SharePoint 2010 – Optimized Usage in a Federal Environment?

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This topic contains 15 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  Heather Coleman 9 years, 9 months ago.

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  • #123161

    Rob Ahern

    As more Federal agencies move into the cloud, platforms like SharePoint are increasingly available. Unfortunately, many managers and program staff don’t know how to optimize or even improve productivity with these new tools. SharePoint is often used to provide document access and editing capabilities to a variety of users who may be in different locations. With this application is useful, the platform appears to offer much more – For example, I’m told that the 2010 version will have a blogging feature which will hopefully improve that somewhat cumbersome Discussion tool found in earlier versions.

    I’m wondering if anyone has specific experience with SharePoint 2010 in a Federal environment – have you used it to do anything beside document sharing and editing? Do supervisors use it to communicate or foster discussion? What are some of the best features of this platform, and what successes has it enabled? In my opinion platforms like SharePoint provide an opportunity to increase ownership of a process or product while simultaneously increasing accountability and overall communication; the Federal environment is historically a silo-dominated landscape and I’m curious to know whether these tools are helping to change that.

    Any insights, suggestions, or tips will be appreciated!

  • #123191

    Heather Coleman

    I’m striving to implement more advanced functionality (beyond document sharing) within a SharePoint 2007 environment by introducing the users to lists, blogs, wikis, discussion boards, surveys, etc. It’s slow going, because so many users are habitual e-mailers. It definitely requires a change in behavior and constant communication about how it will help them in their every day responsibilities. I find I have had greater success because of my blend of business process knowledge and SharePoint technical knowledge. I try to create visually pleasing pages with enhanced back-end functionality.

    The user often knows the problems they face but not what SharePoint is capable of doing so they have a hard time asking for what they need. The SharePoint developer knows the functionality and capabilities of SharePoint but not the ins and outs of the user’s business processes in order to recommend the right tool for the situation. So it’s often a failed trial and error effort.

    I’m lucky that I have a client that is very open to pushing the envelope with SharePoint’s capabilities. It’s helpful if leadership leads the way with adopting the different features and pushing for others to use them.

    Once you have an example of a group using the other features successfully, capture that success and share it (repeatedly) with the user base. It will give them ideas on what is possible in SharePoint.

    I’m looking forward to getting into SharePoint 2010 and exploiting the more robust social features it will have, especially the MySite functionality for knowledge management.

  • #123189

    Lorelei Cheung

    Great question Rob! This issue is something that we are working through in our office as well but with the 2007 version. I think the biggest challenge we have found is encouraging users to regularly access the site to receive information. We have made some progress by signing users up for email alerts and RSS feeds. Have you used any other tools to encourage users to access the site?

  • #123187

    Rob Ahern

    Thanks for the comment, Lorelei. In response to your question, I’ve used alerts for specific discussions and saw limited success. I’d ultimately like SharePoint to serve as the communication hub for a group of 20-30 people and, as Heather noted, it can be tough to make a change like that from an email culture. I assume that the RSS and alert functions will be available for blogs in the new version and I’m hoping that we’re able to demonstrate the benefit of open communication to a group that isn’t used to change. We’ll see and, either way, I’m excited to see what the new products can do.

  • #123185

    John M Stephens

    Hi Rob,

    I’m happy to share our experience with using SharePoint 2007 in the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Culture and while not quite on target for your request, I think there is still enough similarities to be worth sharing.

    We are a small ministry but we do have employees spread out across the province in regional offices and even in Toronto, our Ministry staff are spread out in numerous office buildings throughout the downtown area. So for us successful collaboration tools could prove extremely useful.

    We do use SharePoint for documents although less for collaboration unfortunately and more for easy reference – its often simpler to find things in SP than our not always well organized or completely accessible shared drives. We are in the process of migrating a document repository from Lotus (which our IT no longer support) to a SharePoint library for our Corporate Policy unit who use it to research earlier responses to cabinet items when preparing briefing material for our Minister. This proved a much less expensive alternative than the other alternatives offered by our IT Branch and since staff are familiar with SharePoint, no training will be required.

    We do use SharePoint to collaborate on tracking a variety of issues and plans. One example is our KITT or Key Initiatives Tracking Tool (not to be confused with the super-car but almost as useful!!) All our senior staff meet monthly to review the status of these initiatives. A SP list is used where the various staff leads update in SharePoint the status and progress as appropriate, their manager’s review and then the list is used for leading the discussion at the meeting. Using a green/yellow/red system staff can also flag items that are “off track”. Previously excel spreadsheets or word docs were email circulated for update and considerable time would be spent collecting and rolling up all the updates. Now that is all eliminated and in fact the info is available to anyone in real time (that in itself was a culture change for many.) In addition this list can also include operational planning items as well as key initiatives meaning staff make updates in only one location and various filters and views allow for reporting for difference purposes or for difference divisions, branches or units.

    We also use SharePoint (using a list) for tracking all our approvals of materials/products as they wind their way through the ministry. Admin staff at each level enter/update the approval status and ANYONE in the ministry can check the system to find out where their (or someone else’s) materials are in the process! This replaced a whole slew of spreadsheet logs kept by each individual admin who could tell you when a product arrived and left their unit but nothing about where it currently was (ex. perhaps buried in a senior manager’s inbasket).

    We also use another list we call Protrack (for product tracking) to assign briefing notes/decks, event notes, etc. automatically sends an email to the staff person assigned with all the relevant details (who, what, where, when, when due). All the executive assistants and managers have access (and get daily email notifications) to know what has been assigned, when it is due and what is outstanding. If briefing/event and dues dates change, a quick update to Protrack and another email automatically informs the staff lead. (I’ve even had numerous staff indicate that they always enjoy gettting the email notification that their task was “completed”!) Once again this replaced a Word table list that was sent out by email 2 or 3 times a week but was out of date almost as soon as you hit send.

    We also use lists to track a whole variety of other items – aboriginal community engagement, green energy consultations, a key stakeholder contact list, external inquiries (tracks our customer service standard response times), and many more.

    One last example of what proved extremely useful was a SharePoint list tracking Culture related capital funding. We’re often asked to provided funding info in background notes and especially events notes for events our Minster is attending, and in the past we had to contact the ONLY person in the ministry that had access to this info on a spreadsheet and hope they could get back to us in a timely manner. We convinced that unit to import the spreadsheet into a SharePoint list to which we added some other key metadata like riding (i.e. electoral districts), program name, recipient type (arts, museum, library, etc) and now ANYONE in our ministry can quickly filter this list to get the information they need in literally minutes without having to go through anyone else.

    We also have a wide variety of “team sites” based on groups or topics within the ministry – most often used by cross ministry teams. They often make use of the announcements, calendars, links, contact lists, discussions, key documents, etc. to share relevant info and as a one stop knowledge base on their topic. There are team sites for admin staff, archaeology, heritage planning, aboriginal relations, municipal cultural planning, employee engagement, corporate initiatives, green planning team and many more. Each team site has a staff person who is the “site owner” responsible for its use, content and promotion. As a result each site is unique in the functions it uses and the focus it takes.

    Lastly we’ve been doing a pilot with the wiki function as a knowledge management tool. Last time I checked there were about 600 pages but I don’t think we’ve reached the critical mass of information OR users to suggest this is the place people go to check for information they are looking for…yet! 🙂

  • #123183

    John M Stephens

    I’ve mentioned our uses in another comment but Heather raises some interesting points about users and developers. For better or worse here’s how it rolled out in our organization:

    1. I started by identifying those things in my own job that could benefit from using SharePoint, created/implemented those items and trained and various “users” that needed to be involved.
    2. Next I identified other process or procedures I thought could benefit from SharePoint and approached those staff involved to demonstrate and sell the idea. Thankfully once you know what you’re doing, it often only takes a few minutes to create a demo list or site which is really useful in explaining what exactly you’re proposing and how easy it is to use. We created, refined, trained staff and launched our approvals tracking process (list) discussed in my other comment within 10 days from idea to launch! (No taking 6 months to finalize a project charter with the IT Solutions Branch!!!)
    3. Next staff started coming to me with ideas and projects and asking if this was something SP could help with. Usually I said sure and was able to demo using other sites or list how it might work – occasionally I’d suggest SP wasn’t the appropriate tool for them (for example we can’t use it outside our firewall so at the moment we can’t use it for collaboration with non-government stakeholders.)
    4. Eventually so many staff were coming to me with ideas and request that we had to move to the next stage (SP isn’t actually part of my job even though I somehow became the Ministry SharePoint “Admin”.) So we asked for volunteers (one or two per unit) to become what we called SuperUsers – staff who had the SP rights to create sites and lists which our basic users don’t. We then sent them on external SP training appropriate to their roles. Now – and this is the most relevant response to Heather – these superusers have gone back to their units, identified uses for SP and implemented them. The users have now become the developers which I think is the ideal situation. Granted they can pretty much only use the out-of-the-box features but that still provides an amazing amount of utility!
    5. Now if staff come to me with an idea for SP, I’m happy to discuss it with them and them point them to their superuser. Superusers meet regularly to share what their working on and discuss how to deal with issues or roadblocks they’ve encountered. I’m still the chief SP cheerleader and perceived “expert” (they call me Dr. SharePoint) but I spend most of my time coaching the Superusers on the finer points of creating views, or filtering lists.

    You’ll note that I really didn’t mention managers in this process at all. Managers are aware of SP kinda sort of, they approved the training $ for their superusers but for the most part the use of SP in our ministry has been driven 99% by staff. No question some staff are less “enthusiastic” about any new technology but many including the newest GenX staff not only embrace it but expect it – why would we NOT be using technology to our fullest if it allows us to work smarter, not harder? Management frankly is just trying to keep up 🙂

  • #123181

    Steve Ressler

    We used a 2007 implementation at a previous job. We tried it a few different ways but one way I thought it worked well was reporting and basic project reporting. Each project manager was responsible for managing very basic information on a dashboard in Sharepoint that senior execs checked frequently

  • #123179

    Stephen Dixon

    I am with a Provincial Agency in Canada, not a Federal Agency, but we have adopted SharePoint. Where I find it most useful has been in three areas:

    1. Lists
    2. Wiki”s
    3. Team Sites.

    I have found team sites very useful when I start a project. I typically set up a site with documents to bring related information to the team. Each team member brings information to the library. You would be surprised to see what documentation is within your organization that you didn’t even know existed! The site will also have a wiki to enable us to work collaboratively on documenting the output (report, etc) and sometimes a discussion forum for the team to discuss and debate points of interest and challenges.

  • #123177

    tracie sanchez

    we use it at the university of georgia, so not federal but state. we use the blog to reach out students weekly, as a CRM for all current/alumni records, archive files, create workspaces for events (mini websites), collaborate with colleagues outside the university for selection processes, calendaring for a program and more.

  • #123175

    Brian K Seitz

    Yes, We’re in process of architecting/planning the upgrade to SharePoint 2010 for our division. Our group provides SharePoint services for multiple Fed components that have been traditionally silo’d. It becomes a question beyond just the technology and into governance of the information and processes.

    While implementations can be problematic, its understand what you want that’s the more difficult issue to settle. I’ll be presenting on this topic at SharePoint Saturday San Diego Feb 26, then back to DC after several other presentations on the West Coast ending up on Microsoft Redmond Campus on the 6th.

  • #123173

    Gary Vaughan


    Sound planning and governance is a big part of optimizing SharePoint for any organization. You may want to listen in to my BlogTalkRadio interview with experts on SharePoint Deployment Planning Services (SDPS) at 9:30 A.M. EST this Friday, 2/25/10 – here are further Show details. You may also tweet in your questions during the Show by contacting @glvaughan.

    More to your question, here is the link to a Show I recorded earlier this month to explain the benefits of SP 2010. It has enhanced social media and other features, but again, planning, training and requirements analysis are a large part of any successful SharePoint implementation.

    Hope you find these useful!


  • #123171

    Rob Ahern

    I really like the superuser idea- we have project teams and it seems like team leads would be good candidates for that sort of role. And I agree about manager participation, or lack thereof… in this case it seems like development and implementation really need to be driven by those who directly benefit from it; that said, support ($$ or otherwise) from management seems to be critical.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments-

  • #123169

    Rob Ahern

    Is SP use manadatory for team leaders in your office? I only ask because, while I think the approach you described is ideal, it seems like the effort would be incomplete if folks were able to opt out. This is something we really struggle with- potentially mandating a cultural shift to tools that make some people uncomfortable, especially when the benefits aren’t readily apparent (usually the benefits are there but reluctant folks choose not to see them). Any thoughts?

  • #123167

    Rob Ahern

    I think the issue you and Brian (above) highlighted- governance- is the most challenging aspect of this entire process. It’s difficult because use of technologies like SP almost always changes how processes are completed, so traditional governance strategies must be modified, sometimes on the fly. I think it’s difficult to overstate the importance of developing a very detailed strategic plan before moving forward with something like this.

  • #123165

    Paul Alberti

    We are just getting started in the SP2010 environment. We stood up a 2007 solution and promptly migrated to 2010; not the best way to engage an organization. I am very much in favor of SharePoint; I have been promoting it for years. SP2010 has so many capabilities; it is difficult to focus on one solution. We are starting with the usual document management focus, and will branch out from there.
    One of my most significant hurdles is we have a variety of MS Office installs – 2007 and 2010, we have XP and Win7, Explorer 7 and 8. Our Office installs were not configured to integrate all the Outlook, SharePoint functions, many of the icons are greyed out. We own the universe, but work in a one acre wheatfield in Kansas. It takes the full IT and business community to configure, integrate and implement a resource like SharePoint.

  • #123163

    John Jediny

    SharePoint as its currently used in the federal government from my experience is helpful but is not the answer to collaboration. As the most well known social learning platform, share point suffers from the same 10% law of contributions, the same as wikis. On top of that, thanks to our continued false sense of security, the majority of SharePoint instances are stood up inside an agencies firewall. So it becomes a glorified shared drive, effective use of SharePoint is to focus on its process/project management capabilities (task, workflows, teams, wikis, etc). The moment you view SP as your document management solution it’s already a lost cause. Use SP as the “spine” of the system, use SP to optimize your Office 2010 suite, this enables the “collaboration” piece by using Word/Excel in tandem with Lync/Communicator/Groove or OneNote as the face of your SP using it to enable the unrealized “collaborative authoring” capabilities. Basically if SP can be used to integrate behinds the scenes you’ll avoid scaring off users who are (and will always be) gun shy of any new tool that requires learning/transitioning

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