Tag Archives: Sharepoint UK

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).

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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.

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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.

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.

Building the ultimate test case in our own backyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introducing nSynergy business collaboration solutions

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

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