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Leading with Search: A SharePoint 2010 Implementation Strategy

Since the formal launch of SharePoint 2010 in May of that year, Search Technologies has engaged with dozens of customers to help them to adopt SharePoint for the first time, or  transition from SharePoint 2007 to the advanced search features offered by FAST Search for SharePoint (FS4SP). 

This article provides a summary of a highly effective approach which uses FAST Search as a bootstrap. 

KEY THEMES

  • Using search to help motivate users to engage fully with SharePoint
  • Secure enterprise information browsing through SharePoint using the advanced search features offered by the FAST engine.


THE OLD QUESTION OF USER MOTIVATION 
For more than 20 years, organizations have been spending money on document management / enterprise content management initiatives.  A key challenge in most organizations is persuading users to engage enthusiastically with the new system. This means adopting it as a matter of habit in their daily work and also being diligent in the approach to sharing information. Many have so far failed in this respect.

For certain narrow classes of documentation within an organization - those which are obviously mission critical - users engage accordingly because they know it is necessary. Documents are stored in the intended place, and good quality metadata is added to support business processes.. However, in most organizations, this applies to a small proportion of documents. The rest finds its way onto an ever expanding array of file shares. 

ENCOURAGING USER PARTICIPATION 
So, a key success factor is the motivation of individual users to engage with a new SharePoint system.

Users are confronted by daily pressures to do more, in less time. Additional document management demands can conflict with these pressures. It takes time to put the document in the right place and provide useful metadata to aid re-use of its content. The user sees no immediate personal benefit from doing so. 

Various approaches to encouraging user participation have been tried over the years. For example:

  • Force people (by threat or other means) to lodge documents in a specific place. They'll likely do so without care, and provide poor quality (if any) metadata
  • Restrict their storage alternatives? Some will use their desktop computer, an unmanaged file share, or even a data stick if it saves them time

Providing visible self-benefit for the user is a better approach, and saving time is a powerful and easily recognized motivator. 

THE PIVOTAL ROLE OF SEARCH & BROWSE 
One of the key benefits that organizations seek from SharePoint is better overall productivity and operational efficiency through the sharing and re-use of content. Search and retrieval play a vital role in information re-use.

Every IT project looks for quick wins to consolidate support and encourage further development, and these can be delivered through search and browse functionality.

Putting search in the vanguard of a SharePoint project is a highly effective way to secure quick wins and user community support for the project.

HOW DOES THIS APPROACH WORK? 
Search Technologies has found that the following approach works well for customers adopting SharePoint 2010. 

  • Initially, leave the existing data where it is (in SharePoint 2007, in other repositories, on file shares, etc.)
  • Implement SharePoint 2010 initially as an "empty shell" providing only search functionality and desktop integration
  • Use FAST Search for SharePoint (FS4SP) to provide the ability to search over enterprise data wherever it resides

FAST Search offers a number of important customization options and advanced features which can ensure that the initial search experience is very positive for users. Tight integration with commonly used desktop tools is a key feature of SharePoint. Combine with this a superior search experience exclusively available through SharePoint 2010 and you have a sustainable beachhead on which to build. Users become accustomed to interacting with SharePoint throughout the working day, and they realize personal productivity gains through doing so.

TRANSPARENT DATA MIGRATION
Having established the beachhead, data migration can begin. A consistent user-experience is maintained as the data is moved - FAST Search providing the same functionality for internal SharePoint or external data sources. 

ENTERPRISE BROWSING THROUGH SHAREPOINT 
The ability to browse is an important part of the retrieval process and many leading search experiences combine search and browse functionality to give the user freedom to explore the data set in a manner that suits their needs. Examples include the way both Amazon and Ebay present search. A document centric example (which also uses the FAST search engine) is the United States Government's Federal Digital Systemt www.gpo.gov/fdsys. Every document across more than forty collections can be browsed to, click-by-click. Search can be invoked at any level in the hierarchy, and all search results are complimented by contextual navigation options. 

Providing a full enterprise browsing capability integrated with search offers further incentives to the individual user

  • Unlike search-only systems, enterprise browsing transparently shows file structures and this encourages users to file items with care. This visibility encourages users not only to engage with SharePoint, but to take a pride in the metadata they provide for documents that they author
  • This is also an ideal environment for users to search and browse over their own documents (just like they have been doing for years), but with the added benefit of great search. This further encourages SharePoint engagement


IN SUMMARY
All too often, new ECM projects initially focus on data migration. In our experience it is better to focus first on engaging the user community and drawing them into habitual use of the new platform. With SharePoint 2010, putting the FAST Search option front and center, and providing quick wins and obvious added-value to users through improving their personal productivity, is an approach that's catching on.

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