I wrote this post about the Australian SharePoint Conference on the plane heading to the New Zealand SharePoint Conference but never got around to publishing it. The New Zealand conference was every bit as great, but I didn’t do a write up of that one. After the two conferences I met my wife and son (The Dude) in Hanoi and we spent a little over two weeks touring Vietnam and Cambodia. Side note: this is a must-do trip if you can afford the time and money (it’s cheap once you get there). Feel free to ping me for suggestions!
The Australian SharePoint Conference was held in a great facility, the Hilton Sydney. As with all conferences there were a few hiccups (Why can’t wireless just *work*!?!?) but all in all, the conference was a smashing success.
This was my first trip Down Under, and even my first trip across the International Date Line. I was worried that the time difference would sideline me completely, but luckily, it really wasn’t a problem. Having 21 hours in the air on the way there gave me plenty of time to rest up on the trip.
When I speak at conferences, I try to go to as many sessions as I can. It’s one of the biggest perks of being a speaker: I get to see and hear some of the best minds in SharePointlandia explain how they do things with SharePoint.
The keynote is always fascinating at these conferences and this one was no exception. Mark Rhodes (@MrHodes), Brian Farnhill (@BrianFarnhill), and Paul Culmsee (@PaulCulmsee) did a yeoman’s job on this one. Paul was fighting a head cold, but rose to the occasion in spite of it.
The main themes of the keynote were connections between people both inside and outside organizations and knowledge management. Both topics are near and dear to my heart; I’ve been on the knowledge management bandwagon since the mid 1990s. Even having the chance to meet Paul – one of my heroes in this space – was a true pleasure. It’s not easy to communicate from the other side of the planet.
Mark kicked things off by giving us some context for the conference itself. He had some great points about how our use of technology is changing rapidly from caring about what kind of devices we have to what they can do for us. How many of us know or care what chip runs our tablets or phones anymore? Rather than seeking out a particular chip or memory profile, more and more we’re seeking devices that can help us Get Things Done. (As I type this post on my Surface 3 Pro, I’m demonstrating this trend. I wanted a device that I could use while travelling for the two conferences and my vacation in Vietnam afterward without breaking my back, and that would allow me to do real work. I didn’t care so much about the mHz of the processor.)
As Mark pointed out, Moore’s Law is – in a sense – giving way to Metcalf’s Law. While the power of processors has increased, the value of our networks has increased. When we have two people in our network, we have one connection. Three people makes it three connections, and so on. As the number of people in the network increases, the value of that network increases, as does its complexity. Amongst the 400 or so attendees of the conference in Sydney, we had more than potential 80,000 connections.
Why does that all matter? Well, as Mark said, the conference – like any conference – was so much more than simply a bunch of great sessions. Taking advantage of those connections in the hallways, at Las Vegas night, or in the hotel lobby is at least as as valuable as the sessions themselves. Sessions are important, but a bigger conference benefit is the connections – a network of like-minded peers.
Mark then introduced Brian & Paul. I wish I could have captured everything these two covered because these were so many excellent themes in their talks.
Paul started out by talking about a new age of information rage. We have information and data coming at us from all angles at almost all times. The average Australian employee spends 2.5 days of the week doing their job. The rest of the time is spent navigating a virtual forest of information (Enough already: information overload – Sydney Morning Herald). That’s a powerful statistic. Half the time, folks in Australia are doing things that *don’t* lead to job task completion. You will probably agree that this phenomenon impacts you as well as you deal with the emails you get, blog posts you read (including this one!), political posturing, etc. required in the modern organization.
Information storage and effective retrieval is such a problem then an organization like NASA has “forgotten” how to go to the moon. The people who made it happen have retired and these is no good repository of what they knew or learned from the experience (Lost Knowledge: Confronting the Threat of an Aging Workforce by David Delong). Imagine! Something as important to our shared history as how the rockets worked to get a team of people to the moon has been lost. think about how much of the less famous – yet no less important – information inside your organization vanishes every day.
As Paul said, it’s time to re-imagine how we approach information. Now, more than ever, we need contextually relevant search and knowledge delivery. Somewhere in the sea of information that’s around us, that bit that we really need is available, but we have to be able to find it.
Next, Brian talked about Microsoft’s new technology called Delve (previously Project Oslo). By using the “Office Graph”, Delve can start to surface information we need to accomplish things, in many instances before we know we need it. This is where Mark’s thoughts about connections came back in again. The machine learning behind Delve watches our activity and shows us content from our connections that may be useful to us. It’s no longer enough to simply show me content that someone I follow generates. Many times, the valuable nuggets are out there created by like-minded people or connections of connections of connections. Delve watches for signals based on what I do so that it can show me content that is important to me as I do my job, and machine learning drives what content any one person sees based on their network of connections.
We both generate and consume both public and private signals, though. This concept is evident in places like Facebook, Google+, and Yammer, where we can choose how we want to “scope” our content publishing and searching. Delve takes this public versus private sort of content into consideration as it chooses what to show you. (Yes, I’m getting more and more anthropomorphic in describing Delve. Spooky, perhaps, but also really cool. It’s not Skynet – yet.)
We make both formal (organizational hierarchy) and informal (projects, ad hoc work) connections. This has always been the case, but with advances in computing power and software, capabilities like Delve are starting to connect dots that we can’t even see in new and fascinating ways. We see the obvious things, like content “Created by Me”, but also much more subtle things, like content “Presented to Me”.
Delve works on top of SharePoint as a platform, but we can also seed the Office Graph with our own sources via a powerful API. Thus data entities that are relevant to our own organizations can become part of what Delve presents. Things like support tickets, a product catalog, work reviews, CRM, etc. will become part of Delve’s domain as we wire them up. We will be able to feed whatever content we want into the machine learning engine – Office-based content, organizational content, and even external content.
Delve will be available in Q4, 2014. I, for one, am looking forward to the possibilities.
Paul jumped back in to wrap things up. All this technology is grand, but as Paul said, much of the important information in an organization travels along the informal jungle paths. Places like the proverbial water cooler or coffee station (as Paul likes to call it, “acoustic Yammer”) is really the #1 knowledge management capability in our toolkit. The best way to find out what worked – or didn’t work – in the past is to ask the people who lived it. We need to find out what people remember and come up with a way to capture and quantify it.
Paul’s company Seven Sigma has developed a different, but complementary product to do just that called Glyma. These are wicked smaht people solving wicked problems. For years, Paul has been doing mind mapping, which led to dialog(ue) mapping. Given that the best way to understand what works or doesn’t is by talking to people who have done it before, we need better ways to work with that information. A combination of our connections and our discussions leads to better knowledge management. In other words, finding the right people, handing them a beer, and letting them talk about what they know is where the gold is in them thar hills. As before, this concept isn’t actually new. We knowledge management -focused consultants have been cornering people – with or without the beer – to find out what they know for a long time.
Glyma gives us a platform in which to store that explicit knowledge from the source. Whether we have videos of people explaining something they know, legislative documentation, URLs to Web sites, or anything else we can capture electronically (even directions to a shelf in the local library is “electronifiable”), Glyma gives us both the storage mechanism and the mapping capability to let us make sense of it all.
Have you ever been told to watch a 90 minute video only to find that the only truly valuable bit of it to you was at minute 72? Have you ever waded through reams of documentation only to realize that looking at paragraph 3 on page 36 was exactly what you needed to do? In either case, what we need is a good index – or map – to the exact content we need. That’s what Glyma lets us do.
As you can see, the keynote really jazzed me up. Knowledge management has long been a passion of mine, and we’re heading into yet another evolutionary step in the possibilities it can provide. I can’t wait to see Delve in action – maybe even fed by Glyma – among other sources. While I love working within Sympraxis Consulting LLC – my own small company – this value proposition almost makes me yearn to be part of a big, knowledge-starved organization again. Almost. Well, not really.
There was even a bonus for us at the conference. We were able to review some of the sessions which had been filmed at the conference that had been “Glyma-fied” using kiosks spread around the halls. This was a great way to show how the tool worked, and also let attendees “attend” sessions that might have missed. You can check out the Glymafied sessions at on this special Glyma site. You’ll need to log in with Facebook or Google+, but don’t freak out about that.
Sessions I Attended
- From Data Platform to Knowledge Platform: Innovations in Leveraging Intellectual Capital Using SharePoint with Paul Culmsee (more Glyma!)
- Introducing Project “Siena” with James Milne (@JamesMilne) (Very cool stuff. You should check out Project Siena.)
- Melbourne Water Case Study: Engaging your Organisation in an Intranet Rebuild with Rebecca Jackson (@_RebeccaJackson)
- Creating Responsive Designs for SharePoint 2013 with Brian Farnhill
- So What is this Newfangled Apps Model Anyway and Why do I Care? with Paul Culmsee
- Integrating Yammer with SharePoint with Elaine van Bergen (@laneyvb) and Chris O’Connor (@GrumpyWookie)
Plus maybe others lost to me in the haze of traveling.
Oh, I also presented a couple of sessions.
The first was sort of an old standard for me, “SharePoint Solutions with SPServices”. In it, I give an overview of SPServices and how it works and also try to give a glimmer (Glyma?) of what one can use it to accomplish.
The other was “Creating Single Page Applications (SPAs) with SPServices”. This is a newer session for me. I’ve been building more and more applications that are primarily single-page applications – at least in the spirit of the term. I’ve been using KnockoutJS primarily, but in this session I talk about some of the other potential approaches as well. This session is more demo than slides, and I showed some of the cool stuff I’ve been doing in my client work.
I also was honored to be on the Ask the Experts panel at the end of the conference. (Obviously, very low standards.) Remember, adoption is not the goal. Trying to get people to use something that sucks is a waste of effort.
But Sure, There Was Fun
Of course, you can’t get a bunch of SharePoint people together and expect everything to stay educational and dry. This is the bunch that invented SharePint, for gosh sakes. The conference had it’s own fun in the form of Las Vegas night on Tuesday after the sessions had wrapped up. Quite a few people got dolled up in Vegas attire and tried their fake luck at winning fake money. Based on the raucousness of the evening, the fact that the money was fake mattered very little in the fun quotient.
The other North American speakers and I also had time to make some mischief outside the conference venue. For many of us, it was the first trip to Sydney, so we did quite a bit of walkabout to see the sites, like the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Sydney is an interesting mélange of British, Asian, and world culture, but with that unique Australian aboriginal twist. If you want any Ugg products, Sydney is the place for you, as there seems to be a store selling Uggs just about every block downtown. We sampled really good food in the style of just about anywhere other than Australia: British pub food (fish and chips, meat pies).
Perhaps the best meal – at least in my opinion – was the one we had on my last night in Sydney: German food at the Lowenbrau Bierhall. I had the pig knuckle, and of course you can’t go wrong with anything that was once attached to bacon.
Finally, I want to thank all of the conference organizers for their hard work on the Australian SharePoint Conference. The core team for the two conferences was Debbie Ireland (NZ), Nick Hadlee (NZ), Mark Rhodes (AU), and Dan MacPherson (AU). The hard work and excellent planning was very evident: the pre-conference communication was excellent, the use of technology was inventive (the conference agenda was made available as a OneNote notebook for easy reference and central update and we used Yammer extensively in the months leading up to the conference), the food was great, the Las Vegas night was a lot of fun, and on and on. Putting on a conference like this is far more work than most attendees realize, and this team does it exceedingly well.
Special thanks to Debbie Ireland for inviting me to speak at the two conferences in the first place. I was honored to do it, and it was extremely gratifying to have the chance to meet a number of people who love using SPServices in their day-to-day work with SharePoint.