SharePoint Spotlight On – Jan Small (Middelburg, South Africa)

Met Jan through Information Worker, he picks my brain now and again and is handling the implementation for this very large mine. He’s not quite well in the head as you can tell from his responses – and photo. 😉  Is it a bird?  Is it a plane?  NO, it’s … SuperPoint?

Where do you work?
My happy place away from home is at Samancor Chrome.

What is your job title?
Information Technology Specialist.

How many SharePoint users in the company and how many are you responsible for?
1600 are on computers, a hell of a lot more aren’t – we’re in mining. We are still in the process of planning and development so not a lot. We decided to first concentrate on select focus groups and councils and will grow from there as they are the most demanding users and would make the most use of a SharePoint solution. The initial target people number about 50-ish but we intend to double that figure roughly every 1-2 months as we start spreading our wings.

What version of SharePoint are you using and how long has your company been using SharePoint?
Our company has had a small deployment on MOSS 2007 for about 2+ years now, with only a handful of people using \ maintaining sites. Our replacement deployment is running for about 2 months now and we plan on deploying more SharePoint instances to our other 5 sites in the next few months.

How did you learn SharePoint and how long have you been using it?
Gained most of my experience by simply going at it and see what happens if click that link or change that value. I received some training using the SharePoint designer and while it did make me more comfortable using the tool and SharePoint itself, I wish I played around or read more on SharePoint before attending the training so I would know the right questions to ask.

The web is an amazing resource and there are so many blogs out there by professionals who have gone through all the hassles and problems a new SharePoint admin \ developer faces. It’s important to remember that you are not the first one to deal with the SharePoint curveballs thrown at you.

What is the biggest challenge you face with user adoption?
Our biggest challenge was and still is populating our portal with content that make users want to open their portal. It’s not enough to just have a smart looking site, that fades…. Quickly. You have to somehow show the users that SharePoint is more than just a replacement for an intranet. Our design team had to come up with ideas of what a user would like (or need) to see on a regular basis so as to convince them to visit the portal.

We aimed for features that aided people in doing their job while avoiding features we knew would not see a lot of use. For example no one likes to see a half dead discussion forum. It creates the perception that no one uses the site. On the other hand a list of job vacancies within the entire group, a library of all communication briefs or even an Announcement list of what’s happing where that gets updated on a regular basis gives the impression that the site is “alive”.

How are you handling governance?
We keep a fairly tight control over the SharePoint deployment for both development and administration. Requests for changes or development (including new sites) goes to our in-house development team who operate at a group level. The request gets evaluated to determine the value it will add as well as the administration impact. If better alternatives exists a member of the development team will present the requestor with a proposal else if approved they implement the request. Sites on the portal are grouped in what we call a “Centre” with each centre having a custodian (from the business side not development \ IT) who ensures that all content& features stay relevant for the specific centre and acts as a finger on the pulse of the users so to speak.

By having a central team performing all development \ changes to all the SharePoint deployments in the group we ensure that the look and feel, as well as corporate branding, stays consistent.

We rely heavily on AD groups to implement permissions. Basically we only add AD groups to the SharePoint groups and where possible never individual users. Requests for access can then be routed to a sites local IT department helpdesk who, if approved, can then simply add the user to the relevant AD group.

Do you have a dedicated SharePoint team and Executive buy-in and is it helping?
Dedicated team… no…. Executive buy in, Yes. Executive buy-in is extremely important. It helps with user adoption, and because higher management is involved and using the portal, content contributors seems to be more careful of what they load up into SharePoint increasing the quality of the content. That said we do try to keep the portal from becoming too serious.

If you had unlimited resources in your company and could design the ideal SharePoint dream team, what would it consist of?
that is a really difficult question. You can utilize so many different skill sets but not necessary have enough work to keep them busy the whole time. But…

Dedicated SP Architect
This is the guy that keeps the greater picture in mind and constantly works on the design and evolving the SharePoint portal to better and greater things. Its his job to ensure the portal stays fresh and covers the growing needs.

Dedicated SQL guru
This lady ensures that the SQL side of things are optimized and happily humming along. As the number of deployments grows together with development of SharePoint and interaction with other systems such as SAP she is going to be needed more then ever.

2x Developers
Doing most of the grunt work, it is their job to assist the Architect and get the designs onto the computer screens of users everywhere.

1x graphical designer
The one that makes the pretty pretties.

1x dedicated SP Helpdesk support
Providing first line support to users and redirecting higher level issues to the developers where required. Perfect for educating new users about how to use the different features and what the portal offers. This person is also an invaluable source of info to the SP architect about how users experience the portal and where possible short comings are.

Dedicated Coffee maker and snack support.

Have you built anything cool (out of box) in SharePoint that your users loved, and if so what was it?
Apart from some of our in-house developed software our users are used to fairly bland intranets, so the portal with its shared calendar, document libraries etc already knocked the socks of most of the users so far.

What did however turn a few heads was the collaboration sites we built for specific user groups. Access to these are restricted to members of the user groups and all the content on it was aimed specifically for these users. We made it extremely relevant to the purpose of the groups.

Of course we also took a standard document library, labeled it as a video library with a couple of uploaded videos and people absolutely loved it. Silly humans….

What functionality do you use the most on a day to day basis?
Without a doubt Lists. I’ve implemented a support site for one of our In house applications where users can track requests and reported bugs. There is a collaboration site for the user group driving the development of said application with a calendar showing release dates etc.

All the requests, bug reports etc are implemented using lists. This allows us to better prioritize work, keep track of changes made to the system and by whom, as well as a version release history. All of this from a normal list with some clever views on it. It also helps with monthly reports to management.

How has SharePoint changed your life?
Having been a developer for more than 10 years now I found that when I first started I looked at applications as individual entities. You have a few users and they have needs etc. Then as experience came knocking you start seeing the need for interaction between different systems and how rewarding integration can be within a company. When SharePoint popped up I first though, Yay <yawn>… another intranet tool.

But then you work with it. And the more you plan, design and develop the more you realize that what you are doing is more than just building another intranet or even application. You are directly changing the way people go about to do their work. I was no longer looking at just one application, or even a few working together. I was suddenly focused on the user, on what HE needs. This new focus has really upped the quality of my other projects, and hopefully made for happier users.

What’s the hardest thing about your job?
Time. I think IT staff, especially in South Africa, are expected to be knowledgeable in a fairly wide variety of technologies. Balancing an ever-growing responsibility list, keeping up with the times as well as having a family can be very demanding at times.

What’s the best thing about your job?
I’m blessed to work with some really cool people who I know I can rely on. Also I come into contact with a large variety of (IT) technologies. I love learning new stuff.

What do you know about SharePoint 2010 and are you planning to upgrade?
One word. SEXY (Sorry geek at heart 🙂 ) The new look is great and I love the idea of the customizable ribbon bar at the top. Now being able to install SP on a Windows 7 64 bit computer for development purposes is also very welcoming news as well as the SharePoint data source in VS 2010.

I can’t wait for it to be released. We’d probably upgrade a month after the release, if the boss lets me…


  1. Hi Jan. Would you happen to have a job spec for the “Dedicated Coffee maker and snack support” person? (that one just killed me. Thanks for the LOL).



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