Next week, I start working on the SharePoint Server team.  This is a big change for me after working for 7 years in the Developer Division.  Working on setup and patching has been exciting and taught me more than I could have imagined.  The downside has been that no one really buys a product to run the setup or install patches of course.  No disrespect to this though, because the product couldn't succeed without either.  So I am excited about the prospects of working on a team closer to the value proposition of the product.

With the change to SharePoint, I am starting to ramp up on enterprise portals.  I have looked more closely at the ones I use inside Microsoft and read as much as I can find about how other companies run their own.  I am building up a mental list of what make a great portal and working out the kinks in my own mind.

  • Rich in relevant content -- ideally I can find not only the employee handbook, but also learn about the cool project I heard from my co-worker over in product development or the new sales strategy in the MidWest.  To pull this off, there has to be discoverable content at the door step.  It is also important for the content to be up-to-date.  I could write for ages about all the websites I have seen (and run myself) that start with boundless energy but die of neglect in the following weeks and months.
  • Highly organized -- obviously the more content there is the harder it is to find what I want so the site has to organize what is there.  Search is a key ingredient of this, but it is not enough alone.  There are something I will end up wanting, but don't know exist.  Surfacing these nuggets of information outside of search in a discoverable way is important.  For example, I may have never known the IT departments kept a top 10 list of FAQs and would have ignorantly continued to call the HelpDesk when the answer was there all along.
  • Consistent interface -- one of the pushes I see companies taking that deserves applause is making the UI across their Intranet reasonably consistent.  This is probably under appreciated by IT and Development, myself included, since I don't mind learning a new interface.  Most people have a job to do outside of technology and aren't interested in this.
  • Customization -- this is one I am still wrapping my head around.  Obviously it would be great if I got exactly what I needed on my homepage everyday and the portal just read my mind.  It's also obvious that I'd love getting this customization without the fuss of training the system.  What this actually means in practice is still fuzzy to me.  An interesting project would be to look at how amazon.com does personalization in retail, and see what would apply to Knowledge Workers.

There are probably a hundred more best practices.  It's definitely a resolution this year to keep writing about this as I learn more.