REDMOND, Wash., March 15, 2002 — Employees of the city of Fayetteville, N.C., describe SharePoint Team Services from Microsoft as “the greatest thing since sliced cheese.” U.S. Department of Defense officials call SharePoint Portal Server the super glue that connects its command and control personnel.
Faced with an ever-present pressure for belt tightening and a growing need to be more responsive and agile, government agencies are looking to Microsoft SharePoint technologies. Microsoft will spotlight SharePoint Team Services and SharePoint Portal Server at the Federal Office Systems Expo (FOSE) 2002, March 19 – 21 in Washington, D.C. Both products are designed to give individual computer users or entire organizations the ability to organize and readily access information, manage documents and enable efficient collaboration, all in a familiar, browser-based product that integrates with Microsoft Office.
“No matter how big or how small an organization, we know our customers — be they government or business — are looking for better, more efficient ways to share information inside their organization and out,” says Microsoft SharePoint Product Manager Trina Seinfeld. “SharePoint technologies were developed to facilitate information sharing both within organizations and with external partners and suppliers.”
SharePoint Team Services-based Web sites provide small teams or ad-hoc workgroups an informal means to work together, share documents and communicate with one another. Microsoft recommends SharePoint Portal Server for larger workgroups, or companies that need advanced ways to manage information, including approval processes for publishing documents and the ability to search and aggregate content from multiple data stores and file formats.
U.S. Millennium Challenge Harnesses Power of SharePoint Portal Server
The U.S. Joint Forces Command had been contemplating several technologies prior to this year’s Millennium Challenge, but they chose SharePoint Portal Server because of the flexibility of the system, says Randy Schmidt, a Microsoft solution architect who in fall 2001 was instrumental in bringing the portal software solution to between 8,000 and 15,000 members of the U.S. military for this exercise. The Millennium Challenge, conducted every two years, allows the military to test its systems and resources, including hardware, software and personnel.
SharePoint Portal Server is the cornerstone for knowledge management of this project, Schmidt explains. It is the portal for the entire command and control layout and is used to keep track of commanders’ actions, such as special instructions or orders for military aircraft. Every war fighter connected to the command and control center has a SharePoint Portal user interface.
SharePoint Portal Server creates a Web portal automatically during installation. The portal offers a centralized access point for finding and managing information. By using a browser to view the portal, users can collaborate on documents and find information without switching from one application to another. The portal allows users to browse through information by categories, search for information, subscribe to new or changing information, find information in line of business applications, check documents in and out, review a document’s version history, approve documents for publication and publish documents.
In addition, SharePoint Portal Server provides access to information stored inside or outside an organization, allowing users to find and share documents regardless of location, or format. In addition, users can customize the portal’s home page to display organizational news and other important information.
Schmidt says SharePoint Portal is being used by the military for collaboration, allowing people to access and share documents any time, any place, rather than being assembled for specific meetings. It is the glue, he says, that keeps them together. Because it is so simple and standardized, the portal has required less manpower to staff than previously thought, Schmidt says. The development team is also using Web Parts to facilitate the transfer of data to desktops.
Although the Millennium Challenge ends this summer, Schmidt says, “We believe collaboration will come home to roost with the command and control groups.”
It’s already become a valued resource for other government agencies. The U.S. Army Medical Department has tapped SharePoint Portal Server to help aggregate and make accessible all the information contained within the agency.
In an effort to make the data used by the Army’s medical department and other agencies easier to obtain electronically, Seinfeld says Microsoft offers a voluntary product accessibility template (VPAT). The template is an informational tool created by the high-tech industry and government to help federal information-technology professionals maintain new market research responsibilities required by Section 508 accessibility standards of U.S. law. VPAT templates are available on the Microsoft Web sites for SharePoint technologies and other Microsoft products such as Windows, Office, Project, FrontPage and Visio.
SharePoint on a Smaller Scale Connects Local Governments
City of Fayetteville employees are similarly pleased with their implementation of SharePoint Team Services team Web site. Their goal was to make City Hall more customer-focused and responsive without spending more taxpayer money.
Seinfeld says SharePoint Team Services, a technology available in Office XP and in forthcoming versions of Project Server 2002 and Windows .NET Server, provides for a prebuilt Web-site solution that permits customers, like the City of Fayetteville, to quickly and easily create team workspaces to manage group activities and work together more effectively.
She says a SharePoint Team Services Web site enables government groups to gain the most benefit from their existing systems. “This is a huge win for governments,” Seinfeld says. “They’re often working with limited funds, certainly none they can squander in search of various communication solutions or new systems. With few resources to spare, governments can get a Web site up and running very quickly, and at a minimal cost by using SharePoint Team Services.”
Fayetteville knows of these benefits first-hand. In addition to 127,000 people, and the nearby Fort Bragg military installation, Fayetteville is home to a state university, a private college and North Carolina’s second-largest community college. Serving this varied constituent mix can be challenging for the city’s 1,300 employees, according to Jason Brady, the city’s public information officer.
“There’s so much happening now, and we’re expected to do much more with fewer people,” Brady says. “For example, citizens now can — and want to — access government information at the drop of a hat. When citizens have those expectations, local governments must respond. Therefore, we’re going through kind of a metamorphosis as city government. We’re working to increase our efficiency, because we understand that people require that of us. Businesses are getting lean and mean, and we have to follow suit.”
Brady says one of the major hurdles for Fayetteville employees has been to organize and coordinate information. SharePoint Team Services has stepped in to enable the city’s department directors to communicate with each other and track information more efficiently. The city has implemented SharePoint Team Services primarily as a central location for employees to post announcements, coordinate calendars, share documents and assign tasks.
The site is used in a variety of ways. For instance, the city’s project manager uses the SharePoint site to post projects and assign tasks to various employees. Most employees use the calendar to ensure that multiple events are not scheduled at the same time. Discussions on issues ranging from City Hall security to the use of cellular phones are posted, and documents are shared.
Having a central clearinghouse for information has been a tremendous benefit in the city’s move toward efficiency, Brady says. Greatly improved communication is the primary advantage that the SharePoint Team Services-based Web site offers the city. “For our top management, SharePoint Team Services is a good way to reach everybody at once,” he says. “It’s a great tool for us all to keep in touch with each other.” Managers are able to assign tasks, share documents and discuss those documents, all within the Web site.
SharePoint Technology Tapped to Aid Time-Sensitive Task
Nearby, North Carolina’s Rural Internet Access Authority reports it has experienced similar results with a Share Point Team Services Web site solution, according to Elaine Matthews, vice president for communication and development of the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, where the authority is housed. The authority was charged two years ago by the state General Assembly to expand IT infrastructure statewide within three years and to prepare North Carolina citizens to take advantage of Internet opportunities. To accomplish this behemoth, time-sensitive task by 2003, the authority needed to empower its workforce — 21 commissioned members and 170 volunteers — to communicate quickly and easily and work together effectively.
“This is a massive undertaking,” Matthews says, noting that the state now ranks 45th out of the 50 states in households with computers and 46th in the percentage of households using the Internet. To make matters more complicated, authority members are scattered throughout the 52,669-square-mile state (136, 412 square kilometers) and only meet once a month. SharePoint Team Services was tapped to pull these people together.
“Frankly, we were just amazed at its depth,” Matthews says. “We believe that (the SharePoint Team Services Web site solution) will become integral to the critical policy work that’s going on in this state in the next three years.”
The authority implemented SharePoint Team Services with the aim of improving discussion among project coordinators. Using SharePoint Team Services, the authority members are able to work together on documents through the document libraries, stay on top of deadlines and meetings with the calendar, stay in touch through the contact list and engage in discussions through the discussion board.
In addition to being a forum for the posting of shared documents, the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center uses the site to post important information that all members of the authority need. All users of SharePoint Team Services also use Microsoft Outlook messaging and collaboration client.
“It’s given us the ability to stay in constant touch with what’s going on and not have to communicate with people in a serial manner — you can do it in parallel,” Patterson says. “Not only does it allow you to work across the (organization), but it also allows you to work within channels.”
Patterson points to the discussion board feature as an effective communication tool that gives members a sense of the big picture, but doesn’t necessarily take a big chunk of money because it allows them to cut back on travel and long-distance phone calls. More importantly, she says, with less time spent on the details of communication, the authority is free to spend more time on the issues.
“It saves us what I call the ‘scutwork’ and enables us to do some real thinking and working together,” she says.
She also praises the document library feature of SharePoint Team Services for helping keep everyone in the loop and for fostering a greater sense of teamwork than had previously been possible. As for the ultimate role SharePoint Team Services plays in the authority’s task at hand, she says, “We see it as perhaps the saving grace.”
For others, it’s glue and sliced cheese.