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SharePoint 2010 Document Libraries Improve Technical Support

Technical Case Study

Published: August 2012

The team that provides technical support for custom Microsoft SharePoint portals at Microsoft is using a SharePoint knowledge base to manage support documentation. Senior support engineers can now focus more time on complex problems, and support performance metrics have improved.

Situation

Solution

Benefits

Products & Technologies

The Microsoft IT team that supports internal SharePoint portals was experiencing higher-than-desired costs, slow response times, and varying degrees of quality with its existing processes and mechanism for managing support documents.

The team implemented a centralized SharePoint 2010 list and document library to manage the support process among teams.

  • Reduced training time for new employees
  • Eliminated duplication of effort
  • Reduced time to resolve support incidents
  • Microsoft SharePoint 2010

Many major organizations within Microsoft (finance, legal, and sales, for example) have implemented SharePoint portals to address business needs. Each portal requires a unique engineering design and multiple custom solutions. Support of standard SharePoint features and functionality is insufficient to address issues related to custom site modifications, migrations, or configuration changes.

This case study describes the solution for managing the documentation for these custom portals, and how the solution has improved the process of technical support. This case study is intended for managers of technical support teams.

Situation

The SharePoint Experiences & Portals (SEP) team within Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) provides custom support for internal-facing custom SharePoint sites such as the corporate portal, the IT portal, and the finance portal. Support is not available through the global Helpdesk but is delivered via support engineers (Tier 2) located in China, and senior support engineers (Tier 3) primarily located in Redmond, Washington. Issues that Tier 2 cannot address are escalated to Tier 3. Documentation is usually written by Tier 3 engineers to address common problems with the custom solutions. Documentation includes build documents, troubleshooting guides, process documents, and instructional guidance.

Before 2011, the SEP team kept all support and training documents in multiple locations: a team document library on the SEP team site, My Sites, the document sites managed by internal clients, and a team file share. Although the team was asked to upload support documents to the team library, there was no governance, and oftentimes articles were instead saved on team subsites.

As the number of custom portals grew, the existing way of working became inadequate in the following ways:

  • New employees took too long to become productive. With the arrival of each new employee, the team had to repeat training and knowledge transfer. Training took up to two months. New employees spent time looking for existing documentation in multiple locations or resolving known problems without it. This problem was exacerbated when the entire Tier 2 support team was replaced by a new team at the beginning of fiscal year 2012. The lack of basic problem-solving documentation, along with accompanying support processes, resulted in major inefficiencies. There were additional challenges in communicating across time zones, using English as a second language, and encountering different communication customs. Without clear and accurate documentation, the new team faced delays in preparation.
  • Operation costs were higher than necessary. Some support issues occur repeatedly. Without a documented, findable solution, many issues were escalated to Tier 3. The increased workload prevented Tier 3 from focusing on the work that they were hired to do and incurred the higher costs of using senior engineers for less complex problems.
  • Service levels were not being met. Engineers at all levels were taking too long to resolve problems. They often exceeded the resolution times negotiated in service-level agreements with the business groups.
  • Support engineers were using outdated documentation. Although individuals archived useful content, there was no process in place to review it for accuracy or to update it when circumstances changed. As a result, support engineers used outdated documentation that failed to resolve the problem and often created further issues.

Solution

The SEP team decided to invest in an internal document-management tool for support and hire a knowledge manager for design and maintenance. The requirements were:

  • Create a single knowledge base to deliver SharePoint problem resolution and learning guides for SEP Tier 2 and Tier 3 support engineers.
  • Implement an editorial review to ensure that content is current, complete, consistent, and relevant.
  • Implement a technical review to ensure that technical content is complete, accurate, and understandable.
  • Ensure that content is quickly discoverable.
  • Ensure that the knowledge base is easy to maintain and update.

Design

The SEP team selected Microsoft SharePoint 2010 as the document-management tool. The only other solution that the team considered was using the documentation features of Microsoft System Center Operations Manager. Operations Manager sends alerts when a problem occurs with a server. However, this was not a viable option because not all support issues originate from Operations Manager alerts, and Operations Manager cannot attach the screenshot images and lengthy text that are often required to resolve issues.

After careful review of team requirements, the SEP team created a single list and a document library, along with a simple interface. The new knowledge base was called "Delphi."

Home Page

From the Delphi home page, users can search, browse, make a request, upload a new document, download a template, and provide feedback. Figure 1 shows the home page.

Figure 1. Delphi home page
Figure 1. Delphi home page

Search

The SEP team customized search results to limit the amount of displayed information to bare essentials: title, keyword in context, author, and document ID. Figure 2 shows an example of search results.

Figure 2. Example of search results
Figure 2. Example of search results

Request Form

Support engineers use the list library to capture and track requests for new documentation. A person who is entering a request can link to an existing document and then request either an update to that document or the creation of a new document. Figure 3 shows the request form.

Figure 3. Request form
Figure 3. Request form

Document Library

In the document library, the SEP team designed metadata to improve discoverability and relevance of content to support engineers. Unique metadata in the document library includes:

  • Farm. Some content applies only to a specific server farm, such as the servers that are dedicated to supporting the corporate portal. This tag enables the filtering of content.
  • Audience. After implementation of Delphi, the SEP team needed a way to more clearly differentiate which content applied to Tier 2 support teams and which content applied only to Tier 3 support engineers. The team retroactively applied the Audience field to all documents.
  • Content Type. Although Microsoft has a managed metadata content type, it did not apply to this application. Instead, the team identified and defined nine different types of content based on the documentation that support engineers typically use. The SEP team also used the content type to create a Browse view. Table 1 lists three examples of the content types.

Table 1. Example Content Types

Content type

Definition

Examples

How-tos

Specific steps to resolve a single problem.

Does not include pointers to related topics.

Short; typically has only steps, not sentences or paragraphs.

How to delete user profile

Troubleshooting guides

Discussion of an issue that may have many different solutions, depending on conditions encountered.

Helps engineers think about the best approach.

Includes how to validate a solution.

Includes links to relevant how-to documents.

Several-page document, formatted in sentences and paragraphs.

Fixing workflows

Fixing closed web parts

For the document library, the SEP team also:

  • Created document templates for each content type to consistently capture the information needed.
  • Configured Operations Manager to generate automated links that open the relevant Delphi document.

Migration

The SEP team moved content to the new document library by exporting from the old site and importing into the new document library. After the move, the knowledge manager archived content that no longer applied to the team.

Tier 3 reviewed all remaining content to flag additional items that needed to be deleted, archived, or updated. The Knowledge Manager added the farm, content type, and title.

Processes

Even more important than the design of the solution were the investments that the SEP team made in people and processes. The biggest investment was for a knowledge manager to design the solution and to provide ongoing support and maintenance of the publishing process. Additional team roles were required to supply unique expertise at each point in the process of creating or editing documentation.

Table 2 lists all the responsibilities that were added to the SEP team. The knowledge manager was the only additional employee.

Table 2. Team Roles and Responsibilities

Role

Responsibility

Knowledge manager

Reviews all new and updated documents for completeness, use of appropriate template, and correct metadata. Designs the lists, libraries, and workflows. Monitors the team to ensure that documents are created and edited in a timely manner. Reviews the document library for outdated content. Reviews Operations Manager alerts for needed Delphi documentation.

Developer

Implements the design and workflows.

Requestor

Requests new or edited Delphi documentation; often a Tier 2 support person.

Author

Writes the documentation; typically a Tier 3 engineer.

Tier 3 request assigner

Assigns incoming requests for new or edited documentation to the appropriate engineer.

Tier 2 lead

Establishes all Tier 2 processes. Reviews documentation requests for relevance and appropriateness before entry into Delphi. Works with Tier 2 to identify problems with the content.

Tier 2 reviewer

Reviews new or edited documentation for readability.

The team also tapes training sessions to explain the unique requirements of each farm.

Benefits

Delphi centralizes training materials and lists all training courses that Tier 2 and Tier 3 personnel should take. As a result, during orientation, support engineers spend no time on topics that Delphi documentation covers.

With Delphi, Tier 2 now documents and resolves many tasks that Tier 3 previously performed. That has freed Tier 3 support engineers to focus on engineering and specialized projects.

A key performance indicator of technical support service is the time to resolve (TTR) metric in the support ticketing system. The ability of Tier 2 to achieve the TTR goals improved from 94.59 percent in June 2011 to 99.56 percent in May 2012.

Conclusion

Both Tier 2 and Tier 3 personnel create new support documentation. Because the SEP team has implemented Delphi, knowledge sharing is now an efficient, standardized process. Shared documentation takes advantage of internal knowledge and expertise across the entire team. Having a central, managed document library eliminates duplication of efforts and provides a single source of information.

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products or services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Order Centre at (800) 933-4750. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information via the World Wide Web, go to:

http://www.microsoft.com

http://www.microsoft.com/technet/itshowcase

© 2012 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

This document is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY. Microsoft and SharePoint are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

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