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SharePoint 2010: Effective information delivery

Ensuring the correct content is in front of the right users requires process control as well as page design and efficient technology.

Steve Wright and Corey Erkes

Adapted from “Pro SharePoint 2010 Governance” (Apress)

One significant shift in the use of technology over the last few years is how closely user characteristics and online activities are tracked and then used to display relevant information, such as online advertising. Because of this shift, users typically expect relevant information will be pushed to them rather than having to search for it on their own.

It’s important to think in these terms as you determine how to deliver content to users visiting your SharePoint sites, whether internal or external. You need to know the best way to deliver the various types of information that SharePoint can handle in a way that’s meaningful to the current user.

Understand the audience

To identify the best approach for delivering content, it’s crucial to understand your audience and their needs. On a broader scale, it’s also important to understand the types of users that the portal will be supporting.

What languages do you need to support? Do you need to install language packs and configure the Multilingual User Interface (MUI)? Will the portal have a strong collaboration component with Office content, such as Word and Excel? Does it make sense to deploy Office Web Apps to let users browse and make minimal changes to content directly in the browser without opening the client application? Do users need to share and edit content with others within the organization? Asking these types of questions will help drive the most effective way to deliver content.

On a larger scale, it’s important to understand that each individual user or group of users will have different perspectives and priorities. While all may be interested in broad topics such as company news or employee benefits, individual users are often more interested in items directly related to their projects and position within the company or team.

Instead of forcing a user to navigate through thousands of reports, for example, have the specific report that would interest him pushed directly to him, or have it appear at the top of any search list. The key here is to understand what each group or business unit interacts with often versus the content that might be referenced occasionally.

Another way to consider this is to ask what content is needed to make business decisions versus what content supports how a user does business. This will require working with each team to identify which content is used most often and how it should best be structured. This includes pushing content to users instead of requiring extensive search or navigation.

Tools to define information delivery

The old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” is especially true when trying to define the layout and structure of a SharePoint page to support information delivery. It is especially true when working with users who aren’t familiar with SharePoint and the general structure and layout the product supports. Mocking up a SharePoint site—including navigation, Web Parts and branding—can help the end user conceptualize his thoughts and visualize the layout.

A common approach to defining the layout and structure is to create a wireframe of each site or page within the portal. The wireframe should mimic the SharePoint page layout, including any navigation, search box controls and available Web Part zones. Because this is such a common practice, Microsoft has provided Visio shapes to help in this process. These components can be found on the Microsoft download page. If you don’t have Microsoft Visio, you can use Microsoft PowerPoint to create wireframes for defining information delivery. PowerPoint provides a lot of the shapes and graphics that are needed to create a rich design. Otherwise, there are numerous third-party products that are designed specifically for creating wireframes.

Wireframes are an integral part of defining information delivery within any SharePoint environment. All the main sites within SharePoint should first have a wireframe created to define the content regions and how this content is displayed. This approach will allow you to work with the business and change the structure more easily instead of trying to mock the sites up directly in SharePoint. Regardless of the tools available, this is a process that should not be overlooked.

Audience-targeted content

As discussed earlier, it’s important to understand what content is important to which team or group of users and how best to get that information to them in a logical manner. Most times this is done by creating a SharePoint site that has all related content in one place for that particular group to consume as necessary. While this is a perfectly good approach, sometimes it pays off to think about how you can drive this content to the user rather than drive the user to the content. SharePoint audience targeting provides the ability to target content based on characteristics of the current user.

Remember that audience targeting should not be a substitute for security. Audience targeting utilizes memberships to limit what a user can see initially. SharePoint audiences can be based on the following information:

  • Membership in Active Directory
  • Distribution list
  • Security group
  • Membership in SharePoint group
  • Location in organizational reporting structure
  • Public properties in user profile

Audience targeting using membership within Active Directory or a SharePoint group doesn’t require any configuration other than setting up a SharePoint group if needed. We recommend that you utilize Active Directory distribution lists or security groups as much as possible, as these are often controlled at a higher level within the organization and can reduce the burden of continually updating a SharePoint group. It’s important to understand the state of your distribution lists and security groups within your organization and whether they’re being maintained effectively. This will determine whether you should utilize the groups provided within Active Directory or utilize SharePoint groups. You may also have to revert to using SharePoint groups if your Active Directory is rigid and it’s difficult to create additional groups.

Using the user profile for targeting

Audience targeting can also be performed using properties from the SharePoint 2010 user profile. SharePoint provides 58 user profile properties, some of which are mapped directly from properties within Active Directory. These properties are located within the User Profile Service within Central Administration. To access these properties, navigate to SharePoint 2010 Central Administration, and select “Manage service applications” under the Application Management heading. From the Service Applications screen, select the User Profile Service Application. The profile properties can be found under the Manage User Properties link under the People heading.

The actual number of properties from Active Directory that can be mapped into user profile properties depends on how populated and organized the properties are within Active Directory. To define an audience that uses user profile properties, a rule needs to be created. Rules are made up of three components:

  • Operand: User or Property
  • Operator:
  • User Operand
  • Reports Under
  • Member Of
  • Property Operand
  • =, >, >=, <, <=, <>
  • Contains, Not Contains
  • Value: string or user lookup

Let’s walk through a few examples so you can better understand how creating an audience can benefit the delivery of information. In the first example, perhaps you want to show new-hire information, such as forms and checklists, to only those employees new to the company. A rule such as the following could be created and applied to content to limit access to employees that started within that calendar year:

  • Operand : Property: Hire date
  • Operator: “<”
  • Value: 01/01/2011

Another example might be to create a rule for content distribution to only employees that report to the director of Human Resources:

  • Operand: User
  • Operator: Reports Under
  • Value: Sally Gold (name of director of Human Resources)

This same rule could be created in a slightly different manner:

  • Operand: Property: Department
  • Operator: “=”
  • Value: Human Resources

Finally, a very common need is to target specific information based on location, such as a lunch menu or site news:

  • Operand: Property: Location
  • Operator: “=”
  • Value: Omaha

Audiences need to be compiled initially to create the list of users that meet the given rule, but they also need to be frequently compiled—as properties change within Active Directory, the audiences within SharePoint change as well. They can be compiled on a daily, weekly or monthly basis; the compilation schedule will greatly depend on the amount of changes that take place within the organization.

Targeting content to audiences

We recommend you first review the environment and determine where audience targeting is going to be used to deliver content before going through the process of creating audiences. It’s not always necessary to jump into Central Administration and create an audience to target content. Keep in mind that you can also utilize Active Directory memberships directly in the content as well. These could include a distribution list for a department or an office location. Spend some time investigating Active Directory groups and what’s available before diving in and creating your own. The following sections describe audience-targeting methods used within SharePoint.

List Items Displayed in Content Query Web Part The Content Query Web Part (CQWP) provides the ability to pull content from many different lists and roll them up into one container. Within the CQWP tool pane under Query, the Web Part provides the ability to apply audience filtering to lists that the Web Part is consuming. This is independent of the option to audience target the entire Web Part, which can be found under the Advanced section within the tool pane.

Web Parts Any SharePoint Web Part can be targeted to an audience. This can be accomplished by selecting the appropriate audience, distribution list, or SharePoint group and entering that into the Target Audiences field within the Advanced section of the Web Part tool pane.

Web Part Pages When the SharePoint publishing feature is activated, a library called Pages is created. This library contains all the supporting pages of the site. Like Web Parts, these pages can be targeted using audiences, distribution lists or SharePoint groups. However, instead of entering the audience information within the Web Part tool pane, you’ll need to edit the properties on the page item within the list and add the needed audience.

Navigational Links Navigational links, in both global navigation and quick-launch navigation, can be targeted to audiences. Links can be added to the navigational areas within SharePoint 2010 by clicking Site Actions | Site Settings, and selecting Navigation under the Look and Feel section. Some links may not be able to be audience-targeted, as they’re part of the built-in site. This approach provides an easy method of targeting navigation based on the audience. Using this capability could prove to be very useful in defining the overall site hierarchy.

Ratings A new social component of SharePoint 2010 is ratings. You’ve probably seen this on popular retailer sites such as Amazon.com, which shows the popularity of an item based on user feedback in the form of a star rating of one through five. SharePoint 2010 has adopted this same approach; you can rate any list item or document library item with a star rating of one through five. While hovering over the stars, simply click the appropriate rating and your rating will be saved.

While this doesn’t target a single group or audience, this feature provides great insight into what other users feel is potentially good or bad content. These ratings also come into play during search, where content that has a higher rating is returned higher in the search results than content that has a lower star rating. Ratings are not enabled by default on a list or library. To enable this feature, navigate to the library settings tab of the list or document library, select Library Settings, and select Rating Settings under the General Settings section. This will need to be performed on each list or library that requires the ratings feature.

By using these SharePoint features, as well as the audience and content targeting tactics, you can ensure that the correct content is easily accessible to those who need it most. By making it easier for people to find the content they’re looking for, you improve their experience and increase productivity.

Steve Wright
Steve Wright is a senior manager in business intelligence management (BIM) for Sogeti USA LLC in Omaha, Neb. Over the last 20-plus years, Wright has worked on air traffic control, financial, insurance and a multitude of other types of systems. He has authored and performed technical reviews for many previous titles covering Microsoft products including Windows, SharePoint, SQL Server and BizTalk.
Corey Erkes

Corey Erkes is a manager consultant for Sogeti USA LLC in Omaha, Neb. Erkes has worked with a wide range of companies at different points in the lifecycles of their SharePoint implementations. He’s also one of the founding members of the Omaha SharePoint Users Group.

©2012 Apress Inc. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from Apress. Copyright 2012. “Pro SharePoint 2012 Governance” by Steve Wright and Corey Erkes. For more information on this title and other similar books, please visit apress.com.

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