Optimizing Your Agency’s SharePoint Benefits
Austin Wheelock | November 16, 2016
The typical government agency has invested significant resources in SharePoint — not only in purchasing software, licensing, infrastructure, and training, but also in the time and effort its user community has spent customizing the SharePoint environment, hiring vendors to build custom SharePoint solutions, and so on. Unfortunately, many end users tend to think of SharePoint simply as a dumping ground for content, or a fancy replacement for the shared drive. If your SharePoint environment has fallen stagnant and you don’t feel like you are leveraging the product to its full potential, below are a few suggestions to help your agency maximize its SharePoint benefits.
1. Keep senior leadership involved
Whether it is your CIO, CTO, or other high ranking employees, you will need to constantly get buy-in from key agency decision makers to ensure your SharePoint environment progresses down the right path. We find that there are generally small numbers of government stakeholders who oversee their agencies’ SharePoint environments. However, without the backing and involvement of the higher-ranking officials, it’s likely that these environments are slow to change and don’t have a strategic roadmap in place for the next 1-3 years. This is despite the fact that many agencies are still on SharePoint 2007 or 2010, and want to get out of using local data centers (which are extremely expensive and slow to provide support).
One solution that comes to mind all too easily is, ‘let’s move everything to the cloud.’ But with that approach comes a huge list of tasks and questions that need to be answered (e.g., What will we do with Active Directory?, Which provider should we choose?, Should we go with IaaS, SaaS, PaaS, or none of these?). Once you come to the realization that senior leadership needs to be involved in these decisions and take accountability for overseeing the many different groups that will be involved (e.g. Networking, Engineering, SharePoint development teams, etc.), the quicker you will be able to determine an appropriate path forward and take action.
2. Perform cleanup activities in your existing SharePoint environment
If you start looking into moving to the cloud, or upgrading to a newer version of SharePoint, one of the first things you will need to do is take a detailed inventory of your existing environment and start to do some ‘cleanup’ as needed. To make sure you realize all the SharePoint benefits and capabilities your agency needs, this should be an ongoing activity for any SharePoint support team, but it becomes even more important prior to a migration or upgrade, as you don’t want to move garbage from one environment to another. Government customers are generally fairly reluctant to delete any ‘old’ content, but if you implement a solid communications strategy, you will definitely find business owners who take an interest in removing unnecessary content, updating permissions, removing orphaned sites, etc.
You will also need to take a look at the custom code you have written to determine if it is still needed in the new target environment. Many times, agencies build custom solutions or install third-party products, only to find that the functionality is now provided ‘out of the box’ in the latest version of SharePoint. Identifying these gaps and cleaning up content will go a long way toward ensuring a smooth transition to the new environment that is easily maintained after the move.
3. Review all cloud offerings and develop a real roadmap forward
With the cloud being the new trend in the government sector, it’s imperative that you do your due diligence to fully understand what offerings are out there, and what they mean to your agency’s existing SharePoint environment and other resources. The main goal is to figure out where you want to go and exactly how you are going to get there. This will take some patience and some key technical support staff whom you trust.
Right now, the main vendors providing FedRAMP-certified environments in the cloud for SharePoint are Amazon Web Services and Microsoft (note, some agencies have not wanted to wait for the ‘government cloud’ offerings and have simply assumed the risk of utilizing the commercial cloud offerings which have been available for years). Amazon Web Services has been in the game a bit longer with their GovCloud offering, but Microsoft has arguably caught up and provides both Azure and Office 365 via their Government Community Cloud (GCC). Office 365 may be especially enticing for your agency, as it checks off a lot of boxes on your requirements list. The GCC is also relatively affordable for what you are getting: SharePoint Online, OneDrive storage for all end users, Skype for Business (instant messaging, video teleconferencing, desktop sharing, etc.), Outlook, Office software via the web (meaning not all users need to have the client Office products installed on their machines), and more. Selecting a vendor is mainly an exercise in determining which services you want to provide, how you want to manage those services, and the resources and support personnel that you have available.
After coordinating with other agency stakeholders and analyzing your options, you should be able to create a detailed roadmap outlining exactly where your SharePoint environment is going in the next few years, including such specifics as:
- Which particular basic team sites will move to SharePoint Online
- Which custom features will be re-written as either SharePoint-hosted or provider-hosted add-ins
- Which applications will move to the cloud, and which will need to stay hosted ‘on premise’
Such decisions don’t have to be set in stone — but you do need to come up with a detailed, strategic roadmap that is relatively easy for everyone to understand so you can improve awareness and move forward in a unified fashion.
4. Help your people learn how to do more with SharePoint
Whether you’re on an older version of SharePoint, or have just finished upgrading to the latest and greatest version, implementing a comprehensive training and outreach program is vital to evangelizing SharePoint within your agency. It’s also essential to getting continued buy-in from key stakeholders and mission-critical business owners.
We tend to find that most agencies’ SharePoint user communities can be grouped into two main buckets. The first is a small group of “power users” (about 5-10%) who understand SharePoint’s capabilities and are eager to learn about new functionalities and promote the broader usage of SharePoint within the agency. A second, much larger group includes both users and non-users who are unfamiliar with the entire range of capabilities that SharePoint can provide, and who have limited interactions with the platform other than periodic uploads to document libraries.
Changing the opinions of thousands of users will take time — but making information available and being able to provide training when needed will go a long way to getting a strong return on your SharePoint investment. For example, you can develop an internal site that has easy-to-digest information about what SharePoint is and the types of basic capabilities it provides for agency users. You can also setup demonstrations to showcase SharePoint benefits and the types of customizations you have created for specific groups within the agency.
These types of sessions tend to be ‘eye-openers’ for customers, helping them become acquainted with an enterprise-wide, readily available tool they can use to automate work processes and make their lives easier. You also have the option of working with a variety of vendors to provide SharePoint-specific training to end users, with delivery options that range from formal presentations, to online training, to relaxed, brown-bag working lunches. Regardless of how you approach it, there is no reason to go through the trouble of migrating or upgrading to a new version of SharePoint if you are not going to train your users on how to use it and introduce new capabilities — so make sure to plan this large-scale activity accordingly.
Get more bang for your SharePoint buck
SharePoint is an amazing tool — and users in all types of organizations and functions have found it capable of transforming business processes, improving the quality of collaborative efforts, and leveraging the collective abilities of their colleagues.
By leveraging the cloud and using some of the ideas and strategies outlined here, you should be able to lower your long-term costs and reduce the burden on your engineering teams. On a more strategic level, you can modernize the capabilities of your organization, improve productivity and collaboration among teams and business units across your agency, and enable your workforce to be far more productive.