SharePoint Saturday NYC: A Conference Report from a First-time Attendee

As dawn broke over a fairly crisp summer morning in Manhattan, I was looking forward to venturing into Midtown this past weekend to attend my very first SharePoint Saturday.  Microsoft’s NYC headquarters is located on 6th Avenue, also known as Avenue of the Americas, next to the iconic Radio City Music Hall.  It was early when I arrived, but there was already a buzz as I entered the building, received my conference pass, and headed up to the 6th floor.  There is a natural camaraderie among members of the SharePoint community, and it was especially apparent among the 400 attendees who were lucky enough to secure a pass to this event, myself included!

The day started off with a thoughtfully brief introduction, as everyone was anxious to find their way to the morning’s first sessions.  There were conference tracks to satisfy everyone’s interests, from Developer and Advanced Developer to IT Pro, Advanced IT Pro, and End User, as well as specific topic tracks including Office 365, SharePoint Logistics, and a catch-all Special Interest track.  Each track consisted of five 75-minute sessions, with the first starting at 8:30 am.  It was definitely tough to choose, and I was often torn between two or three sessions within the same timeframe… but I circled those of primary interest and headed to my first one, just across the hall.

Site Collection Administrators:  Who Are They and Why Should I Be One? was led Terri Dowell of Sogeti USA.  After an overview of the various types of administrators within a SharePoint environment, Terri discussed the main responsibilities of the Site Collection Admin, and how to set oneself up for success in this role through the use of auditing tools and permissions trimming, as well as through learning the lingo and gaining the trust and respect of your end-users.  As in all of the sessions I attended, the open discussion portion allowed participants to ask questions and share examples of their personal experiences, from which all could benefit.

At 10 am, it was time for session #2, Implementing SharePoint – A Project Manager’s How-To, conducted by Eric Riz of Concatenate, Inc.  It is always interesting to gain insight into who is attending these sessions, and Eric started out taking a brief survey show of hands to capture the make-up of his audience in the room.  Eric asked how large of an organization we work for, and what category of SharePoint system user we consider ourselves to be, and our answers ran the gamut.  Then it was content time, and from setting a project’s goal to defining its structure and building out management processes through its lifecycle, Eric pointed out how the use of SharePoint can empower a Project Manager to move well beyond the “paper and pain” methods of old.

By the time the second session ended, talk of food filled the air. There was a bit of a snafu with the delivery of lunch, and it, unfortunately, interfered with my listening in on any of the Lightning Talks or Sponsor Presentations. However, I was able to spend time visiting the Sponsors’ booths and inquiring about their offerings.

With my Bingo Card firmly in hand, I made my way around the expo space, collecting stamps along the way. The vendors and service providers enthusiastically greeted visitors at their booths, as they collected raffle entries and doled out tchotchkes. (Urban Dictionary may define a tchotchke as “A small piece of worthless crap, a decorative knick knack with little or no purpose,” but I tend to disagree. Everything I happily dropped into my conference bag was useful, cute, or both!)

As the afternoon began, it was on to session #3, Intro to Content Web Parts: The Sweetest Way to View and Manage Content, led by Kim Frehe of Rightpoint Consulting. My favorite SharePoint analogy of the day was Kim’s use of the Candy Shop, and how finding exactly what you want among all of the options can be overwhelming. Therefore, the Content Query and Content Search Web Parts can be used to hone your searches far more effectively. Key takeaway: Managed metadata is highly recommended to keep terms consistent within your environment. I couldn’t agree more!

By 2:30 pm it was time for Best Practices in SharePoint User Training with Leanne Bateman of Beacon Strategy Group. Not surprisingly, a quick survey of the gathered attendees revealed an unfortunate truth about most SharePoint user environments.  Namely, the lack of formal training end-users receives when SharePoint is introduced to an organization, or whenever an upgrade is rolled out. We collectively agreed that user adoption is negatively affected if a system is imposed upon end-users without support or proper guidance as to its use. While there is some value in providing online links to tutorials and written documentation, that approach is not effective for all end users, nor is it customized to the environment in which they work. As a gathered group of thought leaders and SharePoint strategists, Leanne encouraged us to promote the importance of training to our organization’s leadership and to gain support for it as being a vital slice of the budgetary pie.

The last session of the day found me attending A 100-Level Look at the Ins and Outs of SharePoint Workflow, conducted by Jason Keller of TekDog, Inc. After briefly explaining what a workflow is, Jason discussed the easily justifiable return on investment realized when a workflow is used to improve efficiencies, accountability, and productivity within an organization. Using real-world examples, the cost savings he described were staggering. While he has his favorite, Jason mentioned that there are numerous workflow tools available in the market. (As a plug for the home team, I can’t help but mention that Bamboo offers Workflow Conductor, which is available for a free 30-day trial from our website.) In discussing the requirements gathering process to define a workflow, we were encouraged to ask “Why?,” “What?,” and “Why?” again. Basically, throughout the discovery process, a workflow designer needs to be a process improvement analyst and diplomatically challenge anything that doesn’t make sense or can be completed in a more effective way. Lastly… document, document, document, and obtain a sign-off from your primary stakeholder!

By 5:15 pm, it was time for closing remarks and the raffle giveaways. In a packed house, the sponsors and volunteers were enthusiastically thanked for their invaluable contributions. As a first-time participant, it was obvious how much work had gone into creating such an event. Then, each lucky winner who heard their name called jumped up to retrieve their raffle prize, most notably Surface tablets, a remote control car, American Express gift cards, cameras, keyboards, headsets, shirts, and a plethora of books. I may not have won a physical prize, but I unquestionably stepped outside of the Microsoft building on a beautiful Saturday evening in New York City richer for the experience of the day.