Think Search First – Planning Your Next SharePoint Project

By on August 8, 2017,

Would you ever invest weeks of work into a project, and when finished throw all of the documents away with the intention of just rewriting them if you ever needed them in the future? Of course not. How about documenting steps of a process and then deleting it so no one can ever find it? That’s senseless too.

The point is, I encounter this type of  thinking every week when I look at SharePoint team sites and document libraries that simply “store documents.”  There has been zero thought and effort put into actually finding the documents that are stored there. There is no consideration for Search.  What I hear most often sounds like:

“Metadata and tagging are too hard.”

“We can’t get our users to use metadata.”

“We tried that, we even made the fields required, nothing works.”

If you fail to invest the time in planning how you are going to retrieve the documents, and if you fail to invest in demonstrating the value of metadata to your users, you will fail to get substantial value from SharePoint. There are many powerful features that are unlocked by using the basic out-of-the-box features of SharePoint (and of course SharePoint Online) if you just invest a little time.

Is there a Typical Office 365 Deployment?

Recently I have been working with a business that has what I consider “traditional infrastructure”. They have PCs on every desk and a file server for shared files. We began by implementing Office 365 and Exchange Online. They love the email and calendaring. Then we deployed OneDrive for Business. We helped them move their “personal storage” from file shares to OneDrive for Business. None of this “migration” required much in the way of “consulting”. We just showed them how to work with OneDrive the way they had been working with the file server. No problem.

Then we looked at the rest of the files on the server. I asked the following questions:

Q: Who uses these files?

A: All of us.

Q: How do you find files related to a customer?

A: We browse into the Customer Folder and look there.

Q: What if the file is in the wrong folder?

A: We open every file and determine if the file was misfiled.

Q: Do you ever search for documents?

A: Not really, the folders are usually all we need.

This is very common in a file share-based business. Users do not use search-based solutions because they have never had that option.  Since folders and file names are the only way most users know how to keep documents unique, it takes a bit of show and tell to get them to “see” the benefit of metadata. I see reluctance to use metadata on the part of users when they don’t grasp the value of filling out the fields. Making the fields required does not improve compliance, it only means the users are forced to supply a value, not necessarily a meaningful value.

Begin with the End in Mind

I never do a metadata demonstration or training without also doing a search demonstration. If end users do not understand the benefit of metadata, if they cannot articulate the value, there is no reason to ask them to populate a field with information. I often use the following scenario as an example:

In a sales organization, we were having trouble getting the sales people to add the metadata for customer name, project name, etc. Once we implemented a “Sales Dashboard” using search and metadata to show off each sales person’s pipeline to the entire company, we began to get higher and higher rates of adoption. Until the sales people actually saw the search driven leader board, they never understood the value of the metadata. When we implemented a sales search portal that let them search and refine by the metadata they began to realize the value in finding similar projects and similar contracts that could make them more efficient and reduce the duplicated effort.

I’ll admit that a little public shaming now and then can drive user behavior in a positive direction.

Begin Asking the Right Questions

All too often I see companies focused on “How do we store it?” questions rather than “How will we find it?” Let me give you another example.

I have recently finished working with an agency that manages the service contracts for large machines that the company owns. These are documents. When a contract expired they immediately faced two issues: the equipment was no longer covered and it was more expensive to renegotiate the contract (the vendor was more agreeable to negotiate while the equipment was still covered). It was easy to prove the case for implementing a solution – they had data on the amount of lost revenue they could save the company.

The metadata part of the solution was to implement a field to track the Contract Expiration Date and a few other fields for tracking purposes like the responsible person. Once that was complete we had two possible solutions, implement a workflow that would alert the Contract Contact with 60 days notice or use a search “dashboard” that shows Contracts due to expire in the next 60 days.  Either way, the value of the metadata is clearly that you can prevent the loss of revenue from allowing contract dates to expire.

Begin Selling Search

Our approach at Aptillon is to “Sell Search” and demonstrate value before the project starts. We have experience building and delivering search projects with SharePoint and SharePoint Online. The advantage is that we already have the demonstration scenarios ready to educate stakeholders of the value of Search, Refinement and Metadata. You can build these demonstrations too, you don’t even need to pay for an Office 365 Tenant since you can sign up for a trial for free. You can start by asking the right questions and gathering the requirements. Then build a proof of concept that shows actionable business metadata in action in the search center. This works even better if you have a recent “I can’t find it” story that your solution solves.

The more companies pay attention to search and findability the less they will have to pay in lost work and redundant effort. By asking the right questions and educating users you will enable your users to find what they seek, empower them to be more productive and utilize the suite of tools that Office 365 and SharePoint Online support out of the box. Ultimately saving time and money. Seems like an easy sell.



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