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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.