Yesterday, I visited a leading research university in the North of England (there will soon be a case study and then I can name them) to learn more about their requirements for a research extranet.  Before I go much further, they have already got this in place and to remove any hint of suspense you should know that it is currently based on Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003.

I wanted to know why the leader of the research team, which comprises 10 RAs and 3 PHDs plus my contact who is leading the team, why they selected SharePoint.  His response was extremely precise and business like; he needed a tool which would:

  • Ensure Data Security - the research team deals with many classified public sector agencies includind police forces and the NHS as well as many private sector clients and each of these projects requires high levels of security
  • Avoid Data Duplication - it's essential to demonstrate that all data is accurate and that provenance of data can be demonstrated and audited
  • Distributed Collaboration - each project has members from the university and external members which are, by their nature, distributed throughout the UK with non-federated ID management.  The solution had to allow these external members to access their extranet with high level of security without impacting their home IT systems.  It also needed to be available through browser access over the web with no requirement for VPN/RAS.
  • Ability to exploit and reuse data - as the research team gathers more data it wishes to capitalise on this to help increase knowledge and productivity.
  • Legislation - the team is constantly monitoring its compliance with legislative guidelines such as the Freedom of Information act and the Data Protection Act.  Therefore the solution had to ensure audit ease and access control
  • Management - as the research team grows it was going to be important to have visibility of colleagues' input and adherence to the quality guidelines as well as fostering a spirit of collaboration and team work.

The university researched the market and with the knowledge that it had a finite/small budget and concerns over current skill levels they found that the natural solution was SharePoint.  18 months on, the solution has around 40+ projects running under it with all of them sticking to the requirements laid out above.  Now is the time to upgrade the solution to MOSS 2007 to bring further levels of functionality and integration to back-end finance systems, enhanced navigation and usability, better search capability and discussion forums.  The out-of-the-box functionality that MOSS 2007 will give them means they will be presenting to their clients a highly professional integrated portal and will be exploring shared calendars and contact management to further increase collaboration.

By exploiting MOSS for all of the above, they are able to deliver massive value to the university and its clients with minimal costs and impact on IT resources.

Very impressive (well, I think so)