Balancing user experience and responsible usage in SharePoint?

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I’m currently part of a project to upgrade a SharePoint implementation to the 2010 version of the software, and incorporate a wider rollout of the system to allow more collaborative working across the organisation.  Apart from the usual angst regarding hardware and software requirement, the questions around responsible rollout of this have been huge.

This will be our first foray into widely accessible collaborative working tools, and this raises a number of issues around managing user training, user expectations, levels of support, etc.  It has also raised questions about information management, preventing the dreaded specter of SharePoint sprawl, and alike.

Much of the focus of discussions has been on development of content types, minimum levels of metadata in document libraries, etc.  Given our “traditional” technology stack and the way the organisation works, it seems that in the early stages of rollout the focus will be on collaborative working around document development, and implementation of more social features will be further down the road.  Ignoring for now the very interesting perspective that I read the other day about the document metaphor, and my own interest in driving the adoption of more social approaches to knowledge sharing/creation, it has to be recognised that this is a sensible step.  The culture shock of introducing even the more sober aspects of collaborative document development will be plenty to be going on with without the introduction of blogs, wikis, et al from the off!

So with that in mind, should the focus be on the management of information in the early stages of adoption, or allowing the user to make innovative use of what’s available?  Colleagues with a records management background are keen on treading carefully and establishing clear governance guidelines for the use of SharePoint.  This is a sensible (risk averse?) approach, as setting out clear guidelines about how the software should be used in relation to the existing technology stack prevents confusion amongst the user, and allows the management of expectations around all sorts of key areas such as roles and responsibilities of individuals/groups, provision of training, etc.  However, I don’t think that narrowing the parameters so the user has no room for experimentation is either workable or desirable.  Yes, information management has to be considered in the set up, but in a collaborative working platform the user must want to use what’s provided, or what’s the point?!  Straight-jacketing them with layers of bureaucracy won’t help them do their jobs more effectively.  And yet that is what I’m trying to achieve with this project – it’s a minimum requirement in my eyes.

I’m happy with the creation of user guidelines, managing expectations, and requiring certain levels of training and behaviour from users.  That way we all know where we stand.  To a certain extent the design of sites within the implementation should help to encourage “responsible” usage.   Once this understanding has been reached though, perhaps we need to take a step back and let the users make the most of what’s available to maximise their efforts for the firm.

Having written the above, and reading it back now, what strikes me about the whole information management  vs. user behaviour debate here is that it’s a matter of trust.  Do we trust colleagues to make responsible use of collaborative/social software to work smarter for the organisation or not?  This matter was crystalised for me today in an unrelated discussion around the use of instant messaging within a company.  The perceived risks of not capturing IM transactions in a structured way were raised, to which I was left wondering why, in that case, we don’t just ban telephones as well and allow only communication by email and snail mail!  Carrier pigeon, anyone? ;-)

We are still at an early stage with this, and these discussions will continue.  So far my thinking is to provide a clear framework (in terms of information architecture and guidance for use) that allows users the freedom to work within it flexibly, in ways that suit them, make them more productive, and improve their end product.  We need to work towards putting the user at the heart of what we’re doing, rather than letting them watch on like a distant spectator from the bleachers.  Only by earning their trust and understanding will we maximise the benefits of the new technology and encourage responsible usage.

Twittering causes deafening silence

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I’ve not written on this site for some time.  My general tardiness in this respect can be blamed on two things – getting to grips with a new job, and the discovery of Twittering!

Interestingly, the first problem led to the discovery of the second.  Allow me to explain.  When I first heard fellow bloggers talking about Twitter I freely admit that I didn’t know what the fuss was about.  I read all the posts about how wonderful it was, but just couldn’t see an application for it.  However, having my free time reduced by the new job I felt the need to find some way of expressing myself, getting in touch with like-minded people and generally networking.  Initially I was content with brief status updates on Facebook, but given the cross-over between personal information and work-based interests (and my general habit of keeping the two separate) I found that I wasn’t getting as much out of this method as I would like.  I considered LinkedIn, but I wanted something a little less formal and structured.

So, enter Twitter.  I signed up tentatively, but soon began to enjoy many of the things it had to offer.  I started out by finding friends, then bloggers that I follow regularly, and through this method also began to discover others with similar professional and personal interests.  I soon found myself drawn in, and now find it to be a great all-round solution for expressing myself, asking questions of a developing community, and even finding new people and resources.

All of this got me to thinking about the potential wider uses of Twitter (or general microblogging solutions), particularly within an organisation.  An organisation is a ready-built community of sorts, with multiple divisions and sub-layers – often along formal lines set out by organisational structures and teams.  However, traditional communication paths within an organisation don’t always allow for staff from one part of an organisation to get an insight into the work of those in another part.  What if that barrier were broken down, with everyone within a company able to see the issues that are excising colleagues, and with everyone able to contribute, suggest solutions and generally share knowledge and experiences – no matter where they were?  This is what Tweeting behind the firewall could provide.

I have read many posts and articles on Enterprise microblogging, and other Enterprise 2.0/social enterprise initiatives, and I know that this to some people will be old hat.  However, when examined closer the possibilities of such solutions for my own organisation would be endless, with multiple potential benefits.  The building of a collective knowledge base, selective following of “subject specialists” to help support best practice, improving communications between workers “on the ground” and support staff (particularly through mobile applications), marketing of internal resources to new audiences… I could go on.

Of course, my enthusiasm will have to be tempered by a bout of realism that will be injected once I formally propose this as a knowledge management/communications project.  No doubt there will be skeptics and people unwilling to participate, but the benefits in my opinion definitely outweigh potential negatives, and I shall definitely be putting forward the idea of enterprise microblogging services as part of an integrated programme of KM activities.  Watch this space!

UK Local election/London Mayoral election coverage

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Intute is covering the London Mayoral election, as well as the UK local elections through its social sciences blog.  I’ve only taken a quick look, and the entries so far provide links to some very useful background information on candidates, the elections themselves, policy/discussion papers and alike.

I suspect that the coverage will remain largely gateway-like throughout the elections – Intute not really the place for expressing political opinions!  Keep an eye on the blog though because, like the rest of Intute, it really does look like providing links to a set of comprehensive resources.

JISC infoKits

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JISC has developed a series of online modular information resources, called infoKits, aimed (I think) at helping and supporting people in the education sector to effectively plan, implement and manage information and communication technologies.  Modules cover diverse topics, including change management, records management, contract negotiation and systems implementation.  These are classified as “core” infoKits, but there are also what are described as “applied” infoKits, usefully covering more practical aspects such as effectively using virtual learning environments (VLEs).

I’ve taken a look at some of the more general information management modules, such as “Managing the information lifecycle” and “email management”, and they look very useful.  I’m sure that they are of great value to those working in education, but the broader topics will certainly have appeal for those working in other sectors.  Handily, you can choose to walk your way through different sections, skipping information you are more familiar with [so pedagogically sound in terms of allowing access to learners at different levels] or you can download the whole thing as a PDF file to print or save to a computer/mobile device as required

Spotted as one of Sheila Webber’s posts on the Information Literacy Weblog.

Designing a Presidential Library made easy…

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Scott Carlson, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education: Chronicle Review, has found a novel and cheap solution to the problem of commissioning and choosing library designs… ask readers for entries on the back of an envelope.

In this case the “competition” aims to find a suitable design for the George W. Bush Presidential Library – take a look at the results!

Sadly there isn’t a library shaped like a giant chimp, but I am rather partial to the “Hole in the Ground” design.

Some information please?

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Spotted on Library Stuff... I love “A bit of Fry and Laurie”, but this is genius”. Stephen Fry plays the ultimate information professional… in terms of knowledge, anyway. Not so sure about the attitude though…

Facebook in libraries… day 2

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A very brief post following up on yesterday’s post, just to document a few ups and downs in the process of developing a facebook page for my library…

Ups:

  • Lots of good UK and North American examples of library facebook pages to take inspiration from
  • Plenty of freely available widgets to turn to the library’s advantage such as a virtual bookshelf (showing new acquisitions – this is even RSS fed), RSS feed display tools, as well as COPAC, WorldCat and JSTOR search widgets
  • The potential to adapt functions that will be familiar to most facebook users in novel ways (e.g. using a photo album with annotated comments as a virtual library tour and guide to resources)

Downs:

  • The inability to use some widgets on developer pages – this is very annoying!
  • The fact that I have to develop the page through my own personal account
  • My general paranoia about security and sharing my own details with widget developers… but that’s my problem not facebook’s ;-)

I’m looking forward to carrying on working on this tomorrow :-)

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