Friday, August 25, 2017

Buy vs. Build: Is Microsoft Delve your next Employee Directory?

Jeremy Williams, Sr. Director, Modern Workplace
Platforms / Strategy

I’ve recently run into a couple of scenarios where there’s been this underlying hint of déjà vu. The scenario goes something like this:

  • An executive sponsor, one who has some familiarity with SharePoint and/or Office 365 deployments, wants to implement a company directory type of experience.
  • The organization already owns Office 365, so Delve is the most modern and knee-jerk recommendation of what a modern company directory could be.
  • Our executive sponsor is initially excited, they already own Office 365, so they’re going to get an employee directory for ‘free’!  (These types of small victories are rare, so our sponsor is immediately suspicious)

Invariably, after some guided exploration of Delve, our sponsor will start to ask questions which makes this supposed silver-bullet start to lose its luster. Questions like:

  • I love that the profiles show these properties, but could it also show some other user-profiles on the primary page?
    • Answer: Unfortunately, no – the properties on the landing page are largely pre-set by Microsoft; you could modify the properties and store information like a person’s Department in the ‘Location’ field – but that’ll have other ramifications.
  • Like what? That seems like a great work around…
    • Well, if you’re in Skype for Business or viewing a person’s Office 365 contact card – it won’t show the right information and that may be confusing.
  • Dang…  Well can’t we just customize it?
    • Short answer: Not really…
This is where we get to crux of the issue – looking at Delve as an example of a commoditized vs. bespoke experience. In this scenario, our project sponsor is used to a platform, something that provides a baseline experience but allows for customization to occur on top of the base experience (e.g. something like SharePoint). But Office 365 is a combination of platforms and experiences – and Delve is an experience that Microsoft has created to meet common (and basic) employee directory and search capabilities needs – plus a little bit more. Things like personal analytics and personal search, help a person better navigate content from their human-network – something that is nearly impossible to do outside of Delve. But Delve is an experience – it supports only limited configuration options and doesn’t have an extensive framework built around it.

Which brings me to my roundabout point – whenever you’re considering a particular experience (an employee directory, for example) – there’s going to be some level of platform selection evaluation. Part of this selection process should be governed by the business drivers and desired benefit of the experience – in the case of an employee directory, it’s likely that a compromise can be made in favor of using an experience that is already built and covers 80% of the desired functionality. However, if the weighting/importance of that final 20% is high, then leveraging the ‘free’ or exceptionally low-cost experience, won’t cut it. In that scenario, the organization will either need to consider buying another software package or platform add-on to meet the explicit requirements, or decide to write a small customized experience themselves (the build option).

This decision isn’t always easy, and likely has additional sustainability, maintenance, and down-stream ramifications that will need to be thought out. We covered a relatively simple workload today, I’m sure you can imagine the magnitude of the challenge in trying to devise a strategy that balances the needs of the organization, the user, the vision, and the budgetary challenges in deploying 50, 75, or 100+ experiences (which is common for Digital Workplaces of moderate scale).

If you’re feeling overwhelmed after reading about this example, and you’re looking to roll-out/upgrade/improve/evaluate your organization’s digital workplace experience – we should talk. We live to solve these complex challenges, and craft sustainable Digital Workplace strategies. We can’t wait to hear about, and help you solve your unique challenge.

Jeremy Williams is Senior Director, Productivity & Collaboration, at Rightpoint. Follow Jeremy on Twitter and LinkedIn.