Why upgrading your skillset and software improves business productivity.

By Steve Smith, Owner of Combined Knowledge and SharePoint MVP since 2006

clip_image002Hi everyone, I'm Steve Smith, I have been working with Microsoft Technology since the early 90’s, I specialize in Infrastructure. Over the last 12 years I’ve been working a lot with the various SharePoint products as well as associated infrastructure components such as SQL server, Windows server, IIS, ISA/TMG/UAG.

As part of my learning process I’ve always kept up with the newest versions of the products and have been taking Microsoft exams since 1996. In 1998 I qualified as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), writing courseware and teaching others what I have learnt has very much been a passion for me. In 2006 I also co-founded the UK SharePoint user Group which is now the largest and most active in the world with regular meetings around the UK.

In this article I wanted to talk about the alignment between business productivity and upgrading skillsets, for the purpose of this article I am going to use SharePoint as the perfect application to highlight this. Over the last 10 years I’ve not seen a product from Microsoft have as much impact on business productivity as SharePoint, The Key of course to seeing this productivity is getting your skills right and your software to match. As Microsoft products have evolved so have their depth and capabilities and this depth often means that various groups of people within the business need to be involved in order for a successful deployment. In the case of SharePoint you have 5 distinct groups of users:

  1. Business – Such as business analysts, Information architects.
  2. Power Users – IT Champions from the various departments and business units.
  3. Infrastructure – people who will build, deploy and manage the network/servers.
  4. Developers – responsible for the development of custom solutions.
  5. Users – everyday users who need to their Job effectively and efficiently.

Each of these groups therefore requires their own area of skills in order to advise the best way for the business to use the product. But these new skills are not all necessarily required at the same time nor are they skills in the same area.

For example: The Information architects and business analysts are there to ensure that the way in which the business uses information and creates data is aligned to the way in which SharePoint will create and host the same data. This means that these groups of people also need a good solid understanding of how SharePoint works with data not just good information architecture skills. A person that knows both will always produce a better alignment between business requirements and product capabilities. Their skills will include Governance, process analytics as well as good SharePoint Power User knowledge.

There will however be an overlap where the business groups will open the door for discussions with other elements of the 5 groups.

For example: As part of the business process custom developed workflows are required which requires the developers to be involved who need to be skilled up to SharePoint 2013 Workflows and there is a requirement for certain information to be available to the outside world so the Infrastructure group need to ensure that there is a technical solution for supporting this external access potentially using multiple Claims Authentication methods, so understanding how this works in SharePoint 2013 is also a key skills upgrade requirement. By upgrading their skills to the latest the Developers are able to write the solution with maximum performance and in the way that the product is designed to work and the Infrastructure group need to understand the authentication methods and options that are new.

When built and aligned correctly these business process workflows associated with metadata and lifecycle management could save the users hours of extra work every week and unnecessary bottlenecks waiting for people to process information that should be an automated process.

Let’s dig a little deeper into this Infrastructure group which is more relevant considering this is a technical article Smile.

In the world of SharePoint we’ve seen a huge transformation in recent years into the way we can work with the product and the way in which it can give us huge productivity gains, not only do we have the On Premises deployment option but we also have the ability to use cloud based hosting of our infrastructure using Windows Azure. This means that the Infrastructure team now has a need to skill up to learn the Azure platform and virtualization skills. In fact Virtualization has matured so much over recent years, I remember teaching people Virtual server 2005 which shows what a journey this has been. The skills around Hyper-V which is the name for Microsoft’s virtualization product have constantly needed to be updated as each new revision of the product has brought new and updated components which bring real business benefits to the business as a whole, such as availability/scalability and failover of business critical components. When a business uses products such as SharePoint as the window to everything from a user perspective. What would it cost the company if SharePoint was not available for 6 hours for example? Disaster recovery methods have changed a lot in the last 5 years we cannot use 10 year old logic with today’s newer technology. Therefore skilling up to understanding how SharePoint works with Virtualization is important.

As SharePoint versions have been updated so has the requirement of the infrastructure hosting it and using the latest versions of that infrastructure carries performance and other benefits with it. Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server 2012 are good examples of infrastructure software benefitting SharePoint Server 2013 such as database performance and Virtualization through Hyper V and from a business perspective using Business Intelligence driven from SQL data to the user through a SharePoint page. Windows Server 2012 R2 carries more advances too, however SharePoint 2013 cannot support R2 of Windows Server until SharePoint 2013 Service Pack 1 is released in the near future.

The whole question of availability is one of the selling points of Azure and cloud hosting as no longer is the hardware a responsibility of the companies IT team that is now Microsoft managing that aspect of the service delivery. But we also now have another option in the service provided realm and that’s software as a Service (SaaS). Microsoft Office 365 is a service where your company gets access to the various products like SharePoint, Exchange, CRM but without the requirement to host anything or manage anything yourselves. From a technical perspective this brings new skillsets required such as identity management and migration of data. From a courseware development side we certainly approach course writing now from a viewpoint that On Premises training for SharePoint isn’t the same as training people SharePoint online and we’ve different roadmaps for people skilling up in the Office 365 roadmaps.

What is starting to happen though is businesses are starting to move into the Hybrid scenario as it’s known which now requires many different skillsets that we’ve already discussed in this article and more. I have listed some great resources for some of the technical articles on Hybrid deployments here.

Therefore with so much change happening in the SharePoint space in the last 5 years it is not possible for your business to get the most out of the latest products without the skills also being up to date of your various groups. But once those skills are upgraded you can not only get the most out of the new products in terms of performance but you will also gain maximum productivity from your users, from document management through to collaboration through to social.

Thanks for reading and I hope you found this article useful.

Pop any of your questions/comments below, or reach out to Steve via email, Combined Knowledge or via the Twittersphere.


Interested in further developing your SharePoint career? The TechNet Team are holding a SharePoint and SQL career evening in London on the 6th of March, why not come along?