Creating a SharePoint infrastructure for knowledge sharing


This post reviews progress against my 70:20:10 Certification pathway. It focuses on improvement of SharePoint infrastructure to better enable knowledge sharing in my business unit, Supply Chain.

Background

SharePoint is the platform that Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA) uses for intranet, shared file storage, and Enterprise Social Network (ESN). CCA does not use Yammer. In early 2014 CCA decided to upgrade from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013. In the same period we also updated the Supply Chain Capability strategy to include ‘continuous workplace learning,’ and decided to introduce Communities of Practice. At this time use of the SharePoint newsfeed was negligible, and discussion forums were not used. I had been actively using Twitter as a professional development tool for several months and could see the potential of online social to enable knowledge sharing.

The upgrade scope included migration of all shared files from servers to SharePoint document libraries. If most people started using SharePoint on a daily basis for file management there was a leverage opportunity to encourage the use of other platform features, including online social. I volunteered to assist with the SharePoint upgrade to position myself to take advantage of this opportunity.

What I Set Out to Achieve

My goal was to create an infrastructure that promoted online social interaction and supported Communities of Practice. Of course, simply ‘building it’ would not guarantee that ‘they would come.’ However, improving the infrastructure was a pre-requisite to creating vibrant communities.

Prior to the SharePoint upgrade there were almost 150 Australian Supply Chain SharePoint sites – around 1 for every ten permanent employees. The range of sites largely reflected the geographic organisation structure. Most teams had a dedicated SharePoint site, each of which had it’s own newsfeed.   This impeded online social. It was a lot of effort to find and follow either individual people or the sites of teams with similar work roles and challenges across the organisation. People could see little point in engaging in discussion on a site newsfeed if the only people they could interact with were those they saw face-to-face every day.

I took a two-step approach:

1) Rationalise the range of SharePoint sites to make it easier for people to find other people and resources relevant to their work, while retaining the ability to use SharePoint as part of local team workflows.

2) Build hubs to provide spaces for Communities of Practice to interact.

SharePoint Site Rationalisation 

What happened?

In conjunction with IT, we redesigned the high-level site infrastructure, setting up one site for each Supply Chain function e.g. Planning, Manufacturing, Logistics. These are accessible via a dashboard. A small number of existing project sites were also retained.

SharePiont SC Dashboard

Each site has a single newsfeed on the home page. This makes it easier to interact with others who work in the same function, regardless of where they work. Every geographic area (State) has a landing page on each functional site, with a dashboard containing links to document libraries or other pages required for local team use.

Sharepoint Planning Dashboard

We formed a Supply Chain SharePoint migration project team with one to two representatives from each State. These people were local change agents and coordinators. They worked with local stakeholders to promote the benefits of the new infrastructure, set up dashboards, and coordinate file migration from local servers.

Migration commenced in July 2014, and is now 95% complete, 18 months later. This timeframe far exceeded the estimate of 3-4 months. While the rationale for the change was readily understood and generally accepted, there were several practical challenges. The effort to clean up existing files and folder structure exceeded our estimates. Migration activity halted during our peak production season (October to January inclusive). Both Supply Chain and IT were restructured during this period. Within IT the physical migration tasks were handed over twice. Technical issues arose (if you are interested in these please leave a comment on this post and I will provide more detail). Due to these obstacles the project paused several times and needed to be kick-started again. It has taken persistence and a commitment to the long-term vision (knowledge sharing to create business value) to continue the migration.

Improvements and Next Steps

Although not traditionally the remit of a Learning and Development team, within Supply Chain my team has taken the lead on governance and support to our SharePoint infrastructure. This is an extension of our remit to support knowledge sharing and to contribute more broadly to value creation in our business through social practices. Sustainability of the new site infrastructure is a key goal.

Requests for new Supply Chain SharePoint sites come to me in the workflow. I discuss the business need with the requester and help them find ways to address this need within the existing infrastructure. There have been very few site requests in the past twelve months since we implemented and promoted use of the new infrastructure.

Each national site has two site owners who are responsible for site management. Along with one of my team members I provide direct support to these site owners. We are rolling out a training plan and site management routine for site owners. Additionally, migration project team members have become local SharePoint Subject Matter Experts. They provide advice and responsive local support to people on how to use SharePoint more effectively. We will sustain this SME network.

We are documenting the governance framework and principles that have evolved. These include the overarching infrastructure, role of site owners and my team, support available to users, key infrastructure decisions and the principles that apply.  For example, the principle of openness, means that the majority of sites, document libraries and forums will be public.

Community of Practice Hubs

What happened?

Four community hubs are now set up on SharePoint using a common design. I’ve previously described the hub design and set up process.

The hubs were all set up using standard SharePoint apps and have not required any maintenance. From an end user perspective, it is straightforward to post on each element of the hub. However, community interaction is impeded by limited SharePoint notification functionality. Community management, administration and reporting functionality is also limited.

By default SharePoint displays newsfeed posts made by any person or on any site that someone follows. However, notice of posts on discussion boards will only display in the newsfeed if the individual posting has ticked this in the advanced settings on their personal profile. Few people take the time to adjust their advanced settings. A person can set up email notification of discussion board activity, however the way to do this is not obvious to users. After several attempts to encourage community members to set up their own notifications I manually set these up for every individual member. I also set up email notifications for members on the custom list in the Knowledge Bites site, where user-generated content is published.

SharePoint social lacks the fluidity of open social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. As both an end user and community facilitator I find this frustrating and inefficient. As a result it has taken a lot of effort, support and encouragement to build online community interaction.

Improvements and Next Steps

The value of Communities of Practice to Supply Chain has been demonstrated but is well short of being fully realised. We will expand the use of communities in 2016. Before we do we will assess scalability and user experience of the current community hub infrastructure. We need to decide whether to:

  • continue to use dedicated hubs for each community with any improvements identified in our review; or
  • move to a new design with a single community site for all of Supply Chain using a new design recently adopted by our IT department.

Some variant of these two options may also be possible.

The new IT community and knowledge base that uses functionality not available in the standard SharePoint apps used by Supply Chain. This provides an alternative template for our online communities. However, it represents a shift from separate hubs for each community to one community for the whole of Supply Chain. One of the lessons we learned from our Maintenance and Engineering community is that members need to have enough common interest for them to get value from interacting. A single Supply Chain community exacerbates this challenge. We will explore the use of tagging as a means of associating content (posts or knowledge base entries) by domain to address this challenge. In effect, this could create ‘virtual communities.’ User experience and adoption are key factors to guide community infrastructure design, so we will involve a range of existing and new users to provide feedback in a test environment.

SharePoint-Grappling

I’m up for another round of grappling with SharePoint to improve the user experience and community management.  Getting the infrastructure right is an important hygiene factor for building online communities.  This takes more effort than it should in SharePoint.  It’s effort and time that I’d rather invest in building habits and behaviours to generate community interaction.  However, it is the platform that the organisation has invested in so I shall do the best with my colleagues to make the most of it.

 

 

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  1. #1 by Bruno Winck on January 8, 2016 - 10:57 am

    It’s interesting Michelle and I admire your dedication and the way you took charge of the new tool. It makes sense for me that KM and L&D be handled at the same place. As soon as Knowledge as a short life span and most learning is done on the job the workflow must be short. I think you are well oriented for future evolutions.

    What strikes me is that you do it (I was tempted to say ‘try’) manually. I have limited knowledge latest release of Sharepoint (RadialSoft, my company, used to be a Microsoft certified partner for SP) but they include some extensibility capabilities. This is the strategy of MS: Sell half finished products and provide users with tools to finish it for them. Among the tools, as far as I remember, you will find rules, policies, templates. I think it’s totally standard, not a third party add-in in anyway.

    Sharepoint is a CMS, it’s document oriented. Messages are really documents, quite heavy, slow to move around. Twitter, Slack, Yammer and FB are messages streams oriented, very fast. There is a limit to how much you can use one to mimic the other. Other tools (i will not name here) are link oriented, again another technology. I would suggest to take the most of SP, help a bit the subscription but not try to stretch it to resemble a message kind of system.

    So with my “performance support” hat on (no laugh please), I’m tempted to say this is a case where some training on customizing SharePoint applies. After an initial effort, like a week, you will find it liberating.I’m sure you can learn that.

    • #2 by Michelle Ockers on January 9, 2016 - 6:41 pm

      Bruno – you are spot on in your observations.

      Our IT department has had a limit in place on what was available to use on SharePoint sites, and we’ve only had access to a limited range of standard SharePoint apps. The new IT community and knowledge base template has been developed in conjunction with an external company specialising in this area, and is being made available to other areas of the business to use. So, IT has put in the effort to do the customisation and is encouraging other business units to use it. This is the path Supply Chain is investigating – to adopt their template. I’m also going to speak with them about considering using Yammer for the more transient kind of conversations and link sharing rather than the SharePoint newsfeed.

      Writing this post helped me reflect on what a large manual effort it’s been to make the infrastructure easier to use for anything other than document management, and the limitations of using SharePoint for conversation.

  2. #3 by SamMarshall on January 8, 2016 - 7:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing this Michelle, a really interesting account.
    Could you say more about the ‘lack of fluidity’ experienced in SharePoint vs FB?

    Also, were the communities purely virtual or did they also have interactions outside SharePoint?

    • #4 by Michelle Ockers on January 9, 2016 - 7:18 pm

      Thanks for your questions Sam.

      In regard to my comment about the lack of fluidity – I find SharePoint a bit ‘clunky’ as a tool for conversation and online interaction. Some examples (1) Following – while it’s one click to follow someone who has posted on the newsfeed it’s several clicks to follow them from their profile (some time last year Microsoft started displaying Delve profiles rather than SharePoint profiles if you search for someone and you cannot follow directly from a Delve profile – you have to know how to navigate to their SharePoint profile). (2) I can’t set notifications to pop up on my devices if someone mentions me. There is a heavy reliance on me ‘remembering’ to visit the newsfeed to see what people are sharing rather than push functionality alerting/reminding me to take a look. (3) most photos do not display properly in the SharePoint newsfeed app on my phone (4) links don’t automatically shorten so end up looking pretty ugly – I use a shortener, but this adds several clicks to a post (5) there is a limit to how many people can be @mentioned in a post (6 I think). (6) I can’t figure out how to post on a specific newsfeed from the mobile app. All of these little extra steps and minor variations from the more fluid public social media experiences that people are used to deter people from persisting with use of the tool to generate conversation. Of course it’s not the only (or even necessarily the primary) reason that we do not see higher levels of activity on our SharePoint newsfeed, but it doesn’t help. If any of my comments indicate a lack of understanding of SharePont functionality I would love to have this pointed out so I can improve organisational and personal use of the platform.

      The communities do also have interactions outside of SharePoint. The nature of this activity varies – includes regular Skype online meetings and face-to-face workshops 1 – 2 times per year. People also interact via email – where the communities are small many find this more convenient and responsive than posting on SharePoint (as everyone is using email whereas not everyone looks at the SharePoint newsfeed). When people get to know each other face-to-face we get an uplift in online interactions (unsurprisingly). The impact of this is so strong that where we formally launch future communities I shall endeavour to hold a face-to-face even as part of the launch wherever travel budget allows. Shall look for other business activities that are bringing people together to utilise for launches.

      Thanks again for your questions.

      • #5 by Bruno Winck on January 9, 2016 - 11:57 pm

        I think you nailed it Michelle. It boils down to interactions patterns. It’s very interesting to read your conversation because it’s a user voice even if it’s not my product.

        Sharepoint is an iteration of Exchange. The pattern is email and forums, very 1990, pre blog era. At that time spending 15′ 4 times a day on our Inbox, from a desktop was normal. You would have a set of favorites folders and see if there are any new posts.It’s pull mode. For the reluctant ones notifications were added as a convenience. notifications are themselves an extra layer of post, participating to the email hell. This explains why notifications are foreign to the pattern. For your purpose I would look into building a custom query and a view on it (this shouldn’t require more than knowledge). It would stay in push but everything in one place.

        With inflation of posts, blogs, RSS the volume grew. With smartphones the screen real estate, attention time diminished.The deal is no more to push notification but to push bite size content and prioritize it automatically to save time, space and attention. because it’s push mode it scales faster also. This is Yammer, Facebook pattern.

        From what I heard Sharepoint and Yammer don’t play well together.

        Microsoft is still trying to figure out what is a smartphone. For a better experience I would recommend you buy a Lumia j/k

  3. #6 by SamMarshall on January 9, 2016 - 8:33 pm

    Hi Michelle
    Thank you so much for your detailed answer. That’s really useful to understand the practical issues you’ve faced. Most of my clients don’t have mobile access so perhaps haven’t faced some of the good points you raise about the app. I agree that 2) is the real Achilles heel though, as it’s very hard to get people, to keep going back.

    It sounds like you’re using SharePoint on Office 365 and Microsoft have definitely gone cold on the community features in favour of Yammer and more recently Groups. It does sound like Yammer would be a closer match to your needs, perhaps with the Yammer feed embedded in the SharePoint site for each community. The other thing to consider would be Beezy if your IT would allow an add-in. It pulls together the social activity in SharePoint much more neatly.

    Thanks again for sharing so generously

    • #7 by Michelle Ockers on January 9, 2016 - 9:00 pm

      Yes, it is SharePoint on Office 365 – and I’m conscious that Microsoft won’t be inviesting in community features now they have bought Yammer. Aside from what specific platform is in use for social within an organisation by far the biggest adoption hurdle is changing habits and finding ways to get use into the workflow (which links in with your point about (2) being the Achilles heel). I’ll take a look at Beezy – thanks for the tip.

  4. #8 by jedpc (@jedpc) on January 12, 2016 - 6:43 am

    Hi Michelle

    Great post, thank you very much. Also thanks to Bruno for pointing it to me. SharePoint is indeed a jack of all trades and master of very little. However sometimes you do have to “wrangle” it, because that is what the enterprise has decided to invest in. In the last 5 years, across 3 different roles within the same organization I have worked at getting an “enterprise social collaboration” platform deployed within my 45,000 person organization. We have examined Jive, Tibbr, Chatter, Yammer, OpenText Social Communities, IBM Connections and have purchased none of them……

    We did decide to do more with the SharePoint 2013 on premise installation as the investment has already been made. We have been piloting the 2013 Social Community sites, BUT we are not going to turn on the newsfeed a Yammer is now being examined, and thus the Social Community sites suffer from the lack of notifications you mention above – and Bruno I am not talking about email notifications but rather the “signals” of the SLATES or FLATNESSES models of E2.0 – be it email, RSS, newsfeed…. I just want the least hassle way possible for colleagues to know that something has been posted.

    So that said on the platform and our lack of success in deploying one fully, we have in fact done a ton (or tonne) of work on how to integrate social collaboration into the work of both knowledge workers and process oriented task workers. Much of this is closely related to the working out loud concept, and to dicovery of overlap, synergy or even antagonistic projects across a large enterprise.

    Thanks again for blogging your journey on this.

  5. #9 by Ryan Tracey on January 13, 2016 - 6:55 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience with SharePoint, Michelle.

    While I am generally an advocate of this product, I find it a bit clunky, and the IT department seems to have switched off most of the useful options.

    But my biggest bugbear with SharePoint is my inability to self-serve when I strike a problem or if I have a query. Goggling the answer is impossible.

    • #10 by Michelle Ockers on January 18, 2016 - 7:29 am

      Yes, SharePoint is a bit clunky (good way of putting it) and IT departments try to keep it ‘simple’ and limit what users can do. I think if more options were turned on then the information you get when you search on the Internet for answers to queries would be more useful. I find that often the information on the Internet refers to use of functionality and features that my IT department has turned off. Nonetheless, with a bit of persistence and ingenuity/creativity I have found some useful performance support content on the Internet that has helped me to set up the functionality used in our communities of practice. For me, as it is the tool my organisation (IT dept?) has chosen then I have opted to make the most of it over the medium to long term.

  6. #11 by Ann Brady on January 15, 2016 - 5:59 pm

    Hi Michelle, I worked on a smaller scale project many years ago in the Adult and Community Education sector where vocational education managers connected across the state in a Moodle forum. The project was a great success, the community of practice is still thriving 10 years on and other similar communities have been developed and are widely used. Since then, I’ve attempted to influence the use of in-house online communities of practice in varying contexts but my suggestions have been met with scepticism. I’m not giving up though, and I’m looking for examples of successful implementations – like yours – to demonstrate that it can be done. So thank you so much for sharing.

    I wonder if you could elaborate on the strategies you used for “changing habits and finding ways to get use into the workflow “. You mentioned the influence and success of the F2F launch and the barriers to participation associated with Sharepoint. You also mentioned your change agents and coordinators – “They worked with local stakeholders to promote the benefits of the new infrastructure”. Just wondering how they did this, what worked well for them and any issues that they faced.

    • #12 by Michelle Ockers on January 22, 2016 - 9:17 am

      Hi Ann,

      Like you I am on the lookout for examples of successful in-house online communities (of any size/scale) so am interested in links to anything you may have shared publicly about the Moodle forum you mentioned in your comment. If you haven’t published anything, perhaps you could elaborate here on wat you think made this community successful and why it’s still thriving – any lessons learned or tips for growing and sustaining in-house communities?

      In regard to ‘changing habits and finding ways to get use into the workflow’ I often use the excellent material from Simon Terry on Three Tiny Habits for Working Out Loud. Here’s links to his blog post, a handy poster and short video. It’s quick and easy to communicate the idea of looking for event-based triggers in your day or workflow to work out loud. For example, with our maintenance and engineering community, a trigger could be completing a Root Cause Analysis (RCA) when troubleshooting and equipment problem -> the action then is to post a summary of the RCA and a link to any documentation in the community forum. This approach to habits is consistent with latest research in this area, which is beautifully summarised in Charles Duhigg’s book ‘The Power of Habit.’

      Our Work, Connect and Learn program, which I have posted about previously on this blog, includes content and reinforcement of this trigger based habit building approach, as well as providing people with an awareness of the value of participating in a community and skills to use our corporate tools for this purpose.

      In regard to Face to Face ‘launch’ – we ran a 2-day workshop for one of our communities which is SME-focussed. A large portion of it was unconference style where they could pick the issues and opportunities they wanted to work on together. Towards the end of the session we asked “So, how will you continue collaborating on these issues once you return to your normal work location?” For some of the people the penny finally dropped at this point about the value of an online community. In future when I will seek to run a simlar face to face event which gives people the experience of connecting, sharing and collaborating in person very early in the life of the community. I’m confident that this will boost online community participation.

      In regard to the local SharePoint change agents – they had a natural touch point with all the team in their State to help them migrate files from servers to SharePoint. This allowed them to discuss the ‘why’ and introduce people to other ways they might use SharePoint, and to provide informal training / guidance on how to use different SharePoint functionality. We provided some performance support material to help them with this and I often see them referring people to the performance support material in response to queries.

  7. #13 by Ann Brady on February 19, 2016 - 7:19 pm

    Thanks for your answer and the links to the research – really interesting. Apologies for the long delay in replying.

    The Moodle forum I mentioned was part of a Learnscope project. It was a 2006-2007 project. I’ve found this link which gives some background

    http://nswlearnscope.wikispaces.com/027

    But I think the report may have been archived. So I’ll describe what happened from my perspective and how I see the outcomes albeit nearly 10 years on!

    The concept was to connect Vocational Education and Training managers (VET) who work in the Adult and Community Education (ACE) sector in small community colleges around NSW – I was one of those managers. Our roles were similar, in that we all managed the delivery of accredited and non-accredited training. To a large extent we faced similar challenges and our opportunities to connect and collaborate were limited to around three F2F meetings a year. We often found that we were reinventing the wheel in our own small worlds. The project aimed to connect us in real time using webinar software and asynchronously using a Moodle forum. Its purpose was to build community, enable people to collaborate and share resources, experiences and ideas.

    How it began

    The Learnscope Project lead asked for expressions of interest to become a regional elearning champion. We received training in the use of Moodle forums and webinars, and our role was to train others in the use of the technology thereby building expertise and community within our region. Specifically we had to run a webinar once a month and manage the forum for one month of the year. We also had to support anyone who was keen to learn more.

    What we did

    • Identified a series of topics/events that happened over the course of the year that were relevant to our daily work
    • Each champion was allocated a topic/event or two to promote discussion in the forum during a specific month
    • Each champion was responsible for running the forum for one month and running a webinar at least monthly
    • Each champion was responsible for encouraging their regional network to participate in the forum and attend the webinars.
    • The project leads (there were 2) were hands-on and highly active in supporting the champions.

    The results

    The results were shared at the annual conference. Each champion presented to the wider community their experience of dabbling in these new online environments. What we had achieved:

    • 10 competent webinar facilitators and Moodle forum facilitators
    • Exposure to the concept and practice of an online community of practice
    • Traction with probably about 40 other community college staff who joined the community and at least read the posts, some contributed by responding – maybe 20%, a few initiated discussions, maybe 5%
    • Many people were confident to participate a webinar – at the beginning they were worried about having the right headset
    • Some recognised the value of webinars for teaching and learning – maybe 10%.

    More generally I would say that we managed to gain an interest from the wider community in new ways of connecting and sharing. Although there were the inevitable sceptics I think that it was quite well received.

    What happened next

    During the following two years we were lucky enough to be funded again and the process continued. New champions were identified and original champions supported the new champions and so on. So we built the community. It was slow but effective and those who engaged were really on board.

    I managed the community from about 2008-2010. I was given 10 hours a month to do this work which was sufficient to check in, see what was happening, write something to promote discussion if the forum was quiet, and support the current champions during their month. Having a manager was critical to the communities ongoing success.

    Insights

    Looking back it was an amazing experience. At the time I didn’t really understand that the work we were doing was ground-breaking in the community sector.

    The community still exists and is thriving. I believe there is still someone managing the community – I’m not sure that it would have sustained without an active manager.

  8. #14 by SharePoint Portal Development on October 18, 2016 - 8:53 pm

    It’s a good information post! Michelle, Could you please share your experience about SharePoint Vs Twitter.

    • #15 by Michelle Ockers on November 10, 2016 - 5:27 pm

      Firstly, my apologies for the delay in replying. I’m not sure about how to respond to your question given the context of my post and that I was talking about create an infrastructure within an organisation ESN for knowledge sharing. Twitter is, of course, a public tool versus ESN which resides inside an organisation’s firewall. If Yammer had been available in my organisation I would have incorporated it into the infrastructure and used it for microposts and community discussions rather than the less user-friendly (especially on mobile) SharePoint tools. I encourage people in organisations to use Twitter to use external networks and to share publicly available resources with each other on whatever platform their organisational peers are commonly using. For organisational specific resources and community interactions I think the organisational social network is more appropriate. Let me know if this has answered your question.

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