Insights

  • Better SharePoint User Adoption through Design

    by Jennifer Kenderdine | Jun 07, 2016

    SharePoint helps teams collaborate, whether they’re made up of 100 people in one location or tens of thousands of people located across the world. Out of the box, the tool can help users communicate internally and collaborate on projects by storing documents, collecting information, and sharing it with segmented groups. What users interact with is a secure website that gives them the freedom and flexibility to be more productive no matter where colleagues are located.

    However, SharePoint’s look and feel out of the box and can often leave much to be desired, leading to low adoption rates across an enterprise. A hard to navigate website that doesn’t look and feel like  what users have become accustomed to can make or break a company’s SharePoint deployment.

    While Microsoft has made—and continues to make—great strides with the user interface, users still struggle with SharePoint’s out-of-the-box user interface. What differentiates a SharePoint site that is hard to navigate and underutilized from one that truly impacts collaboration and productivity is great design and user interface/user experience (UI/UX) work.

    As users across an enterprise move through a SharePoint environment or site, it helps if the navigation, data views such as charts or spreadsheets, reports, content and forms are branded consistently. Think about your own experience: For example, when navigating through an online store where a payment page looks different than a product page might give you pause, cause a little bit of confusion, or even make you lose trust in the site and abandon your purchase.

    The same goes for SharePoint.

    With the help of a SharePoint developer, a UI/UX expert, an experienced graphic designer and a set of brand standards, you can design a SharePoint site that’s focused on the user.

    The right mix of creative design and technical knowledge can enrich SharePoint and make it even more user-friendly. Enhancements to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, client side object model (CSOM), REST, JSON, and .Net can, for example, incorporate various branding elements or change the way forms look on a page.

    List views are widely used across SharePoint to display different types of information, from news items, to documents available for download, to events, and more. The out-of-the-box functionality uses a large un-formatted table to display the title, URL, a description, notes and filters. This bare-bones table includes all the information an administrator needs to properly organize data and set up filters; however, the initial display is completely unbranded and anything but user friendly.

    But with the right design, some user interface skills and a bit of JavaScript, traditional list views are designed to show only needed information like a linked title and description. Additional features like filtering are displayed at the top of the page (and also designed to incorporate branded “filter” buttons), instead of within each table entry, making the list of resources much more user friendly. Rather than a interacting with a very wide table which users must scroll left-right and up-down to navigate, the experience is much better.

    BEFORE:

    SPblog1



    AFTER: 

    SPblog2

    Likewise, lists of links, which are also displayed in an un-formatted, unsightly table with several fields, can be styled to appear as a single list of destinations you’d find on a homepage. These are just a few examples of how you can customize SharePoint for your organization.

    BEFORE:

    SPblog3

    AFTER:

    SPblog4

    With all of the customization options, it’s easy to over-customize. There are, however, times when the out-of-the-box functionality for a part of SharePoint works well and doesn’t need to be customized. For example, Alerts that notify a small group of people when part of a workflow is completed is standard within SharePoint. It’s not necessary to overdevelop or over-design this functionality unless user needs dictate something different.

    To make the best use of SharePoint and ensure it’s adopted across all groups in an enterprise, it’s best to have a good understanding of how it’ll be used and which parts of SharePoint should be modified, as well as which parts work well out-of-the-box. Determining the mix of standard functionality with unique, branded elements will help you get the most out of your SharePoint investment and ensure maximum user adoption.  

  • Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 as a Learning Ecosystem

    by Jennifer Kenderdine | Jul 29, 2015

    microsoft 365 and sharepoint as a learning ecosystem

    Our post was published in a recent issue of Learning Solutions Magazine...

    Benefits of Microsoft SharePoint as a Training Tool

    Microsoft SharePoint is one of the most prevalent, effective and extensible content collaboration solutions utilized across a range of industries. Users appreciate the security, control, accessibility, business integration, ease of use and the wealth of tools integrated into their SharePoint intranets and extranets. Because SharePoint is robust as both a content management system and a collaboration tool, it's easy to imagine the benefit it could bring as a natural training resource. Since it is already integrated into many businesses, SharePoint is especially valuable as a tool to implement training when a Learning Management System (LMS) is not in place, when the investment in an LMS is costly, or when there are other limitations to implementing an LMS within the business environment. Typical limitations of a traditional LMS include awkward user interface functionality, challenging content management tools, and compatibility for limited content types. Unlike most LMS’s, SharePoint is an extensible collaboration platform, so it is very well suited to be leveraged as a learning ecosystem.  

    Selecting a Learning Ecosystem for a Blended Learning Approach

    What is a learning ecosystem? A learning ecosystem is a hub for collaboration and learning. It contains learning content as well as other tools for learners, instructors and business units. Often, additional tools include ways for learners to interact by posting questions, conducting discussions and gathering feedback. Learning content can be accessed and assignments can be uploaded. Instructors can add pertinent content through a blog or send out information via email. In short, it’s a virtual classroom. Because SharePoint includes tools that match the needs of an ecosystem, it’s an obvious choice.  

    An effective learning ecosystem creates a learning environment that meets the needs of the adult learner. Addressing learner needs can be accomplished by using a blended learning approach, allowing students control over their learning, and providing social interaction. It can be a challenge to find a platform that can support this environment. SharePoint’s built-in Out of the Box (OOTB) features support the learning ecosystem without creating the need for additional modifications to the platform.

    What Adult Learners “Expect” from a Learning Experience:

    • That it mostly be Learner-directed (I should be able to do this/find this information myself)
    • That it acknowledge and build on the Learner’s experience and prior knowledge
    • That they will learn what they need to know and be able to deal with real life situations that are contextual
    • That it be learning that is life-centered, task-centered or problem-centered

    Creating the Ecosystem

    STEP ONE
    The first step in developing an ecosystem in SharePoint is to take an inventory of your content. In order to be sure everything is accessible, it’s important to understand what is compatible with this platform. For example, SharePoint is compatible with any Microsoft file (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Visio). SharePoint will also support several video file types such as AVI, MPG, MP3, MP4, OGG and WMV. PDF files, which are universally accessible and cannot be easily edited, are also frequently used.
    As part of your inventory process, you should first make a list of all of content and file types and who, in general, will be using it. Make sure to consider all of the ways you want to communicate or involve your learners. Will you need notifications, email, a scheduling system, contact information? It is helpful to make a list of things you need the ecosystem to support. Then, talk to the SharePoint expert in your organization to see how it can be used to create a custom learning ecosystem that matches those needs.

    STEP TWO
    Once you determine what files you will add to the ecosystem along with your general minimum requirements, you will need to decide how you can use SharePoint as your virtual classroom. It’s best to work with a SharePoint administrator or developer to establish the user and functional requirements up front. You may also want to consult a user interface designer to make sure the home page and navigation are intuitive and easy to use. 

    As part of the requirements-gathering process, you should establish who will need access to the content and types of access they need; this is a foundational step in the development and curation process and key to how SharePoint works best. Levels of access may differ depending on the type of content, what the user is going to need to do with the content and how much they should have access to. You can work with your SharePoint expert to determine the roles for access and what level of access applies to each. Think of this as a process where you are sorting the content into buckets, where each bucket contains content that is relatable to a particular user group. Rules are put into place to determine who needs to see what content, and how they should be able to interact with it. The groups will likely include learners, instructors, administrators of the site (and possibly administrators of the content) and the business leaders. 

    STEP THREE
    SharePoint supports adding new content and allows for collaboration through several built-in features.

    SharePoint Libraries and Lists: As you build your ecosystem, there are many ways to add content to the SharePoint environment.  Document libraries can house Microsoft Word or text files, as well as accommodate Excel and PowerPoint files. Excel spreadsheets can also be integrated into a SharePoint list so each row of the spreadsheet becomes a separate item in the list. You can place videos and other media content into an asset library. Understanding what types of lists are available to you in SharePoint and how they can be used is very valuable during the setup process.

    SharePoint Collaboration Features: One of the great advantages of the SharePoint platform is its multitude of built-in collaboration features. Some of the features that can be leveraged for your ecosystem include: Announcements that can be forwarded to email, calendars for tracking important dates, discussion boards for learner interaction, blogs for instructor-added content, libraries for accessing content and uploading assignments, lists of links to web resources, surveys for feedback, contact lists for curriculum and more. It’s even possible to create a library for completed assignments that tracks delivery (due date), includes assessments and allows comments to be added. The learners would then be able to open their corrected assignments, receive their assessments and read feedback from one location.
    Using SharePoint’s OOTB features gives users enough functionality to develop a successful learning ecosystem with a short deployment time and low maintenance cost. There are, however, opportunities to modify SharePoint based on your unique learning needs.

    Customizing SharePoint

    While SharePoint’s OOTB functionality is robust enough to develop and implement learning and training programs, it can also be customized to add features. This type of customization, including design, build and integration, typically requires a more experienced developer. 

    Here are some common learning ecosystem requirements that may need custom solutions or other tools: 

    • Testing, scoring and reporting (Captivate has built-in tools that can be leveraged)
    • Learner progress reports
    • Performance tracking
    • Web/page analytics (SharePoint’s OOTB version includes basic page analytics)

    Ongoing Maintenance and Efficiencies

    After you’ve successfully deployed a learning ecosystem through SharePoint, it’s important to keep the content up to date. Edit the content regularly so it remains evergreen and usable, and move older content to an archive location (library, list or folder). Consideration should be given to content that is out of date and will not be reused, but be cautious about deletion because deleted files are not recoverable. A SharePoint expert can help you develop an overall maintenance plan for your ecosystem. To efficiently build upon your learning ecosystem, your current site can also be saved as a template so it can be reused for additional topics, courses or groups.  

    Often times, there are few outlets inside companies for learning content, and platforms are dictated by the IT department. With the prevalence of SharePoint as an intranet, workflow tool and more, using it for all of your learning needs keeps it accessible and makes it easy for users to consume your content.

  • SharePoint 2013 Delivers Data to Any Device

    by Jennifer Kenderdine | Dec 12, 2014

    sharepoint 2013 across all devices

    Mobile device use is increasing at a staggering rate—one look around just about any setting will confirm this. People are more connected than ever, and by 2018, Internet traffic from wireless and mobile devices will surpass traffic from wired devices1. Because of this, IT architects must consider all of these mobile devices and their users when planning environments that will deliver and exchange critical business data.

    But how do you push critical data with rich, dynamic, interactive content to the challenging (read small) scale of the mobile universe? That’s where Microsoft SharePoint 2013 enters the scene. SharePoint 2013 is the constantly evolving tool for collaboration, document management, sharing and publication of data, business process creation, web content delivery and more.  While the last release, SharePoint 2010, presented some challenges to responsive web design, SharePoint 2013 has made it much easier for web designers to brand and design their sites. These new capabilities enable you to create user friendly interfaces across the panoply of mobile operating systems.

    The Increasing Need for Mobile-Friendly Data

    Much of the current workforce is roving—they access documents on the go, use tablets to sell products and services to customer, and are finding that laptops are burdensome tool used solely when in the office or at home. If you’ve made critical business data available to this workforce-on-the-move, your organization needs to acknowledge this trend and design sites for easy reading and navigation while keeping resizing, panning and scrolling to a minimum. Your SharePoint content must be more mobile device friendly: available and convenient for your workforce and customers no matter what device they bring to the table.

    Building a Dynamic Solution for Every Device

    Deploying a strategic solution to render the SharePoint sites across devices without losing functionality and content can be done using new web design techniques.

    • Apply responsive web design principles to provide an optimal viewing experience across devices. The responsive design methodology, when planned correctly, provides a single design approach (a single master page) versus multiple designs for each device. Develop the SharePoint design keeping mobile first in mind and utilizing the pillars of responsive web design:keep the design fluid (I.e. a grid system), integrate use of flexible media, and use media queries. When used properly, the elements in the page rearrange themselves to fit the current resolution as the browser window is resized from desktop, to mobile, and back again.
    • Build to the design, not to the device. The site’s functionality and content should be the same, regardless of the size of the screen.
    • Leverage web designers and consultants who are a crucial component for a successful SharePoint implementation. The person with the right skillset will understand how to employ HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript/JQuery libraries and other web tools to create a responsive design for your SharePoint sites through branding, page layouts and web parts/apps.

    Though deploying your responsive web design requires several new considerations, it provides a single, easy to manage solution for the “bring your own device” dilemma. Users will have access to the SharePoint content across their devices and the information is truly at their fingertips. With easier access to this information, productivity increases, SharePoint adoption is higher and users are more satisfied. This leads to an increase in ROI.

    The Opportunity with SharePoint 2013

    SharePoint 2013 natively supports many mobile browsers, and much of the web tooling that designers use regularly can now be leveraged within the SharePoint 2013 framework. The support for responsive web design, integration of universal web technologies (JavaScript/JQuery libraries), and design tools like Dreamweaver and Web Expressions continues to evolve and grow, giving businesses ever-increasing opportunities to leverage the growing mobile workforce and customer base.

    Trellist can help you deliver your critical business data to users, no matter what device they’re using. Learn more about our experience with SharePoint from this client success story. Then, connect with us on Twitter @trellist and reach out to us at info@trellist.com.

    1 Source: Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2013 – 2018 http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/ip-ngn-ip-next-generation-network/white_paper_c11-481360.html

Insights posts by: Jennifer Kenderdine

Jennifer Kenderdine

With over 20 years of experience in technology and communications, Jennifer is an expert Microsoft SharePoint developer at Trellist. Her work has helped enterprise clients create more efficient internal business processes and experiences via their collaboration software. Jennifer is also a featured presenter on the topic of SharePoint at professional events and conferences throughout the region.