Next week, Colligo and IT Unity are joining forces to bring you the webinar Gold Medal Collaboration: SharePoint Engagement at NBC for the Olympics. I recently met with our guest speakers, SharePoint MVP Dan Holme and Colligo CEO Barry Jinks, to discuss the success of the SharePoint implementation for NBC Olympics at the 2014 Olympic Games.
I learned that for two decades, Dan has consulted with IT professionals and business decision-makers about their collaboration needs and use cases, and he is the author of hundreds of articles and numerous books on Microsoft technologies. In addition to serving as the Microsoft Technologies Consultant for NBC Olympics at the Olympic Games at Sochi, he also filled the same role during the Olympics in London, Torino, Beijing and Vancouver.
Barry Jinks is the founder and CEO of Colligo, and has for more than 25 years been a respected technology innovator and entrepreneur. A recognized SharePoint client technology expert and frequent speaker on the subjects of SharePoint and Enterprise Content Management (ECM), Barry also shares his insights through Colligo’s popular SharePoint Blog.
Here is the transcript from my interview and your sneak peak at next week’s webinar. Space is limited – register today!
Jeff Schaeffler: Dan, tell me about your collaboration goals when you used SharePoint to accomplish at the Olympics.
Dan Holme: My role at NBC for the period of the Olympics was to support the Microsoft technology for all of the information workers and others who were using it to get their jobs done. And, like many organizations, NBC has a lot of collaboration that has to happen in order to bring an effort as mammoth as the Olympics to the screen. To support those collaborative goals, one of the technologies we used was SharePoint, and my goal as the Microsoft technologies consultant was to help design and implement and support SharePoint in order to provide a flexible, rapid response platform for people to get their jobs done during the Games.
Jeff Schaeffler: When you were using SharePoint, was there a particular need that was most crucial?
Dan Holme: We end up having 2,700 people that needed to get up to speed within about two weeks, and they had to be able to immediately get their information to work with each other. So the collaborative workload was certainly the key use case for us.
Jeff Schaeffler: What components were you facilitating in the collaboration?
Dan Holme: A lot of cloud-sharing and information-sharing in the form of lists and pages in SharePoint. Also, we had to be aware that, whatever solution we provided to support those business needs had to be incredibly discoverable and usable, because many of the users had never used SharePoint before, or if they had, it was maybe only for a couple of weeks in one of the previous Games. And so, unlike many organizations and their implementations of a major technology, we really didn’t have the luxury of a training-and-adoption program, we just had to make sure that the solution itself was discoverable, usable and adoptable.
Jeff Schaeffler: So how did you ramp that up so quickly?
Dan Holme: One of the key approaches we took was really trying to provide people with instant value through “no-brainer” use cases, which would get them into the SharePoint–based intranet and using it immediately. For example, when people arrive at the Olympics, they’re handed a new cellphone with a local cell plan, and a new laptop to use during the course of the Games. So we put an employee directory on SharePoint that contained everyone’s cellphone numbers, because we knew people would need that immediately to figure out how to reach their colleagues. That put them into our intranet environment where they were able to discover other functionalities, such as installing printers and applications and connecting to the other resources they needed. So we basically got them into the intranet by putting the information they would need to consume there, and then we made the navigation and the interface straightforward so it would become a cycle of productivity where they would discover new value, apply that value and then discover more.
Jeff Schaeffler: Can you tell us more about how you used the Colligo Briefcase tool?
Dan Holme: One of the things we’ve discovered over the last couple of years is that we, like other organizations, are really impacted by the proliferation of devices. Even in the days of the Vancouver Olympics, we had a policy that if you needed to access corporate data, you had to be on a corporate device, either a laptop or desktop on the wired network. Starting in London, that really disintegrated very quickly as people started arriving with iPads, iPhones, Android devices and their own personal laptops. These were no longer corporate-managed assets and yet everyone needed access to information. In Sochi, we were able to use Colligo Briefcase to deliver information onto iPads and other devices, and this was our first opportunity to really do that with the Colligo tools. And we found that Briefcase was incredibly easy to install and configure and the use case definitely is there. So now we’re looking forward to using it at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, and even toward using it for some of our internal needs between now and 2016. The tool has really proven to have the ability to manage the distribution of content onto those devices.
Jeff Schaeffler: Why did you choose to use the Briefcase product?
Dan Holme: The appeal in our case was primarily the mobile access. While security was a factor, access to data is pretty broad across the user base. There are certain people who are producing information, and a lot of people are consuming that, so the management of security is a slightly lower priority for us. But we’ve got such a short period of time to equip users with what they need, to literally push it to them so they know where they need to go, and that’s something that we found Briefcase did quite effectively.
Jeff Schaeffler: Is this a typical business use case for Briefcase, Barry?
Barry Jinks: Document distribution is one of the biggest mobility use cases around. The ability to push content out and have people find that acceptable while it’s constantly changing is something that a lot of people use Briefcase for. A couple of typical applications are, for example, a sales port, where you’re pushing out product content, or applications where people are working on smaller devices such as a tablet. Many mobility use cases are on phones, and those are certainly better for consuming content than for publishing content.
But it’s not just about pushing documents to users; it’s also about creating and editing content. There are many great applications where you want to push out information to people on an app and be able to make a fairly simple change to the content and then send it back. One example might be a board of directors’ site, where you’re pushing out documents for review and comment. Another might be using Colligo’s PDF annotation capabilities to mark up a document and send it back to the site for the content creator to see. Construction companies find the application useful for collaborating on job sites by pushing out diagrams and other documents, and then uploading photos of projects tagged with their location.
Jeff Schaeffler: Did the Olympics environment present any other unique challenges, Dan?
Dan Holme: There were certainly several challenges, one of which is the need to create a very flexible platform that can scale to accommodate any needs that a team might have. When we’re putting together the staff of about 2,700 people for the Games, a lot of those people don’t work together except every two years at the Olympics. So in that situation, you’ve got people who are coming together to get a job done with often brand-new technology, and it’s only during the actual work that you figure out what it is that people are trying to do. So you need to have a platform that’s flexible and scalable, because if someone comes in with a business need, in the case of the Olympics, that need has to be delivered now — it really doesn’t allow you time to do what you would in a normal business, where you step back and do a needs analysis and slowly develop a solution. SharePoint is an amazing platform for that: Its ability to present information in not only a browser but across devices, to put together apps and other solutions quickly, to support those solutions with workflows and business process automation — all of those components make SharePoint a particularly well-suited platform for rapid application solution development, which the Olympics certainly requires. We have thousands of people arriving over a period of two weeks, they’ve got two weeks to get their jobs done and then they go home. If what they need to do doesn’t happen during that period of time, it doesn’t happen at all.
Jeff Schaeffler: How much prep time are you given before the teams show up?
Dan Holme: We’ve got about two-and-a-half to three weeks prior to the opening ceremonies. That’s when everyone is arriving, that’s when we’re getting these requests and trying to get everyone up to speed. By the time the opening ceremonies happen, it has to be basically working, and at that point then it’s a matter of being around in case something breaks.
We built the farm for SharePoint in late 2013, a couple of months in advance of the three-week timeframe. But that was really just infrastructure and setting the stage. Now, luckily, because we do these Games every two years, while the technology is new, we do have some corporate knowledge of what we’ve done in the past and the business needs we had to address. And so between late 2013 and January 2014, we did put a couple of solutions in place that we knew would work and would be needed, and then we built the platform so that we could respond quickly once people started arriving in January.
Jeff Schaeffler: What lessons did you learn from working in this hyper-compressed schedule?
Dan Holme: There are a couple of major takeaways from our experience in Sochi, and previous Games as well. One is that it’s very important that users are given the information they need, when they need it. I’ve spent two decades in training, and I’d love to say that training solves all problems, but the reality is it doesn’t. In many cases, information goes in one ear and out the other because training information isn’t relevant in the training course, it’s relevant when you’re trying to get your job done.
What we have done in many situations is build training into the user interface of SharePoint. So, for example, if you come to one of our team sites, on the home page, there are links to the lists of users who have read/write/full-control permissions so that you can go straight there rather than have to be told all the step-by-step instructions of how to get there. So we smooth those edges by giving people shortcuts to the information they need. We also embed training and guidance into the interfaces of the lists in libraries. So when someone goes to a list of a library, for example, they’re told how to upload and download multiple documents, or how to open them in Explorer. And we do that by simply embedding content editor web parts with “training content” right where the users need to perform those tasks. We also do a lot of form enhancement. We make sure that when we create forms for lists in libraries, we leverage the description field to really help people understand what’s going on.
When we built the farm for London, which was two years ago, we had to do a lot of embedding of guidance and training because the SharePoint 2010 interface was clunky, it didn’t work the way a lot of users would expect it to work. One of the great takeaways from Sochi with SharePoint 2013 was that we had to do so much less of that. The 2013 user interface is so much more improved that many of the adoption, usability and discoverability rough edges that existed in previous versions of SharePoint simply aren’t there. You can put a user down in front of SharePoint 2013 who’s never used it before and they’re going to get much further along than the same user would have being in front of a SharePoint 2010 site.
Barry Jinks: With user adoption, as Dan knows, the underlying technology isn’t as important to users; for them, it’s about having the information that they need in the form they need it, and making it easy to access with as little training as possible.
Any solution has to be something that’s very intuitive for the user. If the user can derive a lot of value from the use of it, they will use it because it will help them in their job. On the contrary, if it’s hard to use and they need a lot of training, if it works intermittently, doesn’t work everywhere or doesn’t work the way users want it to work, then no amount of training can get them to be happy about using it.
So it’s a fine balance of designing the SharePoint sites properly and then having the right tools at the right time for the right people who can ignite user adoption.
Dan Holme: I like to encourage companies to really understand how you can build SharePoint in a way that it delivers instant value. There’s so many easy wins that SharePoint is able to provide. With many organizations, it’s really a matter of helping them understand not just how to implement SharePoint, but how to transform IT into being a piece of a company that doesn’t just provide infrastructure, but listens to business problems and finds solutions to those problems.
Jeff Schaeffler: Dan, any other valuable tips you can share with us?
Dan Holme: One of the key takeaways is to really understand what you can do with the product out-of-the-box, and where you do need to turn to third parties to get things done. Out-of-the-box, SharePoint does an OK job of providing information and a good user experience across multiple devices. An organization needs to know what SharePoint can do out-of-the-box, but then it really needs to know where SharePoint is lacking and where third parties can fill the gaps.
One of the best ways to know what SharePoint can and can’t do is to look at ISV solutions and say, for example, if Colligo is making a solid business out of doing X, that’s probably because you can’t do X in SharePoint. And if you even just know those things, it can really help you align your business requirements with the available technology, and it may even help you spot some of your own business requirements that you hadn’t thought of. I think it’s very important for organizations to be aware of the broader SharePoint ecosystem, because SharePoint is a rich business technology, plus a very complex one and an always moving one.
Another takeaway, again, is really just to focus on providing good business value. If you do that, if you’re able to go to a user and tell them what’s in it for them, they will adopt it.
Want to learn more from Dan Holme and hear more about his experiences in Sochi? Register today for the September 10th webinar Gold Medal Collaboration: SharePoint Engagement at NBC for the Olympics featuring Dan Holme and Barry Jinks. See you there!