Thought leader interview with Jim Federico of Microsoft on how
Microsoft use SharePoint internally for learning. Jim is a Sr.
Director of Operations and Platforms at Microsoft, responsible for
training and readiness for the customer facing roles at
I spent 13 years running technology and product strategy for
SumTotal Systems. I started in learning technology developing and
then managing a product called Ingenium (Jim and I first met back
then) at a company called Meliora Systems. We sold that company to
Asymetrix. We took that company public in 1998 and rebranded it as
Click2learn. This company eventually became SumTotal Systems after a
merger with Docent. The products I managed and helped design still
live within Sum Total Systems' current suite. After a 12 month
stint at a start-up where we built an analytics solution for large
strategic consulting organizations, I joined Microsoft 5 years
What is your role at Microsoft?
I am Senior Director of Operations and Platform for what we call
the Readiness Organization in Microsoft.
I am responsible for a variety of things including reporting,
quality, tools & platform, technology, innovation and the
operational services necessary to deliver nearly 2 million hours of
training per year to 45,000 employees. This includes product and
solution readiness which contains technical, licensing, industry
knowledge, compete, and go-to-market readiness as well as
professional skills training that we primarily deliver within a
curricula framework we call Academies.
How does Microsoft use SharePoint for
We've got a notion at Microsoft of "first and best", which
essentially says that it's our job to use (and occasionally
misuse!) products ahead of customers and better than any customers.
This makes two things happen. One is we can take what we've learned
and share it with our customers. The second is we make our products
better by finding any problems - often before products are released
to market. For example, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview was released
recently and the very next day a substantial portion of Microsoft
employees were already running the beta.
I believe we're the world's largest SharePoint implementation.
From a training perspective, we use SharePoint in a few interesting
We're just wrapping up a project to build a SharePoint search
experience for training. The outcome is that Training becomes
discoverable from across the intranet. This is a really simple
thing to do and I encourage all customers running SharePoint to
consider doing the same.
The screen shot to the right is of our SharePoint search
experience. Notice the facets to the left that allow for
quick filtering of the catalog by taxonomies that
are meaningful to people looking for training.
One benefit of this approach is that we are able to provide
employees with a single training discovery experience even though
we have two primary learning management systems in service of
employees. With the SharePoint search scope, we have both LMSs
being indexed in the same way, we have a common taxonomy that makes
up the filters that learners search, and so we've unified searching
across multiple LMSs, and we've brought training to where the
people are, which is often better than forcing them to go directly
into the LMSs.
I suspect that could be a quick win for a lot of
people, as that's the sort of thing SharePoint is good at -
searching in external systems.
Yes, the investment involved is really very small, from a
technical perspective. You can do this with a variety of
techniques, the one we used was very simple - we wrote a query to
write out a single file that ends up becoming a SharePoint list.
The list gets indexed by SharePoint once or twice a day. And
SharePoint knows how to index SharePoint lists, so there's nothing
complicated about it.
You can do this in more sophisticated ways, but this technique
Lots of people I speak to want to use SharePoint for
knowledge management and aggregating and making information easy to
find. I suspect a lot of people don't realize how easy it is to
index external systems like this with SharePoint
Yes, we've taken the LMS out of the 'walled garden' as it were,
and made learning a proper 'intranet citizen'.
What else do you do with SharePoint for
The cleverest thing we've done with SharePoint is a site we call
internally "Academy", you can think of this as YouTube for the
enterprise. We've done some white papers on this in the past (see
here). It's a podcasting platform, an executive communication
platform, a training platform, a social networking platform, an
expert-finder platform, it does all of those things for us.
(See the screenshot right.)
It really leverages some of SharePoint's unique strengths. We've
put a podcasting experience in front of SharePoint that resembles
YouTube with little squares that show a snippet of the video, star
ratings, the name of the author, how many times it's been
downloaded and played. Content is accessible via a browser, via an
RSS reader, can be easily downloaded to Windows Phone via the Zune
software and we've recently released a Windows Phone app. In fact
30% of the content is being consumed from mobile devices - people
browse the content on their Windows mobile phone and play it
I think that you let SharePoint users see the
learning available to them and take it in a SharePoint web
Yes, we created what we call landing pages for learners in
SharePoint. We built these in Silverlight because we wanted it to
be cinematic, with animation, and it's really easy to host
Silverlight in SharePoint. It pulls content and the content
structure and completion status from the LMS and marries that with
the profile of the user who's logged into SharePoint. Thus, if you
or I looked at one of these landing pages, what we'd see would be
different depending on our profile. You might require different
training than I do, and we might recommend different training
depending on job roles and geography. It takes the profile from
SharePoint and presents a unique view. When the user wants to
engage in the course, they click through and end up watching the
content player from the LMS, or can also download and take it
We're in the process of improving this by building a Windows 8
app, with a Metro design, a touch-first app, that is on top of
SharePoint. It will be available as an internal-only application
for Microsoft employees and will become the primary way that
Microsoft employees consume training. We're also in the process of
re-building our content player, using HTML5, making it suitable for
touch mobile devices. One of the things we're keen on in Microsoft
is making an immersive experience, for instance you click on a
course and it plays in the window you are in. The trend in Windows
8 is that controls are hidden unless you need them, the chrome of
the experience fades away, with the content in the forefront. We're
also designing our user interface for touch and figuring smart ways
of integrating this with SharePoint and our LMS.
Are you running the new version of SharePoint under
development (version 15) internally or do you use SharePoint 2010
Microsoft is running SharePoint 2010. There are areas that are
working with SharePoint 15, but it hasn't been rolled out across
the company. In the training organization, we're experimented with
it and we're building our strategies around how to leverage some of
the new capabilities in the context of training. I suspect that
within 18 months, most of the platforms I'm responsible for will be
running in the Cloud and will leverage Azure and Office 15.
Another thing we've built internally is something we call
OfficeTalk. This is a custom application that is essentially
Twitter for the enterprise. It has the notion of hashtags, which
allows you to keep track of conversations. There's a web part that
allows you to integrate it with SharePoint sites. It's getting
quite a lot of traffic. There's also a Windows Phone app if you're
not in front of your PC. (You can see some more info on OfficeTalk
A lot of the SharePoint sites we've built have a little
OfficeTalk web part off to the side; that has a semi-synchronous
conversation happening, in the context of the page you're looking
at. For example, if I'm looking at a SharePoint site about Windows
8, there will be an internal conversation running off to the right
of the page, of people dialoguing about Windows 8. We think that's
pretty clever, and I'd expect similar capability to make its way
into future Microsoft products. As you might expect, we prefer that
some conversations happen within the Microsoft Firewall so it's
important that we provide employees with a proper - meaning secure
- means of collaborating.
I know there is a lot of interest (for example
within the Masie Consortium) in
this area. What guidance would you give other companies looking to
get value for SharePoint for learning?
My guidance to my peers in the industry is to take the training
to where the people are. Often what people have to do is to drop
what they are doing as a knowledge worker and "take a sabbatical"
to go to the learning management system. And it doesn't dawn on
most employees to go and do that. Most employees don't fully
differentiate mentally between what's training and what's not.
Content and community get blurred in the mind of learner.
Our job is to unify it all, and unlock learning content in your
LMS via APIs and expose it, for example, in SharePoint.
How do you deliver assessments with
We have three modes of assessments we can call from our LMS. The
assessments are available from SharePoint, but are running within
the LMS where the SCORM APIs ensure data is being tracked.
- Standalone assessments
- Assessment wrapped around online training
- Assessment wrapped round virtual/instructor led training
We have built our own tool that we use to develop online
training and assessments. We did that partly as we had our own
unique requirements and partly because we wanted to deliver in
Silverlight. The unique requirements primarily enable a degree of
adaptively sophistication that I don't believe exists in standard
eLearning development tools. We're currently in the process of
re-releasing the system to deliver HTML5 content. From an
assessment standpoint, the tool is not as sophisticated as systems
Do you see SharePoint in the long term as competing
with learning management systems or more as a
For the foreseeable future we're going to have both a LMS and
SharePoint. One of the strengths of an LMS is that it can help us
administer the business rules around training, especially around
instructor-led training. There's an immense amount of business
rules to administer. For example, we set up a class which has
minimum and maximum capacity, we reserve certain seats for certain
audiences, we have a cancellation policy, we have a charge-back
policy, we like our approval workflows, we set up pre-requisites,
etc. etc. etc. There are so many business rules that we leverage
every day from our LMS that rebuilding it would require a
significant R&D investment.
The way I think about it is that because our LMS provides a rich
set of capabilities we need to run the business, it frees up my
team to focus on delivering innovative experiences and creating new
Will there be learning improvements in future
versions of SharePoint?
Anything my team learns from using SharePoint to train Microsoft
employees, the SharePoint product team benefits from. I can't say
what's in or out of particular versions, but I advocate for
learning needs to the SharePoint product team and they are very
aware of learning scenarios.
One more thing I'm passionate about is what we're doing on
Windows 8. I've attached a screen shot of a solution we call Role
Guide. This is a touch-optimized Windows 8 Metro style app that
presents tailored roadmaps to Microsoft employees based on their
role, region, manager status, and many other attributes. It also
provides a fantastic search experience (integrated with our LMS)
and includes an 'in-experience' SCORM content player that looks
great when playing our HTML 5 content. To my knowledge, we're
delivering a bunch of industry firsts in this solution.
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