In this week's installment of The Art of SharePoint Success, we are going to consider how we can further evolve the model developed in the previous two posts, discuss what Microsoft are doing to “fix” their own intranet and speculate wildly about what might be coming in SharePoint 15.

Hold on to your Easter bonnets…

If you’ve been paying attention then you’ll know that this is article number 15 in the blockbusting series 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

To recap, over the past two articles we’ve been exploring the idea of deploying SharePoint as a set of business services. First we introduced the services based concept using the analogy of an office block, and last time we looked in more depth at a set of suggested intranet and collaboration services that could be deployed on your SharePoint platform.

Each service is intended to support a particular way in which people work, has its own value proposition, and can be implemented in a discrete project or project phase.

The User Centric Intranet -- Beyond the Services Model

The services based approach to SharePoint deployments works.

For example, a European central bank deployed a Teams style service and within nine months the service was achieving 160,000 site visits per month from just 2,500 employees. The project manager told me it was one of the most successful projects she had worked on at the bank in her fifteen years there. It’s also the basic premise behind Microsoft’s own intranet.

One characteristic of the services model is that there is no obvious home page or starting point unless you count your enterprise search page. I think that this is a good thing. Remember the early days of the Internet when internet portals like Yahoo tried to create a taxonomy of web pages? Figure 1 illustrates a 1990’s Yahoo portal for those too young to remember.

Figure 1: 1990’s Yahoo portal

It wasn’t long before the amount of content made this approach of navigating the internet impossible. Along came Google and the rest is history.

Organizations are facing the same challenges. The head of IT Strategy for a global asset management firm commented to me recently that a top level landing page and fixed hierarchy for an intranet just doesn’t work anymore. Unfortunately, it cost him an estimated one million pounds (US$ 1.58m) and three years of work on a SharePoint 2007 based intranet before coming to that conclusion.

I believe that the services model -- having hundreds or thousands of SharePoint sites organized into a few top level services -- and using search to glue it all together mirrors the way that we use the internet and provides a flexible and scalable model for an intranet.

But the services model doesn’t work for everyone. Some of my clients have just been uncomfortable with the idea of no home page, and others have pointed out that with no home page it can be difficult to ensure that corporate communications pushed out through the intranet are seen by everyone.

One solution is to use a customized MySite as every employees personalized homepage. Figure 2 illustrates the idea.

The global navigation bar gives access to any of the services from anywhere within your SharePoint deployment. The activity feed can be extended to allow the user to subscribe to team sites or portals so that any activity on those sites appears directly onto the home page.

The beauty of this approach is that the information the employee sees first is that which is most relevant to them, and it is based on popular consumer sites like Facebook and LinkedIn which could be a massive boost for user adoption.

Figure 2: The User Centric Intranet Concept

Microsoft’s Next Generation Intranet

Almost a year ago Microsoft released a webcast entitled, “Implementing Social Computing At Microsoft.” The webcast tells how Microsoft IT (MSIT) are “fixing” the corporate intranet.

The challenge they are facing is that the current intranet, which is broadly based on a services model using search as the glue to bind it all together, is now becoming too complex and users are increasingly demanding a modern intranet and putting IP at risk by using consumer based internet services. Any of this sound familiar? You can read a full summary and my thoughts on the webcast on my blog.

The solution is the “Next Generation Intranet.” It’s an example of the user centric intranet and it’s based on three core principals;

  1. Connected
    • MySite at the centre
    • Brings together information from Lync, Windows Phone, Outlook, Corporate Portals, Video site and team sites
  2. Simple
    • Move away from old school tasks to next generation activity feeds and alerts
  3. Personal
    • Includes business information, interests, preferences, community, content and contributions

Wild Speculation about SharePoint 15

All this wild speculation is based on information in the public domain. We know that Microsoft are placing MySite at the center of their own intranet, and they have recently made very pubic announcements about the their vision for social computing, so it’s a safe bet that MySite will be a huge investment area in the next version.

We also know that the Office Product team have developed a micro-blogging tool called Office Talk that they have been piloting on the corporate intranet. Below is a picture from the product group blog.

I’d say it’s another safe bet that something like this will be appearing in SharePoint soon. I’ve also seen a demonstration of a Kudos application on the MS intranet that enables you to send Kudos points to people as a way of rating or rewarding them.

Figure 3: Office Talk

As well as the information Microsoft provides, another rich source for inspiration when indulging in wild speculation is to look at what Microsoft partners, ISV’s and competitors are doing.

In the social space companies like Jive, Newsgator and Telligent have developed the idea of Community sites, exactly the type of thing you need to build a Communities Service. Community sites? If I was deciding what went into the new version of SharePoint, I’d be adding Community Sites to compliment the Team sites.

If they appear, these features and others like them will make the services based and user centric intranet easier to build on SharePoint 15.

The End is in Sight

That wraps it up for Architecture, the 3rd of the 4 elements of the Art of SharePoint Success. Next time we’ll be moving on to consider the final element, Transition. That’s the term I use to describe the organizational, team and individual level changes required to make SharePoint work.

If Easter is your thing then enjoy it. If not, then enjoy something else :)

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