With the way technology is going, a stagnant organization will most likely not survive in the years ahead. Here is how SharePoint 2010 can provide the tools to help your enterprise innovate and promote innovation practices.

The bar has been raised. No longer are companies sitting on their laurels and allowing business to proceed as usual. Business leaders today know that innovation is the key for a successful tomorrow. Encouraging a culture of innovation is at the top of the organizational wish list. Companies are seeing the need to evolve and are using new techniques to promote innovative practices across the workplace. Allocating budgets to innovation initiatives, encouraging innovative thinking even at the risk of failure and rewarding employees with financial incentives have now become part of a broader level strategy.

Building a culture of innovation requires careful planning and is more about the people and mindset of an organization, than tools and technology. However, a recent survey entitled Fortune 1000 Executives’ Perspectives on Enterprise Innovation, sponsored by Olympus, details that 31% of organizations lack the systems or tools to foster enterprise innovation effectively.

With SharePoint 2010 so prevalent in many enterprise environments, questions are often asked how the platform can be used to foster a growing culture of innovation.

Activity Feeds

Rarely does innovation happen in the context of an individual. Activity feeds in SharePoint 2010 allow employees to see how the organization is thinking about topics through exposing keywords, tags, notes, status updates and other elements.

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Activity feeds allow employees to track trends within their peer network and use their profile to connect quickly and easily. The ability to quickly find and share common interests and passions can be one of the first steps to innovation. The activity feed exposes this information in an easily consumable format for all users.

Tracking Interests

While tracking colleagues exposes users to potentially wide group of colleagues, frequently there is a need to connect with those users who are unknown but with whom a common interest is shared.

Users with SharePoint can assign “Interests” to their User Profile. Interests are essentially keywords indicating that they are interested in following and exploring topics further.

Keyword-related interests are exposed through several means such as search or tag clouds. However, the Tag Profile for a keyword exposes all content and users for the specific keyword or tag. The image below is an example of a Tag Profile for “Fishing Industry.”

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Being able to easily aggregate both content and people based on keywords is extremely powerful in enabling employees in disparate locations to take that first step of communicating with like-minded individuals. Innovation starts and ends with people. Finding content and people that share these interests will lead to many new ways to communicate and collaborate.

Ideation Centers and Community of Practice Sites

In the book Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson, he asserts that “We are often better served by connecting ideas than we are by protecting them... Environments that build walls around good ideas tend to be less innovative in the long run than [a] more open-ended environment.”

One way to create these open environments in SharePoint 2010 is the ability to create sites that function as Ideation Centers or Communities of Practice. Many organizations are supplementing traditional collaboration style of sites (Team, Project Sites, Document Centers) with sites that are geared to encourage innovation. The success of Dell’s IdeaStorm and Starbucks' My Starbucks Idea showed the power of crowdsourcing. Creating sites that perform these capabilities within the SharePoint 2010 platform can be as simple as setting up a discussion list or as complicated as creating a fully functional site template with additional capabilities.

Regardless of the approach chosen, the power that SharePoint 2010 provides is that innovation can occur in the context of day-to-day work. With the same interface and capabilities being used for both traditional knowledge work, and then expanded to encourage innovation, a forward-thinking culture can be established without needing additional technology tools.

MySites and Profiles for Content Sharing

MySites and Profiles allow the ability for users to share both private and public content in terms of personal information and content. Providing additional capabilities in demonstrating how a user is interacting with content, SharePoint 2010 exposes personal content, colleagues, memberships, tags and notes to other users.


Profiles also allow the ability to communicate directly through the profile in much the same vein as a Wall post in Facebook. These public exchanges of information can contain ideas or concepts that can then be shared with other users, or moved into a more formal collaboration setting such as an ideation center.

Lync 2010 Support

When that serendipitous moment happens when you put together all of the pieces to create a breakthrough time is of the essence. Communication mediums like email can be far too slow for instant exchange of ideas.

To expedite communications, SharePoint 2010 offers integration with Lync 2010, allowing users to initiate quick communication. The ability to instant message, schedule a meeting or create a real-time videoconference between multiple parties can be used for quick and efficient communication. Time can be of the essence in innovation, and the integration with Lync provides another mechanism where users can connect at the serendipitous moment quickly and easily.

Leveraging Search

Search is vital in encouraging innovation within an enterprise. Federating search queries with external search providers such as Bing, Google or Wikipedia (and many others) will return results that provide examples of innovative practices in other organizations.

Exposing vast arrays of people data, such as experts and interests, can be combined with traditional content tagged with metadata. Determining “What you don’t know you don’t know” can be extremely powerful for users within an organization. The search capabilities in SharePoint can provide an entry point into previously unchartered areas of knowledge.

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Users can also trigger a “vanity search” for themselves, which will return various suggestions of keywords that should be assigned to your profile. This capability allows users to quickly build out the social networking features of SharePoint to enable others to find them easier.

Custom ranking models will also provide alternative search results based on pre-defined ranking rules. For organizations seeking to think “outside the box,” clever usage of ranking algorithms that return related results rather than exact results, can spur new ideas and concepts for employees.

Robert Piddocke, from SurfRay Inc., provides an excellent example: “The alternative ranking model for high proximity results can help find documents with fewer hits of a term that are closer together when multiple term searches are made. For companies that rely on multi-term product names or catch-phrases to mark and find information, this algorithm can be a good alternative.”

SharePoint 2010 offers a wide range of tools to help organizations in encouraging innovation and innovative practices. However don’t be fooled that technology will create a culture of innovation within your organization.

Concentrating on people, culture and process, combined with effective ways to communicate and share information in SharePoint 2010, can turn even the most stagnant of organization into a thriving hub of innovation.

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