SharePoint: Enabling Knowledge Management

I had the chance recently to have chat with TechnologyAdvice’s Josh Bland (@JoshBlandTA). This interview was a part of the TechnologyAdvice Expert Interview Series. The series explores a variety of business and technology landscapes through conversations with industry leaders.

There’s plenty of great content there, including interviews with some of the speakers for the SharePoint Technology Conference – SPTechCon Austin – coming up February 21-24. If you register with code ANDERSON, you’ll get an extra $200 off any other discounts you might receive.

In this episode we discussed how I see SharePoint fitting into a successful knowledge management strategy, how modern work happens, big things that happened with SharePoint in 2015, and of course, the upcoming SPTechCon. If you enjoy this interview, you might want to check out the one I did with Josh last summer, just before SPTechCon Boston: Software Adoption: A People Problem, or A Technology Problem?

Below is an excerpt from the conversation:

Josh: What would you say, Marc? How would you sort of summarize the year? What sort of big developments occurred and what would you say were some of the highlights from 2015 in SharePoint?

Marc: One of the biggest things is that the hybrid story that Microsoft is just telling is getting richer and richer. We saw some capabilities that are available on Office 365 starting to filter back on Premises, and that’s via hooking up to a SharePoint online instant. So that you can sort of take advantage of the best of the cloud but still keep your content in-house. And of course, we’re seeing tremendous strides forward in Office 365 as well. It’s hard at this time of the year to look back and try to remember, how many of these things actually got stuffed into this one year? And it’s pretty incredible when you look at how many things have changed over the last year in the SharePoint space. We have things like Delve and groups and the video portal, and all these things that have really come into their own this year and shown that Microsoft is not sitting still, that they’re — I’m very bullish on Microsoft in what they’re doing with Office 365. And I’m not an easy one to convince [chuckles]. But I see them doing some very cool things – Planner – just all kinds of new experiences as they say, with fantastic user interfaces that really are bringing the whole platform ahead in leaps and bounds.

Josh: I want to hear what were some of the sort of difficulties that you have experienced, not only with your customers, but just in general that you think the industry has seen from SharePoint?

Marc: An ongoing challenge for anyone using these platforms is that the development story continues to evolve. And that’s not a bad thing, but for your average developer who’s trying to sort of swim with both hands tied behind their back, sometimes, keeping ahead of what the enterprise wants, it’s difficult because we look at the different– historically we’ve had features and solutions, we’ve had the sandbox model now. We have the apps crossed out, add-in model, and we’ll probably see some evolution from here. People are continually having to keep their skills fresh. Now, that to me is a damn good thing. Anybody who stops learning and thinks that what they know now is going to serve them forever is sort of letting themselves die intellectually. The fact that we have to learn new things all the time is a good thing. We’re seeing an evolution from server site code toward JavaScript and client site code to a degree that is really — it’s been a bumpy ride for some people over the last couple of years to make that mental switch. As we’re seeing better experiences coming out of Microsoft, we’re seeing these challenges for the developers inside enterprises who are trying to build bespoke functionality that is unique to that organization, or something that that organization wants that Microsoft does not provide exactly. It’s that 20% that’s actually the hard part. That’s going to be an ongoing set of challenges – understanding how this hybrid model, as you mentioned fits into the organization’s ethos – is going to be a tough one for a lot of people to get to.

Two years ago we would have been talking about the tremendous fear about security and, “Does the cloud make sense?” And, now we always talk about it as, “Which part of the cloud makes sense to me? Which parts should I take advantage of? Where am I going to get the bang for my buck?” So, we’re on a different part of the learning curve for all of that. But the development story is tough. And that hybrid aspect just adds a little bit of complexity to the whole thing.

Josh: One final question here on SPTechCon 2016. Do you see a lot of differences between Boston and Austin? All that to say, what do you think will be different about this year, Austin 2016 vs. Austin 2015 or Boston 2015?

Marc: The obvious difference is that we’ve got SharePoint 2016 coming up. So — Yeah, new software smell. There are a couple things there. One is obviously there is some new software out there; new bits. So, people will be able to hear some good information about what’s there, why would you be interested in it, how does it work and that sort of thing. One of the best things though about SPTechCon is that they’re very careful to manage the mix between: here’s the shiny new stuff and here’s that stuff that you are actually still stuck working with [chuckles]. There are still a lot of people in the crowd who use SharePoint 2010, there’s still a lot of people who are using 2013 obviously. There’s a great mix of content across that spectrum as opposed to just going for the new stuff. Go to the Microsoft conference for that. They’ll only talk about the new things. But SPTechCon has been traditionally very good about having that balance, so that everybody who comes to the conference gets a lot of depth out of it.

This podcast was created and published by TechnologyAdvice, an Inc. 5000 company looking to help buyers find the best cloud storage, payroll systems, and more. Interview conducted by Josh Bland.

Boston KM Forum Meeting Notes

On Wednesday, July 20th, I attended the latest Boston KM Forum meeting at Bentley University. The theme was Fitting SharePoint to Knowledge Initiatives, which the content loosely followed and every presentation was valuable on some level.

There were probably about 30-40 people in attendance (crowd estimation not being my forte). It seemed that the majority of people in attendance had some exposure to SharePoint or worked with it on a regular basis. Since the KM Forum covers far more topics than just SharePoint, there were also some people who had never touched SharePoint. That made for a refreshing change in the tenor of some of the discussion.

I sat on the “Panel of Experts” by invitation, and it was great to be able to answer questions and espouse on how I feel SharePoint supports good knowledge management, as my background with knowledge management goes way back to the mid-1990s when I focused on KM and performance improvement while working at Renaissance Solutions (sadly defunct).

It’s interesting to step out of my SharePoint cocoon from time to time to see what “real” people think of it. There still seems to be a lingering distrust of SharePoint, probably more due to it being a Microsoft product  than any specific shortcomings as a technology. However, when you view SharePoint from a knowledge management perspective, there are definitely warts.

As I wrote in my last post, we need to constantly be asking ourselves if what we are building for organizations with SharePoint is really good enough. When you hold those implementations up to the core tenets of the knowledge management dream (or the collaboration dream which has followed it), they don’t usually get high marks.

This is mirrored in the results that Sadie Van Buren (@sadalit) has gathered for baseline data in her fantastic work with the SharePoint Maturity Model. While we are doing some good things with SharePoint, there’s just so much more we can do.

The full agenda (with links to presentations, where available) are below. I’ve “borrowed” this from Lynda Moulton’s blog post link above, so if you’re interested there may be more up-to-date follow up there.

What is SharePoint and When do you need a 3rd-party add-in?, Analyst Perspective (9:30 – 10:15) – Leslie Owens, Senior Analyst, Forrester Research

Break: 10:15 – 10:30

The Process for Selecting any Collaboration/Content tool, Recommendations for the Buyer (10:30 – 11:15) – Jarrod Gingras, Analyst, Real Story Group

A Case Study featuring SharePoint, User/Implementer Perspective (11:15 – 12:00) – Glynys Thomas, Senior Knowledge Manager, The Parthenon Group

Lunch: 12: – 12:45

Planning for SharePoint: SharePoint Maturity Model (12:45– 1:45) – Sadie Van Buren, Senior Software Engineer, BlueMetal Architects

Panel of Experts: Marc Anderson, Sympraxis Consulting, Mike Gilronan, KMA LLC, Michele Smith, The MITRE Corporation, Marc Solomon, PRTM

Moderator, Larry Chait, set the stagefor SharePoint preparedness, then introduced the panelists by asking each one a question to set the stage for their perspectives.

Suggested Topical Areas for the Q & A

  • Selection and justification [MS is offering many non-profits “free” SharePoint. Should you take them up on it?]
  • Implementation and integration [What is the best implementation approach after choosing SharePoint as the platform?]
  • Interface design and usability [What features in SharePoint 2010 contribute the most usability benefits in your organization?]
  • What have you learned about SharePoint that makes it valuable in a knowledge sharing environment?
  • Taxonomy and search [How is the taxonomy being developed and implemented to support better search?]
  • Security, scaling and support [Where are the bottlenecks and what are the issues that had to be confronted in your enterprise?

Wrap-up: Larry Chait, Chait & Associates

KM Forum: Fitting SharePoint to Knowledge Initiatives

Bentley Library

Image via Wikipedia

This coming July 20, I’ll be on the “Panel of Experts” at this event at Bentley University. We’ll be discussing Fitting SharePoint to Knowledge Initiatives, a topic near and dear to my own heart. SharePoint is really cool technology, but as I’m frequently saying, it’s just a tool which must be a part of a much wider set of plans and initiatives (dare I say governance?) if it is to provide any real business value.

My co-panelists are Mike Gilronan (@mikegil) from KMA LLC, Michele Smith (@mingshan) from The MITRE Corporation, and Marc Solomon (@attspin) from PRTM.  I’m honored to be included with these bright folks, and I look forward to the discussion.

Also on the roster is Sadie Van Buren (@sadalit), who will be presenting on Planning for SharePoint: The SharePoint Maturity Model. If you follow this blog, you know that I’m a huge fan of Sadie and her SharePoint Maturity Model work.

If you’re in the Boston area and can make it, this promises to be a “meaty” event about KM and SharePoint. I hope to see you there!

Solution Calls (Help!) and Puts (I can help!) — Part Two

From Techweb via today’s Boston Globe’s Business Filter column:
A new report says that middle managers are swamped by useless information and spend about a two hours a day looking for the data they need. And often, once they obtain the data, half of it has no value to their jobs. Part of the problem is companies keep information in departmental silos. But since eighty-four percent of middle managers collect and store information on their own hard drives or in e-mail accounts, and fail to share data that might be relevant to others, they’re also part of the problem. Companies should develop clear rules and processes about how and when information is shared and consider using technology like SOA and Wikis to centralize information. Stop drowning and start building a raft.
The post above is very apropos for this subject.  So much of the valuable content in an organization is hidden from useful view.  How do we set up an environment that allows the content to be available to the people who need it when they need it?  Well, there are two main layers to this.
The first layer that most people think of is the process layer. We need to establish an easy and effective way for people to post what they know.  Blogs are an open format way to do this.  In organizations where there needs to be more control, maybe adding entries to a workflow enabled list is the better way to go so that the content can be vetted and validated.
The second layer is the one that is too often forgotten: the incentive layer.  I can design a perfect process, but if no one wants to participate, then what is the point?  Not only do you have to identify what will motivate people to share what they know (and, yes, the levers are different for different groups: sometimes it’s financial incentives, sometimes it’s recognition, sometimes it’s something else), but senior folks need to lead by demonstrating the desired behaviors.  The incentives need to become part of the organization’s DNA.
Once the two layers are in place and the engine is humming along, mighty good things can happen, certainly better things than drowning in data.

Solution Calls (Help!) and Puts (I can help!) — Part One

Back in the day, when I worked at Renaissance Solutions (an unfortunately defunct boutique management consulting firm), we talked about the ideas of Solution Calls and Puts (think options on the stock market).  I didn’t ever get comfortable with the words that we used for the ideas, but basically it was a clearinghouse metaphor for the “I’ve got a problem” and “I’ve got a solution” statements.  At the time, there weren’t any toolsets that enabled this, though we tried pretty hard to custom build them for our clients, and we actually did a good job at it.

Today, things have changed greatly.  With the advent of serious blogs (of which I hope this is one), there are a lot of Solution Puts out there.  That is, many people are proclaiming to the world “I know something useful!”  Just today, when I had a rampant process running on my laptop, I found a solution in a blog as the second hit when I Live Searched the process name.  On the other side, if I come up empty-handed in my Web searching I can ask in my blog if someone knows an answer, and perhaps someone will comment that they have one or point me to another blog that does.

In a corporate setting, enter Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (MOSS) 2007.  MOSS provides blogs and Wikis that can be deployed across the enterprise.  While the Web is the Wild West on some levels (how can I trust that what I’ve found won’t hurt me more than help me?), with MOSS and an appropriate (but not necessarily burdensome) process, the Solution Puts (answers) can be vetted and validated, and the Solution Calls (requests for help) can be categorized and directed to the appropriate answers.  Alongside this, Wikis can be built up to explain how to do things: How do I install a piece of software?  Who would I talk to about certain types of technical processes?  Not only that, because I can see who has the Solution Puts around a certain topic, I know that I can track down the ‘resident expert’, even when I didn’t have any idea who (s)he was.