SharePoint – An Internal Communicators Guide

Microsoft SharePoint enables important documents and business processes to be stored in a central information hub. It can also be a powerful communication and collaboration tool. However, a SharePoint implementation can also have a disruptive and resource intensive impact on an organization if it is not managed effectively. During times of recession, it is all the more important to find ways to work smarter with less resource.

Follows these tips to maximize the value gained from your SharePoint implementation:

Think of SharePoint as a development platform…not a product

It is a common mistake for people to assume that SharePoint will give them what they want without customization. As a sophisticated software application, SharePoint has many different features and plug-ins which can be confusing. Deployments easily can go wrong if IT teams just turn on additional modules without considering the business case, requirements, and training needed to make them part of an ongoing business process.

The more comprehensive functionality available from SharePoint has to be built by an IT team (or a third party vendor) using SharePoint’s.NET development tools. Hence it is more appropriate to view SharePoint as a ‘development platform’ rather than an ‘out of the box’ product. Representatives from various parts of the business will need to work together with the IT team from the very start of the project. The project team needs to clarify the business requirements and all technical and functional needs of the SharePoint implementation before starting the project.

Try these tips:

Use low cost, plug and play discussion forum tools to enable project teams to share and capture ideas as they crop up prior to, and during, a SharePoint implementation. External discussion forum channels can be simple to deploy, secure, low cost and available on a short term license basis.

Utilise company wide surveys to assess what’s working and what’s not with the existing Intranet and to gather information regarding the tools and resources people would like to see included on the new SharePoint Intranet. Consider using survey tools that can be pushed directly onto employee computer screens so do not get buried in email in boxes. Built in survey reminders can help drive participation which can ensure that all views are represented in the research…including the important but often ‘silent majority’ who perhaps do not have extreme views or agendas and would ordinarily be less motivated to participate.

Target staff surveys to specific groups of employees, for example, managers and heads of departments. Such individuals can be asked questions such as “what specific business value does / could your department derive from an effective Intranet?”, “How might this be quantified?” For example, a sales manager may say it is the number of accurate proposals that sales people are able to produce. This research will provide an important perspective to help you make the SharePoint implementation effective and also help you quantify its value at a later stage.

Start simply and take an iterative approach

Companies that get the SharePoint implementation right, often start simply, with many of the features disabled. Break a SharePoint implementation up into stages and leave the ‘bells-and-whistles’ until last.

For example:

1. Start by simply replacing the existing Intranet. 2. Add document management 3. Add forms management. 4. Add business process and workflow management 5. Start sharing business intelligence dashboards and enterprise reports 6. And so on.

Keep in mind your short term and long term objectives and work with IT while they download SharePoint. Clarify what is required of SharePoint now, what possible extras might be useful and what may be required in the future.

Try these tips

One of the keys to the successful implementation a new technology is to drive user adoption and regularly gather feedback to evaluate progress.

  • Staff Polls, surveys and discussion forums provide effective ways to gather qualitative and quantitative feedback from staff. Communicating the successive stages of an iterative SharePoint implementation needs to stay interesting for staff, so adopting an engaging and innovative communications campaign is essential.
  • Promote your evolving SharePoint implementation through multiple channels and monitor readership to make sure you’re hitting the mark
  • Short ‘news’ articles in Staff E-Mags can inform readers of new information and the availability of new tools, as well as allowing readers to click directly through to specific SharePoint pages.
  • For project ‘wins’ that you want to profile with more impact, try using digital signage on screensavers. An image is worth a thousand words. For example, an image of a deck chair on the beach with relevant text and a click through link is a powerful and engaging way to notify staff that leave forms are now available via SharePoint.
  • For messages that need high cut through, consider using Desktop Alerts or Scrolling News feeds on staff computer screens

Fill gaps in functionality

By taking what comes bundled in SharePoint, companies can end up compromising on critical functions compared with best-of-breed tools. Light-weight web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs appear to be late addition ‘throw-ins’ with functionality that appears to be considerably less than you might expect.

SharePoint does not provide any ‘push communications’ channels. The closest it gets is ‘e-mail alerts’, that are auto generated and can be easily become buried in inboxes, and RSS feeds, that require staff to opt in. Often due to high work loads or a lack of interest, emails have low cut through and staff fail to subscribe to RSS feeds meaning that important updates may never reach them.

Push Communications channels form an important part of an internal communications strategy. This is particularly the case for urgent or important messages that need high cut through.

Try these tips

Augment SharePoint with other functionality:

  • Use plug and play’ social media channels specifically built for secure employee communications. Select channels that are low cost, easy to use and require very little IT resource to deploy, customize and implement. Some web 2.0 channels can send automated desktop alerts to moderators which will achieve significantly higher cut through (and faster response) than SharePoint’s email alerts.
  • Use RSS tools that allows administrators to push out existing RSS feed sources, via an on screen news ticker (or news aggregator), to targeted staff groups. Hence for important RSS feeds you can remove the step within SharePoint requiring users to opt in. o Snap Desktop Alert provides a means to push out urgent or important communications to targeted staff groups. This desktop alert format bypasses email and pushes content directly onto employee’s computer screens with configurable persistence and recurrence options and helpful reporting features.

Clarify Governance

It is important to clarify the roles and responsibilities for managing a SharePoint site. For example; what are the respective roles of Corporate Communications and IT? Who should ‘own’ the site? Who should be empowered to manage the site? A content management strategy should be developed by a team of representatives from key business areas and cover areas such as:

  • The metrics for content creation
  • Policies regarding when to use, and when not to use, SharePoint
  • The balance be between user generated content, and general ‘corporate’ content
  • Who will manage what content? How?
  • Levels of moderation for different parts of the site
  • How will cross-functional content be managed and monitored?
  • How much time should staff spend surfing and posting SharePoint content?

Try these tips

Use hosted discussion forums as a quick and easy way to discuss and evolve the governance of SharePoint.

Manage Content

For a successful SharePoint implementation, good site administration and content management are essential. A site administrator needs to manage content, carry out periodic evaluations and act as a facilitator in sustaining participation. An administrator will also need to decommission parts of the site that are no longer required.

SharePoint has relatively light-weight content management capability, additionally, collaboration tools within SharePoint can add user generated content to the chaos. A proliferation of ‘team spaces’ can also serve to create too many silos. The search interface of SharePoint is also considered by some to be weak.

Try these tips

Not all content needs to be delivered by SharePoint. This is particularly the case for content that may have a short ‘shelf life’ due, for example, to it being associated with a specific campaign or project. Prioritize content and think about its ‘shelf life’ and purpose. Does it really need to be on SharePoint or will it simply add to the chaos?

By eliminating non essential content or content with a short shelf life, the search results from SharePoint are more likely to return useful information.

  • Emags are an excellent way to distribute short shelf life content (e.g. news and admin updates). Chose a format that allows users cato submit their own articles
  • Desktop Alerts and News Tickers can provide message cut through for urgent business updates.

Provide good training and support

Some internal communicators describe SharePoint as ‘clunky and not intuitive’. To ensure you maximize the value derived from SharePoint, it is important to provide adequate training and support to staff. Training for the IT team and administrators can be expensive and time consuming (probably at least a one week ‘boot camp’). Selected ‘power user’ staff will also require 2 to 3 days of training. Even at the departmental level it is useful to get a few people trained in how to use web parts. Once SharePoint becomes available to the wider staff population, they will also need training on how to use the various features that have been enabled on SharePoint. Think twice about launching a site if you can’t provide this sort of effort and resource in terms of training and support.

Try these tips

Implement a discussion forum as quick and easy means for people to ask questions in an appropriate online ‘helpdesk’. If the format allows it, nominate moderators for each ‘helpdesk’ and set them up to receive desktop alert notifications when new questions are posted (note that SharePoint content alerts are email based which can have low cut through rates and associated response times). Moderators can answer questions directly or point the person to information sources where an answer can be found. Each specific question should be tagged and searchable, meaning that past questions and answers can be easily located in an evolving repository of knowledge.

Use Staff Quizzes as a means to run a SharePoint education program. Business and product focused quizzes can contain links to the Intranet allowing users to research each question before they answer.

Drive adoption and usage

Employees don’t typically seem to like using SharePoint. It’s not intuitive and not particularly exciting. SharePoint pages are often dull and boring. There are some options for making pages more exciting, but pages tend to end up looking similar regardless of customization. In addition, due to SharePoint’s sheer complexity, an implementation can seem to go on forever and users can start to believe that glitches will never be ironed out.

Effective communication is key to acceptance, adoption and effective usage of SharePoint’s features by staff. Changing how people work takes effort. Employees need to be engaged in order for them to use SharePoint effectively.

Try these tips

Liven up the perception of SharePoint by using a range of dynamic ways to promote the site and drive participation:

  • Digital sigage on screensavers can raise awareness of new information on SharePoint by turning employee screensavers into dynamic interactive bill boards. An image is worth a thousand words. For example, an image of a graduation cap with some relevant text and a click through link is a powerful and engaging way to notify staff that online, self-paced training programs are now available on the Intranet.
  • Staff E-Mags can deliver news updates in a readable and engaging format which include hyperlinks back to SharePoint content (or other information rsources)
  • Ensure any electronic communications channels contain click-through hyperlinks links and therefore act as promotional tools to stimulate interest and drive the usage and value of SharePoint. News feeds, desktop alerts, interactive staff quizzes and surveys can be engaging ways to drive traffic to SharePoint content.

Allocate sufficient budget…and watch the hidden costs

Costs can easily expand with a SharePoint implementation so beware of what you are getting into. There are three levels of SharePoint:

1. Basic version of SharePoint which comes free with Windows server, allowing organizations ‘try before they buy’ 2. Paid version (License fees vary depending on the type and size of an organization) 3. Premium version designed to deliver features such as search.

You may end up paying more than you initially anticipate due to confusion about what features reside within the different SharePoint versions and license fee bands. Additionally you may need to buy SharePoint add-ons which were not previously considered or budgeted for. Other things that can blow out overall project pricing include:

  • Implementation costs
  • Customization costs
  • Systems integration costs

Try these tips

You can augment SharePoint with inexpensive tools that do not require IT resource for them to be set up and managed. This allows you to try concepts out, test uptake and evolve the approach without the need for ‘big project’ budget, resource or timeframes.

iPod With Your Auto Sound System? – Get To Know The Cool Stuff!

Apple Computer, maker of the iPod, has a cultural phenomenon on their hands. The iPod is the single most popular personal music listening device on the market today. Its ability to store large amounts of music, coupled with its tiny size and ease of use, has made it a hit across all age groups. Not even PC giant Microsoft’s competing Zune has even put a dent into iPod sales. And the market for iPod accessories has grown along with it’s popularity.

What does all this have to do with auto sound systems, you ask? Well, since the iPod is such a popular product, it was perhaps inevitable that auto sound system manufacturers would begin adding the ability to interface your head unit with your iPod. It just makes too much sense, both from a business and a usability standpoint. There are a quite a few products aimed specifically at integrating the iPod with your vehicles sound system. Heading the pack are head units that allow the iPod to be plugged directly into the head unit face. These types of units allow the user to control their iPod through the standard interface, often displaying all the meta-info that is included, such as song title, artist, album, length, bitrate, et cetera.

If your head unit already has a USB port, you are good to go as well. There are adapters to allow your iPod to act as any other USB music storage device while connected to your auto sound system. Playback can either be controlled from the head unit itself, or through the iPod, depending on your specific system and the adapter used.

If your head unit doesn’t have either of these ports, don’t despair. Most aftermarket head units will have line level inputs on the back, or a jack for an external CD player input (this jack often looks just like a headphone jack) that can be used with a special cradle for your iPod to allow you to playback through your auto sound system. These types of systems require you to select the song you want on your iPod directly; they simply provide a line-level output of whatever you are playing at the moment on the iPod.

All of the above systems can provide power to your iPod as well, both charging its internal batteries and keeping it running for as long as you care to listen.

If you are shopping around for a new auto sound system, adds are you either own an iPod or have thought about getting one. Keep an eye out for iPod interface features when looking for a new head unit. Even if you don’t have an iPod now, it is better to be able to simply buy one and plug it in later than to have to replace your head unit or settle for a suboptimal way of handling your iPod playback control. If you think there is any chance you will have an iPod in the future, you should seriously consider getting a head unit compatible with it now, and save the hassle in the future. When you get your iPod, you will have the ultimate in portable music playback system ready to go for your listening enjoyment.

How to Choose the Best Pennsylvania Auto Insurance Company

If you are looking for the best auto insurance company in Pennsylvania then you should know that the state of Pennsylvania has many options when it comes to automobile insurance companies. There are many companies that are willing to provide the services to customers all around the state, but sometimes the hard thing is to find one that fits your needs! How in the world can a person find the PA auto insurance company that is right for them when there are so many companies out there? Which one gives the best service to fit their customer’s needs? In order to find the best company you will have to shop around and see which one is best for you.

Criteria For Finding The Best Pennsylvania Auto Insurance Company

There many important things you must take into account when looking for an automobile insurance company in Pennsylvania. Below you will find the many things that can be of importance and that can give you some assumptions of which PA automobile insurance company can be right for you.

Financial Ratings: The most important thing for an insurance company is its financial strength. This is simply because these ratings will lead the customer to make assumptions of how the company will do in the future. Financial ratings in the millions and billions will show that the company is in good financial position and that they handle their assets correctly. A person will feel no burden when putting their money in a company that allows them to feel secure.

Customer Service: One of the most important things that will land you a good PA auto insurance company is the customer service experience. A person will not be with a company if they do not treat them good. This is a main reason that people sign with an insurance company. The reason for this is that if an insurance company has good customer service representatives they will make customers feel at home and they will feel comfortable with their policies.

Variety of Plans: This is another important thing an insurance company has to attract customers. If a company has a variety of plans then more customers will be able to sign with them. Companies that have a variety of plans and services succeed more than other companies with very limited options.

For A Good Pennsylvania Insurance Company You Must Shop Around

The most important thing in order to find the best PA car insurance company for your needs is to shop around. There are two ways of shopping around, the World Wide Web and in person. If you use the internet then you will be able to either visit company websites directly or go to online comparison websites. If you decide to go to the company websites then you must be able to fill information about yourself in each site. After doing this you will be able to retrieve your quote and at the end you can compare the quotes from the many different sites.

If you want to visit the local Pennsylvania auto insurance agencies near you personally then you will want to choose three or four that you really want to find information about. Once you are there then you will be able to proceed and ask the agents about the company and its history, the different plans available, and their financial ratings. When you are in the premises make sure to check every single thing that will give you a clue about how the company functions. Check out how the agents treat the customers and make sure that the customers are glad to be there. You can also check out the organizational skills of their agents and what they know about the company.

Some Top Automobile Insurance Companies In Pennsylvania

As noted above there are many automobile insurance companies in the state of Pennsylvania. Below we will discuss three of them and you will be able to see their history and some of their information. It is important to highlight that this are only three of the many companies and that you can find more companies on your local yellow pages or online.

Allstate: With their motto “You are in good hands” this company strives to be the best by giving their customers peace of mind and enriching their quality of life through the excellent management of their risks. The company was founded in 1931 and it only became a public trading company in 1993. Based in Northbrook, Illinois; Allstate is one of the nation’s leading insurers in urban and regional areas. They pride in the various numbers of awards they have won through out the years and because they have supported auto and highway safety reforms including seat belts, air bags and teen driver education.

A Fortune 100 company with $157.5 billion assets, the Allstate Corporation encompasses more than 70,000 professionals. The company provides insurance products to an estimate 17 million automobiles and one out of every 9 autos on the road are insured by them. Allstate has offices in 49 states of the United States and their regional office in Texas is located in Irving.

AIG: American International Group (AIG) is one of the world’s leaders in insurance and financial services. It operates in 130 countries and in all the 5 continents of the world serving commercial, institutional and individual customers. The company was founded in 1919 by Cornelious Vander Starr in Shangai, China. In 1962 Starr gave away the share of the company in the U.S. to Maurice R “Hank” Greenberg because the company was not doing well at all in the economic sector. Greenberg focused on selling insurance through independent brokers rather than agents and the insurance company went flying high.

Liberty Mutual: This company is an excellent choice for people looking for car insurance. The company was founded in the year 1912 in the state of Massachusetts with the principle of protecting employers with workers compensation insurance. Since their foundation they have worked to make the world safer. Their three main principles are clearly defined: integrity, dignity, respect and superior products. The personal market in Liberty Mutual is the department in charge of automobile insurance products. They have over 400 offices in the United States, while also having offices 13 different countries.