Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Three of EPC Group's Own are Experts in Residence for SecretsofSharePoint.com

SecretsofSharePoint.com, an online community for SharePoint administrators, developers, and users, features Errin O'Connor, Dehun Benton, and Miranda Price as Experts in Residence. EPC Group is a sponsor of the online community.

Errin O’Connor

Errin O’Connor is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer for EPC Group. Errin focuses his efforts on implementing Microsoft Technologies in organizations throughout the country. Errin manages EPC Group’s corporate strategy as well as architects the proven methodologies around collaboration, enterprise content management, and custom application development that have set EPC Group apart from its competitors.

Topics of Expertise:

Fortune 500 and Large-scale Enterprise Architecture and Design
Leading Microsoft SharePoint Expert
Microsoft Information Worker Solutions
Microsoft Enterprise Project Management Solutions
Microsoft Advanced Infrastructure Solutions
Microsoft Business Process and Integration Solutions
Microsoft Network Infrastructure Solutions
Microsoft Secure Networking Solutions
Microsoft Data Management Solutions
Microsoft Custom Development Solutions
Microsoft Operating and Server Systems
Server and Network Virtualization
Microsoft Press Author and Noted Speaker

Errin answers questions about:

SharePoint Governance Best Practices

Dehun Benton

Dehun Benton has been designing and implementing Microsoft Solutions and networked based solutions for major organizations for several years. His experience includes Software Development, Microsoft Technologies, Business and Technical Analysis, IT Project Management, and Operating Systems Management.

Topics of Expertise:

Microsoft Enterprise Project Management Solutions
Microsoft Custom Development Solutions
Microsoft Operating and Server Systems
Microsoft Sharepoint Solutions

Miranda Price

Miranda Price is Vice President of Business Development & Marketing at EPC Group. She is responsible for strategic planning and organizational implementation of sales and marketing activities. Miranda leads EPC Group’s corporate vision as well as strategy, overall sales and marketing efforts, development of strategic relationships, and alliance profitability.

Over the past 10 years, Miranda has enjoyed various roles in direct software sales and executive leadership positions allowing her to develop, grow and lead successful sales territories, teams and organizations. Miranda has a degree in Marketing & Brand Development with a strong focus on Consumer Buying Behavior. She carries extended sales certifications, leadership and technology competencies allowing her to foster and grow client and employee satisfaction. Miranda focuses on developing, delivering and managing quality solutions for all EPC Group clients. She holds high standards for all engagements and closely manages the business needs of all clients. Miranda places a tremendous amount of focus on leveraging the power of SharePoint to solve critical business needs and return on investment to foster organizational success and growth.

Topics of Expertise:

Microsoft SharePoint Solutions
Microsoft Project Server
Microsoft Operating and Server Systems
SharePoint Systems Integration
Corporate Change Management
Client Engagement Management
Partner Profitability and Management
Brand Development and Marketing
Government Sales and Account Management
Healthcare Sales and Account Management
SharePoint Disaster Recovery

Check out SecretsofSharePoint.com's Experts in Residence site to learn more.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Continental Airlines Turns to SharePoint to Avoid Flight Delays

Written by Errin O'Connor
Published in the September/October 2010 issue of Intranets: Enterprise Strategies & Solutions Newsletter

In April 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation put new regulations into effect regarding long tarmac delays. The Airline Passenger Bill of Rights says that delays of any type that go on for more than 3 hours can result in extensive fines per passenger. It lays out specific processes that must be handled at each hour of a long delay, such as access to food and water or even returning an aircraft to the gate and allowing passengers to deplane.

For Continental Airlines, transforming this regulation into a workable reality means ensuring that dozens of internal departments and individuals can quickly and easily communicate with any of a number of outside vendors at any given point. If a plane sits for too long without getting the appropriate food and beverage service, or if a delay lasts too long and the crew have to offer an option to return a plane to the gate, operations personnel on the ground need to know who to call in catering or at the airport to make arrangements.

Previously, such communications were handled by telephone and email. If a plane were delayed in Boston, for example, an operations agent at Logan International Airport would call someone at Continental’s operations center to relay information. The operations center in Houston would then create regular lists from this ad hoc information to keep the team updated. Meanwhile, if the plane needed something, such as a shift change or a return to the gate, it was up to the people on the ground to figure out what needed to be done and who to call, often using hard copy information stored in files around the local offices.

With the passage of the Airline Passenger Bill of Rights, Continental automated the process so people on the ground could get the information they need, and the central operations center remained updated on the status of any plane at any moment anywhere at 135 domestic airports.

Denise Wilson, senior manager of technology in Continental’s enterprise engineering group in Houston, was tasked with building a single system that incorporated an intranet containing all the necessary documents and information with a front-end dashboard to keep the operations center completely up to date. “For example, the flight operations department needed to know at which hour of a delay to call the catering vendor at the airport, or when and how to send out a service crew. With so many different departments working together, we need to be able to quickly find all information and also archive our response to the delay for legal purposes,” says Wilson. In short, her department needed to organize an enormous amount of electronic clutter in a short amount of time and on a budget.

“Previously, all the information was in emails or phone calls, so the operations people needed to sift through email to find the information and data they needed,” says Wilson. “We still use email for alerting, but instead of sending information there, we send a link back to the information, such as weather, diversions, or aircraft substitutions.”

Wilson chose to build the system on SharePoint because, based on her experience, she believed that once properly implemented, anyone, technically savvy or not, could easily populate and use the application. “Prior to undertaking this project, we had been rolling out SharePoint for our overall enterprise content management efforts,” Wilson says. “The senior director of the System Operations Coordination Center (SOCC) and executives in Continental Technology immediately saw the potential for using this as part of our flight delay response program, mostly because it’s user-friendly and operations directors wouldn’t need much training to configure an internal site for their own needs.”

Wilson chose to work with EPC Group to help Continental Airlines establish its initial enterprise content management (ECM) efforts, including building the platform and laying out the governance regulations. By creating a standardized and manageable site, the operations team within Continental was able to then create the intranet sites they needed in order to succeed.

The overall goal for its flight-delay dashboard was to create an easy-to-use, flexible system that would be used by the people who needed it most. The dashboard itself is a series of lists that provide useful, updated information, so the value lies in the information behind that which resides in the core data repository.

“Before we built the SharePoint application, EPC Group coached us on how to determine what would work best for our needs. They provided us with the most important questions to ask our would-be users and worked with our business units to understand how we use our data,” says Wilson. “We started with a full audit of the information within the Continental Airlines group. That included documents in every department, from food services to corporate finance to HR to purchasing. In all, we analyzed several terabytes of information in millions of files.”

It’s not enough to simply build a SharePoint application. In order to keep it running smoothly and efficiently, governing rules must apply. The success of an implementation such as this one depends on how the users take to the technology and whether it actually makes their life easier or becomes a nuisance.

Thus, EPC Group counseled Continental to take a more user-centric approach to its SharePoint implementation. While some consider a SharePoint installation a technical process that falls under the domain of the
IT department, the most successful deployments occur when all stakeholders and users are considered in the process.

Continental’s governance process can be broken into just a few key points:
• Encouraging usage at the corporate level
• Structuring the overall organizational SharePoint growth
• Structuring search and navigation to increase accessibility
• Encouraging user accountability and upkeep
• Maintaining content and site standards

Putting the rules in place is one thing; getting people to actually follow those rules and use the tool is quite another. In all, Continental had an initial goal of attracting 3,000 users to SharePoint. To achieve this, Continental focused on identifying 50 core power-users who would be key to getting the SharePoint implementation up and running. These people were trained on how to use the software; they were also those who would become internal evangelists to help get others on board.

Once the overall SharePoint implementation was up and running, Continental was able to use the platform to create a variety of portal types. In the case of the long tarmac delay program, the process started with an employee in the IT department creating a 16-page Microsoft InfoPath form that was then distributed to 135 airport general managers within the Continental universe. The process from inception to distribution took about 2 weeks, a time that included multiple iterations and a small group of beta testers. It took just another 3 days for the managers to fill the information and get it into the system.

To meet its objectives of unifying access to a large amount of information, Continental needed more than organized information storage. As Wilson notes, “Content management is extremely important, especially in time-sensitive situations. However, it’s not enough to simply store data, but it must be easily accessible.” To that end, Continental needed a structured search functionality across the organization to narrow searches and reduce the amount of time it takes to locate information. With a few technical back-end solutions combined with minimal user training, employees can quickly narrow down searches from thousands of responses to just a few.

Today, Continental relies on the native SharePoint search, but also created a system in which people tag the appropriate data on its way into the system. Some metadata is pre-populated automatically, such as the three-letter site code as well as the division and default retention policy. Each time a user creates a new document, they’re asked to select what type of document, such as contract or presentation, and that additional metadata gets added to the pre-populated information. These few actions in the creation or revision of a document lets employees know when a document can be safely deleted—freeing up storage space and also keeping the legal department happy.

The primary benefit of the system is regular access to real-time information. So while a plane is sitting on the ground in Boston, a person can look out the window, enter information into the system, and actions can happen in Houston and around the country. This ensures that customers are taken care of no matter the flight situation. While Continental can control its planes, it can’t control the weather and can’t control what happens at the airport level. Fast access to information can make all of customer service work better.

As an additional benefit, people have shaved several hours of work off of their day. Where they previously sifted through email to create lists of flight delays and information, all that is now handled automatically, leaving them time to get into action plans rather than just becoming list makers. In addition to helping the company avoid costly fines, Wilson says, “We believe that we’ve gained enough productivity from not having to create reports manually that the system has already paid for itself.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SharePoint TechCon Platinum Sponsor

We've arrived..... In Boston that is for SharePoint Technology Conference 2010! We are thrilled to meet out friends and clients while spreading the world of SharePoint 2010.

Come meet our experts at booth 405 to win incredible prizes!

Hear our CEO & Chief SharePoint Architect deliver two Technical Classes:

Technical Class 403: SharePoint Foundation 2010: From the Inside Out

From the author of Microsoft Press’s new book on SharePoint Foundation 2010, Errin O’Connor will take you into a deep dive of real-world, in-progress projects from companies of all sizes. Errin will discuss the differences between SharePoint Server 2010 and SharePoint Foundation 2010, and he may leave you surprised to find out how “getting your feet wet” with SharePoint Foundation 2010 prior to upgrading your MOSS deployment to SharePoint Server 2010 may save your organization some serious time and provide you with a true ROI. SharePoint Foundation 2010 is 10 times more powerful than WSS 3.0, and with the BCS, SharePoint Designer, Office 2010, and some other governance and best practices tips thrown in, it will be a major player in the intranet, project-based, and application development platform space for many years to come.
AUDIENCE: Architect, IT Admin, Business User, Developer
PLATFORM: SharePoint Foundation 2010

Technical Class 706: Fortune 500 and Large-Scale Government Deployments

Errin O’Connor has led some of the largest deployments in the history of Microsoft SharePoint, and he is currently working on several deployments with 200,000 to 400,000 users with terabytes and even (yes, it's true) petabytes of data. Errin’s firm, EPC Group, has developed a patented methodology around its SharePoint Center of Excellence approach to SharePoint that will ensure that Fortune 500-size companies, or massive government, DoD, or multinational organizations, do things right the first time and take Errin’s time-tested approach to working on these behemoth projects. He uses multi-language, secure data, HIPPA and 508 Compliance, integration with Oracle, PeopleSoft, SAP. Whether it's working with SharePoint deployments on rigs via satellite phone connections to store Coast Guard compliance documents, or working on some of the more-treasured national institutes, Errin encourages you to bring your questions to this session and bring up questions you thought you may never get answered.
AUDIENCE: Architect
PLATFORM: MOSS 2007, SharePoint 2010

Errin is the founder and CEO of EPC Group, and the author of Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 Inside Out, published by Microsoft Press. He has completed more than 93 individual SharePoint implementations and has worked with some of the largest organizations in the United States.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Internal SharePoint Marketing -- Tipping the Balance towards Power Users

Of all the interviews conducted for an ongoing SharePoint Reality Series in KMWorld, one of the simplest and most compelling ingredients of a successful deployment is put forth by EPC Group's Errin O'Connor, and his notion of power users. It’s not the extra licensing, the extra server farm, or frankly a 3rd party outfit like Errin’s that spells the difference. It’s the folks in your enterprise that connect the business goals of their team to a platform for delivering them. Sound a bit abstract? How’s this for incentive: they map their own job skills and career assets to their knowledge of SharePoint.

That’s why deployment teams should resist the temptation to provide introductory SharePoint training and opt instead for coaching power users and their teams – the more grounded in their day-to-day grunt work, the better. Power users self-identify as stakeholders. They're accountable but they're not stuck on precedent or tethered to the orthodoxy of an outmoded approvals process. Governance is not administrivia any more than innovation is free-form experimentation. There’s a balance between discipline and exploration. There’s also a duality between the power user’s role as SharePoint consumer and producer – someone on the hook for scaling the productivity gains of a wider adoption.

Power users straddle the line between trying anything once and building on what works. They don't answer to a central command or a rogue band of enterprise insurgents. They answer to results -- the most pragmatic of change agents.

O'Connor cites a full blown document management initiative at Continental Airlines, where the original goal was to get 50 power users to support 3,000 end-users at HQ in Houston. "These people all have day jobs," says O'Connor. They're not theorists or programmers but see SharePoint as an extension of the broader business goals that require an ECM platform like SharePoint to succeed: “How can I put you in a portal today?” is the used car salesman line that O'Connor invokes for describing Continental's playing of the power user card.

One internal marketing vehicle he recommends is to create internal SharePoint training sites. These are not introductions for generalists but just-in-time learning materials targeted to specific build approaches, workflow models, security, and architectural designs that help power users to leverage the webpart galleries,coding repositories and best internal practices that have been leveraged by their cross-functional peers. O'Connor encourages clients like Continental to download learning tools like Camtasia Studio and generate five minute training videos:

1.How do I enable inbound email to a library?
2.How do I set up a new list?
3.How do I add folks to my workspace, etc…?

These task-specific lessons are too granular for Microsoft to address but take on a more genuine team-building benefit for users familiar with the processes and players exemplified in these training demos. Think of it as ShareTube for your project leads. Whatever way happens to work O'Connor puts his finger on the Key to successful SharePoint rollouts: empower your technical business users. "These are natural SharePoint proponents and will see through what they start."

O’Connor likes to use a retail metaphor to describe enterprise adoption. In the SharePoint economy the system administrators are the mall managers while the store owner is the power user. It’s those shopkeepers that manage inventory and make sure content is relevant – they police the store.

Global and local champions – like any KM or document management initiative – need to keep the snowball rolling down the hill. Project leaders need to identify or seek out power users. In the absence of a formal rollout, they need to reward power users with incentive plans for their teams to utilize SharePoint – and reinforce that through internal marketing.

From a more central perspective those pockets of power users form a collective picture of what no single CXO or unit head can speak to with any real gravity or conviction -- that's the fundamental question: what are we using SharePoint for -- not the roadmap, but the reality. This can be a trick (and anxiety-laden) question because:

•SharePoint orchestrations are inherently complex, and
•No single group is leading the way

What O'Connor likes to call the world’s largest Swiss army knife can take an enterprise in any number of directions. The larger point that gets lost is that with so much functionality, a power user support mechanism is critical for defining and ultimately driving how current projects can map to looming priorities. For an enterprise that’s already embraced MOSS, there’s no better indication of how and where to pool enterprise resources.