Rewiring SharePoint Around End User Experiences

​From the earliest days of SharePoint, companies were attracted to the platform's range of functionality, relatively quick installation and the ability to shape the platform to meet an organization's unique business needs.

But as Microsoft shifts its focus to the cloud, many organizations are struggling to maintain the last point -- as the ability to shape SharePoint Online (SPO) is not quite the "Swiss army knife" that its on-premises version has been for the industry.

While Microsoft pushes forward with its NextGen portal solutions on top of Office 365, there is a gap in understanding how these new pieces will fit into existing strategies.

As a result, companies are increasingly looking at hybrid solutions, which promise the bet of both worlds: management and control over data, maintaining custom solutions and custom branding, combined with the power and innovation of new cloud platform capabilities. In effect, the cloud has expanded the options available to organizations -- not limited them.

I spoke with Barry Jinks, CEO of Vancouver, BC-based SharePoint ISV Colligo, about how companies are making the transition to these hybrid options, and where he sees companies struggling to figure out a forward strategy.

According to him,

One of the challenges for SharePoint is that it is stuck between being a platform and an application. As a platform it can do a lot of things … as an application it is limited to the UX that comes out of the box. Often times customers want to utilize SharePoint as a platform on which to build a business process. It has a reputation of having a poor user experience, but that's often because the out-of-the-box UX wasn't designed to support the process. The solution is generally a third party tool, or customization of the UX that's built on top of SharePoint or Office 365.”

What Barry identified has continued to be the primary factor in almost every failed SharePoint deployment: ignoring the plight of the end user.

Sticking to the Fundamentals

This problem is not a new one. During my time working for Microsoft in what was then known as Microsoft Managed Services (MMS) -- a pre-cursor to Office 365 -- I spoke with a lot of internal teams whose environments we managed, and who were preparing to migrate their environments from SPS 2003 to MOSS 2007, as well as with some of the early hosted SharePoint customers. During these engagements, I recognized some patterns in how these environments were developed and supported.

The problem with most was that the same principles or practices used to build the static, inflexible corporate portals that SharePoint had replaced were being used to build and maintain SharePoint. By design, SharePoint is intended to be configurable, always changing and user-driven. Time and time again, organizations (even within Microsoft) were trying to force-fit a centralized, command-and-control portal model onto their teams. As a result, adoption remained lower than expected and management teams found themselves continually training, pushing, prodding and pleading with people to use their SharePoint environments.

Even more common were the many unauthorized SharePoint deployments. In fact, many recognize that these "rogue IT" efforts were a huge part of the rapid growth of SharePoint in the early days. Individuals or teams installed the Windows SharePoint Services and Foundation versions of the platform on local servers -- outside of the purview of IT -- allowing them to build out their environments in a way that made sense to them.

Successful collaboration fundamentally demands inclusion of end users in the design and ongoing management of SharePoint. A favorite saying of mine is "the more you involve end users in the process, the more likely they will be to support that process." They know their content better than anyone else, they understand their business processes, and they understand better than any administrator removed from the process how to collaborate with their peers and partner teams.

Organizations with successful SharePoint deployments have learned to balance their governance, compliance and security requirements with a strong focus on the user experience (UX).

Adapting to Changing Requirements

One of the signs of a successful UX is if it enables employees to get work done. Many organizations are trying to monitor and measure productivity, exploring the many ways their employees are collaborating beyond the desktop. At an IAMCP (International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners) meeting in Bellevue, Wash., Microsoft COO Kevin Turner shared some thoughts about the decline in PC sales.

Turner pointed out that the total number of devices running Microsoft software worldwide was on the rise, with the fastest growth in smartphones and embedded devices. His point being that the ways in which we collaborate and work are shifting toward mobility solutions, and that pointed to new opportunities for partners and customers.

Companies trying to meet the increasing demands of their workforce must now investigate their various mobility options.

Mobility solutions are not about simply making your website responsive, adjusting fonts and moving text boxes and images as the screen size changes, but about tailoring the mobile experience to best fit end user workloads. For example, accessing your portal from the field may center around three or four primary tasks, such as capturing customer notes, or submitting a form which kicks off a workflow. Instead of duplicating all of the functionality available to office workers, a company might design a solution that recognizes the device being used, or the profile through which a field rep signs in, and tailor that experience to fit their specific needs.

In short, mobility is an extension of the user experience. Or it should be.

As the title of the article says, it's really about "rewiring" SharePoint around your end user experiences. This increasingly means making mobility solutions part of your planning conversations. Keep in mind the following points:

  • Making the user experience your top priority
  • Think in terms of mobility
  • Monitor and measure your success
  • Continually refine your governance strategy
  • Make your change management methodology transparent

No one-size-fits-all solution exists for SharePoint, but you can adopt and learn from best practices to ensure that your organization is more responsive to the needs of your end users. As the on-prem, cloud and hybrid options increase (and they will most definitely continue to increase), it will become more and more important to stay focused -- and make sure your end user's needs are being met.

The most beautifully executed, perfectly deployed systems are still failures if end users refuse to adopt. Keep that in mind, and get your end users more involved.​

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