Microsoft embraces agile publishing model with SharePoint for Microsoft 365

Sep 22, 2020   |  

Providing legal guidance to Microsoft employees just got a lot easier for the company’s legal and public affairs division.

Microsoft’s Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs (CELA) relies on CELAWeb, a major intranet portal powered by Microsoft SharePoint, to deliver legal guidance and connect Microsoft employees to available resources. For years, they’ve done so through a highly customized and centralized Microsoft SharePoint publishing model, sacrificing flexibility and speed for consistency and control.

That trade-off wasn’t worth it anymore, so the team decided to migrate the site to SharePoint for Microsoft 365, says Anna Henke-Gunvaldson, a senior program manager for CELA.

“We just finished a complete overhaul,” she says. “We have a brand-new identity.”

[Learn how Microsoft is supporting the company’s internal use of SharePoint in Microsoft 365.]

Transformation time

Watch this video on how Microsoft migrated CELAWeb, the company’s legal and public affairs portal, to the latest version of SharePoint.

It’s been seven years since CELAWeb last underwent a makeover, and a lot has changed since then.

At the time, a mass migration was underway within Microsoft to move enterprise portals to the latest version of Microsoft SharePoint in the cloud. That undertaking was led by Microsoft’s Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO). CELA content managers used that migration as an opportunity to centralize their publishing workflows and strengthen content consistency.

“Our goal was to make sure that all our content was consistently high quality,” Henke-Gunvaldson says.

To achieve that quality, the team heavily customized Microsoft SharePoint based on their requirements for user interaction, publishing, and content management that weren’t included by default. Managing such a highly customized version of Microsoft SharePoint required a centralized and tech-savvy publishing team to enforce the standards. Publishing speed took a hit, but that wasn’t the goal—content quality improved.

The trade-offs were worth it, Henke-Gunvaldson says. “We had to over-engineer things a bit to get things the way we wanted them,” she says.

Embracing speed and simplicity

Fast forward to 2020.

The rigidity of CELAWeb didn’t fit the way CELA worked anymore. It was hard to maintain.

“I can’t begin to explain to you how much code we had on the legacy platform,” says Jorge Berlanga, a software engineering manager on the CSEO team who oversaw the more recent migration of CELAWeb to SharePoint for Microsoft 365. “It was so complicated.”

The centralized publishing model was also starting to show its age. New features introduced to Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft 365 provided an opportunity to restructure the site around publishing speed and ease of use.

With the new SharePoint, subject matter experts can publish content directly without going through the central publishing team. They simply publish, and the end user can provide direct feedback.

– Jorge Berlanga, software engineering manager in Core Services Engineering and Operations

Post-migration, the new CELAWeb is leaner and more agile. The publishing process is now decentralized.

“In the previous platform, we had a total of four people that performed the editing function for 900 pages of content,” Berlanga says. “It doesn’t scale, and the content gets outdated due to lack of ownership from subject matter experts (SMEs). With the new SharePoint, SMEs can publish content directly without going through the central publishing team. They simply publish, and the end user can provide direct feedback.”

It’s an agile methodology for content publishing, he says.

Since the migration, publishing rates have skyrocketed from roughly 20 posts per month to 300, including revisions. People are publishing more often, then iterating again and again. As a result, CELAWeb can now “react to business needs, world events, and executive orders much more quickly,” Berlanga says.

That speed is born of simplicity.

“We took a hard look at the capabilities that we wanted to provide,” Berlanga says. “We asked ourselves if we really need to provide all of them, or if being selective would provide a better experience. The approach allowed us to get to out-of-the-box quickly and simplify, simplify, simplify.”

All told, Berlanga says, “we completed the entire migration in about two months and shed so much custom code in the process. It was all painless.”

For Sam Crewdson, a senior program manager who facilitated the CELAWeb migration from within CSEO, that painlessness is the entire point. Henke-Gunvaldson refers to the new Microsoft SharePoint as “basically a content management system out of the box,” and Crewdson agrees. “We didn’t have to build much in the way of customizations. It was all there already. Addition through subtraction,” he says.

Accelerating migration with automation and integration

In 2013, much of the migration was done manually. Not this time.

Because the team could create pages through Microsoft SharePoint APIs, they could also automate parts of the process.

Vishwanadha Goli, a software engineer in CSEO, handled a lot of the automation work. “We leveraged some SharePoint libraries to create pages,” Goli says. “Most of the pages were in a simplified, expanded template. To convert classic pages to modern pages, we just had to migrate the content, so we wrote some custom tooling to do that.”

That eliminated about 70 percent of the migration work. Microsoft SharePoint’s integration with Microsoft Power Platform provided other opportunities for automation.

“That integration is big for us,” Berlanga says. “Those two platforms play very well together. It simplified a lot of the previously highly-engineered solutions down to accessible, flexible solutions.”

Automating feedback and content review

Microsoft Power Platform integration also lends flexibility to CELAWeb’s new publishing capabilities. For example, User interface (UI) flows, a feature of Microsoft Power Platform that automates time-consuming manual processes, streamlines the approval process.

UI flows are also used to collect feedback. “Every page has feedback control, so end users can quickly send feedback to SMEs,” Berlanga says. “We use UI flows to trigger emails to surface feedback to a specific set of users.”

They’re handy when it comes to monitoring pages, too.

“We use Power Platform to query SharePoint and see if the content is rendering. If it’s not, we send an alert to the engineering team,” Berlanga says. “We’re notified if there’s any sort of issue.”

I was amazed—I’m still amazed—that this migration was driven by two people and mostly automated.

– Anna Henke-Gunvaldson, senior program manager for Corporate, External, and Legal Affairs

The speed with which the migration took place wasn’t lost on Henke-Gunvaldson.

“I was amazed—I’m still amazed—that this migration was driven by two people and mostly automated,” she says. “The migration from on-premises to cloud took us a long, long time, and one person had to rewrite all our pages by hand. I was blown away that two people and an automated script did this in two weeks.”

Berlanga agrees. “I’ve been at Microsoft for 15 years,” he says. “I can’t recall a project of such scale that went live so quickly.”

Embracing a new approach to content

With three major migrations to SharePoint in Microsoft 365 under their belt, CSEO can now utilize the out-of-the-box configuration that resulted from the CELAWeb deployment to streamline subsequent migrations.

“All nine of our top sites are slated to go to the new SharePoint,” Crewdson says. “We expect to complete all nine by the end of calendar year 2021.” To date, 82 percent of all internal Microsoft portal sites have been migrated.

The CELAWeb makeover is already paying off.

“We have less outdated content, lower cost of delivery, and lower churn due to product changes,” Henke-Gunvaldson says. “But more than that, the performance and stability you get with the new SharePoint is a huge benefit for us. You get the automatic updates, the automatic bug fixes, all these great search improvements. The whole infrastructure benefits us.”

Together, the benefits amount to a profound culture change in the way the department approaches content. Prior to the migration, SMEs seldom published content out of frustration with slow publishing speed.

“Now SMEs who previously didn’t engage at all are updating pages 20 times a week, simply because they now have control over their content,” Henke-Gunvaldson says. “Now they’re very engaged. That is exactly what we wanted to accomplish.”

Learn how Microsoft is supporting the company’s internal use of SharePoint in Microsoft 365.

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