As one of the top enterprise content management solutions, SharePoint provides business users with many fantastic features right out of the box. Like any technology-enabled solution, the successful deployment of a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product such as Microsoft SharePoint Online depends on the planning and approach you take. To avoid common pitfalls of deploying SharePoint Online, we have offered up some practical suggestions to make sure your implementation is smooth and successful. These suggestions are based on our experience in the field and not only apply to SharePoint Online (aka MS Office 365) but also on-premise versions of SharePoint.
1. Plan, Plan, Plan!
The number one rule to any technology solution implementation is a solid plan. Defining a clear vision for “what does success mean?” will keep the project on track and on target. Start with engaging key stakeholders who will use the solution, and also those that will impact successful deployment. Ensure that lines of communication are open, that the stakeholders are engaged in the solution design from the very beginning. Their input will be invaluable in capturing the requirements that will make or break this as a solution to their needs. The worst thing you can do is design something nobody likes or nobody will use.
Gather your requirements carefully. Each requirement should clearly answer:
- What is the requested feature?
- Who will this feature benefit?
- Why is the feature useful?
- How will the feature be implemented?
- How difficult is the feature to implement?
While capturing these requirements, probing questions should be asked to crystallize a long-term strategy and not just a point solution. Since many users will provide requirements for their own needs, it is important to balance their requests with the capabilities of the organization that will maintain and support the solution. This balancing act will lead to important decisions around tenant strategy and configuration that should be collectively agreed upon.
2. Nail Down Your Site Hierarchy and Structure
Once the requirements of stakeholders have been clearly identified and the overall plan is in place, the next step is to hit whiteboard and start drawing your site hierarchy (aka site map). This is one of the most crucial steps in implementing a logical and sustainable solution. The main outcome of this step is to understand the most efficient and effective way to structure the different site collections and sites to meet stakeholder requirements, while simplifying future maintenance efforts.
Some key questions to ask in this step are:
- What is the least number of site collections required?
- Should a site collection be representative of a business unit/function? A Region?
- What sub-sites will each site collection have?
An example of an excellent solution we have previously designed came up to only 7-10 site collections, one of which was the governing site collection that was the repository of all style sheets, codes, icons and administrative documents. Each site collection represented a business unit of the company and the sub-sites within the site collections represented different departments. Your decisions must factor integration and management of the site collections as well as technical limitations like storage.
3. Create Site Templates
With the structure of the overall solution clearly in place, now comes the simplest yet toughest part of the entire process – creating site templates. Yes, simplest yet toughest – simple because putting different web-parts into different pages will only take you a short time to complete, but tough because of the number of iterations that the template will undergo due to the ever-changing requests by the users! Nevertheless, as these site templates will be used for as long as the company decides to use Microsoft SharePoint, here are some questions to ask when creating the templates:
- Are the templates simple enough to be easily customized to fit the needs of different user groups?
- Are there sufficient useful apps within the templates so the site can be used with minimal customization by users?
- Have I asked consulted with the representative stakeholder groups on what types of templates would be useful to them?
4. Create a Sustainable Approach to Apply Style and Code Enhancements
One of the downsides to out-of-the-box solutions such as SharePoint is that the solution is slow to realize the “sexy” features that users are used to seeing in other technologies. Additionally, the generic design can hamper adoption and leave users begging for more. To solve these issues, customization to the site design and implementation of custom coded features are often used. However, if done in the wrong way, these could turn into a real-train wreck.
Although it is important to evaluate each customization and assess whether it will be used on every page or just in select places, it is even more important to make sure that every customization is easy to maintain. This can be done by creating re-usable site assets such as centralized code library, style sheets, images, and public documents in a central location and linking to them from each SharePoint site by adding references in the site Master file. For bonus points, creating a set of re-usable templates that already include these references for each site type will allow your solution to scale with ease.
5. Implement a Site Classification and Site Ownership Model
Site classification and ownership is an important aspect of site governance structure. A sound site classification model will help in identifying the sensitivity of the contents within the site and ensure proper controls are in place. The leading practice is to define all site content classification categories (highly restricted, confidential, internal use, etc.) in a centralized list or location. Similarly, a proper site ownership model helps to establish a clear role structure for individual sites to avoid confusion in who is in charge and who is accountable for content freshness. It is also the easiest way to establish a single point of contact for a certain site. Think of having a good site ownership model similar to having a trustworthy security guard who you can always count on to keep peace in your workplace.
6. Embed Analytics in Your Templates
So you are now getting closer to the end product, and the site templates are looking good and it seems like users are eager to start using the new solution – or are they? Adoption by users has always been a big question of upper management until analytics software like Google Analytics made it possible to track all kinds of data from individual sites. Some questions that can be answered by simply adding a few lines of code into the master file in a site are:
- How many users are using a certain site?
- Which site is visited the most (or the least)?
- Which file is downloaded the most?
- How many users from each region are visiting a certain site?
- Are we having performance issues in certain regions of the world?
- How do users click around the site?
- What types of users are using the site?
- Why do users leave the site?
- How are users referred to the site?
- Do we have any broken links or dead ends?
The list of questions that can be answered by analytics is endless. In fact, there may be so much data available that it may take you some time to digest all the ways you can use it. The best part of all this is that all it takes is a few lines of code within the master file of each template so that every site created will have the built-in analytics in them.
7. Define and Promote Design Principles
One of the toughest challenges in a flexible solution like SharePoint is to provide a consistent user experience. Sites will be created for different purposes and for different users, leading to variances in the look and feel of different sites. The varying user experience in different sites contributes to a steep learning curve for users as they will have a difficult time finding what they need on different sites and significant time and effort will be required for them to familiarize themselves with the different sites. To avoid this, a consistent set of design principles should be enforced across sites and site pages to provide a similar look and feel. These principles are the foundation of a simple, crisp and easy to use experience.
Some key design principles we have used in the past:
- Work with SharePoint out-of-the-box features and avoid customization unless absolutely necessary.
- Deploy style, branding and customization in a consistent and repeatable manner from one environment to another.
- Define exhaustive “go-to” layouts, fonts, images, button styles, and formats that are ready to be populated with content.
- Your home page should attract users to comeback for more by displaying fresh content, engaging users to collaborate and make the most important information accessible by having it at their fingertips (less than 2 clicks away).
- Promote SharePoint champions within business teams to drive SharePoint adoption into the business.
- Define which SharePoint site areas are for organization-wide consumption and which are for targeted groups.
- Create a consistent naming convention, without spaces, for filenames, document libraries, lists, sites.
- Promote self-governance and accountability for content through site owners and department users rather than imposition of rules/policing by departments.
- Analyze the requirements to decide when it is appropriate to create sub-sites vs pages and the impact on the site hierarchy.
- Measure the usage of the site to understand your audience’s behaviors and adjust the site accordingly.
- Know your users, ask the right questions and create simple, intuitive and usable site for them.
8. Tune and Test Your Permissions
Proper management of site permissions determines the integrity and security of a site. Site permissions should be managed using a “fit-for-purpose” principle. Users should only be given the access which is needed to perform their tasks. You can utilize different permission settings to set the right access (read/contribute/full control) for each user. You can leverage the default permission groups (owners, members and visitors) or create your own custom permission group, if needed. There is also an option of setting site collection level/site level/app level/item level permissions; decide it according to the access requirements of your organization.
As chaotic as this process may turn out to be, it is paramount to identify the gold standard by fine tuning user permissions with the access they should have, and NOT the access they want to have. Finally, make sure you test your permissions models frequently to make sure users of various permissions levels can only access what is intended to be accessed.
9. Get Good Governance
SharePoint site coupled with a good governance structure is like running a well-oiled machine; you can almost guarantee that the performance will be solid.
Governance defines site policies, roles, responsibilities and processes. There should be a centralized team responsible for housekeeping, maintenance, administration and consulting. Proper site ownership should be established to manage data and site security and there should be a smooth ownership transition process in place to onboard and educate new site owners. Make sure that the site users understand the policies and processes through training to ensure standardization and integrity of the design.
10. Plan for Migration and Backup Challenges
Well, now the new solution will be received by users – but first we have to migrate all existing data into the new sites so people will start using these sites!
The biggest part of initiating the migration efforts will be to train users to navigate around the sites with ease, and to get used to the basic functionality within SharePoint. Some of the key functionality for users to be trained in are:
- Adding existing files/folders into the document library
- Adding items/editing items in different lists
- Creating personalized views for lists and libraries
- Understanding what they are allowed/not allowed to do within the site
- How to administer user permissions and access.
More importantly, this is also the time for the company to clear up unused data or update outdated information so that every resource available within the SharePoint site will be useful information for users. With the incredibly flexible way permissions can be set for individual items within a list, it is now possible for the entire company to refer to the same central location for contacts, plant locations, etc.
Making backups of site collections in the on-premise SharePoint 2013 solution can be done in the Central Administration. You can find out how to do this using the following link. SharePoint Online (aka Microsoft Office SharePoint 365) is backed up every 12 hours by the Office 365 Team at Microsoft and is retained for 14 days. However, customers must work with the Microsoft support team to recover these backups.
Oh, and One More Thing…
As with any cloud-based solution, things change all the time. Read the blogs, attend the conferences, register for the webcasts and stay active in the SharePoint communities to stay current with the upcoming changes. You never know when new features will be added or old functionality will be removed!
Eli is a Senior Consultant in the Advisory practice of EY. He creates value for his clients by leveraging his experience in IT Transformation. His experience is concentrated in IT strategy, cloud computing, content management, project portfolio management, application rationalization, capability maturity assessment, resource planning, process redesign and improvement, program and project management, and executive reporting. At EY, Eli’s role is to build and execute strategies for companies seeking to transform and enhance their IT organizations. Eli’s view of the “complete” IT organization is a focus on the future transition from IT as a cost center, to a key business partner providing profitable internal and external solutions along with its historical role as a core support services provider. The future IT organization will need superior skills for governance, vendor management, IT financial knowledge, and enterprise architecture, and these are the areas where Eli has honed his skills. Eli has a Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS) and a Finance Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Bloomington. Eli also holds the following certifications: Project Management Professional (PMP), TOGAF 9.1, COBIT 5 Foundations, and IVI IT-CMF Associate. Eli has worked in both the manufacturing and IT consulting industry for the past 4 years. During this time he worked closely with clients in various industries affording him the opportunity to learn about management, fostering successful client relationships, professionalism and team work. Through Eli’s experience he has learned that he is especially skilled at solving business problems by identifying the client objectives and creating quality work products and successful outcomes for his clients.
Snehal Kasal is a Senior Consultant with EY where she is a part of the Enabling Technology practice. Snehal has a experience working with global Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions, specifically within the SAP Finance (FI) and Control (CO) modules. Her experience also spans various technology advisory projects focused on IT strategy, program management, and process improvement. Prior to EY, Snehal worked with Tata Consulting Services where she led delivery of lean solutions to clients using Six-Sigma methodologies.
Snehal holds following certifications: Six Sigma Green Belt, ITIL V3 Foundation, SAP TERP10 (Integration of Business Processes), and SAP TFIN-52_66 (Financial Accounting). Snehal holds a Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS) degree from the Kelley School of Business, at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana and a Bachelor of Engineering (BE) degree in Instrumentation and Control from Pune University, India.
Brian is a Staff in the Advisory Services practice of EY. With a strong passion for information technology (IT) and supply chain management, Brian brings industry leading solutions to his clients by utilizing his knowledge in both fields. Brian has had diverse experiences, including two years in the military as a sergeant in the infantry, in several industries which include working with a Korean conglomerate as a sales consultant, as a headhunter for several Global 500 companies, and as a reporter in the Oil and Gas industry. Brian has Master of Science in Information Systems (MSIS) and Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, Bloomington.
Brian has recently been leading the implementation of a SharePoint Online for a Fortune 500 manufacturing company. Always striving to deliver the highest quality of work to his clients, Brian’s work ethics has been recognized by both his team and his clients. Brian is certified in ITIL v3 Foundation, and is also fluent in Korean and Chinese.