Mea Culpa?

A year ago I was waxing poetic on this blog about a recently completed training session I held for our policyholders at the annual Policyholder meeting. Two days ago, at this year’s meeting, I was describing how we plan to solve some problems. Actually, I am being a little hard on myself; our SharePoint-based Policyholder Portal has been a success by almost all measures. We signed-up more customers than we thought we would, usage has been about what we thought it would be and we almost managed to keep it up to date. The disappointment in my title is due to the results being below my expectations and the fact that the problem was of my own doing.

Too Flexible – Maybe I fell victim to the industry press in 2009 that said what customers wanted most was a site they could tune to their own needs, or maybe I thought it would be cool to offer as many options as a car dealer. Whatever the reason, I ignored a coworker’s advice that “giving them options will cause trouble” as lame and outdated, and I offered an array of possible site structure and configuration options. It turns out that most of my remote users are not familiar with SharePoint, were not prepared to choose and do not access the site often enough to really care. What they wanted was simple reliable access to the documents that we produce for them. As we upgrade to 2010, we are moving content into standard sites boasting rich but straight-forward feature sets. Thanks again to the MetaVis Suite, the migration from B, C, D, E, F & G back to “A” will be relatively easy.

Abdicated Control – This error was the result of not enough testing – there, I said it. We planned these sites, we assembled a pilot group and tested for a long time, but all parties were not represented in our test. Specifically, we ignored the engineers, ours and our customers. We had always planned to accommodate the engineers, we created repositories for them, we uploaded documents they use, but we didn’t work out the details of identifying the ultimate end-users. We decided to let our main contact at each site handle the local administration of engineering credentials. The problem is, they don’t always know who the right person is. Who does know? Our engineers – D’oh. Of course it seems obvious today that our engineers would be the best people to identify and manage their on-site contacts, but trust me, it wasn’t obvious up front.

Update Process – I wrote earlier that my boss told me: “once you start this, you have to keep it up-to-date”. He forgot to tell me that it would be harder than I realized to accomplish that task. The good news is that we struggled with manual updates, we made it work, and we figured out how to automate the process with an add-on solution and a few thousand workflows. OK, there are only six, but it felt like more when we were designing them.

The really good news is our customers are happy! I spoke with many of them during this year’s event and they appreciate and applaud the changes we have planned. They told me that they really like the capabilities we are delivering through SharePoint and they look forward to the process getting even easier.