Monday, 27 September 2010

SharePoint - Made for Sharing

The excellent security settings of SharePoint is one of its strengths, but some people take it too far. I have been struck twice lately by companies tying their SharePoint down so much the information is only accessible to a handful of people. This week I want to concentrate on explaining the advantages of using SharePoint to share information.

First though, an example of making things too secure from my weekend visit to a quaint country pub just outside of Wolverhampton. It was this Saturday afternoon and with the mighty Villa not playing until Sunday (when they were to beat neighbours Wolves 2-1 to keep their 30 year unbeaten run against the Wanderers going) it was the chance for me and my lady friend to grab a meal in the country. We found a nice looking pub with wooden beams in the ceiling and perused the menu full of delightful sounding dishes. It was nearly quarter to five and I had avoided the latest football scores on the radio with the idea to watch Match of the Day that night not knowing the scores especially the Arsenal verses Albion one. This hope was dashed when a rather loud local walked in singing at the top of his voice “three one to the Albion Boys, three one to the Albion”. At least I had the surprise that night of seeing that Arsenal actually pulled a late goal back.

Looking for a little romance after ordering two Hot Pots we found a quiet table away from the bar. We were then both quite excited to see a dart-board quite near us and I suggested a game of darts before our food arrived. My companion agreed and seemed quite excited by the prospect. So I asked the barman for the darts only to be told that they didn’t have any. So a dart-board and no darts, what is the point? Should we have bought our own darts or is this a new EU health and safety rule? This is when I thought about companies having a lovely SharePoint site but then restricting who can access it. At least we could see the dart-board many people cannot even see the information on their companies SharePoint because they have not even got ‘read-only’ access.

SharePoint is called SharePoint for a reason because it is aimed at ‘Sharing’ information. Yes, some information is confidential and needs to be hidden but I strongly believe that much of the information a company stores should be available to people who work there and who have accounts on the domain. Information that is held by the Marketing Department might be useful to the Sales or the Research Department staff. Also the more people know what is held by another department the less chance of duplication you have. Whenever I am working on SharePoint projects as a SharePoint Consultant for Office Talk and a customer starts restricting access to sites the question I always ask is “Why do you need to restrict it?” If they don’t have a reason I always advise that they let domain users have ‘read-only’ access. Communication is important to the success of every business and organisation and SharePoint giving them the chance to share information.

So always make your SharePoint available to people in your organisation that might benefit from the information.

Now, let me just end by moaning at the BBC. Why does the news just before Match of the Day always tell you the scores? In the old days they used to just put it on the screen and say look away now. These days they shout out the scores as well as having them on the screen. Please bring back Barry Took so I can write to ‘Points of View’.

Well done the Villa.

Monday, 20 September 2010

New SharePoint - New School

In the UK September is traditionally the back to school month. The time of year when the journey to work takes two times longer and the Internet suddenly becomes useable again. For some children and young adults it can be a scary starting a new school or going away to university for the first time. The transition is never easy and this is also true of moving from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010. You have to cope with new things like having a Homework Diary or wearing tie when you go to secondary school. Starting university means getting use to attending lectures instead of lessons and acquiring a tolerance for cheap alcohol. I myself was quite tempted by cheap alcohol after spending nearly a week trying to convert the Office Talk 2007 SharePoint Templates into a format that can be used in SharePoint 2010. I must admit to underestimating the job of redoing the HR, Safety, Training, IT, Purchasing, Finance, Projects, Reception and Media templates.

So why was the Template upgrade such a challenge? I tried first exporting to a spreadsheet in SharePoint 2007 and then creating a new list in 2010 using the spreadsheet, but with all the drop-downs and lookup fields this just added to my frustrations. Maybe I should have a considered just upgrading my whole SharePoint but as I had a number of additional third-party applications on my 2007 version this one was always going to be a step too far. So it became a very manual process and meant a few late nights. When finally all eleven templates (which for some reason Microsoft now call ‘Solutions’) it was then time to start selling the templates and to start hitting a recurring issue. Although, I had successfully tested the new Solutions on a number of SharePoint Environments (both Foundation and Server 2010) I received the same email back from a number of disappointed customers.

The error that was causing the customers (and me) frustration always read something like;
“Error creating site: "The site template requires that the Feature {a392da98-270b-4e85-9769-04c0fde26”.

To make it more interesting the code number never seemed to be the same twice. Even when I tried disabling all the Features in my original version before I saved the Template I still had users with the same issue. It was then that I found great article on the MS Adviser about how to find which ‘Feature’ was missing.

The address of this excellent article is http://msadvisor.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!B4931A324B42E0BC!609.entry and basically it just tells you how in Central Administration if you right click on the ‘Site Collection Features’ there is an option to ‘View Source’. Now it might look confusing all the code but all you need to do is find the long code that the error gave you in the Source using Find command. Then scroll up a couple of lines and you will find the name of the Feature. Knowing the name is a real help because now you can simply activate the feature in both the ‘Site Collection Features’ and the ‘Site Features’. Now I have happy customers.

So the Office Talk customers are now happily able to install the eleven brand new Department Templates and if you would like to know more about these templates just visit http://www.office-talk.com/index.php?id=151.

Today G√©rard Houllier begins life as the new Aston Villa manager today. Like moving from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 some of the players will find it challenging having a new man in charge; especially Friedel, Warnock and Carew all players who Houllier sold when he last worked with them. Good luck Mr. Houllier I think we are in for some interesting times. Let’s start with beating Blackburn in the Cup on Wednesday. Let’s hope it is as good as last season’s game.

Hope you have all had a good look at the new SharePoint Village. If not please click the link at the top right of this blog.

Monday, 6 September 2010

SharePoint Design – Soap Dispenser Challenge

For the last two weeks I have faced a challenge that has got me quite frustrated. No, this isn’t a challenge with SharePoint or with the launch of our revolutionary new SharePoint Village but a challenge in my bathroom. It involves a very trendy looking soap dispenser plastic bottle. The kind where you press the top and pleasant smelling soap comes out of the tap like thing. The gold plastic bottle with the sweet sounding name and the fancy bubble writing on the side certainly looks the part. The only thing going against the posh little bottle is that I can’t get any soap out of it. Frustratingly despite many attempts I cannot get the pump part to work. I have read all the instructions in small writing on the back about having to twist and pull but still it doesn’t move. At least it looks good by the side of the basin, oh and don’t worry I have got a got an old-fashioned bar of soap as well.

So how does my soap dispenser dilemma fit in with SharePoint? I suppose the most important part of SharePoint is not how snazzy it looks but how easy it is for End Users to use it. If they can’t even find their department’s site on the Internet how are they going to feel the real benefits of SharePoint? It is always important to include some End user training in all SharePoint Projects. A couple of hours might be enough but don’t forget any New Starters as well. Also keep the navigation it simple and consistent. If a user moves department they shouldn’t be faced with a completely different looking SharePoint environment. Office Talk consultants always advise that the Top Link bar is kept constant to all sites.

The new SharePoint Village that opened last Wednesday breaks it’s shops into section that we believe match your SharePoint needs. Firstly all SharePoint projects need a little help so we have a section of shops called ‘Consultancy’ rented by companies offering SharePoint Consultants. Hopefully one of these could give you the best advice on how SharePoint Sites should be accessed. Just a pity there isn’t a ‘Soap Village’ I could contact.

Another section of shops is ‘Training’ so you can find the best company to train your staff in SharePoint including ‘Train the Trainer’ courses. It also has some very useful SharePoint video clips you can purchase for users to watch when they are back at the office. Maybe I might find a video on ‘YouTube’ about activating a pump operated soap dispenser.

Once you have thought about the structure and how easy it will be for End Users to use then you can try to improve the look of it and make it a bit more ‘groovy’. A set of shops at SharePoint Village includes ‘Design’ which includes the excellent SharePoint Design company ‘Pink Petrol’ who really can give your SharePoint a trendy look (just make sure it doesn’t hamper it’s usability). Pink Petrols’ Sam Dolan is very talented (even if he is a Newcastle fan who has been gloating since they beat the Villa six nil) and his designs are well worth a look.

Out of the box SharePoint has many great Web Parts but there are lots of extra clever ones available to enable you to perform a whole host of routine operations. The ‘Web Parts’ section of shops contains some of the top SharePoint web Part companies in the world.

So now SharePoint is working well, End Users are using it, it looks cool and it contains a few extra Web Parts so it is ready to expand. In the ‘Software’ section of shops you will find add-on applications to make SharePoint perform even better in your business. There are shops selling E-Learning solutions, backup solutions, permission management, enhanced reporting and many more.
We hope SharePoint Village will become a valuable source and a one-stop solution for all things SharePoint. Please if you haven’t already taken time to browse the shops there at http://www.sharepointvillage.com.

So now I am off to try yet again to open my soap dispenser while the Villa prepare to finally announce their new manager.