Note: This product review is a paid service by Joel Oleson. I hope you enjoy it.
With all of this data coming at us, social information was supposed to help us get through the data by having better recommendations from those we trust. In the consumer world, there is still a lot of noise, but many of us have found it extremely useful to find ways to engage with our friends and family to share and receive answers. When I first looked at QuePort, I was immediately impressed. A professional team with a rich history of working with FAST and looking at the challenge of social in a new light, QuePort is set up for success. The strategy addresses the problem of information overload and puts you squarely in the driver's seat to quickly view those things that are most important to you.
Have you ever wondered why it's so hard to know what's going on? You may be managing a half dozen SharePoint sites. Imagine an interface that consolidates what's new from across the sites you care about. Beyond that it can include additional external sources. QuePort is designed to integrate into your intranet, extranet or customer service portal. On a team site, it's the activity stream; on a MySite the personalized newsfeeds. On an intranet, it's an expert finder. These extensive modules can be easily configured to pull in a huge variety of information and distill it into a simple interface with powerful aggregation of activities across the enterprise.
Figure 1: QuePort for SharePoint MySite
With QuePort you get an extensive set of out-of-the-box modules for realizing social information management. These include:
- user activity streams
- personalized news feeds
- user specific information cockpits
- central task management
- expert finder and much more
Figure 2: QuePort for SharePoint (Manage activity streams with a simple switch.)
In the Figure 1 above, the user sees sites they have access to on the right, and can simply switch on the sites they want to see on the left in the activity stream. In the activity stream, the user sees rich documents with previews (requires Office Web Applications) and provides a simple interface for viewing, tagging, liking, or managing the items. As well, sites are recommended. These web parts have been added to a page that's integrated with the user's newsfeed, but there are a number of ways that this could be put together.
Understanding Challenges Today
Today, as a user in the enterprise, there are so many tools and systems that bombard users with information overload. In my travels I've found that the average SharePoint user has about seven SharePoint sites that they use for various projects, teams, groups, document management, blogs, wikis, and more. The enterprise, of course, has a lot more. The variety of sites are used for different things and simply combining all the data into a single site may solve the problem of information sprawl, but it doesn't address security or context. Those sites were created in different spaces for a reason, but now they exist in silos. Wouldn't it be great if you could bring together the data from all of these different places and have it in a common interface?
As well, how often when you visit a SharePoint site have you noticed it looks no different from the last time you visited? How can you tell that something has changed? Imagine if there was an activity web part that could expose changes that are happening on the site.
Other challenges include the fact that data isn't only in one system. It's spread across the enterprise and the user has to jump from interface to interface to try to do their best at gathering knowledge and keeping up with the bombardment.
When you finally get everyone putting in information into your profiles, all you've got now is search to pull out experts. Wouldn't it be great if you could browse the data and analyze the data. What I mean is wouldn't it be great if you could narrow down the people to a specific location and then start looking at past projects, and technologies that demonstrate where someone is an expert? We've got all this great info from our back-end systems now integrated into the profile, but we can't simply pivot the data based on role or location and then start drilling in to find those set of experts who could help us find the answers we are looking for… or should be following for that matter. In fact, how great would it be if you had a real activity stream for a user that provided changes they were making across the enterprise?
Figure 3: QuePort Social Analytics
QuePort has taken these challenges head on. The focus isn't about generating volumes of new information but in distilling information in an intelligent content management interface and empowering and promoting user-oriented information across a variety of sources.
The problem with the majority of social software is that they create little "social software silos" in addition to the already existing "information silos." QuePort helps SharePoint customers to get these silos into "one," facilitating a free flow of interactions between them. To see real business value for the social enterprise initiative, both worlds need to be combined: social software AND information management.
Figure 4: QuePort for SharePoint: Powerful Interface for Finding Experts Based on Attributes
My Experience with QuePort
When I first saw QuePort I was already working on implementing a common feed for the enterprise. SharePoint's newsfeed wasn't meeting my desire to include information from the sites I care about. In SharePoint 2013, I was interested in getting the sites I follow and being able to not simply navigate, but in getting rich activity streams from those sites pulled into a common personal news and activity stream. Looking at QuePort I saw they had been thinking about the same thing. Rather than add yet another microblog, they focus instead on pulling information from the sources you've already got. Plug it into your SharePoint 2010 (or SharePoint 2013) and start gathering data from the huge variety of team sites.
Another thing I was looking for was making our existing environment smarter. We recently cleaned up 1500 sites that were no longer being used. While it's great that we were able to reclaim some space, it also should make it simpler to manage and really clean up our site searches. There is just so much junk (and yes, I mean junk). There are abandoned sites and others that simply never made it to prime time… and then sandbox and proof-of-concept sites, and yes, there are apparently a lot of them. I'm just super excited we finally were able to clean up the last of the fabulous 40. Now apply our reality of thousands of sites and many of them years old mixed with new. Some are active and many are semi-active or at least used once a month or so.
I've always felt like every SharePoint site needed a "What's New?" and a "Most active users" web part. Pulling that type of information into your sites with QuePort for SharePoint is what is provided with simple configuration.
Figure 5: Rich Activity Streams on Team Sites Put the Changes Front and Center
QuePort for SharePoint web parts are available in SharePoint deployment packages (wsp files). It does require server access to deploy these server solutions. As you can see below in Figure 6, there are a wide variety of web parts from the "I Like It" web part, which shows things you've liked, to an algorithm-based "Interesting for Me" web part, which uses your interests to determine things in the activity stream that would be most interesting for you. The QuePort team is very connected to Microsoft and is working with the SharePoint 2013 environment.
Figure 6: Configuring QuePort for SharePoint Web Parts
So, What's the Downside?
When I first provided my feedback and came up with a couple of issues, the QuePort folks not only heard my feedback they incorporated it. My write up was no longer valid. So that was impressive. I do think a couple of things are still valid. The integration that has been built is first class, but in building some of these scenarios, I feel like they may have included too much and made it a bit too complex. The good news is that it is power for those who want to get deep into social analytics. They've recently built priced bundles so you can get the power of what they've built in smaller packages. Thanks for that, that's new. If you do like what you see in the screenshots above, I encourage you to talk with them. I've been encouraging them to bundle a few of the web parts I mentioned above in a simplified downscale deployment with nearly hands-off configuration. We'll see.
Social isn't only about microblogging and QuePort proves this point. QuePort is currently the only known solution I'm aware of that is able to combine and aggregate all company information from the line-of-business profiles, social activities and user profiles, delivering the right information for the right user context. They are focused on social context and getting the right information to the user group or team at the right time.
As a social analytics system, they are unmatched. I've seen some incredible scenarios play out right in front of me. Very powerful engine. I'm sure there are corporations that are out there that will see this and have to have it. They really do unlock the data that's stored in SharePoint. I'm a big fan of the simple user interfaces and think they've really nailed some of the key challenges in SharePoint. They break down the silos, they unlock the information, and they put it on the users' terms.
As well, I don't think we've begun to see what they can accomplish as data from other systems start to be aggregated from SalesForce, Yammer, NewsGator, and your line-of-business systems. QuePort sure listens. They have also begun doing Yammer integration. I recommend you discuss these enhancements, if they are important to you.
Looking to get more value out of SharePoint and looking to break down the silos? QuePort is on the short list of companies that I will go to as I seek to expose the activities and provide what's new across team sites.
If you like what you've seen or think this might work, I recommend contacting QuePort. Visit their Internet site at http://www.queport.com and check out the QuePort for SharePoint Screencast.
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