Many presentations about the social features in SharePoint allude to the capability of being able to find experts within an organization. For many organization being able to find someone, rather than something, relating to a particular area is extremely important. Imagine if you were working on a piece of technology that you had no idea about. Instead of researching it yourself imagine the considerable time saving by simply communicating with an expert on the matter.
In this case study the client was a large engineering firm that did extremely complex work. Many of the senior engineers had a wealth of knowledge around certain areas but most tended to work in long term project teams. In some cases long term project work meant that teams formed and rarely did other outside of the project know of the incredible wealth of knowledge that was been uncovered.
The issue this organization faced was that the junior engineers frequently had to perform research on various items – dam tailings for example. Whilst they could find content that referred to a specific topic area how did they know that they could trust the content? What if they had questions about the topic area? A considerable amount of time was spent researching topics that could simply be circumvented by the wisdom that a senior engineer could impart, but who were these people?
The solution implemented was to leverage the SharePoint 2010 User Profile capabilities and allow users to fill in their areas of expertise. It also allowed them to insert other pertinent information such as their qualifications, past projects and experience. The User Profile fields that were created relied on an open taxonomy whereby users had the option of reusing an existing term or adding their own. Considerable cost savings were realized because users were essentially creating their own taxonomy.
All the fields were then exposed in search allowing all employees to search for users by expertise. Now junior engineers could quickly and easily not only find relevant content, but also relevant experts for a topic area.
An interesting part of this is that the User Profile were leveraged for tangible business use. Too many organization fails to see the possibilities that these social tools can provide from a pure business context.
Two significant outcomes occurred as part of this social endeavor. Firstly there was a huge saving in time and increase in quality of the work that junior engineers did. Now not only could they find static content but they could tap into the vast wealth of experience that existed in the organization. Previously only long serving staff knew who the person in the know was, the social features of SharePoint democratized the process so that all staff could tap into that fountain of experience.
Secondly it quickly became apparent where areas of improvement needed to happen. In fact some Senior Engineers were receiving so many requests that they wanted to be removed from the system. However a better approach was established. The senior engineers started a blog on their MySite that contained answers to many of the frequently asked questions they were receiving. All of a sudden the gold mine of tacit knowledge trapped in workers became a tangible commodity that the organization could use.
The implementation of this particular initiative was relatively simple from a business standpoint and consisted of the following elements:
- Determine the type of information that the organization wanted to capture
- Determine the taxonomy of the information (Closed set of options, completely open or a hybrid approach)
- Communicate the need for all staff to fill in their profile
- Provide training on how to fill in the profile and how to search for experts
The most important part was the communication that this tool could be leveraged by anyone in the organization and that it should be kept up to date.
This case study is a great example of how out of the box SharePoint features can provide tangible business value. The cost savings of being able to access experts when needed can be immense, although it can be difficult to measure quantitatively.