As a rapidly growing global firm, North Highland needed to maintain and enhance its knowledge sharing and transfer efficiency, even as the personnel count grew towards the 1,000 employee mark. The firm had a well-utilized SharePoint framework, but older documents were not structured effectively to be easily searchable. Furthermore, geographically-dispersed subject matter experts (SMEs) were difficult for staff to identify.

The company called in Abel Solutions, who North Highland Principal Consultant and Co-Founder Chuck Morn describes as “a partner with deep expertise and the ability to broaden capabilities and bandwidth,” to help North Highland develop a more comprehensive, SharePoint-based collaboration solution. The final project, internally referred to as ‘Elixir,’ better connects colleagues with internal experts and relevant documents, and also fosters new collaboration communities which have contributed to a significant behavioral shift at North Highland.

The Solution

Abel Solutions and North Highland determined that the agreed-upon project goals—and a richly enhanced level of internal communication and knowledge sharing—could be accomplished by integrating two proven SharePoint solutions. First, to facilitate employees’ ability to identify and locate SMEs as well as create a social foundation for building new communities, North Highland deployed a SharePoint-based enterprise social technology called NewsGator Social Sites. Second, to improve the accuracy and speed of document searches, North Highland upgraded to Microsoft’s FAST Search.

Connecting People with People

To help North Highland employees more easily “find an expert” within their own company, Abel Solutions and North Highland analyzed in-house data to create and build nearly 1,000 unique employee profiles. This was significant because rather than asking employees to take time out of their daily work to develop their own profiles in SharePoint, the project team could easily populate custom profile data from existing resumes, employee assignment records and other operational data saving time and providing consistency.

With the profiles in place, Abel Solutions then configured the search tool to place greater relevance on certain custom profile properties. For example, a popular profile attribute used in the NewsGator Spotlight badging and recognition module is called Kudos, a feature that acknowledges employees and their accomplishments via the social activity stream.

With NewsGator Spotlight, “badges” are awarded to personnel for displaying specific behaviors such as quickly uploading requested documents or sharing needed knowledge through microblogs, or having a certain level of expertise. NewsGator Spotlight automatically awards a badge based on actions taken by the user within SharePoint. Kudos are a type of badge that enables user-to-user recognition. By giving Kudos greater relevance in searches the level of accuracy was elevated when colleagues searched for SMEs.

“We wanted people to be able to publicly praise and acknowledge each other,” says Morn. “With NewsGator, Abel Solutions was able to make this happen out of the box so we didn’t have to custom develop that specific feature.”

Searches That Simply Work

To ensure more accurate search rankings for all documents, Abel Solutions and North Highland worked together to significantly enhance its SharePoint taxonomy, document classification and property recording systems. Then, North Highland used FAST to refine the search framework even more. “We built a custom module on top of FAST Search that supported Likes and Open Counts,” says Morn. “That drove higher scores for documents in the same way we rank people.”

Encouraging Community

Finally, NewsGator enabled North Highland to make significant upgrades to its communities, which Morn says center around three different areas: capabilities, functions (such as human resources, finance and purchasing) and industries. North Highland also has communities representing each office location and each country where it does business.

In addition to encouraging collaboration, Morn says, their communities facilitate the overall knowledge sharing and expertise transfer goals of the project. By way of example, he notes, “Our communities have members and discussions, but they also support catalogs of documents; proposals that are considered high-quality in different areas,” Morn says. “In the past, those would get old if the community wasn’t keeping them current. With this project, we created a process where any user can submit documents to knowledge communities, known as Global Enterprise Networks (GENs). The GEN’s knowledge-sharer (like a moderator) reviews the submissions and ensures that the best documents get linked to that network.”


Morn says benefits of the project were evident immediately. “A client wanted to know how many employees had specific types of certifications,” says Morn. “With the new solution, it was simple to search the profiles and get that information quickly. That was a win before we even went live with system.”

Morn says the project has also resulted in improved business processes. One example he offers is a mechanism for improving tagging accuracy of the existing knowledge store. “Employees can tag documents as special and important in certain categories, improving the metadata for that document,” he notes. “Employees achieve points for making those changes, and with enough points, they earn a badge within Elixir.”

Morn notes other successes, ranging from employee stories of being able to find the SMEs they needed to compliments from personnel who are highly satisfied with the more visual nature of searches—and the fact they are no longer bombarded by excessive, meaningless results means they have more time to focus on their task versus wading through irrelevant search results.

The overall project, he says, was an overwhelming win, not only because it increased productivity but also because it furthered the behavioral shift North Highland sought. “We’ve taught people that most of the time, it is it better to find the right person first, because they will direct you to the right document. We’ve been successful getting people to follow this advice; that’s a behavior change we’ve encouraged.”

Morn continues, “Changing the behavior was important to us, and we spent a lot of time encouraging people to use these communities, use the message boards and seed the communities,” says Morn. “We now have a scrolling panel on the homepage that reports we have 27 networks (professional communities) and 26 nonprofessional communities (offices) and 37,600 documents and around 1000 employee profiles. There is a lot more sharing going on.”