An outdated SharePoint system can fade into obscurity. But when upgraded correctly with a proper user adoption program, it can return to stardom. It’s that kind of turnaround that was led by Israel Class, the Director of IT at GateWay Community College. He shared his story after working with Enabling Technologies.
GateWay’s SharePoint 2013 footprint was akin to the size of the school: big. With five locations in the Phoenix area, GateWay is part of one of the USA’s largest community college districts (Maricopa). Class set a goal for the new SharePoint solution to be analogous to the college: innovative. After all, 50 years ago GateWay became first technical college in Arizona and was the first to install a computer.
GateWay’s users are diverse. The college offers more than 150 degree, certificate, as well as trade, technical and workforce training options. In addition to traditional programs like nursing, IT, and business, students get to work quickly through programs like Beauty & Wellness, welding, and even meat cutting. Their Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation serves small business and entrepreneurs in bioscience, medical devices, clean technology, and software.
GateWay’s use of collaboration tools was also diverse. “One of the main things that I heard when I first started at the college was that our SharePoint needed work,” began Class. “It was underutilized and had very low adoption.” Like most colleges, the freedom given to faculty and students resulted in a sprawling set of applications. “We had no single platform for collaboration,” explained Class.
“Some departments used Google, some SharePoint, others had home drives and shared drives. The major pain point that we needed to overcome was to upgrade to a single platform that would actually enable more user adoption.”
The Centralized Solution
After doing their research, Class’s team decided to move away from SharePoint on-premises to Office 365. “SharePoint Online would give us the new modern look and the tools and the collaboration that we were looking for, and we’d have a path to jump onto the entire Office 365 platform.”
Before making the transition, Class took the time to ensure the new platform would please key stakeholders. “We began reaching out, doing some research, and communicating with people on campus and faculty to achieve that goal. Getting the migration right was key for us since we're not SharePoint developers and no one had experience moving from the existing version to the cloud.”
Partnering Brings Expertise Enabling Technologies had partnered with GateWay for several years, implementing and supporting Lync and Skype for Business Server. Class described how he started the discussion. “I had interactions with the guys over at Enabling and asked if they had skilled resources, and they said absolutely. We put together a call and explained what we were trying to achieve. As we developed the scope of work, it absolutely helped us to sit down and get answers to our questions.”Plan of Attack
Class began by getting critical stakeholders to provide requirements and play key roles in sponsoring the project. “The first thing we did was actually develop a committee to talk about what we wanted to achieve out of the upgrade,” he explained. “We had representation from IT, marketing, faculty, and some power users. Our timeline was very aggressive. We met every week for months, because in education our windows for any kind of major upgrades are few and far between.” The timeline was also compressed due to an intense accreditation process that the college was pursuing. “We said that if we didn’t do it by the start of the next semester, we won't be doing this.”
Enabling’s team quickly developed a project plan to allocate time for planning and design, piloting and migration, and user adoption and training. Class shared Enabling’s change management philosophy of communicating early and often. “We communicated what we were trying to achieve from a non-technical standpoint. We did endless amounts of training, developed user guides, and had champions that walked around campus and explained the benefits. We also spun up a mock-up site so people could provide feedback before we actually want to live.”
Since Enabling’s SharePoint engineers began working on the platform in 2007, the philosophy has always been to keep it simple. When too many sites erupt with too little navigability or searchability, it is difficult to manage and govern. SharePoint engineers used to spend time designing information architectures and navigable directory trees. The platform is now far more user friendly, with searchability and meta-tagging of files more critical than the hierarchical structure. A good example comes from another higher-ed institution that overhauled its policy development process using creative tagging and nested documents in SharePoint.
The thorough technical planning paid off in a smooth migration and cutover. “Once we identified all the technical pitfalls and mitigated those, working with Enabling Technologies, we created the road map,” declared Class. “We set a date for our old site to go down, migrated over that weekend, and Monday morning we were up and running in the cloud without missing a beat.”
To summarize his lessons learned, Class offered “For something like this, or any project, especially in an education environment, you want to talk to the faculty and staff. You want to get engagement from all the different departments and groups because they’re the ones who will be using it the most, and you want to make sure that their concerns are addressed.”
Enabling’s change management professionals were most impressed by how Class engaged Gateway’s key stakeholders. He explained “We offered lots of training and we marketed everything. We were constantly meeting with marketing to make sure that they have a voice because they are the ones that actually send out all the announcements and the emails. Finally, make sure that you get sponsorship from the executive team. I had to get buy-in from the president and executive team that this was going to be the platform that we're going to use for collaboration. Once we got executive support, it trickled down to the rest of the organization, which also helped our user adoption.”
“I also suggest planning everything very very thoroughly, and engaging organizations like Enabling
Technologies to help because they have a wealth of knowledge,” Class concluded. “I don't think we could have been able to do it without Enabling, because they see this on a daily basis and we don't right. So for us it was good to have resources to send email or set up a call and have an hour or two to say ‘Okay, these are the issues that we've seen so far, and how can we overcome them?’”
They overcame them just fine, and SharePoint is now in the spotlight.