This post is about SharePoint (SP) collaboration and how the collaborative functions of the platform are being used in a university environment.
SP is a complex platform and it has been described as an ‘operating system’ (OS) for information or the “OS for intranets”. According to Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, “SharePoint is the definitive OS or platform for the middle-tier” (Asay, 2007). As a platform, SharePoint has many pillars but the one I want to focus on in this post is collaboration, in particular, “Collaboration in the Workplace”.
Brief history of SharePoint at my workplace
SharePoint has a significant presence at my workplace. Everyone have daily contact with SharePoint and it is being used for a number of things including but not limited to meeting management, document management, institutional planning, and specialised applications. We are one of the early adopters of the product in the Australian Higher Education sector and we started using the first version since the product inception in 2001.
SharePoint is now a core system of my university. It is the platform that provides a front-of-house presentation layer for many of our key organisational applications, for example, the data warehouse and business intelligence platforms. We have a centralised SP platform architecture where there is only one SharePoint farm for the whole University with multiple site collections that mirror the organisational chart. Each division of the university has their own site collection (or intranet).
My university is using the collaboration functionalities of SharePoint in a number of key business processes – many as innovative initiatives. Not all are done by the central area that manages SP but by many staff across the university. SharePoint is pervasive at the workplace with different levels of users including power users, advanced users, and knowledge workers.
One of the reasons why SP has been successfully adopted at the University is our SP training regime. We have all the different levels of training targeting specific groups of end-users – readers, contributors, administrators, and site collection administrators. These training are done in IT laboratory training facilities and are offered in a three-month cycle.
SharePoint practical applications
Here are some of SharePoint applications that we are using in the University with a brief description of what they are and the specific SP functionalities that are used in their development.
- Audit Findings: Audit finding is an application on SharePoint where our Internal Audit Office is using to manage the implementation of findings of an audit. The key SP functionalities that we are using here are lists and SharePoint Designer workflow.
- Project Management Framework: This application is used to manage how projects are conducted in the university. It is a redevelopment of the framework that was built previously with the SP2007 platform.
- Course Specification: This application manages the operations involved in producing and the modification of course specifications. The app heavily uses InfoPath forms as well as a customised SharePoint Designer workflow.
- Grade Distribution Analysis: The GDA application was designed as a tool that academics use to analyse their grade distributions, comparing current offerings to the historical grade distributions (typically 3 years). This has a real time collaboration mechanism allowing academics to comment on their analyses as they mark their exams.
- Exam Preparation: The exam paper site is the facility that all academics use to prepare their exam paper for semester exams. It is a collaboration environment in which teaching team (examiner, moderator, etc) collaborate for the creation, review and approval of exam paper for courses. The features used are libraries and lists and custom-made workflows.
The reasons why SharePoint has been successfully deployed at my workplace are:
- It has a right fit in our IT environment (windows PCs, windows servers, exchange, MS office, Active Directory, SQL servers);
- Executive support (One DVC is quite a champion of SP but so do are other execs);
- IT Division Support;
- A good training regime;
- The right governance model; and
- A good support framework.
If you are (or planning on) rolling out SharePoint at your own workplace, the above are some of the key success factors that you should be aiming for.