Sometimes the most tried-and-true solutions are overlooked in favor of what’s easy, less expensive, or trendy. For example, take contextual Help in complex software. As someone who formerly managed a huge documentation team at Microsoft, I can attest to the fact the in-product Help has been continuously downplayed over the past 10 years, and SharePoint is a prime example. A new whitepaper, The Value of SharePoint Help in Context, from SharePoint-Videos.com points out that the lack of deep Help content within SharePoint can have a serious impact on the cost of deploying SharePoint: Added costs range from SharePoint Help desk support and end-user training, to loss of user productivity, and even low SharePoint adoption.
Summarizing the situation with Help for SharePoint, the SharePoint-Videos.com whitepaper points out:
“Onboard help in SharePoint is minimal. SharePoint content is available from the Microsoft Office help system shared by all Office components. Search within the help content is rudimentary, the available content about SharePoint is basic, and there is no straightforward facility for updating it or adding custom content to it.”
Of course, the whitepaper acknowledges that Microsoft has made some movement toward additional Help functionality, but it doesn’t go far enough: “A new feature in SharePoint 2013 is the Site Collection Help Feature, which enables a sophisticated user to create a custom help content library.”
When you examine that statement, the telling part is the term “sophisticated user.” Where does that leave the user who’s just trying to do the job and learn SharePoint?
Another weakness in the SharePoint 2013 Help is also called out in the whitepaper:
“The Site Collection Help feature is a step up from past versions of SharePoint, but it has important limitations. It is created for the Site Collection, and is displayed only within that site collection…What it clearly lacks is context sensitivity—if a content item is relevant only to one SharePoint context (e.g., relevant to a user in a Document Library, but never in a List), there is no way to filter the view so that the item only displays as a help topic if the user is in that context (in a Document Library).”
With all the limitations on the Help that Microsoft provides for SharePoint, SharePoint professionals are left to their own devices--and limited resources—to deal with answering user questions, providing training, and finding ways to encourage adoption.
Clearly, there’s a need for a solution, and the SharePoint-Videos.com whitepaper suggests the characteristics for that solution:
“The ideal Help solution would provide a large library of content written in end user language. High value help content would be:
Comprehensive—Explaining a wide variety of SharePoint features, functions and issues;
Reliable—Provided by a trusted source;
Up to Date—Supporting the addition of regularly updated content;
Multimedia—Including text, audio, video, images, screen shots, tip sheets and other content, effective for all learning styles; and
Extensible—Providing the ability to add new, custom content as needed.”
SharePoint-Videos.com has a history of creating training content. Why not put that content and the company’s expertise to use and offer a Help solution that meets all those criteria and is exposed through the SharePoint Ribbon? That’s the idea behind VisualSP, according to the whitepaper: “VisualSP is a software solution installed at the farm/web front end level, providing a uniform, context-sensitive user experience across multiple site connections.”
SharePoint-Videos.com has thought through the problems facing users and SharePoint professionals and has come up with a solution and guidance for how to implement that solution effectively. You can download the whitepaper here. In addition, a free cloud-based version, VisualSP Lite, is now available, and you can learn more here.
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