REDMOND, Wash., March 3, 2008 – In the information age, staying productive requires that employees can easily navigate their company’s network and access the data they need to do their jobs. Yet a constant increase in the number of documents on the average company’s network has made finding the right information more difficult.
In 2001, Microsoft began addressing this problem with the release of the first version of what is now known as Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, an easy-to-use, Web-portal product that enabled information workers to access information and share it with their colleagues. Since that time, SharePoint has expanded to become a set of Web-based productivity, collaboration and productivity tools, as well as a platform upon which companies can develop line-of-business applications. Today at the Microsoft Office SharePoint Conference 2008, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates noted that SharePoint is one of the fastest growing products in the company’s history, having reached the milestone of a US$1billion-dollar business with 100 million licenses sold, and growth of more than 50 percent in the second quarter of the current fiscal year.
Kurt Delbene, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Office Business Platform Group, is pleased with SharePoint’s growth, but says that it’s only it’s only scratching the surface in terms of its potential. “To stay competitive, more companies are realizing the importance of storing information in one central and secure location – a place on the network where employees can work together – and easily find what they’re looking for,” says DelBene. “SharePoint’s growth and popularity are a reflection of that realization.”
A recent report by IDC found that 61 percent of users surveyed said they were deploying SharePoint enterprise-wide. Another 28 percent of those using SharePoint in departments today are expected to expand usage to the enterprise within the next 12 months.* One such company is General Mills, the world’s sixth-largest food company. As the company’s Web site notes, General Mills holds the number one or number two position in every market in which it competes. Maintaining this competitive stance required that the company and its employees be especially responsive as they make decisions that guide the company, so in the ‘90s General Mills developed their own file repository system for storing and categorizing documents.
General Mills subsequently migrated to PCDocs, a third-party document management solution, but in 2001 they converted to SharePoint 2001 after completing a nine-month assessment of the product. Since that time, the company has investigated other document management solutions, but involvement in the SharePoint 2007 Technology Adoption Program convinced them that SharePoint was “the place to be.” So says Elliot Gerard, manager of General Mills’ Microsoft/SharePoint Development Technologies Group.
Metadata-enhanced Search Features
In Feb. 2007, General Mills went live with their SharePoint Server 2007 deployment, migrating 1.5 million documents from SharePoint 2001 to the new platform. According to Gerard, the company has a two-to three-year deployment plan, during which they hope to move an additional 10-20 million documents from General Mills’ file shares to their SharePoint server farm. Gerard says that this solution will cost one-tenth of those offered by many competitors, while still providing the company’s 28,000 employees with an easy way to find information, manage workflow and collaborate with their colleagues.
“The challenge I’m faced with is creating an environment where employees are truly sharing knowledge and ideas, without imposing more work on the content creators and people who need to retrieve information,” says Gerard. “SharePoint Server 2007 is so intuitive that all it takes is a two-hour training session for employees to get comfortable with the product. Whether it’s the ease-of-use or improved search functionality, people have really fallen in love with this version of SharePoint.”
SharePoint’s platform capabilities have enabled Gerard’s team to build custom applications, such as the Electronic Lab Notebook (ELN), an electronic system used by 800-900 North America-based R&D employees to store information. As Gerard puts it, the notebook is a metaphor for how the R&D people work. Previously, employees carried around loose-leaf binders that stuffed with new formulations, new ideas on products, or notes on experiments they were running.
Within the ELN system, teams of product developers, lab technicians, sensory scientists and packaging engineers record their research procedures and findings, and share their work across divisions and geographical boundaries. Searches for past and present information are performed within the ELN system, giving access to project notebooks and documents, as well as more than one million documents in historical databases. The constant influx of knowledge from on ongoing projects, and retrieval of past experiences, has helped the R&D staff to identify what barriers need to be crossed to make a project succeed, and has saved valuable resources by not reinventing the wheel.
Additionally, SharePoint Server’s metadata support has made it much easier for R&D to generate reports. In fact, Gerard says that support of metadata – which describes the characteristics of a file, such as the author, the subject, and the file format – has been one of the most beneficial features for employees throughout the company.
“The metadata and full-text search features have provided significant improvements in search results and unlocked SharePoint’s potential as a central file repository,” Gerard says. “Now I get people stopping me saying ‘Wow, Search in SharePoint has been so improved. What did you do?’”
General Mills is taking the search capabilities in SharePoint Server 2007 a step further by developing a metadata management tool that uses cascading drop-down menus to enable even more precise search parameters. Taking advantage of the newly-released Silverlight Software + Services Blueprint for SharePoint, Gerard’s team is working with Microsoft to provide General Mills employees with a more interactive and intuitive way to find information using SharePoint’s metadata functionality.
Giving ‘Legs’ to Document Data
Consumer and packaged goods manufacturer Del Monte Foods is also trusting its business collaboration and search needs to SharePoint. Del Monte Foods’ success relies on a development process that is run efficiently and completes a product in time to be first to market. This requires that internal departments work closely with one another as well as with external vendors such as brokers and engineers that develop new packaging technology. Normally, providing vendors with access to Del Monte Foods’ network would present security risks for the company and its intellectual capital, but Jonathan Wynn says that by using Active Directory with SharePoint Server 2007, Del Monte Foods can enforce policies that control which documents an external user can access, and how those documents are used.
Wynn manages Del Monte Foods’ Advanced Technology and Collaborative Services, driving the creation and implementation of new collaboration and workflow technologies across the company. Currently he’s migrating information from Del Monte Foods’ main offices from SharePoint Server 2003 to SharePoint Server 2007, with a goal of completing the process by May of this year. Once completed, more than 8,000 employees, vendors and partners will have access to the same metadata and search functionality that General Mills’ Gerard has appreciated, without keeping Wynn or his colleagues up at night for fear of a security breach.
According to Wynn, the new metadata and search functionality have caused a significant increase in adoption of SharePoint Server 2007. In Wynn’s words, “SharePoint breathes life and three-dimensional character in to the data. Now I can bring that dormant data out so that it means something to people and helps them find what they’re looking for to do their jobs.” Part of bringing “dormant” data to life also includes the ability to display and search data from a variety of sources – both internal and external. Del Monte Foods is in the process of connecting SharePoint Server 2007 to Siebel, K2 and a variety of Microsoft and third-party applications and data sources. Once that is done, Wynn’s hope is that everyone will be able to see relevant information based on their role and be empowered to make informed decisions for the good of the company.
Working Together to Keep the Planes on Time
The easy-to-use collaboration capabilities of SharePoint Server 2007 were one of the factors that attracted easyJet as well. As Europe’s third-largest airline, easyJet’s workforce is spread across 73 locations. And because on-time arrivals and departures are a primary factor in measuring an airline’s performance, easyJet needed to make sure everyone from the flight crew to baggage handlers could work together in real time to ensure that 470 daily flights remained on schedule. Reaching that goal required that easyJet have greater control of the documents and information on their network, and that its employees could easily find that information to do their jobs.
As head of easyJet’s IT Services department, Andy Caddy is leading the deployment of SharePoint Server 2007 across the company. Using a phased approach, Caddy and his team have rolled out a new corporate intranet that includes smaller sites for each of the airport stations and project teams, and a crew portal that reduces the time required for a flight crew to check-in and prepare for a flight. In addition, easyJet has replaced its two legacy document management systems with a more efficient SharePoint-based system that has reduced storage requirements by twenty percent. Later in 2008, easyJet will complete the final phase of its deployment by using SharePoint’s workflow capabilities to automate business processes.
Caddy says that SharePoint Server 2007’s feature set and intuitive nature have been central to the product’s success at easyJet. “EasyJet needed a platform that would not only help employees to work together, but that would also tie in to some of our other applications and help people to make more informed decisions,” says Caddy. “SharePoint has addressed all those needs and provided our employees with an intuitive way to find information and work independently.”
Bringing the Power to the People
General Mills’ Gerard couldn’t agree more. “With SharePoint, we are able to place the power in the hands of the (business) people, which has freed up my team to do more in-depth development work on process improvement, workflow, records management and other work where we see the most benefit for our resource investment.”
To give employees more independence, Gerard’s team has created a process for requesting SharePoint-based intranet sites that anyone can initiate by completing a five-question request form. The process automatically provisions a SharePoint site preconfigured with global features that IT requires for security and retention management. After receiving minimal in-house training, General Mills employees can configure the site, lists and document libraries – and supply and maintain their own content. According to Gerard, very few workers had an official “home” site prior to SharePoint Server 2007, but in the last eight months, some 500 sites have been approved and provisioned – 490 more than he could have created manually or programmatically. So at General Mills, there are now 490 more opportunities for employees to share knowledge, exchange ideas, track tasks, conduct surveys, store assets, search for information and show off their creativity.
In highlighting the importance of this capability, Gerard says that “the president of one of our largest divisions recently became quite skeptical when we told her that SharePoint could accommodate her laundry list of needs for an intranet site. When we presented her with a fully functional site two days ahead of deadline, it was reported that she was overcome with joy. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
*IDC, “Microsoft SharePoint Server Ecosystem and Customer Usage Trends,” Doc # 207413, July 2007.