Tag Archives: SharePoint New York

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

Enterprise video killed the radio star

Invideo a previous blog (Content is king in SharePoint 2013) we touched on the fact that SharePoint 2013 offers a vastly improved Digital Asset Management (DAM) experience. Following to a request for more information via our LinkedIn group*, today we’re going to dig a bit deeper and explore the wonderful world of enterprise video content.

Firstly, there are some pretty cool things happening in this space now video has earned its reputation as a viable business channel (not just an external marketing medium). It’s certainly true that video is a highly effective way to educate and share knowledge in a business context, but also to boost productivity and reduce overheads in areas like training. However it was only a matter of time before IT managers realised that a company YouTube channel was not going to cut it from an IP perspective, but also in terms of being able to fully leverage video content as a bona fide business tool.

The great news is that as the popularity of enterprise video has increased, so has the demand for tools to support it. In the past 18 months there have been considerable developments around initial areas of concern – namely how to combat lack of metadata to make video searchable, how to store it and how to properly integrate it into a corporate environment. One of the common scenarios we face is, that while the amount of IP clients have in video form has grown, it has not been centrally stored or catalogued. It’s therefore impossible to get a decent ROI as there’s no visibility on what video content exists or how people are using it.

So, let’s take a look at how SharePoint 2013 is structured to help users create, locate and use video content.

SharePoint 2013 Asset Libraries

Asset libraries have been created to house rich media content types including video, images and audio files. These assets can now be tagged with a range of metadata to make them more easily searchable (including details like size, duration, date taken and even transcripts), with a handy thumbnail appearing for each file. The file’s metadata is then revealed when the thumbnail is hovered over, and content authors can even choose a particular frame to feature as the thumbnail.

Leveraging enterprise search

With powerful FAST search technology incorporated into SharePoint 2013 out-of-the-box, digital content like videos can now be effectively located using metadata.

To further aid discoverability, users can rate these assets and the resulting metadata leveraged when content is displayed in a web part. This proves particularly useful when it comes to developing subject matter libraries, as the top rated videos can be highlighted using a web part. Uploading transcripts is also a good way to connect search queries with video content.

Stream it

SharePoint 2013 gives you the capability to conduct live video streaming with the added bonus of incorporating user ratings, reviews and polls. This user-generated data can then be analyzed and used to optimise a process or future event, as well as being also added to the video’s metadata. Calendar systems such as Outlook can also be used to alert staff to video streaming events, and SharePoint 2013’s enhanced mobile platform will deliver video content to a range of mobile operating systems including Windows, iOS and Android.

Beware the BLOB

A BLOB, or binary large object, is any sizeable chunk of data (such as a video file) which is stored in a database known by its size and location instead of by its structure. When storing documents and media in SharePoint, your content is generally placed into a content database. After a while, the amount of content can affect the performance of SQL (the database engine) and SharePoint. So Microsoft introduced the concept of Remote BLOB Storage (RBS) to combat this and help to improve the overall performance of SharePoint and SQL, with lower cost implications than other storage options.

RBS is most easily explained by considering the two parts to content stored in SharePoint – being the metadata and the file itself. RBS takes the second component out of the SQL database and places it on other devices. The advantage of this approach is it allows SharePoint designers to get around the built in capacity limits of SharePoint, allowing for more content to appear in your site, without worrying about the potential performance impact on your environment.

Show don’t tell

As we loop a lot of our subject matter and project outcomes back to User Adoption (UA), it would be remiss of us not to make mention of it in the context of enterprise video. Like any business communications tool, if it doesn’t get visibility throughout your business, UA will be low. So get your employees on-board and utilising these important resources by educating them about how to access and upload video content into SharePoint. Activities like creating video library communities and sharing new video content by embedding it in a social feed will help in this regard.

Want to know more about how to integrate video content into your SharePoint environment? Get in touch with one of our SharePoint consultants today.

* Ask questions, join discussions and pick up insights about Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 via our dedicated LinkedIn group, The SharePoint Experience.

Pole-vaulting roadblocks to change

ChangeWhoever uttered the phrase ‘change is as good as a holiday’ obviously never worked in professional Change Management. (Or if they did, their career was short-lived).

Change can be exciting, necessary, even visionary. But it is a big deal – especially in a business landscape when you’re making significant changes to the way employees work or communicate.

In our line of work, building SharePoint intranets and Office 365 cloud solutions, when it comes to User Adoption (UA) of a major system or process change, it’s common for providers to defer to (or at least trust) their client’s internal knowledge and not push back when they opt to self-manage it. It’s very common, as is clients reallocating UA or change budget to accommodate extra layers of technical complexity.

There are intricacies and nuances to every business environment, therefore we don’t propagate a one-size-fits-all approach. However there are a few common roadblocks we encounter throughout this process, which can be dealt with in a strategic manner:

1. Management prejudice

Even good leaders are not immune to a bit of white-knuckled fear around change, and this often presents one of the most challenging obstacles. Change prejudice can exist for many reasons – perhaps a project of a similar nature failed and is viewed as a ‘poisoned chalice’, or maybe a decision maker doesn’t fully understand the benefits of a new technology.

It’s vital to take these leaders on a journey when presenting a new solution or system for their approval. Also, getting them involved through activities like an intranet Executive Blog is also a brilliant way to have them lead from the front and encourage UA.

2. Cultures

To steal a great line from Vanessa Ferguson’s guest blog (Vanessa is Director of Org Devt for our Change Management partners Apricot Consulting), cultures are the engine room of an organisation. However it’s hard to accurately define or evaluate a culture you’re already part of, as there are patterns of behaviour you might not see. Certainly it doesn’t take a genius to recognise a toxic, every-man-for-himself type of culture (and who hasn’t worked somewhere people bolt out the door of screaming ‘save yourself!’ on a daily basis). But in reality most cultural nuances are more subtle.

Working closely with Apricot we perform activities like cultural assessments e.g. sitting in on workshops, to see how people interact, their body language and how they ask questions etc. Together, we aim to promote cultures where people readily share knowledge and skills with their peers. (For an interesting discussion on ‘giver and taker cultures’, read the results of a recent McKinsey study, which shows how organisations benefit when their employees freely contribute knowledge and skills to others).

3. Key influencers

In every organisation there are certain individuals who can influence others or hold sway over behaviour. This isn’t always just someone who thinks they’re top dog, but might a person who is particularly skilled or knowledgeable, who others look to for information. Identifying these individuals and leveraging their position to influence UA is a powerful change management tool. For example, engaging a subject matter expert to publish content exclusively to SharePoint will help drive UA.

While key influencers are not always senior employees, it’s worth mentioning that unit or area managers can become roadblocks if they are not engaged properly. Some managers are so focused on the activities of their unit, they see themselves as needing to operate outside the system. This kind of manager will generally make a comment such as ‘this won’t work for my guys’ during a workshop, and can be mitigated by engaging the individual in the project and (hopefully) flipping them to become a powerful endorser of change.

4. ‘Build it and they will come’ mindset

Failing to engage people will almost always see a new system or project fall flat. And, while Change Management and UA activities need to be reinforced by strategy and planning, bringing users along to change from the outset is probably the single most important factor.

Talk to people, ask them what they need to do their jobs better, how they like to interact with each other and with information, what device they prefer to use. Then let them see the solution, test it, try to break it. Does it do what it needs to do? Then, once a system is deployed, continue to drive engagement through things like reward and recognition structures.

Ultimately, a well-executed UA or Change Management strategy can deliver that deeper level of engagement you are looking for and will result in more sustained adoption. Done properly, it also doesn’t have to blow out your budget as the ideology is fairly simple – however it does depend on the size of your organisation and the level of change required.

Do you think your organisation would be objective enough to self-manager change? Answering ‘no’ might prove to be a wise decision. Contact us and we can put you in touch with an Office 365 or SharePoint specialist to talk you through our UA and project methodology in more detail.

Blogs you might like:

9 things you need to know about User Experience

What’s the buzz with Modern UI

How to get the troops onboard with social collaboration tools


SkyDrive Pro keeps key docs at your fingertips


SkyDrive Pro

One of the new kids on the block in 2013 which has sparked plenty of discussion is the integration of SkyDrive Pro into SharePoint.

When this addition to the Microsoft product set was announced, some folks were confused as to why two independent programs would be named in such similar fashion. But, as with many things, the simplest explanation is often the best. So on that basis, think of SkyDrive Pro as the business solution for cloud-based document storage in the same way SkyDrive is for individuals. Where SkyDrive allows a person to sync their personal documents to the cloud, SkyDrive Pro facilitates a similar experience for SharePoint users and their business documents.

Actually SkyDrive Pro does that and bit more. It’s main purpose is to give individuals within an organisation control over where, when and how they access content, by allowing them to store and organise documents on their organisation’s SharePoint servers (i.e. in their “corporate cloud”).

As the default location for saving files, SkyDrive Pro is essentially the new MySite documents library. But it goes a step further by giving users the power to sync a SharePoint library to their PC or device, and work with files in their library by using Windows Explorer. Any files updates then sync to SharePoint when the user is next online. This is great news for companies who struggle to keep certain groups of employees e.g. a mobile sales force, away from using shared drives, as now they can utilise SkyDrive Pro to seamlessly sync their documents to SharePoint.

Other key benefits include giving users the ability to:

  • Sync team site document libraries locally
  • Share, collaborate and co-author documents with both internal and external stakeholders
  • Access their content anywhere, on any device
  • Effectively manage the content lifecycle and version control, and,
  • Manage access permissions.

In addition, Microsoft has indicated that users will have the ability to access SkyDrive Pro with native mobile client apps for Windows 8 and iOS by June 2013.

SkyDrive Pro comes with a standard 7GB storage for each user with SharePoint Online – a significant increase on the 500MB that was offered in 2010. At this stage, we are not aware of a way to increase user storage limits (above 7GB), however we expect Microsoft will consider offering a solution for this in the future. With on-premise SharePoint 2013, storage allocation is determined by the administrator.

If your organisation is considering coming across from SharePoint 2010 to 2013, it is possible to attain an update to allow SkyDrive Pro to operate alongside SharePoint Workspace – but it’s important to note that the latter no longer features in SharePoint 2013. (SkyDrive Pro can, however, perform all the same functions which 2010 users currently reply upon in Workspace).

As a final piece, it’s worth noting that while SkyDrive Pro does make offline doc syncing much easier and a better all-round experience, your users still need to be supported by sound access and administration protocols, to ensure your IP is protected. However, unlike previously, when a user could download a document and save it to their personal drive without any controls in place, risks to version control and duplication are significantly lessened by them now being able to sync documents directly back to SharePoint.

It’s no secret that Microsoft is on a mission to continually enhance their product offering to more readily connect their users with the cloud. This integration of SkyDrive Pro into the Office 2013 suite is another important step towards this goal.

Would you like to know more? Contact a member of the nSynergy team via instant chat, phone or email today.

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. 

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.

How automated forms unlocked 9,000 man hours

You are a major transport provider in Australia, carrying 15 million plus passengers a year. You have well over 1,000 860272_35694021[1]employees and almost 100 operating sites. Every member of your workforce applies for leave approximately three times a year – each time completing a paper form which takes 1.5 hours (on average) to complete the approval cycle.

9,000 company hours spent endorsing workers to spend time away from the business! Or – as we calculated for our client – somewhere in the vicinity of $500,000 per year.

It’s an all too common situation, faced in some measure by every organisation in every industry. No business is immune to these lost hours of productivity and the associated costs.

Streamlining business processes through SharePoint Workflow and InfoPath is one of the simplest, most effective ways to eliminate these issues – and will result in drastic increases in productivity for your business.

By integrating InfoPath forms with SharePoint you can set a dynamic process in motion and keep each individual form moving towards resolution. No more bottlenecks, duplicates, lost forms, printing or storage costs – just a seamless end-to-end workflow that is 100% traceable at all times.

The client we outlined earlier is a prime example. Their business had an internal mandate to automate many of their forms and workflow processes and, after we helped them to evaluate a number of forms, several HR forms with a combined access rate of 10,000 per year were prioritised.

We set about constructing an intricate approval hierarchy that would keep each form moving forward and eradicate the operational delays being experienced. This involved accessing external line of business systems to query the approval hierarchy and using this information to build dynamic form and workflow controls. The way in which controlled documents were revised, converted to PDF and published was also critical. Ultimately, we automated the forms in a way that enabled the client  to govern and control them within their own operating environment.

The resultant savings of half a million dollars a year speak for themselves. However the added bonus is that the workflows removed an entire layer of work for several employees, giving them the ability to invest their time in other areas.

When it comes to eating away at productivity and profit, HR forms are certainly not the only culprits. There are any number of operational processes within your business which could be dramatically improved and optimised through an automated SharePoint workflow.

Contact us to discuss how we can unlock hours of lost time for your business using our proven SharePoint development tools.