additions to the feature set, including custom mobile development and social collaboration functionality. This all works in your favour as it helps users to be productive anywhere, on any device, and collaborate in ways that are familiar to them. As well as taking advantage of these tools, consider what custom features or apps would benefit your users and engage the services of an experienced provider to build them. (We have a number of great tools we use, partner with and recommend to clients because they drive UX effectively – ask us).

9. It’s not a silver bullet

Just a final point to reiterate that UX forms part of a well-planned, skilfully built and deployed platform. A successful project is very much the sum of all its parts, so while UX should come first and be a priority, it must be underpinned by sound development, testing and change management practices.

As an exercise, jump onto your company intranet or website and try to imagine you are a first time user. How would you rate UX, on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high)? If you’re anywhere under the 7 mark, get in touch, we can help.

What’s the buzz? Demystifying Modern UI.

We’re taking a slightly less technical approach today to consider one of the most common questions raised when we start talking SITE DESIGN with clients.Sws

What is Modern UI? Or, more specifically, why is it important?

Let’s rewind back to the fifties when the Swiss, in their ever-practical wisdom, dreamed up a graphic design style that would become globally known as (wait for it) – Swiss Style. The principles of Swiss Style were all around simple, clean lines and readability, and are still widely used today. In a computing context, we started seeing what Microsoft called ‘Metro’ in the mid-nineties, which was their version of a typography-based design language, based on those classic Swiss principles.

Today, the brightly-coloured, live tile interfaces we see in products like Windows 8 are the modern evolution of this design and what we Win 8refer to as Modern User Interface (UI). The guiding Win 8thought behind Modern UI is that by minimising graphics and focusing on short, sharp content and large tiles, the user enjoys a more simplified, responsive interaction with a site.

While the above is a very broad strokes overview, we wanted to provide some context around what Microsoft were trying to achieve with Modern UI, so we can explain why we believe this design is the future of all intranet, internet and extranet sites.

Cloud computing with products like Office 365 is no longer the future, it is here and now, and delivering businesses a reliable, cost-saving alternative to traditional IT infrastructures. Enhancements like mobility and multiple device channels are also becoming commonplace and will soon be expected, at minimum, by users. (We’ve talked in previous blogs about how SharePoint 2013 delivers to these needs with its new capability set – please read if you wish to get up to speed).

The next step in the digital workplace revolution is BYOD, or bring your own device, which refers to employees bringing their own device such as smartphones, laptops and tablets to work and connecting to their corporate network. (A sure sign that the user is in the driver’s seat from an ‘access to information’ perspective).

Taking all this into account, it appears that users are starting to outgrow traditional communications channels and standard websites. Enter the Modern UI intranet. Sleek, familiar, fast and with the ability to surface user-specific content within 1-2 touches or clicks. An optimised experience across every device channel means a better user experience, which leads to higher user adoption levels, reductions in administration and training costs, and productivity increases.

As an example, we recently embarked on an exciting project with our sister company, OSC, and Microsoft Global, which involved us designing a new Office 365 communications portal tailored to the needs of the retail industry. (Feel free to read about this innovation on page 22 of the current edition of Microsoft’s Speak magazine here).

Why is this solution a potential game-changer? Because we’ve taken the standard communications platform – in this case an intranet – and totally flipped the user experience by introducing Modern UI. And, by considering the most common interactions and information needs a group of users has on a daily basis, and representing this in a scrollable, convenient format, we are delivering information straight into their hands, in a manner that is familiar to them. Further, with the introduction of dynamic news and social feeds, we are giving users the ability to contribute re-usable knowledge back to their organisation.

For some businesses, this kind of leap might be too far down the track to really consider, for others, maybe it’s the next logical step. Regardless of where you’re at, we don’t believe in one-size-fits-all solutions and would therefore evaluate your business on its current state fully before recommending Modern UI as an option. But we hope you found this blog useful in terms of understanding Modern UI principles and potential.

Where is your company on its digital journey? Our Office 365 and SharePoint consultants will answer your questions via Live Chat on our website. Jump on over and ask away.

Back to basics – Doc Management 101


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.