This is not going to be a religious post, but I was recently reminded of Matthew 6:24, where it is said that “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other…” Of course, Matthew was talking about God and Money – I was reminded of this while thinking about serving employees and customers. For an IT guy designing an Internet-facing SharePoint site, the situation is similar; it’s hard to make both groups happy.
We are changing the way we present documents to our customers in an effort to make their lives easier. Of course that means that we have to work a little harder, spend a little more time fussing over each document and a set bunch of metadata, and since the documents we are making available to the customers are ones that we already store in-house, the extra work is being put into what many consider a duplicate copy.
This is when it helps to switch metaphors – in this case, we are not acting like Content Managers, we are acting like Librarians, you know the kind behind the desk of an actual library.
Librarians, and the other employees of a library system, spend an inordinate amount of time making it possible for their customers to be able to quickly find and access the content they need. I doubt very much that the librarian has read, or ever intends to read every book in the library, but that doesn’t impact his or her effort to organize those books, films, periodicals and other lending stock.
Hopefully I’ve made a case for doing the work, now let’s talk about how to make it easy, or at least less hard.
Business Process – By far, the easiest way to populate an additional or alternative library with content that has been processed in-house is to make the subsequent distribution part of the automated process. You may have read about the recent success that we had with this approach a few weeks ago when I was thanking HarePoint for coming to our rescue. When we took this approach, we made everyone happy and we scored bonus points. Our customers are happy to have access to the content. Our employees are happy that they don’t have to perform what they see as “extra” work. Most important, we demonstrated that we are willing to purchase software like HarePoint’s workflow extensions and take the time to build these solutions; that helps us establish credibility.
Workflows – While workflows lie at the heart of the automated business processes referenced above, they can also be useful in less elaborate scenarios. Small, single-purpose workflows can be deployed to help with complex tasks, and tasks that are hard to remember because they are performed infrequently. The added bonus of these workflows is that they are easy to understand, therefore they are easy to explain to people who want to know more about SharePoint – Well, this is a working theory.
Marketing – It may not appear that we are selling anything in this scenario, but we are; we are selling the whole concept of building a user-friendly customer-facing site. Another way to help our employees to get on board with this process is to share the results and share the credit. This isn’t a theory. Last week, I demonstrated the sites we are building for our customers to several of our customers at our annual Policyholder meeting. Everyone I talked to was impressed with the changes we had made and I made sure that I dropped the names of the people in the office who made these solutions happen. Now that I’m back, I’m telling the people in the office about the customer reactions.
Keeping everyone in the loop emphasizes the fact that this is a company solution that we are providing as a customer service. It’s not SharePoint, it’s business, SharePoint is just the conduit by which we deliver the service. SharePoint can either distance you from your customers by relegating them to a self-serve (think airlines) operation or it can connect you to your customers. In addition to naming names, we are building features into the customer sites for sharing other documents, for scheduling events and for making contact with people on both ends but those sound like topics for future posts.