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Evaluating SharePoint success

Business Problem

A large foundation with offices across Canada implemented Microsoft SharePoint so employees could easily share information - regardless of their location.  The secure, web-enabled site publishes announcements about internal happenings, gives links to corporate policies and procedures, and access to two key line-of-business applications.  A major initiative was to build an electronic document and records management system (EDRMS) in SharePoint.  The EDRMS was created to ensure that information assets were managed in compliance with corporate and regulatory policy.

Two years later, they wanted to know if the intranet and EDRMS had succeeded in meeting their need to quickly and easily share information.  They also wanted to know if users were managing their documents and records in compliance with defined procedures.  After making this large investment in money and effort to build their intranet, it was important to know that it was meeting their needs.

As a company that has extensive experience designing and implementing SharePoint solutions, Microworks was contracted to do the assessment and make recommendations to resolve any issues.  Microworks did not build the original SharePoint site, so we were putting fresh eyes on the system.

​Solution

We approached the problem by first understanding the original business objectives for technology.  We reviewed the documented requirements for the solution.  We were looking for defined user needs, underlying policies and procedures, and documented compliance obligations. Armed with an understanding of what the solution was intended to do, we began to work with users and to gather direct data from SharePoint.

We identified users who represented different roles and audiences for the solution.  This included end users, managers and solution administrators; it included solution 'enthusiasts' and solution 'nay-sayers'. We wanted to know how they were using the system, what they liked and didn't like, and any suggestions they might have to improve usability.  We held focus groups, going through a series of questions and listening to the ensuing discussion. We had the SharePoint solution on screen during the focus groups to jog memories and let users point out specific examples to illustrate their ideas.  After the focus groups, we did targeted one-on-one interviews to explore some of the issues/ideas that had been raised.

We looked for evidence that showed how SharePoint was actually being used – were documents and records stored in the correct locations, were they correctly tagged, were they correctly named, did the volume of documents appear to be correct? Was the metadata and organization of content intuitive?  Was the navigation consistent in different areas?  We also looked at which areas of the site were getting the greatest number of hits and which areas appeared to be under-utilized.  We generated reports using SharePoint's native toolset.

Overall, the system was being used as designed.  We did find a number of important issues to greatly enhance usability.  One was that metadata had become out-dated and needed a rework.  Users were having problems tagging content when the values no longer reflected their work.  Users weren't sure where to store a new document and wasted time looking for the right location.  This was hardest for users who worked across business areas.  Often these users were busy managers. Another issue raised was that the system was subject to change without warning.  They would suddenly find that metadata had been altered or document libraries had been renamed.  Unannounced changes caused stress and reduced confidence in the system. 

The numbers of different types of documents and records were consistent with expectations, so there was a high level of confidence that information was not being stored elsewhere (e.g., local drives). We noted that some lists and document libraries were getting very large and there was an issue of system performance degradation.

Microworks recommended several improvements to system usability.  The chief recommendation was to introduce better system governance.  This would address the issue of system 'change without notice', and prevent metadata from getting outdated.  Better archiving would reduce the excessive volume of content that had been building and make it easier to identify current information.  Finally, the need for better training for new employees was identified.  We recommended a weekly drop-in hour (including WebEx for remote users) to provide coaching on how to get the most from the system.  On the technical side, we noted that some small changes to their SharePoint servers would make big improvements on performance.

Benefits

  • The foundation gained confidence that the solution was supporting their compliance objectives for managing corporation information assets.
  • They were able to make improvements in SharePoint navigation and page layout, based on feedback from users, to reduce the time spent identifying the correct location to store content.
  • Better system governance was introduced. In addition to controlling changes to SharePoint, which led to greater user confidence, it also involved users more directly in decision-making and strengthened user commitment to the solution.
  • Microworks' report was designed to provide solution benchmarks and to lay out a methodology that could be used to conduct future SharePoint audits.

About Microworks

For 30 years, Microworks has been providing IT solutions that work.  We take the time to understand our customer's business needs, then design solutions that win high user adoption. From strategy to infrastructure, we assess, plan, design, build and support solutions for information workers. We have been implementing Microsoft SharePoint to solve business problems since 2001.  We build intranets, extranets, websites and electronic document and information management solutions.  Our infrastructure team designs and implements SharePoint farms, backup systems, system monitoring and provides 7/24 network support.