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Case Study: United Airlines and SharePoint Server 2013

SharePoint 2013
 

Topic Last Modified: 2014-03-03

Summary: Learn how United Airlines used new SharePoint Server 2013 web content management and search features.

This case study gives an overview of new SharePoint Server 2013 Web Content Management (WCM) and search features, and also how United Airlines used these features to improve their Service Catalog

To view a Microsoft Word version of this case study, see Case Study: United Airlines and SharePoint Server 2013.

In this article

United Airlines is one of the world's leading airlines, with more than 85,000 employees, serving 385 airports across the globe. In 2012, United Airlines was the busiest airline on the planet, operating over two million flights, and carrying 140 million passengers. United Airlines has been using SharePoint since 2001 for both internal and external Enterprise Content Management solutions. For example, 20% of their customer-facing content on www.united.com comes from SharePoint.

United Airlines uses an internal Service Catalog that contains all of the IT-related products and services that their employees need. Using the Service Catalog, employees can do just about anything from ordering printers, laptops, or software, to issuing service desk tickets. In short; if an employee needs an IT-related item, they order it via the Service Catalog.

The Service Catalog logs approximately 400 to 500 requests per month.

United Airlines was keen to improve the maintenance and daily operations of their Service Catalog. The complexity of the Service Catalog system meant that only employees with developer skills were able to publish catalog items. Then there was the amount of time that it took to add an item to the Service Catalog, which could take up to two months.

The first step in the Service Catalog improvement process was to outline the goals they had to achieve to move forward, and to define which features the Service Catalog should have.

Goals for an improved Service Catalog
With a new and improved Service Catalog, United Airlines set the following five goals:

  1. Reduce operations and maintenance costs of the Service Catalog.

  2. Simplify the tasks of keeping the Service Catalog updated.

  3. Utilize existing companywide resources by integrating the Service Catalog with existing back-end systems.

  4. Improve the visitor’s experience of the Service Catalog.

  5. Reduce the delivery time of items ordered through the Service Catalog.

Defining features for an improved Service Catalog
After researching how people interact with online stores, United Airlines decided to use an online store as a model for their new Service Catalog. Some of the key behavior that they discovered about online shoppers was that:

  • 38% of visitors browse to see what the site has to offer.

  • 35% of visitors look for a particular type of product but not for a specific product.

  • 27% of visitors look for a specific product.

By combining their goals with the research they’d done, United Airlines decided to implement the following:

  • Display engaging content, such as popular items.

  • Display user-specific content, such as popular items based on a visitor’s user group.

  • Implement a user-friendly search experience that will make items easy to find by:

    • Integrating an easy to find search box.

    • Returning only highly relevant search results.

    • Enabling users to easily narrow down their search results by using relevant refiners.

    • Displaying query terms that a visitor has already searched for in a list below the search box as the visitor types a query.

    • Displaying query spelling corrections, "Did you mean?" if a user mistypes a query.

  • Display user-friendly URLs.

Many of the features that United Airlines had outlined as part of their Service Catalog improvement goals, are available by default in SharePoint Server. The following section contains an overview of these features.

 

Catalogs

A SharePoint library or list that you enable as a catalog. Catalog content can be reused across other site collections.
See also Overview of cross-site publishing in SharePoint Server 2013.

Tagging term sets

A term set that you use to categorize (tag) the items in your catalog. By using term sets, the hierarchy of the content that you want to display is no longer bound to the physical location of the content. Instead, the hierarchy is determined by the tagging term set.
See also Plan term sets for tagging content on SharePoint authoring sites.

Managed navigation

A navigation method that supplements the existing SharePoint navigation that is based on site structure. Managed navigation enables you to use term sets to define and maintain the navigation of your site.
See also Overview of managed metadata in SharePoint Server 2013.

Friendly URLs

By using managed navigation, the URL to a page is no longer defined by the physical location of the page. Instead, it is defined by terms in your managed navigation term set. For example, instead of having an undecipherable URL, such as http://www.contoso.com/Pages/Computers.aspx#/ID=453&Source=http%3A%2F1010101, you can create a user-friendly one, such as http://www.contoso.com/Computers/model101.

Category pages and catalog item pages

Page layouts that enable you to consistently show dynamically created catalog content across a site. These pages are assigned to terms in a term set, and are often used with managed navigation and Search Web Parts.
See also Plan category pages and catalog item pages.

Refiners for faceted navigation

Used in scenarios where you have structured content, such as catalog content. Refiners help users browse to content more easily, by filtering on refiners that are tied to terms in a term set. By using faceted navigation, you can configure different refiners for different terms in a term set without having to create additional pages.
See also Plan refiners and faceted navigation.

Content Search Web Part (CSWP)

Displays content that has been crawled and added to the search index. To display content in a CSWP, you specify a query in the Web Part. When users browse to a page that contains a CSWP, the query is automatically issued, and query results are displayed in the Web Part.
See also Plan to add Search Web Parts to pages.

Analytics processing

Automatically tracks how visitors interact with a site. For example, it can track which pages or documents visitors have viewed, and count the number of times this has happened. This information is used to generate information that can be displayed in the Popular Items Web Part.
See also Plan usage analytics, usage events and recommendations.

Popular Items Web Part

Shows the most popular items for a particular set of criteria. For example, it can show content such as "Most popular items in category”.
See also Plan to add Search Web Parts to pages.

Display templates

Used in Search Web Parts to specify how search results should be displayed. By editing a display template, you can customize how you want your search results to be displayed.
See also SharePoint 2013 Design Manager display templates.

User segmentation

Enables you to present different content to different user groups.
See also User segmentation in SharePoint 2013.

 

Ranking

There are several ranking models that are optimized for specific use cases, which provide an effective ranking of search results. In most cases, you probably won’t have to customize any of the ranking models.

Refiners

Properties that enable users to quickly narrow search results, and browse to specific content.
See also Plan refiners and faceted navigation.

Result types

Specifies one or more conditions that are compared against a search result. If the conditions are met, a specific display template will be used to display the search results.
See also About configuring result types.

Query suggestions

Also referred to as search suggestions. They’re suggested phrases that users have already searched for. They appear in a list below the Search Box as a user types a query.
See also Manage query suggestions in SharePoint Server 2013.

Query spelling correction

Also known as "Did you mean?" For example, if someone enters a query containing the word "amphitheatre” the query spelling correction will suggest "amphitheater."
See also Manage query spelling correction in SharePoint Server 2013.

Query rules

A set of conditions that cause the query to be changed in a specific way. An easy way to understand a query rule is as follows: "if X happens, then do Y." They’re used to limit the type of content that appears in search results, and to influence the order in which you want search results to appear.
See also Transforming queries with query rules.

The existing Service Catalog contained approximately 600 items, and was available in Excel format. By using a standard list feature, United Airlines extracted information from Excel, and imported it into a single list in SharePoint Server 2013. This list was then enabled as a SharePoint catalog.

Based on the structure used in the existing Service Catalog, United Airlines created one tagging term set. They manually associated, or tagged, each item in their catalog with the correct term from the tagging term set.

The following screen shot shows the tagging term set United Airlines created.

Tagging term set that United Airlines created

United Airlines uses the tagging term set to drive managed navigation on the Service Catalog.

The following screen shot shows the navigation in the Service Catalog after a user has clicked "Hardware." Notice that the subcategories "Accessories," "Desktops," "Laptops," etc., match the hierarchical structure defined in the tagging term set.

Managed navigation on the Service Catalog

When visitors are browsing the Service Catalog, category pages and catalog item pages are used to display content. The URL to the actual category page or catalog item detail page, for example, <site>/pages/Category-Product-Hierarchy.aspx, does not make much sense to visitors. However, because managed navigation is used to drive site navigation, visitors won’t see this URL when they browse the Service Catalog. What they will see, is a friendly URL that’s composed of terms from the tagging term set.

The following screen shot shows the URL when navigating to the "Laptops" page. Notice that the friendly URL, <site>/hardware/laptops, matches the terms and hierarchical structure of the tagging term set, which has been set to drive managed navigation.

Friendly URL for Laptops page

As explained above, the category pages and catalog item pages can be assigned to multiple terms within the managed navigation term set. You can configure Web Parts on these pages so that the content is displayed differently depending on where in the site navigation the visitor is browsing.

For the Service Catalog, United Airlines created a main category page layout, and a subcategory page layout. Based on these page layouts, they then created three category pages and one item category page:

  1. A category page for all main categories except "Data Services."

  2. A category page for the main category "Data Services."

  3. A category page for individual items in the subcategories.

  4. An item category page.

Category page 1 - Displays content for all main categories except "Data Services"
This category page displays content for all top-level categories, for example "Employee Services," "Hardware," or "Knowledge Management."

This category page contains only one Web Part; a custom Web Part developed by United Airlines. The Web Part is used to show all subcategories below a top-level category. For example, when visitors click the main category, "Hardware," all subcategories such as "Accessories," "Desktops," "Laptops," etc., display. When visitors click the top-level category, "Employee Services," all subcategories such as "Employee-Account-Services" and "Facilities" display.

The following screen shot shows how this category page is used to display all subcategories below the top-level category, "Employee Services."

Category page 1 for Service Catalog

Category page 2 - Displays content for the main category "Data Services"
This category page displays content for the top-level category, "Data Services." It has three Web Parts:

  • Search Box Web Part: a default Web Part that displays query suggestions as the user is typing a query.

  • Content Editor Web Part: a default Web Part with hyperlinks to different services.

  • Popular Items Web Part: a default Web Part that displays popular items, such as popular laptops.

The following screen shot shows how this category page is used to display content for the top-level category, "Data Services."

Category page 2 for service catalog

Category page 3 - Displays individual items in the subcategories
This category page displays the individual items within a subcategory; for example, all items within the "Laptops" subcategory. This category page contains only one Content Search Web Part (CSWP).

The CSWP contains a query that is automatically issued when visitors browse to a page containing a CSWP. By using a value from the URL as a query variable, the query issued by the CSWP changes depending on where in the navigation hierarchy the visitor is browsing. For example, when a visitor clicks the category "Laptops," the CSWP queries for all items tagged with the term "Laptops." When a visitor clicks the category "Printers," the CSWP issues a query for all items tagged with the term "Printers."

The following screen shot shows how the category page is used to display individual items within the "Laptops" subcategory.

Category page 3 for service catalog

Item category page
This page is used to display the individual items in the Service Catalog. It has three Web Parts:

  • Content Search Web Part: a default Web Part that displays individual catalog items.

  • Shopping Cart Web Part: a custom Web Part that facilitates the ordering of individual catalog items.

  • Questioner Form Web Part: a custom Web Part where users can fill in additional information when ordering certain items.

The following screen shot shows how the catalog item detail page is used to display content for the category item "Elitebook 2560p."

Item category page for service catalog

All of the Web Parts on this page use search technology to display content.

United Airlines created 5 display templates for the Service Catalog:

  • One for the custom Web Part on Category page 1.

  • One for the Search Box Web Part on Category page 2.

  • One for the Popular Items Web Part on Category page 3.

  • One for the Content Search Web Part on the Item category page.

  • One for the Search Results Web Part used on the search results page.

United Airlines implemented 10 refiners. The following screen shot shows how the refiners are displayed on the "Monitors" page.

Refiners used on the Service Catalog

The query suggestions are turned on by default in the Search Box Web Part, so United Airlines didn't have to do any additional configuration to implement this.

The following screen shot shows how two query suggestions are displayed as a visitor is typing a query.

Query suggestions are displayed as a visitor is typing a query

The query spelling correction is turned on by default in the Search Results Web Part, so United Airlines didn’t have to do any additional configuration to implement this.

The following screen shot shows how a query spelling correction is displayed when a visitor has mistyped a query.

Query spelling correction is displayed when a visitor has mistyped a question

Once visitors have found what they’re looking for in the Service Catalog, they can begin the ordering process by going to the checkout page.

The following screen shot shows the checkout page.

The checkout page in the Service Catalog

The shopping cart is a SharePoint list, which is based on the context of the visitor. If a visitor logs out before completing the checkout, the items are stored in the visitor’s shopping cart. United Airlines has implemented a system that empties the visitor’s shopping cart, if they haven’t checked out the items within 30 days.

The Service Catalog is also integrated with Active Directory. From Active Directory, information about the visitor, for example: "Approving manager," "Cost center," "Division Controller," and "office location" are prefilled and always up to date.

United Airlines has experienced vast productivity gains since improving the Service Catalog; the most significant of all being the time it takes to add a new item to the catalog. This has gone down from several months to a few days, or in certain cases, to a couple of hours.

Maintenance time has also significantly dropped now that the system has been transformed into a standard SharePoint site.

Ordering an item from the Service Catalog is now a familiar experience that resembles any other online shopping experience for employees. The intuitive navigation makes browsing for items easy, as do the search features, when searching for a specific item of interest. The integration of Active Directory and the ERP system has also cut down on the approval and delivery time of the ordered item.

As employees increasingly start to use the improved Service Catalog, United Airlines will gather user data, and will continuously improve their visitors’ experience.

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