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Share the Power!

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.

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Sandra Yeaman


I’m pleased by your interest, but as three of the winning sites are on our Sensitive But Unclassified Network, and two of those are open only to those who are part of the work team, I’m not able to share screen shots. I do hope to share our lessons learned in the future. We’re still pulling together all our ideas.

Sandra Yeaman

As promised, a summary of our conclusions based on a review of evaluations:

We received 78 evaluations from the approximately 300 people who attended in person or through one of the virtual options. We are sharing these observations in the hope that other government groups may find the idea of an in-house SharePoint conference intriguing. We will hold future conferences based on the results and evaluations of the first one.

Conference Overall Questions:

  • 76% said the conference schedule was easy to follow
  • 98% said registration was handled smoothly
  • 55% said timing of events was adequate
  • 90% said conference committee members were helpful
  • 91% said facilities were adequate for the conference

Our conclusions: Timing of events needs improvement. Comments regarding timing referred to 1) the early start during the day (7:30 a.m.), 2) the full day’s schedule, 3) the short time allowed for the breakout sessions, and 4) the failure to stick with the printed schedule. All four of these factors need to be addressed for future events. To address them, we propose to separate the awards from the conference and schedule the next round in a 90-minute event, with more emphasis on what the award winners accomplished, at the end of 2011. In May 2012, we plan a half-day conference with fewer and longer breakout sessions.

Did the Conference meet your expectations? Seventy-one percent indicated the conference met their expectations. Our conclusion: So long as we improve on those areas where we were less successful, we should continue organizing future conference.

What did you like best?

  • The largest number of positive comments concerned the keynote speaker, Dux Raymond Sy (24).
  • Nearly half as many comments concerned the range of topics and the levels of SharePoint users, along with the State-focused nature of the presentations as positive factors (11).
  • Sharing the interest and enthusiasm of the SharePoint users and the opportunity to get to know one another and for networking were mentioned by an equal number of poeple.
  • Remaining positive comments addressed the fact that options were available for remote participation (in spite of the challenges), the variety of useful information and takeaways presented, the location at Main State, the awards, and four of the presenters were named as particularly effective.

Our conclusions: Brining in an outside speaker was a big draw and will likely attract a large audience in the future. Focusing on the the use of SharePoint at State remains a need. Remote options are essential, although we must address the challenges and complaints next time.

What did you like least or what needed improvement?

  • The largest number of complains concerned the changes in the schedule, both in terms of the specific sessions listed on the schedule lthat were not offered and the delays throughout the day that made following the schedule unreliable, especially for those taking part remotely (14).
  • The technical challenges were cited by nearly as many respondents (13). The number of these comment, however, also point out the importance of remote options being available.
  • The non-interactive nature of the presentations and the quality of the presentations or the presenters also drew a number of critical comments (9).
  • Several participants commented that the sessions were too short to allow for questions. And many of the same commented that they would have preferred fewer tracks so they could attend more of the sessions.
  • An equal number of respondents judged that the presentations were not advanced enough as those who concluded the presentations were too technical (2 each).
  • Other critical comments or suggestions dealt with the small size of the breakout rooms, the early start time, the need for more promotion of the awards voting, and the desirability of more Ignite! sessions. (Ignite! is a presentation style promoted by Bill O’Reilly in which 20 slides are presented for 15 seconds each, which keeps the presenter focused on conveying information in a compact and concise manner.)

Our conclusions: Fewer and longer sessions, with clearly identified target audience levels would address many of the criticisms and suggestions. Fewer and more reliable remote options, with earlier testing of the setup to verify they work, for each of the sessions would address the majority of the remaining criticisms and suggestions.

Future of SharePoint Conferences: Ninety-two percent of the respondents said State should hold a similar conference next year. The majority of the respondents referred to the excitement the conference generated, the increasing use of SharePoint and the corresponding need for more employees to learn how to use it effectively, the inevitable changes in both technology and staff, and the anticipated migration to SharePoint 2010 as reasons to hold another conference next year.

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.


It was a great in internal SharePoint conference which a lot of orgs can emulate. Make sure you come to SP Saturday The Conf in DC from http://www.spstc.org on Aug 11-13 – Cindy Cassil from State Dept will be speaking