Symply the Best: My Side

Yup, I’m stealing the main part of the title from Dan Antion’s (@dantion) SharePoint Story for this week. Why? Well, because the story is about the two days I spent with Dan and his team talking about developing in SharePoint’s Middle Tier. I don’t usually like to crow, but when someone like Dan comes up with a cool title like that, I steal it.

Dan summarizes the work we did well, but let me give you my slant on it.

Dan and I started talking about getting together in some fashion back in February. Dan and I had met briefly a couple of times at conferences, but I really didn’t know that much about him or his company other than what I read on Twitter and his blog, both of which I really enjoy.

Dan and I exchanged quite a few emails. We had lunch when Dan was here in the Boston area and talked at great length about his approach to development, the skills within his team, the type of business his company does, and where he wanted to expand all of that. We exchanged lots more emails and we set up a session for late March.

Then the earthquake and tsunami happened in Japan, and suddenly it wasn’t such a simple time to be in the nuclear insurance business, so we postponed things.

That gave us the opportunity to exchange even more emails and hone what we were going to do, tweak who would be in the room, and what we were going to cover.

I’m not outlining all of this to make it sound onerous. I enjoyed every bit of it. The reason I talk about all of the steps is to point out that Dan and I were taking our own little SharePoint journey together. (Yeah, I’m alluding to the Microsoft SharePoint Journeys thing.) Everyone needs to arrive at new ways of accomplishing things by taking the right path for themselves, and Dan and I were figuring out what that might look like for him as we went.

Even after all that, I’m not sure that each of the people in the room (there were five or six of us there for most of it) knew exactly what they were in for. One clear key ingredient for success to me was to be extremely flexible. That meant that I wasn’t walking in with some big pile of slides which I was going to force Dan and his folks through.

The two things I decided were the most important, and which I stressed to Dan throughout our conversations, were to:

  • Show some of my favorite demos in the beginning to demonstrate some of the possibilities. The demos would be abstract, in the sense that they wouldn’t be about Dan’s business at all.
  • Build something real with ANI’s data so that Dan and his team could see how things might work in their own environment and to make these techniques their own.

But most importantly, to go with wherever the conversation led. I hadn’t met this group and I didn’t really know what made them tick, just what Dan thought made them tick.

Some of my most valuable learning experiences came while I was sitting around a Harkness table at Exeter. I’m a crude hack next to the fantastic teachers I had leading me there, but I aspire to bring some of the same fluidity and conversational style to the table (pun intended) when I teach. So whether it’s a quick session at a conference, two days with a client like this was, or a six week course at the USPJ Academy, I like to let the group lead the way. Sure, there’s always material to cover, but there are also always huge swaths of ideas which come up which I could never predict. Sometimes it’s the tangents which become more important than the originally intended path. I find that is the fertile ground where most of the “Aha!” moments come. They are unpredictable, impossible to plan, and invaluable.

So that’s what we did. As it turned out, I did far less demo than I thought I would and we spent far more time working with Dan’s real data. We spent more time talking about the philosophy behind building a great User Experience (UX) than probably either Dan or I would have thought. We talked about how to make the code modular and reusable, but not as much as I might have expected, since the team wasn’t focused on that part of these techniques yet.

All in all, as I said in my comments on Dan’s post, I truly enjoyed myself. I walked away feeling that Dan and his team know a little more than they did before I arrived and that they were going to build better solutions with what they learned. Maybe they will call me back to help, but if not, they know that I’m always available to help answer questions and give quick advice.

Collecting Souls: Knowing Your Social Media Strategy – Part Two

In Part One , I wrote about how I choose to use Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and Twitter. Those are all “external” social media outlets, in that they are available to anyone on the World Wide Web (assuming that their government or employer doesn’t block them or some other such nonsense).

But what of SharePoint? As with almost all of my blog posts, this one comes back to SharePoint. You thought I’d let you get away without it this time?

Those of you who use SharePoint inside your organizations may already be wrestling with you own social strategy for My Site alone in SharePoint 2007 or the expanded social features in SharePoint 2010. I’m a one-man show, so I don’t have those issues; no one would ever look at my My Site profile!

I’ve been thinking about the “social” aspects of SharePoint a lot lately because of some work I’m doing. Many organizations struggle with how to think about using social features in the enterprise because, while they may use the phrase “Facebook for the Enterprise”, that’s not really what they want. They want people to be doing their work, and doing it better than they would without SharePoint and its social capabilities. They don’t want people frittering away the day with their profiles and status updates a la Facebook.

Similar questions arose ten years ago or so when all of the instant messaging platforms really went mainstream and people we’re all of a sudden pinging each other asking what was for lunch. Many organizations were easily able to block these services because they initially lived outside the firewall. However, they eventually saw value in the technology and now many, many organizations have some type of instant messaging in house.

“Social” stuff is going through some of the same growing pains. Organizations are trying to understand how social can bring value and ROI while not becoming a waste of time. They are also trying to figure out what “social’ actually is, and the definitions vary from place to place. There’s a fairly high investment to get a platform like SharePoint up and running (which is probably happening for other reasons, mainly). To get the social features of SharePoint up to snuff, there seems to almost always be a need to layer on some third party tools like those from CubeTree, NewsGator, or others, or to do some significant custom development. These add-ons add even more to the cost and time to implement. So it’s a non-trivial set of decisions about how or whether to move forward with building social media into the enterprise.

What most organizations want is the new idea of the ‘connected enterprise”, and not just “social”. They want to make serendipitous connections between people which can result in innovation or leaps in efficiency. Understanding exactly how to do that within each organization is a tricky problem to solve. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. I expect that it will take at least a few years for most organizations to even understand where to start with all of this.

In the meantime, the Web at large will be moving forward as rapidly as it always does. Who knows what will be de rigeur by the time most organizations make their first serious forays into social media or the connected enterprise internally? Will they do it well? Will they go “all in”? I look forward to working with more organizations as they undertake this next step in their SharePoint Journeys.

Microsoft’s SharePoint Journeys Contest

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I got a nice email the other day from someone working for Microsoft about the SharePoint Journeys contest they have running. She asked if I would do a blog post on it because "[My] blog shares such valuable insights about how [I] use SharePoint." Maybe she got the wrong guy, but I was happy to do this post anyway.

The SharePoint Journeys contest is "a way for the community to come together and share their work and ideas."  One point that I made in emailing back and forth is that I’ve heard a few grumbles that it’s not really something that consultants (like me, but I’d be unlikely to enter) can participate in. We can’t tell our client’s stories because they are proprietary in most cases, and we can’t tell our own stories because the cobbler’s kids rarely have shoes. Regardless, you should encourage your clients to think about submitting an entry.

Here are some details on the contest:

You may be aware that Microsoft SharePoint has launched a unique contest platform called SharePoint journeys. We hear inspiring stories all of the time about where SharePoint professionals are on their “journeys” and what they plan to do next. This contest is a chance for developers, admins, customers, partners and others to showcase how they’ve used SharePoint to enhance their organizations. As an incentive, three winning submissions receive a pass to SharePoint Conference 2011 in Anaheim, CA, and a chance to speak to their video.

The contest is underway and we’re asking SharePoint users to create a two-minute video illustrating their use of SharePoint in one of three categories.

  • Ramping Up: Early use of SharePoint using a few of the workloads for part of an organization to improve how people share information and work together. Examples include building team sites or My Sites, deploying Intranet sites or portals, or implementation of an extranet to collaborate with partners.
  • Building Momentum: Consolidation of content management and collaboration infrastructure on SharePoint to drive broad adoption across an organization and beyond. Examples include using multiple workloads, implementing dotcom sites, and end user adoption success.
  • Driving Business Value: Building applications on SharePoint that integrate back end data in documents, business processes and web experiences. Examples include building custom applications, business intelligence solutions and FAST search for Internet sites.

Through these videos, we’re inviting SharePoint professionals to share and review their work, inspire each other to think about SharePoint in new ways, and take the next step on their journey. Right now the site only allows for submissions, but as videos come in we will turn on several interactive pieces of the site that will allow for social media sharing, commenting and rating of videos, and the ability to embed videos into personal blogs.

Contest submissions and voting close on February 16, 2011 and the winners will be announced the week of February 21, 2011. Full contest rules and judging details can be found on the site.

Note – entries must be submitted in English