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Better user adoption of SharePoint ECM needs a flexible approach

For widespread adoption of SharePoint ECM features, find out how users work and be ready to adapt to their processes.

SharePoint offers enterprise content management features that can help companies turn large volumes of disorganized content into a business asset. However, investing in these features will pay off only if people use them correctly and consistently.

Erica ToelleErica Toelle

To discuss the challenges surrounding user adoption of SharePoint enterprise content management (ECM), SearchContentManagement sat down with expert Erica Toelle, SharePoint Practice Manager at Caiman Consulting, a Seattle-based business consulting firm. Toelle's session at SPTechCon 2014, titled, "ECM for the Masses: How SharePoint Delivers on the Promise," will delve further into this topic.

To ensure solid ECM adoption, Toelle emphasized keeping a watchful eye on how users actually work and viewing a SharePoint configuration as an ongoing process that continually maps ECM functionality to business needs.

What's the biggest obstacle to user adoption of SharePoint ECM features?

Erica Toelle: It's some of the same reasons why SharePoint [in general] has a hard time with adoption, and that is not having clear reasons for implementing the features. It's really important to articulate what success looks like, and why you're doing it.

If people don't understand the payback for completing the metadata, they're probably not going to take the extra time to fill it out.

Erica Toelle,
Caiman Consulting

Second would be creating the 'What's in it for me?' message. The ECM features of SharePoint rely heavily on metadata. And if people don't understand the payback for their participation in completing the metadata and why it would benefit them, they're probably not going to take the extra time to fill it out. It's kind of a chicken-and-the-egg thing because you can't show them the benefit until there's metadata in there, but how are you going to get it in there in the first place?

For adoption of SharePoint ECM features, especially if you're moving content from a file share to a SharePoint system, it's really important to figure out how you can fill out metadata on behalf of users, or only have a small number of users commit to that initial population of data.

How can you ensure using SharePoint is easy so users won't circumvent filling out the necessary information?

Toelle: You have to do some configuration in SharePoint to make it specific to your situation. I think one of the underutilized features is the Document Information Panel, which is basically a form that appears at the top of your Office document so people can complete metadata as they're working within the Office document, and they don't even have to go to SharePoint.

If you just throw SharePoint at people in a clean installation, it's going to have some usability issues, but the power and the benefit is that you can configure [it] for your specific business needs. As people start using it, you'll learn more about how they would like to use the system, and you can continue to refine it over time. I think an agile configuration is even more important than up-front planning.

And what do users and their companies generally want out of an ECM system?

Toelle: In my experience, what people are looking for is a way to better manage their information as a strategic asset. What do I have? How can other people find it and leverage that information in their work? Again, metadata is extremely important so you can easily find and reuse information.

[Microsoft] announced Office Graph and the new Windows 8 desktop app called Oslo [within its Office 365 suite]. What's exciting there is that [the Oslo app] surfaces information to you based on people you interact with, meetings you attend, documents you've viewed -- all this information and analytics about how you're interacting with content and how people like you are interacting with content. It surfaces content that you'd be interested in seeing. From an ECM perspective, that push of information, rather than having people go and pull things from the system, is going to be really useful.

How does SharePoint help address some of the end-user challenges that mobility presents?

Toelle: When it comes to mobility, it's important to think through what work people are trying to accomplish on a mobile device. They're probably trying to read and find information rather than author a document on their phone.

If you have Office 365 or SharePoint Online, then users are able to access content through a normal username and password prompt. And then it's about making sure you're invested in responsive design so people can use the UI [user interface] they're familiar with.

Normally when people go to the site, they know, "I click on this link, and then I see a list of document libraries, and I click here," and that's how they find their content. The out-of-the-box mobile interface of SharePoint shows you the back-end list of libraries so it's harder for people to find things.

For on-premises SharePoint, you need to purchase a third-party tool to access content behind the firewall, but then the challenges are the same -- you need to invest in responsive design and make sure people are able to find the content they're looking for.

What's your final advice when it comes to encouraging user adoption of any new ECM system?

Toelle: I think user adoption is often overlooked in a technical implementation. Organizational change management is the discipline behind achieving user adoption. It really should be a workstream in your project, just like development or business analysis. What tasks would you have in the workstream, what are the deliverables you'd be producing, and how do you show the value of investing in that workstream to your executives?

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