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SharePoint 2013 migration revitalizes content accessibility

SharePoint 2013 search has improved, but content accessibility really lies in encouraging users to rethink information and its organization.

With improved search, a SharePoint 2013 migration can make enterprise content easier to find -- and more valuable.

But companies migrating to SharePoint 2013 must remember that search is a tool, not a magic wand. Success requires a strategy for purging unnecessary information, building a solid information architecture and applying the right metadata. And, as one speaker at the 2014 SPTech conference discovered firsthand, business users need to pitch in when it comes to cleaning house and applying metadata.

All of your users are stakeholders. If you're doing a migration like this, you need to at least recognize that.

Tony Hiss,
project manager, SSOE Group

A few years ago, SSOE Group, an architectural engineering firm with more than 20 offices around the world, was using SharePoint 2007 for project file-sharing and internal collaboration. Some business users viewed SharePoint 2007 as a straightforward file-share tool, much like an FTP site. The company had about 1,000 employees, at least 80% of whom interacted with SharePoint in some way. Rather than transforming their combined knowledge into an asset, SharePoint was gradually deteriorating into an information dumping ground.

Tony Hiss, project manager at SSOE Group, stated that the major business user complaint about SharePoint 2007 was that content was not accessible once it was uploaded to SharePoint sites. "Search wasn't reliable as far as they could see," he said in an interview at SPTechCon.

So when it came time to upgrade to a newer version in 2012, Hiss saw an opportunity.

The company migrated straight to SharePoint 2013, mostly because of timing, but SharePoint 2013's search capabilities were a big plus as well.

"We had looked at 2010 and FAST search at the time was a bolt-on feature. In 2013, it's built-in, so that was one of the reasons we chose that route," Hiss said.

According to Hiss, users at SSOE were eager for SharePoint's new capabilities. "We went through a pilot phase with users and they were all excited about it," he said.

Plus, "people just like the look of search in SharePoint 2013," said one SPTech attendee, a systems programmer at a major airport that currently uses SharePoint 2010. He also cited a simple yet powerful reason users are intrigued by SharePoint 2013 search. It's the ability to preview documents rather than clicking a link, opening a document and then finding out it's the wrong one. "Once people see the Word document pop-up when they hover over the link, they'll go crazy. They'll be sold," he said.

Cleaning house before a migration

But Hiss knew SharePoint's new search features and a shiny new SharePoint environment wouldn't improve content accessibility unless SharePoint sites were also well-governed.

The migration project team spent the first year defining the architecture, and then began a team-by-team, site-by-site migration.

"Because we were going to a completely new farm, we wanted to make [sure] users cleaned their house so that we weren't bringing over old, unused content," he said. "We wanted the content to be fresh."

Kathy Link, senior web technician at the nonprofit organization Boys Town, said that her team is at the beginning of this process now. Her organization is considering a move to SharePoint 2013, but some content housekeeping is in order first.

"We've all agreed we need to look at the stuff we have now, find the pain points, and get rid of them before migrating," Link said. "We didn't do that with the move from 2007 to 2010 and nothing was fixed. It was the same disconnected information."

Business users and the metadata problem

Beyond culling information, another critical component of making SharePoint content findable in the new environment is applying the necessary metadata. Moving from SharePoint 2007 to 2013 meant that metadata was a new concern, so the team had to figure out how to apply metadata without hijacking the migration.

This is where the migration process became thornier for Hiss, because it relied on business users taking even more responsibility for their content. Without users' help, he said, it would be down to his team taking a best guess and possibly getting it wrong, which would land them right back where they started.

Translating users' excitement over new search features into the willingness to do extra work with metadata is a challenge.

The key, he said, is users taking ownership of their content. "All of your users are stakeholders. So if you're doing a migration like this, you need to at least recognize that. It's convincing them that they should have a vested interest," he said.

This concept resonated with SPTech attendee Karen Breau Fischer, who works with SharePoint in testing and documentation support at the California Institute of Technology. "As IT, you're very IT-oriented. But you have to know your audience," said Fischer. "They don't care about the tool. They want to know what it can do for them."

Fostering that sense of ownership of site content during a migration, Hiss said, relies on clear and frequent communication with users -- but more important than telling, he emphasized, is showing.

"You can't teach them a new tool that adds 10 steps to what they're doing and convince them that there's value there," he said. "But once they actually witness it and participate in it … they shouldn't resist it."

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