Realizing the Value of SharePoint Requires Scale and Commitment

Arthur Hu, CIO, Lenovo
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When Lenovo chose to deploy SharePoint a little over three years, we did so primarily to strengthen collaboration amongst our global workforce. With over 55,000 employees, spread across more than 50 countries, effective collaboration is critical to Lenovo’s ability to innovate and compete. Our experience so far? The benefits are there but require a significant investment in licenses, infrastructure, and people that may be beyond the reach of some smaller companies.

Our Experience at Lenovo

The demand for customized applications that essentially automate processes with simple to moderately complex workflows is high across Lenovo. And, there is frequently measurable value to the business in terms of reduced costs and the transition to automated and auditable processes. However, IT does not have the capacity to meet all of this demand.

SharePoint addresses the demand problem by shortening development times and empowering users in the business. Following a traditional method of collecting requirements, revising, developing, user acceptance testing, and finally deploying the system to production could take a month or longer. With SharePoint, users can develop workflows in a matter of days without touching any code. And over time, more and more resources in the business can build automate workflows with little to no IT support.

  â€‹SharePoint addresses the demand problem by shortening development times and empowering users in the business  

As we got started with SharePoint, we saw two possible approaches. We could build a large support team to provide white glove service to our users at substantial cost or we could invest in education, employee engagement, and self-service. Costs drove Lenovo to go with the latter approach. It quickly became clear that many IT resources would need non-traditional IT skills. Training, consulting and promoting the platform were all important skills for the SharePoint team to succeed.

Today, this approach is working at Lenovo. We accelerated SharePoint adoption with a concerted effort to engage and educate users. Once we reached the point where we had hundreds of applications on the SharePoint platform, we found that with each deployment, less training was required as users had encountered similar application built on the SharePoint platform already.

Over a relatively short period of time, the consistent user experience that SharePoint delivers becomes one of its greatest strengths. Once a user is familiar with one SharePoint site, their experience is easily applied to the next site they encounter. Now, some of our power users are developing multiple workflows a day.

What Makes SharePoint Right for Lenovo

In just our first year using SharePoint, Lenovo migrated a legacy enterprise content management system and more than 400 Lotus Notes applications to SharePoint. In year two, the use of SharePoint by non-technical users became more commonplace and the number of SharePoint sites grew rapidly. Today, we have over 4,500 active SharePoint sites, 1,900 active workflows, and store over 25TB of data on the platform.

Now every white collar employee has a My Site where we regularly add tools and features to help employees collaborate. An intranet site educates employees on SharePoint and allows them to quickly and easily request the type of site best suited to their needs. As a result of our sustained effort to educate employees and leverage SharePoint as a solution across Lenovo’s many orgs, we have seen adoption increase and our users grow more comfortable with the platform. Over 40 percent of our white collar employee base uses SharePoint daily and 75 percent use it weekly.

We have found that sometimes we get the best results in the shortest time when we spend a hyper-focused half day building a SharePoint workflow with the business. Using this approach, SharePoint serves as laboratory environment to test the automation of processes via workflows. The approach’s collaborative nature also leads the business to leverage new features. In nearly all cases, teams that take this approach find that the SharePoint solution meets their requirements.

What to Avoid

If your user base is only going to encounter SharePoint on an infrequent basis they may struggle to become proficient as the learning curve can be steep for novice users. However, Lenovo’s broad utilization of SharePoint has helped users become more comfortable with the platform.

Similarly, if you are only looking at SharePoint for a limited number of its many features, you may experience difficulty with adoption by employees. It also makes the financial investment much harder to justify. To make the investment worthwhile you need to take advantage of the ability to quickly implement many different basic functions. The speed at which solutions can be deployed is a key benefit.

Some companies create potentially problematic SharePoint taxonomies that align with their organizational chart. At Lenovo, this approach would keep the IT team in a perpetual state of chasing the latest org chart. To avoid this problem, we built a flat, ad hoc taxonomy. The flat taxonomy also makes employees more comfortable learning SharePoint skills in a “live” environment because their site is not part of a larger structure that introduces the risk of negatively affecting other sites.

Advice to Other Technology Leaders

While not unique to SharePoint or Lenovo, the most valuable knowledge that our IT team gains, comes from interacting with our users and observing how they use the platform. This is the only way to learn about the pain points and new best practices. With this knowledge we effectively use our limited IT resources to customize and optimize the SharePoint platform for Lenovo.

Realizing the value of our investment in SharePoint has been a multi-year journey requiring a commitment to educating our employees and continuously expanding the use of the platform. If you follow this path, over time your user base will start to find new ways, all on their own, to use SharePoint to become more efficient.

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