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The sun is shining and spring is in the air. What better way to spend the warmest day of the year in the UK than penning the latest episode of the Art of SharePoint Success?

In our last outing I introduced the idea of deploying SharePoint as a set of business services. Each service supports a different way for people to work together, has its own value proposition and can be implemented within a discreet project or phase. In this gripping installment we’re going to take a deeper look at the idea of services, and think about how we could actually implement them in SharePoint.

This is article number 14 in the saga that is The Art of SharePoint Success, a four point framework for ensuring long term returns from your SharePoint investment. The four points of the framework are:

  1. Governance
  2. Strategy
  3. Architecture
  4. Transition

Last time I used the analogy of an office block to introduce the idea of intranet and collaboration services with SharePoint. Let’s look at those services again within the context of SharePoint.

Remember every organization will rename and redefine these services, these are just ideas to get you started. For the techies amongst us each service is usually deployed in its own web application. Each service will have its own service level descriptions covering things like storage quotas, level of customizations allowed, and most importantly, site life cycle management. Some people call this "Governance" -- I call it service management.

MySite Service

MySite provides each user with their own individual SharePoint site. The sites are based on the same principles as popular public social computing platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook which will make them intuitive and easy for most users to learn to operate and adopt.

This service offers benefits through accelerated communication through micro-blogging and news feeds, and in sharing tacit knowledge by allowing people to create personal brand identities and to position themselves as experts on certain topics. Microsoft has implemented a MySite service on its global intranet and they have branded it as “My.” Catchy ☺

The Teams Service

This allows any user to instantly create collaboration sites. The typical approach is to allow any user to create a site at any time and for any purpose, no approval or authorization required. I recently met a client in an RFP process who told me that every other SharePoint partner he had spoken to had advised him not to allow self site creation. One of the most successful projects I have been involved in was based on this model. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

To create a team site, the user selects a template upon which to base their site. New templates can be developed and added to the service over time. Under the bonnet each site is a site collection.
A directory which lists and describes the collaboration sites is one way of controlling proliferation.

Another approach is to give each site a limited lifespan. Once the site reaches a certain age it can either be automatically archived or deleted, or the site owner can be automatically prompted to either renew the site or delete it.

Collaboration sites are typically based on quick to edit Wiki pages, and can contain a wide variety of collaboration and document management tools and functionality including: document libraries, announcement lists, discussion boards and RSS feeds.

The benefits from a Teams service are usually based around improved team performance. Research shows that clear, shared objectives and effective communication are key to team performance.

For teams separated by time or space this type of service can really enhance communication and help foster a sense of shared objectives. If the team sits together all day in the same office then maybe they should just talk to each other!

The Communities Service

The Communities service is intended to support communities of practice, or special interest groups. An employee wishing to create a community site must complete and submit an online request form. Once the request has been approved, the community site is created for them. Typically a community site will include a discussion forum, a list of members and a way of rating ideas or discussions.

Community sites are different from Team sites because Team sites have a limited lifespan, and community sites live forever, or at least until the community breaks up.

Communities of Practice are a well established knowledge management technique associated with best practices and innovation. The success has nothing to do with technology. Research has shown that communities work best when:

  1. There is an appointed community leader. Some organizations hold elections to select the leaders of communities. Being a community leader takes time, so often an employee will need management sign-off before becoming a leader.
  2. Community membership is visibly supported and valued by everyone in the organization, especially management. Community work should be seen by everyone as a valuable use of time.
  3. The community is focused on a particular problem or task every three to six months.

Technology can certainly play a big role in supporting and facilitating communities, but if you don’t get the HR and management environment right first, you’ll end up with tumbleweeds blowing through the place.

The Portals Service

The Portals service enables authorized users to create top level intranet sites that consist of rich HTML based content. Typically this service is based on a site request and authorization model where users wishing to create a new portal complete an online form which is routed to a central team for approval. This facilitates a charge back model for managing the costs between internal budgets.

The most common use of a Portals service is to create intranet sites for business units and processes. For example an HR site might be created as HRWeb, or a credit application portal might support a core business process at a private bank.

Typically, portal sites are used to store and present corporate information such as news, policy documents or forms. This service allows each business unit or geography to create and maintain its own internal Website.

The Search Service

The Search service provides a method to find both tacit and explicit knowledge. It acts as a people directory enabling users to search for individuals either by name or by area of expertise. Search terms are matched against the information held in the profile and content of each user's MySite.

It also provides the ability to search across documents and content held in any site within the other services. It’s a service because someone needs to manage it. For example how does a manager get a new content source added to the index?

The Extranet Service

The Extranet service is similar to the Teams service except in this instance the SharePoint sites are created so that they are accessible by third parties such as partners, suppliers and customers.

You may prefer to base the extranet sites on publishing portals, making use of the content management features and rich web based content. Or you may prefer to base the extranet sites on collaboration sites, favoring functionality over aesthetics. SharePoint licensing is a particular discussion point with extranets as both CAL and FIS licensing models can be used.

Next Time…

Next time I’ll be wrapping up the Architecture discussion by looking at the User Centric Intranet, the idea of using MySite’s as your intranet home page, and I’ll be speculating wildly on what might be coming in SharePoint Wave 15

I’ll be presenting sessions at the International SharePoint Conference in London at the end of April, and at SharePoint Saturday in Boston on April 28th. I’m also a co-organiser of the London branch of the SharePoint User Group UK. It’d be great to see you there.

Title Image courtesy of samotrebizan (Shutterstock).

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