SharePoint 2013 – third time lucky?

293277608_0fa427d99e_nAs 2013 gets underway, interest in SharePoint 2013 continues to grow. While many companies are thinking of upgrading sooner rather later, others remain wary of taking another chance with SharePoint 2013.

Most of the advice I see handed out about using SharePoint for an organisation’s intranet (or ‘digital workplace’) assumes that the decision is final and it will be used without any customisation, other than perhaps the front-end design. The problem of shoe-horning SharePoint’s functionality and information architecture to fit business needs is thrown to the people actually responsible for the intranet. Unfortunately this has been the all too tragic story of technology-led approaches to implementing SharePoint.

To be completely fair, this is actually not an unusual situation as no technology is ever a completely perfect fit. SharePoint is a broad, feature rich platform and when used in a large organisation this creates an inherently complex environment both from a technology and business perspective. The way we typically deal with this complexity is through the application of various design approaches, including user-centred design (UCD). We combine design insights with various business and non-functional requirements to determine the best way forward.

Even if SharePoint is assumed as the platform BEFORE the needs of the people who will be using have been ascertained, its not too late to step back from the immediate technology choice and apply user-centred design approach to understanding those needs. The benefits of employing a design process that is not just focused on SharePoint is that:

  • You can anticipate the weak areas of SharePoint that are most important to your users and co-design a way to mitigate them in the deployment.
  • You can understand better where SharePoint might fit within the broader context of other communication and collaboration technologies (e.g. unified communications, external social media, line-of-business applications).
  • The design process can also help the organisational change process to start on the right foot, which means greater buy in when designing the information architecture and governance approach.

Naturally we would recommend employing the services of a company like Ripple Effect Group who not only understand SharePoint but have a broader knowledge of workplace expectations and technology trends. Working in a SharePoint design bubble creates a false sense of fit for purpose, but equally the technical recommendations that emerge from the design process need to be workable in practice.

Your intranet might well place SharePoint 2013 at the centre, but it may also need to be augmented with other solutions. Within Microsoft’s own family products such as Yammer are intended to not only complement SharePoint but bring new capabilities that might be difficult to achieve, such as support for external networks. Other extensions like Newsgator bring other features that can overcome some of SharePoint 2013’s other limitations. Many other non-Microsoft products can also integrate with SharePoint to complete the package – for example, Confluence, Igloo, Jive, Socialcast, Socialtext.

A successful SharePoint 2013 deployment does not need to be based on luck.

Image credit: dice another day CC-BY-ND