April 11, 2017

3 ways to solve the “user problem” in SharePoint

5 minute read

Microsoft SharePoint offers many advantages over shared drives and legacy platforms, with its content management capabilities and facilities for collaboration combined with its flexibility, low cost, and ubiquity. While uploading content is less intuitive than a shared drive, Microsoft makes it very easy for users to deploy their own sites.

Unfortunately, this last advantage has a double edge – it is also true that the user is often his or her own worst enemy. The easy creation and population of countless sites, without regard to how the sites and content relate to each other, presents many avenues by which information can be lost, miscategorized, and misinterpreted. The result is user confusion, frustration, and dissatisfaction … and ultimately, reluctance to use SharePoint.

CMSWire reporter David Roe focuses on this issue in The Problem with Microsoft SharePoint? People. The article highlights the results of a 2016 AIIM survey (underwritten by Gimmal) of SharePoint professionals, in which 58% of respondents report that user adoption remains an issue. The report concludes, “This is an indication of human deficiency, rather than technological deficiency. It is not the technology that is failing the organization in as much as it is the organization failing the technology.”

How can your organization maintain the positive aspects of empowering users in SharePoint while avoiding the associated pitfalls that can lead to lack of user adoption? As a start, administrators can implement these three measures:

1: Balance customization and control

Clearly, giving employees latitude to customize SharePoint sites in ways that fit their individual needs is one approach to encouraging greater adoption, however limits are necessary for this to be effective. Administrators should permit users to request and deploy sites that meet their objectives, but limit customization options to a set that supports branding and governance initiatives.

Allowing users to provision sites is great, but organizations should also standardize certain elements so that visitors to these sites can expect a familiar experience across your wider SharePoint environment. Which leads to our second point...

2: Simplify critical interactions

Uploading content in SharePoint may be easy, but properly categorizing that content often is not. Users are familiar with drag-and-drop systems—they aren’t really interested in understanding metadata. The more information you require from a user for what they view as a simple process, the more cumbersome the process becomes.

Keep it simple. The fewer fields you require a user to fill out to load content (and the less guessing required to determine the right category,) the more likely that content will be categorized effectively, The simpler you make the process, the more repeatable it is, and it becomes more probable your users will continue to use SharePoint to store and share content.

3: Take your cues from the web

As the average age of your workforce trends younger, more and more users are going to be "digitally native." These employees use all kinds of web apps, both inside and outside of work. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily more likely to understand complex metadata requirements. The Nielsen Norman Group study linked above states:

In a large survey that tested respondents’ knowledge about various aspects of the internet, Pew Research Center found that young adults performed better than older adults on questions about common internet-usage conventions (for example, they are familiar with concepts such as wikis, advanced search, and hashtags.) However, the findings also indicated that young adults were no more knowledgeable than older adults about the underlying structure of the web[. …]

We frequently see Millennial users getting stumped in usability testing when they encounter difficult user interfaces. Their interactions tend to be fast-paced. Because they spend less time on any given page, Millennials are more likely to make errors, and they read even less than the average user (which is already very little).

A more intimate acquaintance with technology early in life does not mean that someone necessarily understands it. Instead, familiarity tends to breed comfort and habit. Young people live on the web, and are used to polished consumer experiences designed to make achieving desired outcomes as friction-less as possible. Facebook would not have 1.86 billion daily active users if tagging a photo took seven steps.

Take your design cues for SharePoint from this type of app and you can leverage existing familiarity instead of suffering from not conforming to established expectations

These suggestions focus on rethinking the ways your employees are able to interact with SharePoint, to help tackle the perception that SharePoint is difficult to use (one of the top concerns cited by the AIIM survey respondents whose SharePoint projects had stalled or failed). Other common issues also stand in the way of success: reproducing the information silos that existed in your file shares or legacy systems, inadequate user training, indifference from organization leadership, and poor site deployment policies and practices. Over the next few weeks, we’ll dive deeper into strategies to overcome these roadblocks to SharePoint adoption.

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