Tag Archives: SharePoint Shanghai

How LiveTiles modernises design and UX in SharePoint

Live-Tiles-logoLiveTiles launched globally in early October and many of you have been in touch to request further product information. In this post we chat with Sepi Ghajar, Senior Consultant and lead LiveTiles Architect in New York, about some of the most commonly asked questions, including what LiveTiles is, what it does and how can it change the way your business operates.

So, what is LiveTiles?

LiveTiles is a product that enables you to have a superior design, functionality and user experience in SharePoint and to reduce the time it takes to build customised interfaces from months to hours – or even minutes. It’s also the first browser-based design tool to support modern UI (user interface) design, rapid mobile site development and out-of-the-box integration with external line of business systems. LiveTiles can be deployed to SharePoint on-premise or to the cloud (SharePoint Online) with Office 365.

How does LiveTiles make using SharePoint easier?
LiveTiles is a very simple, modern interface and doesn’t require a high degree of technical proficiency to operate. It has a straight-forward ‘drag and drop’ functionality and comes with a range of pre-configured apps and tiles. Each of these has in-built functionality and can easily connect to (and display content from) within SharePoint – as well as applications such as Yammer, Dynamics CRM and many third party business systems.

Why does LiveTiles offer a superior UX?
We talk about LiveTiles as ‘flipping the traditional intranet model on its head’ because the days of one-way intranets – where people log in and have to follow a global navigation to source information – are gone. This is not how people prefer (or expect) to work anymore. Good UX now demands that we offer faster, more intuitive, convenient and personalised experiences. Combined with the fact that touch technology is now so ingrained in our daily lives – LiveTiles takes this demand and lets you easily deploy sites that users want to engage with.

Example of LiveTiles as a horizontal scrolling interface.

Example of LiveTiles being deployed as a horizontal scrolling interface.

When a user logs in to LiveTiles they see only information pertaining to them. Individual tasks, schedules, rosters, training videos, business intelligence, and automated workflows are seamlessly combined with global information like a social collaboration newsfeed, corporate policies, important notices or alerts. LiveTiles also leverages SharePoint 2013’s enterprise-grade search capability, meaning enhanced document previews, metadata and people search, as well as discoverable social hashtags or conversations. Strictly speaking, everything a worker needs in their entire day is located within their LiveTiles interface.

In what ways can installing LiveTiles result in cost savings?
From a business value perspective, LiveTiles shortens the amount of time it takes for businesses to see real value from their Office 365 or SharePoint investment. It also helps reduce the risk around technology implementation complexities, and also to achieve sustained user adoption.There are also significant savings to be made from increased employee productivity and collaboration. As an example, the simple act of automating leave requests can reduce a hefty administrative burden and the associated productivity vacuum and costs. Even if each employee only spends an hour submitting and tracking their form each time they take leave, across an entire company, savings of both time and money add up very quickly.

Another example is the use of rich media content to train and educate employees in different geo-locations. The ability to host and manage this through LiveTiles can result in entire training modules being entirely online, removing the need for training facilities, collateral and personnel, and also reducing employee down-time.

How does LiveTiles integrate with SharePoint?
As mentioned earlier, LiveTiles comes with a range of pre-configured apps and tiles which have the ability to connect to both SharePoint and external data sources.

This is achieved by installing the package to SharePoint Solution Gallery. Once the installation is complete, LiveTiles enables you to create aggregated content pages within SharePoint by offering a broad range of page templates with pre-populated and pre-configured content, retrieved from SharePoint lists and librarians. Included in the range of page templates are up to 10 industry specific templates, such as Retail, Education and Manufacturing.

And external business applications or systems?
LiveTiles can connect to and interact with any external data source using SharePoint Business Connectivity Services. Its comprehensive and easy to use tool set allows users to arrange external content as desired on the pages, and to apply look and feel branding concepts by simply dragging and dropping them onto the template.

Got a question for Sepi? Get in touch via marketing@nsynergy.com. nSynergy are the only licensed LiveTiles seller in Australasia. Feel free to contact a member of our Solutions team to arrange a free consultation.

Previous SharePoint blogs you might enjoy:

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

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

What’s the buzz? Demystifying Modern UI

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

The skinny on flat design

Continuing with our practice of offering the low-down on the latest industry trends, let’s delve into another which is running hot at present – flat design.

While not strictly new, flat design is certainly in favour in the digital community and is also being embraced by major players in the commercial market. At this point, we would actually like to tip the hat to Microsoft, who have been pioneering flat design in recent years through interfaces like Windows 8 and Xbox (below).

windows-rtphoto-jun-12-11-33-06-am1

 

 

 

 

On May 1 we talked about the evolution of modern UI (Demystifying modern UI), which has progressed from the clean lines of Swiss Style to the tile-based graphics we see today. Well, flat design is really the product of modern UI responding to the demands of the current digital landscape.

The philosophy is as simple as it sounds. Flat design removes superfluous graphics and improves the quality of human interaction by focusing on function and convenience. By choosing usability over graphics, flat design makes UX a lot more intuitive. Flat designs are two-dimensional and often feature elements like coloured tiles, clear space and clean edges, without using embellishments such as shadows, faux textures and other skeuomorphic elements.

flat-design-10flat-design-2

 

 

 

Skeuomorphism is a design principle where digital elements are rendered to mimic their real-world counterparts. It’s something we have all subconsciously become accustomed to over the past few decades, as it has played a major role in educating us in the digital realm. Skeuomorphism was particularly advantageous when using new technology was still an alien experience for people, as being able to navigate via familiar cues e.g. a life-like digital folder, helped guide us along. Today, with mobile, digital and touch technology pervading almost every corner of our daily lives, these explicit visual cues far less necessary.

Is flat better than skeuo-ed?

Some will argue that skeuomorphism still has a place, because users still appreciate the familiarity of interacting with things like Apple’s iCal or an online magazine which page turns like its physical equivalent. However, from a UX perspective, we see flat design as being a tool which will help us take UX to a whole new level. By stripping away the ‘extras’, flat designs respond to user needs and behaviours and keep designers honest by insisting that every page element serves a purpose. UX then becomes more than just an accessory, but a way to get people through their tasks more efficiently. This value-add in terms of productivity augments a user’s overall experience – a massive plus given how fast-paced and demanding the digital world can be.

But perhaps most convincingly, is the fact that flat design was born to be consumed on mobile device channels. The way in which a flat design translates to a smart phone or tablet is crisp, clear and – to be honest – extremely impressive.

Is it for everybody?

Like most things we discuss, flat design is not a one-size-fits-all solution. But as businesses start to talk digital workplace, and mobile solutions, so the flat design conversation becomes more relevant. The most important thing to consider is ease of use. Will flat design make it easier for your workers to interact with business intelligence and information, particularly when mobile? If the answer is yes, it could be the start of some exciting new conversations.

Where will digital design go next?

This is a great question, given the nature of flat design is so minimalist and pared back. Perhaps as the common elements of skeuomorphism disappear from digital design people will revolt and demand their comforting presence is restored! Only time will tell. But, as a business, we are particularly interested in how design will evolve as the industry moves towards greater device convergence. Specifically, how modern UI will unfold across different devices and for different users.

From an innovation perspective, our involvement as Project Leaders for a proposed new Digital Innovation Precinct in Tasmania also has us considering the role wearable technology will have on design and the digital experience in the not-so-distant-future. (Hint, hint: it’s another massive leap forward, even from smart phones).

For now, we are working on a number of innovative new designs for clients who are ready to test the water – not to mention being only weeks away from releasing our new flat design-inspired company website. Feel free to stay tuned, or speak with us today.

Recent nSynergy blogs you might like:

Enterprise video killed the radio star

Responsive web design or SharePoint device channels: Which one 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.

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

 

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.

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.