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13

Apr

SharePoint 2010 Intranet Evolved

Since SharePoint 2010’s beta release last year it’s been clear that Microsoft has surged ahead of pure-play intranet products like Socialtext, Jive SBS, Confluence and Thoughtfarmer. Quite a feat when you consider just how many other aspects of a business SharePoint supports.

With Enterprise 2.0 functionality at its core SharePoint 2010 delivers the goods, and when combined with solid user experience design and effective governance it can provide a high value intranet with adoption to match. MOSS 2007 gained significant success in 2009 with six of Nielsen Norman’s ten best intranets using SharePoint. With the advent of SharePoint 2010, this position is set to increase as SharePoint becomes the defacto technology for intranet deployment.

In this post I’ll be covering some of the key improvements in SharePoint 2010 and their benefits in delivering a successful intranet.

 

Social Networking

Social networking has been a freight train headed for corporate intranets ever since the launch of Friendster in 2002. It can be a touchy subject in the business world as websites like Facebook are rarely associated with productivity at the office. However, things are rapidly changing and SharePoint 2010 has introduced a number of social networking features designed to keep staff connected and boost productivity. While most organisations kept MySites turned off in MOSS 2007, I have yet to meet a customer who hasn’t wanted to take advantage of this feature in SharePoint 2010.

When MySites are turned on in SharePoint 2010, each person gets a profile allowing them to keep public and private information, manage their social network, review the company org chart and understand the sites they belong to:

The social part of MySites revolves around setting up Colleagues which are essentially other users you wish to follow. Once you’re following someone, you’ll receive updates whenever they do something like change their status, update their profile or connect with someone else. These updates can be controlled by a whole series of preference settings.

The great benefit of creating a network of colleagues is that you can stay up-to-date on co-worker activities without relying on manual status updates like Yammer or Twitter.  When someone knows what their colleagues are doing the opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing increase dramatically. The Activity Feed is also highly customisable and can receive activities from external systems which further increases its usefulness.

Clicking on the Organisation tab on the profile page displays a slick looking org chart which uses the reporting hierarchy already defined in Active Directory. The org chart is interactive and provides a great way for staff to get to know the company structure during their orientation.

Expertise tracking is another useful part of MySites. Born out of the Knowledge Network initiative in Microsoft Labs, this technology integrates with Microsoft Exchange to come up with skill suggestions based on email communications. This information is used as part of People Search and provides a low cost way to start understanding who knows what in an organisation, and connecting people to teams and projects.

Social tagging is everywhere in SharePoint 2010. Saying that you like something, rating it from one to five, making a note or just plain tagging it is available in most areas via two simple buttons on the top right of the page:

Social tagging influences search rankings, provides on-going quality assurance of information and is a good way to see what other people are interested in. Basically it’s a low-cost governance mechanism that can greatly improve the quality of information on an Intranet.

 

Document Management

No intranet is complete without document management. It can be as simple as a few policies and procedures for staff or a full-blown EDRMS. My next blog post will go into detail on document and records management so for now I’ll just provide the highlights!

Document Sets are new in SharePoint 2010. Based on the concept of a folder, they group documents together into a single workspace. You can also setup Document Set Templates to contain a series of default documents so that whenever a set is created, all the correct documents become available. This can be useful if the same group of documents are always needed for a particular kind of project, team or process. Metadata, versioning and workflow can all be applied to Document Sets and there’s a home page which can be edited to explain what the set is all about:

Records management is greatly improved in SharePoint 2010 by providing something called In-Place Records Management. Rather than having a separate Records Centre site as in MOSS 2007, a document in SharePoint 2010 can be selected and declared to be a record without moving it. Once declared, policies can be applied such as when the document should be archived or destroyed, and what the security should be.  With compliance around records management becoming increasingly important in many organisations, implementing SharePoint 2010 can be a huge benefit in this area.

 

Workflows

The new SharePoint Designer has been significantly improved to allow the creation of complex business workflows which previously required custom development in MOSS 2007. In addition, Visio Services is now part of SharePoint 2010 and can be used to create workflows and display their current status. Using Visio to create workflows is an effective way of allowing a business analyst to design a workflow model without SharePoint training.

 

Search

As the amount of information grows on an intranet the business value of an effective search becomes exponentially important to staff productivity. With the acquisition of FAST Search in 2008, Microsoft significantly boosted its Enterprise Search offering. While the default search engine in SharePoint 2010 has been greatly improved with better algorithms, thumbnails and faceted search capabilities, FAST takes things to a different level by scaling to millions of documents and data sources and being able to infer metadata from content.

 

Metadata

In SharePoint 2010 you can now create a Taxonomy which is useful for managing lists of locations, occupational codes or anything that requires a hierarchy. Taxonomy can be applied to documents or items in SharePoint just like regular metadata. There’s also an option to allow users to contribute terms which can get promoted into the corporate Taxonomy.

 

Working Offline

SharePoint workspace is based on Microsoft Groove and allows users to edit lists and documents when they’re away from the office and then synchronise when they’re back online. This can be a huge productivity boost for staff that are frequently travelling.

 

Blogs

Blogs in SharePoint 2010 have been completely overhauled and now provide industry standard categories and archives as well as an improved layout. Team, project and personal blogs are a great way to capture knowledge and keep staff up-to-date.

 

The Ribbon

New in Office 2007, the ribbon was a huge step forward in usability and represented a paradigm shift from a command-oriented to a results-oriented design. I have to admit, it took a little getting used to at first but now I’m definitely a believer and find myself stumbling around in the cavernous menus of Office 2003 whenever I’m forced to go back.

The Ribbon in SharePoint is everywhere and it’s designed to provide a consistent experience across the Office platform. I believe it achieves this goal and really helps organise all the menus and buttons that existed in so many different locations in MOSS 2007. Providing consistency with Office should help to reduce support and training costs as people are immediately familiar with the user interface.

 

Web Standards

SharePoint 2010 is the most standards compliant it’s ever been. With XHTML 1.0 Strict and WCAG 2.0 AA compliance, SharePoint 2010 will function equally well on the vast majority of modern web browsers and provide a good level of accessibility. This is much improved over MOSS 2007 which didn’t meet accessibility standards out-of-the-box and required Internet Explorer for many of its functions. Being more web standards compliant allows businesses who are not on the Internet Explorer path such as those running Firefox or Safari to benefit from everything SharePoint 2010 has to offer.

 

Themes

The out-of-the-box themes have been vastly improved. The old default blue theme is gone and there are some appealing chrome designs in there. Customisation of themes is also improved over MOSS 2007 with the ability to easily change colours and fonts to match company branding without the need for a web developer.

 

That’s a small sampling of some of the improvements in SharePoint 2010 that can truly help your intranet evolve. As the only SharePoint Elite partner worldwide Intergen has been working with SharePoint 2010 for nearly a year now and helping customers deliver successful intranets for over nine years. Contact us if you’re thinking of evolving your intranet!

Posted by: Toby Spendiff, General Manager Digital, Data & AI | 13 April 2010

Tags: SharePoint 2010, Intranets


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