SharePoint Olympics: How to Win a SharePoint Intranet Gold Medal

I love sports, no matter what sport it is. I love watching them and playing them, especially global sporting events like the footballing World Cup and the baseball World Series to name but a few, and they don’t come bigger than the Olympics.

In 2016, 207 countries of varying sizes from around the world are taking part in the world’s greatest sporting event, the Olympics, in Rio, Brazil. For all of these athletes, it is the pinnacle of their careers. They have trained unbelievably hard, and all of them hope to take home that sparkling gold medal. The question that athletes often ask themselves is “what do I need to do; how can I find that winning formula to be the best”?

The same question is often asked about SharePoint Intranets – how do I achieve an Intranet that provides my users with that coveted gold medal experience, that Usain Bolt Intranet – what are the ingredients required to achieve an Olympic SharePoint Intranet gold medal? The analogy of the Olympics is a pretty good way to look at how to win with your Intranet Project – and fun to boot.

Here’s the key ingredients for success that SharePoint Intranet projects can take from the Olympic playbook:

olympic rings bullet The “Head Coach” = the “Champion”. This is a vital role in any SharePoint Intranet implementation. The SharePoint Champion is an individual who sees the advantage of using SharePoint and finds ways for its use in new and advanced ways in order to produce better results and help move an organization forward. They provide clear guidance on what is required, communicate clearly about how best to go about it and are always available when things are not quite right.
olympic rings bullet A team with a range of talent. Any world-class team has a big group of talented people both in the limelight and also behind the scenes.  For Intranet projects, this means the SharePoint architects, business analysts, testers, SharePoint administrators, members of IT and of course the users. These are the SharePoint athletes, the people who strive together to achieve business success.
olympic rings bullet Diversity = A range of different features. Top athletes do more than one thing well.  If you are a gymnast, you have to do the beam, floor, uneven bars, and vault to win; you train broadly and add in some special style of your own. An ambitious, dedicated and talented athlete is a platform that can be enhanced into a gold medal athlete.

The same is true of a SharePoint Intranet. It has to do multiple things well and provide a range of features.  These features should provide added value, significant business benefits and a way to enables users to better perform their roles. SharePoint offers a multitude of features and functionality such as collaboration, document management, content sharing, social, business intelligence and search. The key here is to match the features to requirements.

Just as an Olympian has to go beyond being a generally good athlete and add in specialty skills, a SharePoint Intranet has to go beyond its Out of the Box (OOTB) capabilities.  OOTB is a good place to begin, however, naturally great Intranets require enhancements. BA Insight extends OOTB functionality to provide successful intranet and enterprise search implementations. For example, creating a single, centralized search center that integrates over 50 external systems using indexing connectors means that users only search in one place. Equally, enhancing the SharePoint user interface with Smart Previews and Visual Refiners – this provides time savings for users searching for content, previews beyond office formats and eliminates the need for custom code.

One of the keys to the success of an intranet is knowing which features to roll out and when. It is about understanding the needs of your SharePoint athletes. A heptathlete doesn’t show up for training and try to run the 100m hurdles, do the high jump, throw the shot put and then run the 800m all in the first hour. The coach and athlete work together to get the best balance, build them up over time and achieve success. The same is true of an intranet – it is about little and often. Create a release plan and iterative, regularly, strategically and in line with business requirements.

olympic rings bullet Lots of coaches, training facilities and support. As with gymnasts, runners, and swimmers, SharePoint users need support. Even though SharePoint is user friendly and has a powerful interface, users still need the guidance, explanation and training to assist them. This is very important as it helps users become familiar with SharePoint. Support and training is an ongoing process and should be available all of the time – just like a sports coach, it should be there to help with any tips and tricks plus provide information about how to continually improve performance throughout.
olympic rings bullet A great diet = quality, relevant content. A malnourished intranet becomes weak, it under performs and can often become discarded. The content is the fuel that drives SharePoint athletes on and replenishes the users. Providing users with a centralized portal and a single source of access to the information enables them to perform more efficiently and to their absolute best. This access should be full time, constant and available 24 hours a day. It should also be available regardless of where the user is; at home, at work or on the move.
olympic rings bullet A sprinkling of the highest quality technology and equipment. Today’s world is very much about being the best, achieving more and delivering quality. SharePoint can certainly help achieve this. Technology is constantly changing and often enabling new ways of working. SharePoint athletes want regular access to their intranet and mobile/tablet technology is permitting this better than ever before. Powerful, user friendly and engaging SharePoint interfaces make working outside of the natural office environment, a much easier and attainable reality.

The IT superstars need to ensure that SharePoint is performing at its optimum level i.e. have the appropriate infrastructure in place by following the Microsoft hardware and software requirements guide or by implementing the new server MinRole feature in SharePoint 2016. SharePoint 2016 also offers zero downtime patching to eliminate those unplanned system outages.

Ensure that users get access to the best, most relevant and appropriate features within their Intranets. SharePoint 2016 feature packs mean that SharePoint administrators will no longer have to wait the traditional three-year release cycle for the next version of SharePoint Server.

IT is the engine behind the interface and they ensure that the SharePoint athletes can perform. The highest quality technology and equipment is vital. Olympic athletes don’t run on substandard tracks, swimmers do not swim in below par pools and gymnasts don’t use 40-year-old apparatus – they have the best and a SharePoint intranet should be no different.

olympic rings bullet Dedication to training and continual improvement. The evolution of SharePoint has been rapid. It is used by 80% of Fortune 100 companies and is a primary system for 70% of knowledge personnel. In the last five years, statistics show that 75% of all intranets have been built using SharePoint. Like an Olympic athlete’s training regime, a SharePoint intranet cannot stand still. It requires planning, implementation but most importantly it requires continual development to grow and increase engagement. It is about creating an intranet that people love to use. There are many ways to ensure that this does happen – think about updated content, new features, continued training, internal promotions and enhanced user experiences.

Microsoft is investing heavily in the future of SharePoint. Jeff Teper, the Corporate Vice President for the OneDrive and SharePoint teams, recently announced what the future of SharePoint will look like via the SharePoint roadmap. This includes SharePoint 2016, continued investment in O365, SharePoint Hybrid, the Mobile and Intelligent Intranet, Microsoft Flow, PowerApps integration, the SharePoint Framework, Machine Learning, the Office Graph, Delve and the list goes on.

olympic rings bullet Launch to gold. One of the most forgotten parts to success is the celebration of all of the efforts of the SharePoint athletes involved. Take time to recognize all of the achievements of the gold medal Intranet. Launch and enjoy the SharePoint Olympic opening ceremony.

I’ll reiterate the steps required to get there:

  1. Employ/appoint a great “SharePoint Champion”.
  2. Bring together a group of SharePoint athletes, and combine them with a variety of requirements and features.
  3. Combine with support, time and budget to train the SharePoint athletes and Intranet to deliver.
  4. Provide the Intranet with access to lots of content!
  5. Be dedicated to training and building success.
  6. Provide the very best equipment and infrastructure.
  7. Continually developed to get the best Intranet – it is not about treading water, it is about crossing the finish line and then being ready to go again.
  8. Launch the Olympic Intranet – the “gymnastic vault” to success. Celebrate success and that gold medal!

In summary, a SharePoint intranet doesn’t have to be a long jump into the unknown. It doesn’t have to be a high dive off a 10-meter platform. It is a process that needs key ingredients combined with individuals and teams who, like swimmers, are synchronized correctly. This combination can help achieve an Olympic SharePoint Intranet gold medal. Remember, more often than not, athletes aren’t already made and neither are intranets.
Why not take a look at an example of an Intranet Success Story.