In my 12 years working with over 150 enterprise SharePoint customers, I have heard a few common themes as to why SharePoint intranet projects fail. And, if your employees hate your intranet, then they won’t use it, no matter how much training you provide or how many user guides you prepare. At the end of the day, poor user adoption equals failed business opportunities and a failed project.
Poor planning? Maybe sometimes, but not all of the time. Lack of executive sponsorship? That’s usually not the case. If there is budget, then there is a sponsor.
But, over and over, I hear the same two complaints: “I can’t find what I am looking for,” and, “SharePoint would be great if it did not look like SharePoint” (this is the G rated version of what I have heard about the SharePoint UI).
The good news is that driving SharePoint intranet user adoption is easier to fix than you think. I will get back to this point in just a second, so forgive me for a quick detour.
Recently, I was talking to a prospect who is migrating from SharePoint 2007 to O365. The project is part of their overall intranet redesign. During our conversation, he said something that has stuck with me. “Since we are redesigning our intranet, I thought it would be a good idea to think about our end users.” His comment was almost a throw away. You would assume that thinking about your end users would be a given.
As he went on to describe his problems, he mentioned that besides their SharePoint intranet, they use a mission-critical knowledge management solution. Thinking about his users, he wanted to be able to leverage his SharePoint intranet search functionality to surface the knowledge management content within the SharePoint Search Center, but he did not know how.
The answers are simple and it starts with search. View search as the skeletal/backbone and nervous system of your intranet. Without a skeleton and nervous system, the human body would not function. Our skeleton and nervous system offers stability, gives us the ability to walk, and allows us to feel. Search is the same way. Search brings your intranet to life. But, search is misunderstood, the black sheep of the family, so to speak. You must remember that search deployment takes a bit of upfront design and planning to make sure it meets your users’ needs.
And getting back to my prospect’s comments regarding thinking about your end users - A key thing to consider is the content sources they need to access to get their jobs done. Then extend SharePoint Search to crawl this mission-critical content.
As I mentioned at the start, a common complaint I have heard over the years is that “I can’t find what I am looking for”. One of the main reasons for this problem is that the search engine is not connected to the content source where the information resides. Connectors solve that problem. Think of them as the nervous system to your intranet. Connectors allow you to “feel” or “sense” content in non-SharePoint systems. The productivity gains from using connector technology are tremendous. Now you have the power to search for all critical content from your SharePoint intranet home page. No more logging into multiple systems to get your job done. Everything is now under one pane of glass. Most importantly, you have happy, engaged end users.
As a real-life example, after implementing just two connectors, one of my pharmaceutical customers now finds critical content faster, saving over 25,000 hours annually and $1.5 million a year. SharePoint intranet user adoption increased by 100%!
Again, think about and talk to your end users. They will tell you it is all about the UI. End users demand dynamic interfaces that are easy to use. They are used to consumer experiences like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. They expect the same experience at work.
To put it another way, they want all the bells and whistles. When we buy a car today, we won’t accept a dashboard from 1965. We expect a modern, new look.
The same rules apply to your corporate intranet and search experience. It needs to be modern (things like gamification), fresh, and mobile ready. The search center needs to be dynamic and personalized. I hear this from my customers every day. They also tell me they are looking for a Google-like experience for their corporate intranet (if I only had a nickel for every time I hear this). The irony is, when I talk to them, I soon learn they are not looking for a Google-like experience…they are looking for an Amazon-like experience.
Things like visual refining capabilities, type ahead, did you mean?, instant preview, and mega menus turn your SharePoint intranet search experience into an Amazon experience. Search now delivers personalized results in context.
Some of the above functionality is now available out of the box. Advanced features that can directly lead to an increase in adoption can be custom built or you can purchase third-party tools. BA Insight offers a suite of search applications for SharePoint for organizations that prefer off the shelf products versus customization.
SharePoint has improved a lot since 2003. I mean a lot. For example, the search engine alone has given it a backbone and nervous system. But the complaints I hear now are the same as what I heard back in the SharePoint 2003 days. So, isn’t it time to pay attention to users?
As I have highlighted, there are simple solutions to these complaints and it starts with thinking about and listening to your end users. Gather information, leverage search connectors and then offer a dynamic, easy to use, interface. If you do, then SharePoint user adoption will increase exponentially.