User Experience?

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Keywords: sharepoint, user experience, iphone, ba insight, harmon.ie

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Why is it that something with as many functions, uses, applications and game-changing design features as an iPhone is ultimately easy to understand, and something like SharePoint ends up weighed down by the stone of “what is it?” About half the people in our company have iPhones, a smaller set have iPads, but almost everybody understands both. Everybody in this company has had access to SharePoint since 2005 and I still get people telling me “I really don’t understand what I can do with it.” Trust me, I’d be the first to stand up and say “that’s my fault” but I don’t think I am entirely to blame.

A couple of months ago, I attended iPhone/iPad DevCon East in Boston, and one of the classes I attended has stuck in my mind ever since. It was a class targeting desktop developers, aimed at getting us to develop with the iPhone user experience in mind. About a third of the way into the class, the instructor asked “how many of you have or are planning to have a ‘Settings’ option in your app?” Once about a quarter of the class raised their hands, he said “you don’t get it!” Now I know he was using hyperbole to get our attention, but I also know that like all exaggeration, this statement had an element of truth. Most iPhone apps are intuitive enough to just be figured out. Can you imagine SharePoint without settings?

I keep hearing people in the SharePoint community telling me to get my users involved, and I keep telling them that my users look at me as if to say “why would I want to be involved in this?” One of my users asked me earlier today if I could sit with him and answer some questions about SharePoint. He is working with us to design a record keeping system, and he (correctly) feels that if he knows more about SharePoint, he will be better able to contribute to the process. Of course, I agreed. In trying to gauge where his comfort level is, I asked a few questions, offered a few examples, and made a few observations. He knows that he wants to set-up a series of related libraries and lists, but his first comment to me was “I just don’t find this very easy to use.” I hear that statement often, along with complaints about navigation, and I am hard-pressed to defend the product. Again, I can lay blame at my doorstep, maybe I haven’t done enough to entice people or to make it intuitive, but then I defend myself by saying “I also bought SharePoint to make my life easier” – see, there’s the rub. My IT side wants SharePoint to be as easy as when we give a user an iPad. I know how much work is involved in making SharePoint look sweet and feel intuitive and I don’t want to do it. I would like to entice my users to take up that charge, but, as I’ve said before, they have a day job. Also, my peers, the other department heads, aren’t wild about the idea of their people spending hours upon hours working in SharePoint.

I know, I know, I am ranting, I am not offering solutions and I cruised right past the 500 word mark. SharePoint has got to be easier for the average enterprise user to work with. If Microsoft won’t do take up that challenge, then we (yes the IT folks) have to, and that may involve spending money. In the past year, we have invested in email management for SharePoint (Harmon.ie) and, most recently, a better search experience (BA Insight). Harmon.ie has turned out to be some of the best money I have ever spent, and the enhanced search experience is gaining fans rapidly. We are spending money on training and we are stressing the User Experience in our upcoming projects. Things are going to get better. 

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