If You Build It, Will They Come?

Having overseen the implementation of SharePoint at hundreds of enterprises, both government and commercial, there is one question nearly every new customer planning an “Enterprise 2.0” (E2.0) implementation wants answered: “If I roll this out, how do I make sure people use it?” It’s a perfectly reasonable question. If an organization is investing the time and resources to implement an E2.0 application, they want to get the most out of that investment. Tying adoption to benefit is a very logical measurement. My answer to the question is always the same... provide your users with value.

Unlike ERP systems, sales force automation products, call center applications or any other traditional enterprise software solution that presents users with only a single interface to achieve their required job goals, users of E2.0 solutions have other options beyond that single screen, collaborate with peers, surface ideas and conduct many other useful activities. But for the end users to fully embrace an E2.0 solution, it has to deliver perceptible value by making it easier to do the things they’re already doing and by offering useful ways of working they couldn’t do or hadn’t thought of before. If the new E2.0 system doesn’t make their jobs easier or more productive, they simply won’t use it.

Defining Value
Before you undertake any effort to deploy or enhance SharePoint, it is important to define the value it will deliver. What value means to an organization will be inherently unique to that organization. If your organization is a large professional services firm, value may be finding the one person who has specific knowledge of a unique software program (e.g. SAP). Alternatively, someone who has knowledge of very specific tax laws may be imperative for success. If your organization has a substantial call center, value may equate to increasing first-call resolutions and decreasing support costs. If your organization has a substantial investment in R&D, value is likely tied into the sharing of knowledge or ideas between research units and decreasing time to market for new products.

It’s important to bear in mind that value isn’t the exclusive concern of the organization; value must also be defined as it relates to the specific individual. While the company certainly benefits from experts finding each other, shortening a support phone call or decreasing time to market, end users need to feel that their jobs are being made easier and more efficient. Understanding this value to the individual, and implementing an appropriate solution, is the only way to achieve real adoption.

Defining that value for end users means getting down to “use cases”; crafting the story of how a user will logically interact with a system. In many cases, such an exercise involves deconstructing an existing business process, identifying where it makes sense to insert E2.0 technologies, and then reconstructing the business process around the use of those technologies. To truly add value, the reconstructed process has to make the end user’s life simpler, or else they just won’t use the technology.

One real-world example concerns a customer implementing E2.0 solutions in a call center that employs several thousand people. With traditional call center systems and the old processes, tens of thousands of incoming calls were being escalated each week. The person accepting the inbound call couldn’t answer the question and opened an Instant Message or phone session with a more experienced colleague. The challenges resulting from this escalation were: knowledge was transient; no one else benefited from the escalation exchange; and the group wasn’t creating new experts. Once this call center adopted E2.0 tools like activity streams, communities, workflow, search and knowledge repositories, for example, the escalations were dramatically reduced—AND the call center representatives felt much more capable and productive in their jobs.

Implementing Value
Once armed with a good understanding of the value an E2.0 solution presents for the organization and for the individual end user, it is time to implement. Microsoft SharePoint provides the basic features for any enterprise solution: the ability to create integration with third-party systems; workflow; inherent reporting capabilities; and much more. It is also a very robust platform with content management, easy Web development, centralized administration, backup/recovery and other non-obvious administrative capabilities. And, there is an extensive SharePoint ecosystem of third-party products enabling social capabilities, project management, human resources and an ever-increasing library of custom features like podcasting, SFDC integration, etc. SharePoint is a great foundation for enterprise collaboration.

With a robust platform like SharePoint installed, and a comprehensive tool kit in hand, your organization is now at an ideal place to begin building an application that will deliver the identified value to end users and to meet your corporate objectives. Architecting the solution becomes a simple matter of deciding how to combine the available components to create functionality that meets the use-case demands. In some circumstances, custom components or branding may need to be developed, though with the ever-increasing catalog of pre-built capabilities for SharePoint, custom development is becoming less and less frequent. And where custom work is required, the latest development tools in the platform are making the required skills easier to acquire.

SharePoint is fundamentally a collaboration destination. It is a place of interaction for, and with, individuals, organizational teams, product groups, customer account teams or any other logical group within an organization. Consequently, the inclusion of social elements— communities, activity streams, microblogging, commenting and collaboration, etc.—is fast becoming an understood requirement when deploying any solution on the SharePoint platform. Whether an organization is looking to leverage SharePoint as a knowledge management system, a skills sharing site, a project or team document repository, capitalizing on these social capabilities to enhance collaboration is a fundamental need. Social capabilities (communities, activity stream) on SharePoint are the glue that connects the rest of the application elements (workflow, knowledge repository, search) into a truly valuable solution.

Another important consideration to ensure user adoption of an E2.0 solution is to track developments in the consumer space, particularly social applications. Your end users are also consumers of applications like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, etc. These applications have rich interfaces and intuitive user experiences that end users are coming to expect in any application with which they routinely interact at work or at home. This phenomenon is creating a new benchmark for any enterprise solution, socially enabled or not, that is used in the work environment—users are demanding tools they are familiar with, especially the younger generation now entering the workforce.

Now consider the consumer-driven user experience of an activity stream as a communication protocol versus email. Enterprises have long had a love/hate relationship with email. It’s a good point-to-point communication tool but really unsuited for more open collaboration and document sharing. Consumer product users, who are also enterprise solution end users, are becoming more and more comfortable with the concept of an activity stream. In turn, activity streams in the enterprise are becoming increasingly dynamic. Where an activity stream was once just a simple Twitter-like microblogging tool, today’s versions of activity streams allow for the delivery of news, highlighting of critical content (like a CEO message), sharing files, photos, videos and links to content, the management of ideas campaigns, including transactions from third-party systems and so much more. The activity stream has become the primary source of content sharing for many organizations.

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