SharePoint – An Internal Communicators Guide

Microsoft SharePoint enables important documents and business processes to be stored in a central information hub. It can also be a powerful communication and collaboration tool. However, a SharePoint implementation can also have a disruptive and resource-intensive impact on an organization if it is not managed effectively. During times of recession, it is all the more important to find ways to work smarter with fewer resources.

Follows these tips to maximize the value gained from your SharePoint implementation:

Think of SharePoint as a development platform…not a product

It is a common mistake for people to assume that SharePoint will give them what they want without customization. As a sophisticated software application, SharePoint has many different features and plug-ins, which can be confusing. Deployments easily can go wrong if IT teams just turn on additional modules without considering the business case, requirements, and training needed to make them part of an ongoing business process.

The more comprehensive functionality available from SharePoint has to be built by an IT team (or a third party vendor) using SharePoint’s.NET development tools. Hence it is more appropriate to view SharePoint as a ‘development platform’ rather than an ‘out of the box product. Representatives from various parts of the business will need to work together with the IT team from the very start of the project. The project team needs to clarify the business requirements and all technical and functional needs of the SharePoint implementation before starting the project.

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Use low cost, plug and play discussion forum tools to enable project teams to share and capture ideas as they crop up before and during a SharePoint implementation. External discussion forum channels can be simple to deploy, secure, low cost, and available on a short-term license basis.

Utilize company-wide surveys to assess what’s working and what’s not with the existing Intranet and to gather information regarding the tools and resources people would like to see included on the new SharePoint Intranet. Consider using survey tools that can be pushed directly onto employee computer screens to not get buried in the email inboxes. Built-in survey reminders can help drive participation, ensuring that all views are represented in the research, including the important but often ‘silent majority who perhaps do not have extreme views or agendas and would ordinarily be less motivated to participate.

Target staff surveys to specific groups of employees, for example, managers and heads of departments. Such individuals can be asked questions such as “what specific business value does / could your department derive from an effective Intranet?”, “How might this be quantified?” For example, a sales manager may say the number of accurate proposals that salespeople can produce. This research will provide an important perspective to help you make the SharePoint implementation effective and also help you quantify its value at a later stage.SharePoint

Start simply and take an iterative approach.

Companies that get the SharePoint implementation right often start simply, with many of the features disabled. Break a SharePoint implementation up into stages and leave the ‘bells-and-whistles until last.

For example:

1. Start by simply replacing the existing Intranet. 2. Add document management 3. Add forms management. 4. Add business process and workflow management 5. Start sharing business intelligence dashboards and enterprise reports 6. And so on.

Keep in mind your short-term and long-term objectives and work with IT while they download SharePoint. Clarify what is required of SharePoint now, what possible extras might be useful, and what may be required in the future.

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One of the keys to the successful implementation of new technology is to drive user adoption and regularly gather feedback to evaluate progress.

  • Staff Polls, surveys, and discussion forums provide effective ways to gather qualitative and quantitative feedback from staff. Communicating the successive stages of an iterative SharePoint implementation needs to stay interesting for staff, so adopting an engaging and innovative communications campaign is essential.
  • Promote your evolving SharePoint implementation through multiple channels and monitor readership to make sure you’re hitting the mark
  • Short ‘news’ articles in Staff E-Mags can inform readers of new information and the availability of new tools and allow readers to click directly through to specific SharePoint pages.
  • For project ‘wins’ that you want to profile with more impact, try using digital signage on screensavers. An image is worth a thousand words. For example, an image of a deck chair on the beach with relevant text and a click-through link is a powerful and engaging way to notify staff that leaves forms are now available via SharePoint.
  • Consider using Desktop Alerts or Scrolling News feeds on staff computer screens for messages that need high cut-through.

Fill gaps in functionality.

By taking what comes bundled in SharePoint, companies can end up compromising on critical functions compared with best-of-breed tools. Light-weight web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs appear to be late addition ‘throw-ins’ with functionality that appears to be considerably less than you might expect.

SharePoint does not provide any ‘push communications’ channels. The closest it gets is ‘e-mail alerts,’ auto-generated and can be easily become buried in inboxes and RSS feeds that require staff to opt-in. Often due to high workloads or a lack of interest, emails have low cut-through, and staff fails to subscribe to RSS feeds, meaning that important updates may never reach them.

Push Communications channels form an important part of an internal communications strategy. This is particularly the case for urgent or important messages that need high cut-through.

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Augment SharePoint with other functionality:

  • Use the plug and play’ social media channels specifically built for secure employee communications. Select channels that are low cost, easy to use, and require very little IT resources to deploy, customize and implement. Some web 2.0 channels can send automated desktop alerts to moderators who will achieve significantly higher cut-through (and faster response) than SharePoint’s email alerts.Communicator
  • Use RSS tools that allow administrators to push out existing RSS feed sources, via an on-screen news ticker (or news aggregator), to targeted staff groups. Hence for important RSS feeds, you can remove the step within SharePoint requiring users to opt-in. o Snap Desktop Alert provides a means to push out urgent or important communications to targeted staff groups. This desktop alert format bypasses email and pushes content directly onto employee’s computer screens with configurable persistence and recurrence options and helpful reporting features.

Clarify Governance

It is important to clarify the roles and responsibilities of managing a SharePoint site. For example, what are the respective roles of Corporate Communications and IT? Who should ‘own’ the site? Who should be empowered to manage the site? A content management strategy should be developed by a team of representatives from key business areas and cover areas such as:

  • The metrics for content creation
  • Policies regarding when to use and when not to use SharePoint
  • The balance be between user-generated content and general ‘corporate’ content
  • Who will manage what content? How?
  • Levels of moderation for different parts of the site
  • How will cross-functional content be managed and monitored?
  • How much time should staff spend surfing and posting SharePoint content?

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Use hosted discussion forums as a quick and easy way to discuss and evolve the governance of SharePoint.

Manage Content

For a successful SharePoint implementation, good site administration and content management are essential. A site administrator needs to manage content, carry out periodic evaluations and act as a facilitator in sustaining participation. An administrator will also need to decommission parts of the site that are no longer required.

SharePoint has a relatively lightweight content management capability. Additionally, collaboration tools within SharePoint can add user-generated content to the chaos. A proliferation of ‘team spaces’ can also serve to create too many silos. Some also consider the search interface of SharePoint to be weak.

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Not all content needs to be delivered by SharePoint. This is particularly the case for content that may have a short ‘shelf life’ due, for example, to it being associated with a specific campaign or project. Prioritize content and think about its ‘shelf life and purpose. Does it really need to be on SharePoint, or will it simply add to the chaos?

By eliminating non-essential content or content with a short shelf life, the search results from SharePoint are more likely to return useful information.

  • Images are an excellent way to distribute short-shelf life content (e.g., news and admin updates). Chose a format that allows users to submit their own articles
  • Desktop Alerts and News Tickers can provide message cut through for urgent business updates.

Provide good training and support

Some internal communicators describe SharePoint as ‘clunky and not intuitive. To ensure you maximize the value derived from SharePoint, it is important to provide adequate training and support to staff. Training for the IT team and administrators can be expensive and time-consuming (probably at least a one-week ‘boot camp’). Selected ‘power user’ staff will also require 2 to 3 days of training. Even at the departmental level, getting a few people trained in how to use web parts is useful. Once SharePoint becomes available to the wider staff population, they will also need training on how to use the various features enabled on SharePoint. Think twice about launching a site if you can’t provide this effort and resource in training and support.

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Implement a discussion forum as quick and easy means for people to ask questions in an appropriate online ‘helpdesk.’ If the format allows it, nominate moderators for each ‘helpdesk’ and set them up to receive desktop alert notifications when new questions are posted (note that SharePoint content alerts are email-based which can have low cut through rates and associated response times). Moderators can answer questions directly or point the person to information sources where an answer can be found. Each specific question should be tagged and searchable, meaning that past questions and answers can be easily located in an evolving knowledge repository.

Use Staff Quizzes as a means to run a SharePoint education program. Business and product-focused quizzes can contain links to the Intranet allowing users to research each question before answering.

Drive adoption and usage

Employees don’t typically seem to like using SharePoint. It’s not intuitive and not particularly exciting. SharePoint pages are often dull and boring. There are some options for making pages more exciting, but pages tend to look similar regardless of customization. In addition, due to SharePoint’s sheer complexity, an implementation can seem to go on forever, and users can start to believe that glitches will never be ironed out.

Effective communication is key to acceptance, adoption, and effective usage of SharePoint’s features by staff. Changing how people work takes effort. Employees need to be engaged for them to use SharePoint effectively.

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Liven up the perception of SharePoint by using a range of dynamic ways to promote the site and drive participation:

  • Digital signage on screensavers can raise awareness of new information on SharePoint by turning employee screensavers into dynamic interactive billboards. An image is worth a thousand words. For example, an image of a graduation cap with some relevant text and a click-through link is a powerful and engaging way to notify staff that online, self-paced training programs are now available on the Intranet.
  • Staff E-Mags can deliver news updates in a readable and engaging format which include hyperlinks back to SharePoint content (or other information resources)
  • Ensure any electronic communications channels contain click-through hyperlink links and therefore act as promotional tools to stimulate interest and drive the usage and value of SharePoint. Newsfeeds, desktop alerts, interactive staff quizzes, and surveys can be engaging ways to drive traffic to SharePoint content.

Allocate sufficient budget…and watch the hidden costs

Costs can easily expand with a SharePoint implementation, so beware of what you are getting into. There are three levels of SharePoint: