Day after day you hear experts and consultants discuss the benefits of moving to the cloud, how wonderful it is, and all the benefits you’ll reap moving your technology off-site. All this chatter begs the question: is moving to the cloud really worth the hype? Show me some real-world examples of solving problems and finding opportunities when moving part of your workload to the cloud, then perhaps I’ll consider migrating my data.
In their session titled Real World Examples of Hybrid 365 Environments, Ben Curry and Jason Miller of Summit 7 Systems, Inc. did just this. Using a case study based on their experience creating a hybrid SharePoint environment at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), Ben and Jason provided an examination of when user experience matters, a look at product features that can help bridge cloud and on-premise sites, and how KCTCS bridged the social gap between Office 365 and on-premise.
To begin their presentation, Ben dissected the challenges that KCTCS faced. Specifically, employees were using a myriad of systems, logins, and experiences that made getting work done confusing and
cumbersome. To resolve this, Summit 7 Systems identified four key objectives:
- Reduce IT footprint, while still providing new services;
- Bring together and link disparate systems into a standard set of experiences;
- Foster collaboration, communication; and
- Support the vision and values of KCTCS.
In order to obtain these objectives, Summit 7 Systems began interviewing different groups of people at KCTCS. By asking the right people the right questions, interviewing across functional areas, and performing an exhaustive amount of research, they were able to visualize a system that would benefit KCTCS. This system included a single system that would bring everyone together, as well as one set of experiences for document management, collaboration, enterprise search, and core systems like PeopleSoft that KCTCS already utilized.
Once the framework for a system was established, Summit 7 Systems decided to root the framework in Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint seemed to be the obvious foundation because of the multiple benefits it offered KCTCS including:
- Document management, sharing and governance;
- Collaboration across colleges;
- Consistent framework and platform for extending business processes;
- PeopleSoft content within the intranet portal shares a consistent look and feel for unified branding and UEX;
- Enterprise Search, Enterprise Social; and
- Forms and Workflow.
Once a solid foundation in SharePoint was built, the next steps for Ben and his team were to drive user engagement and excitement. One way this was accomplished was by using familiar consumer-side experiences to drive connection and engagement in a work setting. Additionally, Summit 7 Systems relied heavily on branding in order to integrate the different systems (PeopleSoft, SharePoint, Oracle, etc.) together. By utilizing branding, Summit 7 Systems was also able to successfully optimize the user experience.
Although branding and building excitement definitely helped, there were still a number of challenges that Summit 7 Systems faced in integrating the user experience. In response to these challenges, Ben and his team implemented the following solutions:
- Create best-in-class, integrated search
- Sync MMS with on-premise
- Develop a good, functional navigation plan
- Integrate Enterprise Social and Yammer
As Ben noted in his presentation, one of the keys to accomplishing the above-mentioned goals was to communicate effectively with stakeholders and all of those involved in the process. “Communication about the progress leads to more progress.” Additionally, in order to drive progress, it was critical with this project, and other projects alike, to create a roadmap and stick to it. By effectively managing tasks, deadlines, and milestones, Summit 7 Systems was able to qualify their progress on the project.
To conclude his presentation, Ben provided a summary of the experience as a whole. One key piece of advice he had was to make sure that change was gradual. Hybrid Environments are often complex and large, and starting them from scratch will take years; one should not expect change to happen overnight. Additionally, he stressed the importance of having a solid strategy for technology while also focusing on the processes that drive the business and especially the people who will be leading the change and working with the portal. While with projects like this, there are bound to be a myriad of challenges including political, technical, and cultural constraints, taking small steps, and using familiar tools; you set the foundation for a smooth implementation and adoption.
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