The first ever SharePoint Conference for State Department staff was held Monday, May 16, and featured SharePoint evangelist Dux Raymond Sy as keynote speaker. The Conference theme, "Share the Power," appropriately characterized all aspects of the event. The organizing tasks were shared by staff from the Bureau of Information Resource Management (the techies), Foreign Service Institue (the trainers), and Bureaus with a regional focus, such as the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and Bureaus with a functional focus, such as the Economic Bureau (the troops). The twenty-one breakout presentations were shared by an even broader range of home offices, including overseas posts and domestic offices.
To generate enthusiasm ahead of the conference, the organizers invited award nominations of State SharePoint sites in three categories -- Best Navigation/Structure, Best Visual Design-Aesthetic, and Best Overall Experience. The response to the Awards Program was impressive. Forty sites were nominated, 617 State employees and contractors voted for their choice in each category, with the top three vote-getters in each category moving forward as finalists. A panel of seven judges selected the winners - the Regional Security Officer's (RSO) Security Management Console, the Diplomatic Reception Rooms, and the US Mission San Jose respectively. In addition, one site was awarded the People's Choice award to recognize that it was the top vote-getter overall (366 votes). And one individual, Andy Walsh, the Information Program Officer at US Embassy Managua, received the SharePoint Innovative Pioneer Award to recognize his effort at starting State's SharePoint Working Group, a virtual group connecting SharePoint early adopters with one another, in 2007. The SharePoint Conference would not likely have happened without Andy's initiative in setting up the Working Group.
The nominated sites illustrate many successes in knowledge management, process improvement, and change management and adoption. The RSO Security Management Console, for example, illustrates how reporting via documents (in State's case, by cable) was transformed through the use of custom lists which offer both Washington management and the RSOs a view of security conditions beyond what applies at a single post at a single point in time. RSOs in the field point to the site as a time saver which allows them to spend more time on security work than on paperwork. The Diplomatic Reception Rooms site (https://diplomaticrooms.state.gov/default.aspx) is publically accessible through use of anonymous access. The site was designed by State's SharePoint Support team to improve the presentation of information about the rooms and to initiate the Department's Patrons of Diplomacy fund raising effort. Embassy San Jose's Deputy Chief of Mission Eric Nelson describes that mission's site this way, "Our home page is a Front Office's dream, communicating all the most essential news and information to the Embassy team. What's brilliant about our site is not just the extremely well-thought design, but the amazing capabilities that we have built in. The assistance tracker, online archiving of diplomatic notes, talking points and speeches, tracking of Management policies are best practices we somehow had lived without." A Management and Program Analyst at the Office of Passport Services described their site this way: "Passport Services utilizes SharePoint as a tool to facilitate collaboration and streamline business processes through innovation and originality."
In addition to the keynote speaker and the awards ceremony, three tracks of breakout sessions, roughly aimed at audiences of those just getting started with SharePoint, site owners and site collection administrators, and designers and developers, were options for attendees. Two of the session presenters represented overseas posts to ensure the conference wasn't entirely Washington-focused.
There were challenges to the remote participation offerings -- about a half dozen locations joined via Digital Video Conference, individuals called in through telephone bridges, and State's internal television station, BNet, broadcast the morning's proceedings and one of the tracks via its BNet Meetings channel. Sporadically participants were able to access an Adobe Connect session for the same track. Our attempts stretched far beyond our comfort zone, but provided good lessons for the next conference. We're gathering feedback from participants to analyze what worked and what didn't. But despite the shortcomings, the overwhelming response thus far is that it was worth the time and effort and definitely worth repeating.
The author is an employee of STG Inc., working on contract at the US Department of State. Any views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Department of State or the United States Government.