At the center of most collaboration platforms exists the user profile. In SharePoint, the basic user profile draws its data from Active Directory, and consists of settings for the network environment, including configuration and permissions data. However, when we talk about user profiles in collaboration terms we might also include an expanded list of personal and professional details about the individual that can help our fellow employees better connect, share, and communicate. Many organizations struggle with user profiles. Do we open them up to our employees, or keep them locked down? Do we even need them? And if so, what makes a user profile effective?
Adoption and engagement are critical measurements for the modern knowledge management and collaboration environment. We want our employees using the tools provided, and we want them to be actively engaged and productive while on the system. A key driver of both adoption and engagement is to give employees the ability to personalize their experience. Think about how employees personalize their office or cubicle: when people have the ability to add a little bit of their own personality, they tend to be more comfortable and productive.
When the collaboration environment you use allows for people to share more than basic profile details, including past projects and skills, interests, job history, and a short narrative describing themselves, they are better able to connect and develop meaningful connections.
What makes a user profile successful comes down to three components: discovery, recovery, and follow-up.
- Discovery — The user profile is a key location from which users can learn about ideas and content outside of their existing communities and teams. For example, after conducting a search and locating a relevant document by someone outside of your team, you might follow the link to the author’s profile where you can then ‘discover’ related content and conversations, and possibly make new connections through their own network. Without the profile page, you would not have likely found those contextual links.
- Recovery — The typical information worker is engaged in dozens of active projects, all of which contain a multitude of conversations. In this case, the user profile has the ability to retain a running thread of conversations an individual participates in, as well as documents and links shared, bookmarks saved, and relationships made. Where did I upload that project plan? Who was asking me about the latest budget report? A profile provides a single location whereby a user can recover details around their various collaborative interactions.
- Follow-up — When collaborating, we often mention, tag, or assign tasks to other individuals — or ourselves. The user profile also provides a central location for following up on these items — whether identified and assigned by others, or generated by the employee herself in the course of discovery.
The user profile is a critical piece of any successful collaboration environment — and yet many organizations have minimized the profile capabilities within SharePoint. This is not only unfortunate, but counter-productive to collaboration. While MySites have their limitations, far too many companies have elected to turn off this capability entirely rather than deploy them in a somewhat “controlled” way that would actually help spark collaboration. Arguably, this failed strategy has helped drive many employees toward unsupported and unsecure consumer-based social networking platforms and websites.
Over the past decade, there have been a number of attempts at creating a “public” user profile for each of us. To some degree, this is a huge selling point for many of the social networking platforms — one place where you can send someone to learn all about you. And the social networks have achieved some degree of success by providing this service (which they use as a basis for serving us advertisements).
For personal/non-professional connections, MySpace had an early lead but was quickly (and completely) replaced by Facebook, and for professional networking it has long been LinkedIn — with Google’s Orkut attempting to become an interloper (but failing) and Xing taking some mind share in parts of Europe (especially Germany). If you look closely at each of these environment, the core of their offering is a user profile from which there are varying tools for discovery, recovery, and follow-up.
User profiles sit at the center of collaboration, and if you do not provide this capability, you may find your employees working within one of the many consumer-based platforms. Rather than simply shutting down these external social capabilities, organizations need to first understand why they are being used — and develop strategies to provide similar capabilities within the corporate boundaries.
Effective user profiles allow for employee discovery, recovery, and follow-up — and have a direct impact on the overall success of your collaboration strategy. They give your end users a way to personalize their experience, while providing a central location to capture key details about who they are, work they’ve done, and expertise that may go beyond their existing job description — all of which may be difficult to surface without the user profile.
At Beezy, the user profile is an important aspect of our SharePoint solution. While SharePoint provides the basics, we have extended the profile beyond the out-of-the-box experience to give end users capability found only within the leading-edge consumer platforms. Schedule your demo today, and find out why Beezy is the leading enterprise collaboration solution for SharePoint and Office 365.