In any organization there is a large amount of content that is completely irrelevant to any particular users. This problem will only increase as the company grows because expansion increases the quantity of content the intranet must deliver making less and less of it relevant to a specific user. Expansion means new offices, new regions, added service lines, more job classifications and each time of these gets added it becomes more difficult to show only the material that’s relevant to a specific topic.
Let’s take a simple example. Our fictitious company, BankGroup, is a global operation with offices is multiple regions. We've been tasked with replacing an existing compliance forms portal and the number one user complaint identified in requirements gathering was that it was too difficult to identify forms that are relevant to the user’s region. Staff are filling out forms that aren't applicable to their office and causing administrative headaches.
A re-occurring theme on this blog is the benefit that Bonzai intranets get by being built on top of SharePoint and this post is no exception! Using the power of search we can build a tabbed forms area that shows a user only the information that’s relevant to their specific region.
So how do we get access to the data we want to filter content by? Remember region is an example and we could do this for on any type of data we had on our employees. As Raymond discussed in an excellent post on customizing your Bonzai employee directory there are two primary methods of getting user attributes into your intranet:
- Synchronizing with Active Directory
- Allowing users to enter data in their MySite profile pages
Syncing from Active Directory is obviously the first preference. If this data is already being collected and if it is being kept up to date (this can be a big if for many organizations) then we should look there first. If not, then we still have the flexibility of creating custom user profile properties specifically for SharePoint and Bonzai. Custom properties are editable by the user within their MySite interface.
Bonzai content can have custom metadata associated to each item. In this case we’ll add a column in our documents library tied to the same list of regions (a term set) so that we can associate our content with the relevant locations. SharePoint search will crawl this column and create properties which we can then call on to target our content. A huge benefit of using search to drive our content display is the ability to retrieve items from anywhere; we’re not restricted to looking at this one site or even the entire intranet. If this content existed in another system or on a file share that SharePoint can index we could still display it in the same way.
Now let’s tie it together with some web parts on a landing page. The built-in content search web part allows us to pull in content from anywhere that SharePoint knows about. Modifying the display templates to one of the Bonzai options will make the returned results look a lot more like the rest of our intranet.
This takes care of how the content is displayed, now to change what will be picked up. Because we are using a search driven web part we can alter what is considered a valid result to display. By changing the query to include a simple argument we restrict our content to only items where search has matched the property to the value the user has in their profile.
This web part is going to drive the My Location tab of our web part. We can also create tabs to cover all the regions in case a user wanted to browse other content not related to their location. There we are: user targeted content!
What we’ve covered here is a simple (and manual) example of how you can leverage the underlying power of SharePoint to make your intranet more relevant and accessible to your employees. User targeted content is a rapidly evolving space with Microsoft, and other vendors, making major investments in automating the identification of important and topical information. In an upcoming post we’ll investigate integrating Delve, Microsoft’s machine-learning driven search platform, into your Bonzai intranet. Delve is an evolutionary step forward from the example we’ve covered today, moving beyond hard coded queries to a dynamic and responsive search experience that takes into account a whole raft of considerations like your relationship to the user who created the content, your work patterns, preferred topics and meetings you have attended.
When choosing an intranet platform it is important to identify not only whether the product meets the current requirements but will it grow as the company expands. If the organization was three, five or ten times its current size, will your intranet be able to rise to the challenge of these new complexities? In a nutshell, will it succeed and help your users connect with the right content at the right time?