Idea and Innovation Management as an IT-Provided, Enterprise Shared Service on SharePoint

As CorasWorks Idea Management (Cim) on SharePoint gets out there more in the SharePoint enterprise community, IT departments are starting to look at providing Cim as an Enterprise Shared Service as part of their offering to the business groups.  I’ll address this by recounting an actual question and answer thread that I had with an organization. (NOTE: This article is written for those in IT with enterprise SharePoint experience). 

General Scenario:

The customer looks at Cim and likes the solution for their Idea Management.  However, they come to the conclusion that innovation within their enterprise is not a single, big solution.  Rather, they see it happening at the department and division level. They also want the burden on the business groups to support themselves assuming Cim supports this (For SharePoint enterprise accounts, this is actually very common).  Accordingly, they want to bring it up as an IT-Provided, Enterprise Shared Service, on their SharePoint infrastructure.  This means that they want to offer it “as an application service” on top of their SharePoint offering so that their different departments/business groups act as separate tenants (multi-tenant) and customize it to their local needs.    

Customers’ Definition:

The customer started off by very clearly articulating what they wanted as below:

“The idea is that IT will provide an Idea Management portal as a service to any department that wants to do ideation. This implies the following:

- Each department’s portal should be completely separate from the portals of other departments – it is not the idea that people from one department can access the portal from another department.

- Also any reporting should be separate.

- As IT only provides the portal, the department is still responsible for defining processes, responsibilities, user rights/management, etc. Each department should be able to set up these things itself, without intervention of IT.”

 Questions and Answers:

Question 1: Can you describe how you would simulate/create/configure your Idea Management solution to meet the needs as described above?

Answer 1: This design is supported by CorasWorks Idea Management on SharePoint – in fact, it is a scenario that we design for.  We refer to it as Cim as an IT-provided, Enterprise Shared Service.  IT instantiates the basic service and then “turns it on” for each department upon demand.  From there, the department administrator manages their Cim solution as part of their department work.

This is possible and practical for four key reasons: 

- First, Cim is a modular solution.  You build up your Innovation Portal from a number of modules (9 come with Cim v1.2); each can be Administered separately. 

- Second, Cim comes with point-and-click wizards that enable IT to offload the Administration and “power user” customization to business groups so that they make their changes without requiring IT involvement.  All CorasWorks customization is done without cracking any compiled code. 

- Third, this is possible because Cim runs on the CorasWorks Solution Platform v11 for SharePoint.  This contains the Dll’s that are installed once on the enterprise server farm, and then, the Cim solution can be made available to the department in a shared, multi-tenant fashion. 

- Fourth, our training and online community provides training on a role basis that is designed to separately train up the business groups on what they need to know. 

Question 2: What would be the "[deployment] architecture" of the tool to provide a service to different departments as described above? Does a complete separation of the different portals (from a department perspective) imply also different implementations, or can there be one "parent portal" (managed by IT), where IT can just create a new child portal for each department. Each department should in any case have complete control over its own child portal (see above).

Answer 2: Let’s start with the “basic Cim” implementation.  IT would install the CorasWorks Solution Platform v11 and Cim modules.  These are the core dll’s and module templates.  This would be available across the farm.  However, Cim, the solution is not yet instantiated.

From there, you can go either way as described above.

Approach 1: IT could bring up a central Innovation Portal.  This would typically be in its own Site Collection.  At the top level, just below the portal you would have the various modules for the central Innovation Portal.  At the same level, you would have the top site for the Department Portal. Below it, you would have the modules for that department.  A schematic of this is shown below.



Approach 2: This is similar to the above, however, each Department’s Innovation Portal is within its own Departmental Site Collection.  It may be the top level of the Site Collection or be a sub-level.  For instance, if they already have a top level site for the Department, the implementation would look similar to that above, however, their existing Department Portal replaces the Central Innovation Portal and the Department Innovation portal is below it (say where Dept 1 Portal is located).

In either case, each department would have control over its portal and the modules it uses, i.e., how many communities, its own reporting, its members and groups.  

NOTE: The departments have greater administrative control if they have their own Site Collection.  This allows for them to control the templates, features, and Site Collection Administrators.

Question 3: Linked to the previous question, how will each department be able to manage its own portal, e.g. do they have their own "admin console"?

Answer 1b: Each of the Cim modules has its own Admin console which are rather simple to use.  Thus, they can separately manage the Portal, their Idea Communities(s), the Reporting, the News service (they can control which sites within their department are linked to the News Service), their Blog, and their Management process.

Question 4: Linked to the first question, is custom reporting possible per department, configured by the departments themselves?

Answer 4: Yes, as above.  There are two main types of reporting in Cim – both can be controlled at the department level.  There is the Reporting Service.  This provides reporting on the Idea activity such as the Top 10 and the Dashboard.  It uses a portfolio approach, so you just add the Idea Communities for the department and the reporting lights up.  Then, in the Cim Management Hub, it has customizable Pivot reporting for management.  This is also configurable at the department level.

Question 5: To what extent can the tool be customized by ourselves (IT and/or business groups) and to what extent do you provide support for this customization?

Answer 5: The short answer is extensively.  Cim is very flexible in implementation and very customizable and extenable.  The key is that Cim runs on the CorasWorks Solution Platform v11.  It provides a robust set of point-and-click wizards to enable customization of Cim by non-technical users.  This means that departments can help themselves in most cases.  And, it allows extensive customization by developers without having to modify compiled code.  This would be for extreme cases where IT is brought in at the app level.

We have an extensive Training program that establishes four levels of customization for Cim and sample tasks at each level.  Our training is oriented towards these levels and supported by our Online Community.  Our standard set of training for an Enterprise Shared Services environment would consist of:

- System Administration Training for IT providing the service (not one of the four levels) – installing the platform and managing Cim as a service on SharePoint

- Cim Administrator (Level 1) training for each of the Department Administrators – things like how to create a community, change the navigation, etc.

- Cim Power User Customization (Level 2) for Dept Admins and Power Users – how to customize Cim using point and click wizards to the needs of the department

- Cim Builder Customization (Level 3) for more technical people (but not coders) – This would train a select group in IT or Business Groups in how to customize at a deeper level using Wizards.  They would know how to change the Stage-Gate processes and manage workflows.

- Cim Solution Framework Developer Customization (Level 4) for no-code developers – This training is available to teach people how to build new features without coding using our Solution Framework.  However, it is usually done by CorasWorks or Partners.

In General, we would train you on System Admin and Level 1 and 2.  You’d train the Department Admins on level 1 and a bit of Level 2.  Your IT group would probably end up learning a bit of Level 3.  CorasWorks and Partners support you up the stack.


Beyond the Q&A

The Enterprise Shared Application Service (ESAS) model for Cim is an excellent model for enterprises with an enterprise-wide implementation of SharePoint.  Why?

It makes sense.  The truth is that there is no one right innovation portal or process across an enterprise for all business scenarios.  However, with Cim on SharePoint, you set standards, control support costs, create supporting cross-organizational communities/resources, and allow the department/business groups to innovate on their own.  This way innovation is allowed to flourish locally based upon a supported standard enterprise-wide. It is Enterprise Innovation by design…

Further, CorasWorks is designed to make this work as follows:

- Cim and the CorasWorks platform are designed for shared multi-tenant services such as this.  The DLL’s are installed once, then, the tenants (different business groups) can customize their Innovation Portal as they see fit. 

- In addition, our pricing supports the proper charge-back.  We charge a flat organization license plus per user.  So IT pays the flat portion and the business groups pay for users as they come on board. 

- Lastly, CorasWorks supports loosely-coupled, federation.  Thus, while each department may have its own innovation process, you can create central processes that connect to various departments and allow you to do centralized management. These are loosely-coupled and you can make connections in minutes without disrupting the local work.  An example, is that you decide you want to farm the departments for Enterprise Best Practices.  This works across site collections and web applications (i.e, across the whole server farm).

Last note.  I have written about ESAS models in the past on SharePoint.  What is key here is that Idea and Innovation Management is a business application not a technical capability.  It moves IT up the stack as a provider of business application-level services vs. just capabilities.  And, it leverages the whole stack of investments they already have in SharePoint, thereby, reducing the normal cost, risk, and complexity.


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