Just how much customization does SharePoint need?
What’s the key to winning one of the biggest intranet design competitions in the world? If you’re using Microsoft’s SharePoint collaboration platform, one big factor is getting the software to work for your company’s culture, Amy Schade, director of user experience for the Nielsen Norman Group told Internet Benchmarking Forum subscribers on this month’s IBF Live broadcast.
Many winners of Nielsen Norman’s Design Annual Competition are examples of “making SharePoint do what you want it to do,” she said. SharePoint is “a starting point rather than an endpoint.”
Does that mean you have to load SharePoint down with third-party applications? It depends. IBF CEO and founder Paul Miller observed that Duke Energy was a winner last year, basically using SharePoint “out of the box.”
Bert Sandie, director of technical excellence at Electronic Arts’ EA University, said a great intranet “should look like one thing,” even with third-party apps. It ought to look like tools people use at home, such as Facebook and Flickr.
IBF Live co-host Paul Levy observed, “SharePoint out of the box doesn’t lend itself to that experience.” But Sandie said it doesn’t take very much work. At EA, one developer works on customizing SharePoint, he said.
Entries for the Nielsen Norman awards are due June 22, Schade said. An entry form, which should include six to 12 screenshots, takes about a day to complete, she said. Judges will notify finalists in August, when they’ll do a full case study of each intranet.
“What we’re looking for is really a design that keeps the user in mind,” Schade said.
The Nielsen Norman contest was just one topic that participants discussed in the June IBF Live broadcast. Other discussion points included:
Dave Nelson, SharePoint platform manager at Deluxe Corp., best known as a check printing company, showed the IBF Live audience Deluxe’s SharePoint platform, which he was quick to point out isn’t the company’s intranet.
“It’s really intended to be a workspace,” he said. It’s meant to be for team collaboration, content management and record management, Nelson said. The intranet, which is the home for company news, isn’t on SharePoint yet, he said, though Deluxe is planning to switch over soon.
Miller observed that the intranet and the SharePoint platform are “quite different environments,” and that seeing Deluxe’s SharePoint homepage—a very simple interface—was like “looking under the hood.”
Nelson said most Deluxe employees wouldn’t use the SharePoint homepage. They’d use a bookmark to go straight to a collaboration site relevant to them. Deluxe’s 6,000 employees at 12 locations have about 480 sites on the SharePoint platform, he said.
Sandie said if Deluxe’s SharePoint site was in place at EA, “nobody would be using it,” because “our site needs to be hugely aesthetically pleasing.”
Another intranet that participants viewed was that of financial messaging service Swift, presented by product manager Tsveti Vassilev and senior communications specialist Jean-Francois Feront. The company recently switched over to SharePoint from an older intranet system, and many links still go to the old intranet as the switchover continues, Vassilev said.
“It’s a very long process,” he said. One area the company is struggling to integrate? Workspaces, Vassilev said.
Likewise, Andrew Urbanski, manager of global application development at St. Jude Medical, said he considers the site for team collaboration to be a “separate service area.”
“We will be baking this into the workplace tool,” he said.
Jeff Willinger, social computing strategist at tech consulting company Rightpoint, said combining My Site and intranet is a big trend. That combination is “a perfect example of SharePoint out of the box,” he said.
2007 versus 2010
All three SharePoint environments on display in the broadcast were running SharePoint 2007. And every manager said he was planning to shift to SharePoint 2010.
Sandie said they should do it sooner rather than later, as the 2010 version has lots of improvements, including the search feature.
Nelson said officials at Deluxe worked hard to develop standards by which users could set up collaboration sites on the company’s SharePoint platform, and that those standards have created consistency among the sites. Without that governance, he says, Deluxe would end up with the “wild, wild West of data,” with no one claiming ownership of terabytes of documents.
Urbanski said St. Jude has worked to enable users to define ownership and create content without having to call in IT. Corporate communicators can oversee content creation and editing, he said, with templates developed by IT.
Urbanski also said using metadata and content types has made searching easier.
Vassilev showed off a plug-in on Swift’s revamped intranet—the Mindtag cloud—which shows a user’s interests and hobbies on his or her personal profile. He said the company is looking for ways to integrate more social features.
Sandie said EA has a similar tool on its intranet.
Social tools, such as blogs or personal profiles, are a big trend that Nielsen Norman judges have seen in intranets in recent years, Schade said.
About IBF Live
The next episode of IBF Live is coming up on July 5th! IBF Live is the unique, interactive, visual online live broadcast showcasing the latest happenings in intranets and the digital workplace. To try before you buy… (more…)