I spent years working as a Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT), MCTs have an incredible wealth of knowledge on a variety of topics and they know how to explain both the value of a feature as well as how to use it. Haven’t you always wanted to have access to an expert? Well, I decided to take advantage of my network of trainer buddies and ask a few of them to share something they felt was either undervalued, misunderstood, or just not very well known. I’ll be posting a number of posts about different technologies over the coming weeks to share their thoughts.
Today’s blog comes courtesy of Christopher Harrison (@GeekTrainer), an MCT, who mainly works with SharePoint and SQL Server and is the owner and Head Geek at GeekTrainer, Inc. Christopher has been training for the past 12+ years, with a couple of breaks in the middle to take on full time developer jobs. These days he focuses mainly on training, presenting at conferences, and consulting. I had the pleasure of working with Christopher at the recent Microsoft Certified Trainer summit and he agreed to share some insight on an often overlooked SharePoint feature.
The Importance of User Profiles and My Sites
I spend quite a bit of time in the classroom teaching SharePoint. Whenever the conversation turns to My Sites and User Profiles, the two items raised by students are always, “Why do I want My Sites?” and “I don’t want My Sites”. Each of those topics deserves a blog post to itself, and I want to talk about the first one today.
For those of you not familiar, a user profile in SharePoint is exactly what it sounds like – it’s information about a user, very similar to a profile you’d see on Facebook. In fact, I often say that user profile and my sites are basically like having a local Facebook install. A user profile is a great way for a user to share information about themselves. A my site is a site collection specifically for that user that can be used to share information like documents or even a blog. It’s a great way to allow collaboration between a couple of users, or for a user to promote themselves through blog posts.
User profiles have many day-to-day uses for your users. The most obvious of which is trying to figure out who someone is when you work for a large organization. You might be in a meeting, or about to enter a meeting, with someone you’ve never met and need to figure out who they are in advance. Or you might receive an email from an address you don’t recognize and need to solve the mystery.
But there are many uses beyond that. For example, I frequently receive out of office replies that don’t contain alternate contact information, or the alternate contact is also out of the office. Whenever that happens, a quick search on SharePoint reveals their team and their manager, giving me a good idea of who to touch base with next.
User profiles are great for building a team for a project. I may be looking for feedback on a new feature or policy that we’re looking to implement, or I’m trying to put together a set of beta testers for new software I’m looking to deploy. User profiles can help me identify who’d be best equipped to join that team. Or I may be able to discover information that would typically only be easily accessible for the human resources department, such as someone’s previous employer, job history, or what languages they speak.
Beyond direct business needs, user profiles can help with nonbusiness needs as well, specifically morale. I’m a big believer that happy employees are productive employees. User profiles can help build morale. For example, I’m a runner. Any race has a training plan to go with it and serves as an opportunity to fundraise for charity. I search on SharePoint could reveal to me who the runners are in my organization. I can use this to put together a training team, which allows all of us to stay motivated. I have to say a great way to get to know someone is to go running with them where there’s no other distraction. By the end I’m now running with friends rather than coworkers, and I’m excited about getting back to work.
SharePoint’s user profiles have many uses, both business and nonbusiness. When properly implemented they can allow users to connect in ways that you never considered. Social networking is now pervasive, and applying those concepts to your local network will aid your employees and, of course, the bottom line.
Here’s Christopher himself talking about User Profiles and My Sites in SharePoint.
 Don’t worry, there is no Mafia Wars for SharePoint
What question would you like to ask a SharePoint MCT? Leave a comment here or join the conversation on the Canadian Developer Connection on LinkedIn and let us know, your question could result in a new Ask a Trainer Blog!