Friday, 12 December 2008

Credit Crunch SharePoint

As Christmas approaches many businesses and organisations are starting to feel the pinch of the Credit Crunch all over the world. Many employees are having to pay for their own meal at the Office Christmas parties and the number of corporate gifts in circulation seems to be less this year. It is now nearly the middle of December and still the Officetalk office awaits it’s first Christmas card of the year. Gone are the days when company’s marketing departments sent all their customers calendars of lovely local views. Now every penny (or for the American readers cents) seems to count. So how can companies save even more money apart from having the lights automatically switch off when there is no one in the room? For organisations who already have SharePoint it could be worth seeing how much more SharePoint can be used to save money. How much does the average company spend on Finance systems, HR Systems, CRM systems, Sales Order Systems, Project Management and IT Helpdesk systems? It is worth always thinking if you are looking at buying any of these systems or looking at reducing maintenance costs on an existing system. Can SharePoint be configured to do this job? Many companies spend considerable amounts on developers designing systems for them and then being almost held to ransom by the Developers when they need a relatively straight-forward change made. This is where SharePoint can be so effective as all the Lists and Views work in very similar ways and fields can easily be changed. SharePoint is fully customisable. Like many SharePoint Consultants Officetalk have found an increased demand for customised SharePoint Application Templates and Webparts lately. Although Microsoft have their fantastic forty Sharepoint templates to download many of these either rely too heavily on InfoPath or are too standard. They are very much starting points and I have seen very few examples (especially here in the UK) of companies using these as out of the box solutions. Companies are beginning to realise that this tool they have for their Intranet or Document Management could be used a whole lot more. Whilst I was shivering in the cold at home last night (as I had turned the heating down by two degrees to try and save money) I was thinking of the ten best systems that could be developed on SharePoint. I seem to have an unhealthy obsession with making lists of top tens. This week alone I have done my favourite 10 Villa Midfield players and my top ten comedy films. Please email me if you would like either of these lists although the hyperlinks are clues to one of the entries in each. So here is my list of ten possible systems on SharePoint in no particular order, no need for Top of Pops music; 1. Security / Carpark Passes 2. Expense Claims 3. Customer Sales Enquiries 4. Senior Managers Movements (no funny comments, I mean who is where when) 5. H&S Incident Reports 6. Chargeable Project Time 7. Meeting Room and Resources Booking 8. Stock Control 9. On Call Rota / Out of Hours Contacts 10. Medical Appointment Booking System I could probably have gone on and on with this list, but I just wanted to show how SharePoint can perform many jobs. Okay, it won’t be the best at any of these jobs because if you spend thousands on, say an ‘H&S Incident Report System’, it would probably do a better job, but would it be so easy to make changes to. Also would the expensive system also be able to store images and monitor Sales Enquiries? Officetalk are trying to do their bit to help you use SharePoint to help with the Credit Crunch by producing a series of Customised Application Site Templates. The first of these was realised this week called Projectbreak and is well worth a look. Priced at under £60 (90% off the 2008 price) it could save companies who charge for their work a few pennies. Click here to take a look at Projectbreak Now perhaps I should end this week as it is nearly Christmas to give you my top ten Christmas songs of all time (yes, they are in order); 1. Last Christmas – Wham 2. Merry Xmas Everyone – Slade 3. White Christmas – Bing Crosby 4. Wombling Merry Christmas – Wombles 5. It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Johnny Mathis 6. Wizzard - I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday 7. The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl - Fairytale Of New York 8. David Essex - A Winter's Tale 9. Mud - Lonely This Christmas 10. Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney Feel free to leave your comments on my lists. Don't forget to check out the Mr Bean Christmas link. If you are still Christmas Shopping and want to download last week's Christmas Shopper SharePoint Template click here.

Friday, 5 December 2008

SharePoint Goes Christmas Shopping

It is time to hit the shops in search of Christmas presents and that is what I am about to do. Hopefully the ‘Credit Crunch’ will mean the shops are not quite so full this year. OK, that is a bit mean on the poor Shopkeepers who are trying to keep their businesses a float, but I hate having to spend so long queuing after I have found an elusive present. I am usually a very calm person and not known to get over cross, but the Festive spirit soon goes from me after I have been waiting in a queue at Woolworths for over twenty minutes clutching an empty box for the DS game ‘Curious Village’ only to be told by the young assistant ‘matter-of-factly’ that they haven’t got that game in stock.. Sorry about this moan and I do understand that ‘Woolworths‘ have got enough problem at the moment without me slagging them off in my Sharepoint blog. At least they did stock the 2009 Aston Villa Calendar there which I pointed out to my wife. I must stop moaning though as I can see myself ending up like The best way to Christmas shop (apart from to leave it so late that your wife has already done it) is to plan who you are buying for and roughly what to get them. Always try and think about buying the same present for more than one person. If it is good enough for Auntie Betty would it do for that Margaret at work in the Secret Santa as well? Now, what is the best tool for planning and managing Christmas Presents? It has to be SharePoint as it is so easy to customise and add calculations to. So before I started my Christmas shopping (yes, while the wife was doing it really) I designed a Christmas Shopping Site Template for SharePoint called the Officetalk Christmas Shopper. The Officetalk Christmas Shopper includes a list of who you need to buy for, what you normally spend on these people, how you will get the present to them, if they send you a present back (although obviously it is the giving that is important even if you do refer to this SharePoint site next Christmas), keep a track of how much you spend and even record the presents you have bought these people in the past. This last part is useful when you realise for the fourth year running you are buying your Dad socks again. Mind you, if he is like me after year he will need new socks as somehow I often seem to lose socks. Well, I seem to frequently lose one sock. One day perhaps they will all turn up. Now, as it is Christmas and the Officetalk Consultants are such generous chaps we are giving this Christmas Shopper SharePoint site Template away FREE OF CHARGE. All you need is too have either WSS 3.0 or MOSS installed. Then just send an email to me by clicking on the link below and ask for help with your Christmas Shopping; Email Andy Dale Oh, I didn’t mention that the Christmas Shopper Template includes a Christmas Planner so you can make a note of all the Christmas Parties that you are invited to even though you can’t go as you have to do your Christmas Shopping. If you haven’t already downloaded it checkout my Christmas Countdown and Advent SharePoint Tips featured in last week’s blog by clicking ‘Christmas Goodies’.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Show Me SharePoint

Much of this week seems to have been spent with my body pushed up against hot and sweaty complete strangers in tunnels. Yes, I have been travelling beneath our capital on the London Underground. With so many of Officetalk’s SharePoint customers being based in London I am becoming quite a tube expert and I think I am now quite skilled at finding the quickest routes around. Although the many exits above ground for each station does still disorientate me and I do still have to think if I want the South or Norhbound platform. Why are there no East or West bound platforms? To a new visitor the London Underground is daunting and everyone is too busy to help novices. Although I did comment to some very loud American Tourists yesterday that if they wanted to see ‘Kensington Palace’ that the stop ‘Kennington’ was in fact not the one they wanted. You can see why they were confused though. SharePoint can also be very confusing to the occasional user and although people soon become comfortable with it there is a steep learning curve . The great thing with Sharepoint is how all of the sections work in the same way. Once you understand how the Lists, Columns and Views work you can quickly do some pretty neat stuff. Armed with a pocket sized underground map (colour coded of course) you can work out the best way of getting from Buckingham Palace to Wembley Stadium (a journey which Prince William, as a Villa supporter, will hopefully have to make soon). So we need a similar pocket-sized guide for SharePoint. Interestingly, if you Google ‘pocket sized SharePoint guide’ the first result is a book called ‘SharePoint Products & Technologies Administrator’s Pocket Consultant’ which at 367 pages is perhaps a tad too big for the average sized pocket, although it would probably still get lost in the average woman’s handbag. As part of the half-day Basic SharePoint Site Administrator’s Overview course offered by Officetalk they provide a 2-sided (colour) A4 handout describing how to perform all the basic SharePoint functions. The useful tasks like uploading documents, editing Announcements or registering an Alert etc. If you drop me an email asking for a copy of the PDF to I will try and persuade our Marketing Department to send you a free copy that you can distribute it yourselves to your staff. What would be great down here on the Underground somewhere below the ‘Elephant and Castle’ would be a real guide (I mean the information sort not the ones in the uniforms) somebody who can show me exactly which way I have to go to get to Paddington Station. In the same way a virtual guide in SharePoint would be great for users. Someone who can guide through how to do all though little tasks that you learnt in the training course so many months ago. No, I am not suggesting the return of that annoying paper-clip Office Assistant. Instead I recommend that any organisation who use SharePoint purchase the excellent set of two minute video clips from CBTClips. You can find out more about these by clicking the SharePoint CBT Clips link. Despite the American accent (perhaps we should get Jasper Carrot to record a ‘Brummie’ version) there are 65 very good and clear clips of all the basic SharePoint functions. You can buy all of these in one bundle and best of all put them on the Home page of your SharePoint. So the next time somebody rings the IT Helpdesk asking how they go about exporting a SharePoint list to Excel, you just point them at the link to the CBT Clip. Eventually the IT Department can be left in peace to read the latest Dilbert cartoon.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Ooh Matron - Now Hospital SharePoint

Many NHS (National Health Service for the readers outside of England) and Private Hospitals in the UK are now starting to see the benefits of SharePoint. This week I have been working as an Officetalk Consultant on a SharePoint implementation at a leading Private Health Group. The kind whose premises are in grand old houses (the type where Dr. Nookie opened his private clinic in ‘Carry on again Doctor’). Unfortunately I didn’t bump into a young Barbara Windsor lookalike. Also this week I had to visit my local NHS City hospital for some tests. I must admit I was quite impressed with the improvements made to the NHS hospital which now even has a Greggs Bakery just outside the ‘Heart & Lungs’ Centre. Just what I needed on the way to my cholesterol level checked. SharePoint seems ideal for hospitals with the increasing number of forms they have to circulate, records they have to keep and guidelines they have to try and keep up with. Whether they need a record of the how many times partially-sighted Joan has fallen out of bed or to keep track of changes to the latest NICE Guidelines on ‘Induction of Labour’ SharePoint fits the bill. At my hospital appointment I found the address on my file was where I used to live five years ago even though my appointment was sent to my current home. It seems my records are stored in so many different places even different departments in the same hospital. X-rays of my broken wrist when I was twelve after saving one of my brother’s penalties are probably still stored somewhere in the hospital and somewhere else there is probably an ECG or two of mine. It appears to be an information overload and crying out for a SharePoint solution. With the addition of a few simple workflows SharePoint could have electronic forms rapidly being sent around the hospital. Incident reports could be responded to in days not months and be fully audited. As I sat waiting in the NHS Waiting Room I considered how many uses SharePoint could have in this hospital alone. It could book appointments, record/circulate results, monitor bed occupancy (restricting each bed to just one patient), record staff rotas, update patient details, keep track of ward cleaning, be used to order hospital meals, book Operating Theatres, monitor drug lists and so much more. Perhaps I am thinking too much about SharePoint these days I even thought about how it could be used when watching Holby City the other night. When the nice surgeon who used to be Nigel in ‘East Enders’ was waiting to receive some important results of a scan for one of his patients. SharePoint could have sent an alert to his pager as soon as the results were available then he could have just logged on at his nearest PC to have seen the results instantly. Instead the nasty female doctor intercepted the results. SharePoint would have been so much more secure. SharePoint Workflow can have many hospital uses and one possible use I noted, as an old man at the Reception Desk was chasing up his hospital transport, could be to include a ‘Transport Required’ section on the electronic booking system. So in the current financial climate can hospitals, either private or NHS, afford SharePoint? Firstly, do they need full MOSS as many already run Windows Server 2003 so WSS is just a free download from Microsoft? Probably MOSS is the way forward for Health organisations with the enhanced Search capabilities and improved reporting my blog post,‘Suits You Sir’compares the features of MOSS and WSS. Microsoft though are so desperate to get SharePoint into all hospitals that they are offering some great deals to the NHS under their NHS Licensing prices. So SharePoint is now an affordable option for many hospitals. If you are interested in introducing SharePoint into any type of Health Organisation, or already have SharePoint but feel it needs major surgery, then give one of our resident SharePoint doctors a call at Officetalk on 01386 833 535 or visit our website Ok we are not really called ‘SharePoint doctors’ but we are SharePoint specialists and we can provide your SharePoint with a health check. So put SharePoint at the ‘heart’ of your Information Management. Now, I haven’t mentioned the Villa much lately so I must end by congratulating the players on another good win last night in the UEFA Cup against Slavia Prague.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

SharePoint - Content Types 'Out of This World'

Officetalk have SharePoint customers all over the UK and as one of their consultants I am often visiting clients in some quite remote parts. This week I have been working in the Orkney Islands with one of the Councils we support. The Island of Kirkwell is a lovely area and in daylight has many spectacular views, but in October when it is dark by 6pm and usually raining it isn’t the most lively of places. So with five nights on my own to fill I decided to start watching my ‘Life on Mars’ Series One DVD box set. Now, for some reason I didn’t watch the ‘Life on Mars’ series when it was on TV, probably because I was too busy watching re-runs of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ on UK Gold, but everyone kept telling me how brilliant it was (abit like some companies and SharePoint). So I decided to buy the box-set as it was half price and I had been given an HMV token for my birthday. So in my hotel room in Orkney I started to watch the first episode and within minutes I was hooked. It had it all mystery, sci-fi, comedy, 70’s nostalgia and lots of hidden gems. It is the hidden gems that really make it and this is where I think SharePoint scores as well, so this week whilst I sit in the Departures Lounge at Edinburgh Airport waiting for my plane back home I am will look at one of SharePoint’s ‘hidden gems’. I am going to write about how Content Types can be used to force (sorry 'encourage') users to save documents directly into SharePoint Document Libraries. In ‘Life on Mars’ I really enjoyed the character of Nelson, the slightly ‘way out’ barman. Nelson adds to the humour, but also offers wisdom. In the full Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) Content Types play a very important role, but are often not really exploited to their full capabilities. They can be used to change the fields viewable to users when they are adding a new item in a SharePoint list. Yes, with Content Types enabled (under Advanced Settings in the Document Library settings) you can even hide the annoying ‘Title’ field. Content fields can also be used to filter searches and used with the impressive ‘Content Query’ webpart to select which items can automatically be displayed in other areas of the portal (they can even be made in to RSS feeds). These are all the fancy features of ‘Content Type’ but the easiest and most practical part is to allow users to create Excel spreadsheets, powerpoint presentations, blogs and letters straight from inside the correct Document Library without the need to open up the appropriate Office application. Yes, you do need office installed on the client PC but the rest is very quick and fairly straightforward to do. Firstly, you need some company templates. You know, the ones with the logo on in that strange looking font that somebody decided would make a good 'corporate' standard. These templates might be designed for letter-headed paper, just a blank excel spreadsheet or a corporate Powerpoint presentation template. Don’t get too carried away though and try and not add more than ten templates to a Document Library because you want them to all fit on one page when scrolled. You might want to include versions for Office 2007 and Office 2003 if your organisation uses both or some of your users just can't cope with some of the strange features of 2007. Next job is to create some new Content types on your Top Level Site. To do this open ‘Site Actions – 'Modify all Site Settings’ and under ‘Galleries’ choose ‘Site Content Types’. You are now able to create different content types hopefully giving them names that help users know what they are (i.e. ‘Letterheaded Document ver 2003'). It is worth creating a new ‘Content Type Group’ when you do this the first time to help you find them later. Perhaps each department or location could have their own ‘Content Type Group’. As with all of SharePoint you can always customise these later. Customisation is another great part of SharePoint similar to the way the girl from the testcard keeps appearing in ‘Life On Mars’. When did television start being twenty-four hours a day? Once the ‘Content Types’ for each type of template have been created the actual templates can be added. To do this go to the ‘Content Type Gallery’ open the created template and select ‘Advanced Settings‘. You can now upload the appropriate template so that when a user starts that Content Type the correct office application will open (although you not just restricted to Office applications). PDFs and CAD drawings can also be included. Although, I should promote a special CAD application for SharePoint called CAD Connection here that Officetalk offer. Choose 'Upload a new document template' and you can browse your SharePoint or local network or just your very full desktop. When you have added a template for each 'Content Type' you have created in the 'Content Type Gallery' you are now ready to add them to your Document Libraries. To do this open 'Advanced Settings' in your Document Library. Then check the first box to allow 'Management of Content Types'. Click OK to save this change. Nearly there now, which is good because my plane boards in ten minutes. Now, in 'Settings' on your Document Library you will have a new section called 'Content Types'. Here you can add the Content Types you want be clicking 'Add from existing Site Content Types'. Add as many as you want and that is all there is to it. When this is done the next time a user goes into the Document Library if they click the down arrow to the right of 'New' they will get a list of the templates available to them. So Sally from Sales can perhaps create her new sales report using the correct 'Sales Report Template' in the correct SharePoint Document Library. Brilliant just like 'Life on Mars' which has proved so successful that there is soon to be an American version for American television. Well, I suppose they let us have SharePoint. I suppose the final question must be - if there life on Mars? One thing is if there is and they are advanced they will certainly be making the best of 'Content Types' in SharePoint. Let's finish this week with David Bowie's Life On Mars.

Friday, 10 October 2008

SharePoint Video Star

The Buggles song might go ‘video killed the radio star’, but radio stations are still going strong twenty years on and it is video that has been rapidly changing. The pioneering video recorders of the late 70’s were replaced by DVD recorders and even the DVD recorders are now being superseded by systems like Sky Plus. I no longer have a machine capable of playing my cherished VHS Video of the Villa winning the 1982 European Cup. We now have a remarkable system called YouTube that has revolutionised the storage of video. Now, I can just type into Google ‘Villa European champions 1982 YouTube’ and the classic Peter Withe goal is available on my PC to watch over and over again. So what has YouTube got to do with SharePoint? YouTube contains millions of short video clips and some of them are even quite useful in a business environment. Yes, there are thousands of slightly inappropriate ones and many more that are just boring even if they are of cute kittens, but YouTube can have many positive uses. As well as reminding us of the adventures of Captain Pugwash it can also show important Safety Demonstrations or promoting new systems. So why not play a useful YouTube video in a SharePoint webpart? It could be the same video every day or easily changed for a different video that is appropriate to the SharePoint Site. Maybe companies can store their own training videos on YouTube and then play then through their own SharePoint. The question now is how do you get your YouTube video to play in SharePoint. Well, it is very easy to do and doesn’t cost anything (providing. of course. you already have either WSS 3.0 or full MOSS). All you have to do is add the much under used webpart ‘Content Editor’. You can add this by simply choosing ‘Edit Page’ and then click ‘Add Webpart’ in the column where you want the video screen to appear. Then scroll down until you come to the ‘Miscellaneous’ section and the ‘Content Editor webpart’. After you add this powerful little webpart you can click on the ‘open tool pane’ and then you are ready to add your video clip. I know I normally don’t mention code in my blogs and usually leave this to the officetalk Developers but this time it is so easy I am going to mention what you do. 1. Just copy the code below to your clipboard (select it all and right-click ‘Copy’ on your mouse) zobject width="425" height="344"@zparam name="movie" value=""@z/param@zparam name="allowFullScreen" value="true"@z/param@zembed src="" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"@z/embed@z/object@ 2. Open Notepad and copy in text. 3. From Edit - Replace replace all of the z for < 4. Back from start of text with Edit - Replace replace all the @ with > 5. Select all the text and then 'Copy'. 6. On your SharePoint Site Edit Page and insert a ‘Content Editor Wepart’. 7. Click on ‘open tool pane’ and then open the ‘Source Editor’ option. 8. Paste in the copied code. 9. Say Ok and you have a classic cartoon video inserted that advertises the popular backup software AvePoint which Officetalk sell. The video is of one of the early version of AvePoint so please don’t try and win the motor bike. 10. It is probably best to then change the title of your webpart from ‘Content Editor Webpart’ to something more appropriate. That is how easy it is to enable a YouTube Video webpart in SharePoint. You can also resize it by changing the width and height in the code, but make sure you keep the ratio or you might get some strange results. It could be that you want to insert a video other than the one I have given you. Well, it gets easier because to insert any YouTube video all you have to do is search for the video on YouTube. Select it and on the right you will see a box called ‘Embed’ and there you will find all the code that you need. All you do then is copy this code into your ‘Content Editor’ webpart and Bob’s your Uncle.

Friday, 26 September 2008

SharePoint Starts School

Instead of moaning about the Villa’s surprise cup defeat to Queen Park Rangers this week I am going to look at how SharePoint is starting to appear in areas other than the large corporate workplaces. Focusing especailly on the way that SharePoint usage is expanding rapidly in throughout our schools. More and more smaller companies are realising the benefits of storing their important company documents and systems on the magical SharePoint. Possibly discovering that Windows SharePoint Services is available as a ‘free download’ and does around 70% of what full SharePoint (MOSS) does has influenced them. In today’s difficult financial climate a solution like SharePoint which will save businesses money and is fairly inexpensive to install is something worth considering. But it isn’t only businesses who are been introduced to the growing SharePoint world. It seems SharePoint is now for ‘all-ages’ as more schools and colleges move to SharePoint for their information management. Children, teachers and even parents are now being given SharePoint logons (although it is often referred to as ‘The Intranet’). School never used to be like this in ‘my day’ when we got excited if we were allowed to have access to the school’s BBC Computer for one hour on the third Friday of the month. Mind you, schools have changed a lot in thirty years since my days as a Milk Monitor. Things have certainly progressed in education even if unfortunately Grange Hill has now finished and schools appear to be more like the current BBC drama Waterloo Road. So why are schools now starting to see the need for SharePoint? The official Microsoft answer can be found at, but this makes SharePoint seems terribly formal and to a child boring. Today’s children are used to systems like MySpace and YouTube with options of expressing themselves online in so many ways. Perhaps not always good, or particularly safe, ways, but with SharePoint these expressions can be controlled. Children are used to websites that are brightly coloured, full of movement and often with irritating noises. The great thing for schools is that SharePoint can have all of these things as well. With SharePoint Designer adding flash animation to SharePoint is fairly straightforward. The children can also on SharePoint be given their own MySite. This is an individual private area where they can be creative and express their inner feelings, but also it is a ‘controlled’ environment, where the school can moderate exactly who has access to it and at which times. In the UK the Government and Microsoft are working with local Councils to help push SharePoint into schools and an important reason for this is to improve communications between parents and the school. By giving parents a logon to the school’s SharePoint portal a new communication string is open. Many parents know the frustrations of trying to ring a school to finding out how ‘little Johnny’ is doing in his new class. Well, SharePoint can be setup so they can log on any time day, or night, and find out. The option to send questions to appropriate teachers from the child’s SharePoint site can also be configured. When a question is submitted it could kick in a SharePoint automated Workflow that sends an email to the teacher and can then be tracked by the parent. Also parents can have instant access to school calendar dates so they can know when the next Teacher Training day is or the date the of the re-arranged Sports Day. This would save them from having to go through all those old letters in the bottom of their daughter’s P.E. kit bag. You know, the ones that have somehow have been lying there with her unwashed swimming costume for ten days and have unidentifiable mouldy sweets stuck to them. Teachers can also gain many benefits from a good SharePoint system. They can communicate with their students (chase up homework, offer extra reading material), store their lesson notes, share information with colleagues and generally have to cart around less mounds of paper. So how far can schools go with SharePoint? The possibilities are endless perhaps even one day going as far as online exams with virtual teachers. The use of video, interactive whiteboards, automatic language translators, accessibility options (visual or hearing impaired) and mentors could all be incorporated into SharePoint. SharePoint Developers, like Officetalk (I have to mention them each week as they pay my wage), can take all these ideas and more and make them into SharePoint applications. Drop Frank an email at if you have any ideas for School applications. So with both primary and secondary schools now using SharePoint it certainly is SharePoint for ‘all ages’. The next challenge is get my ninety year old Aunt Sally to start using it. Perhaps they could have interactive SharePoint screens at the Post Office where pensioners could poke the screen with their sticks to select which Post Office service they require. I am not of course suggesting that all old people have sticks as I know many are more active than 41 year olds like me and certainly more mobile than the Villa forward line appeared to be against Queen Park Rangers.
If you came to this blog looking for the FREE CAR SHARING template you are not too late just click on the little car on the right, but hurry as they are running out fast.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Environmentally Green SharePoint – (Includes Car Share Template)

It might seem to rain all day at the moment, but still we hear of the dangers of ‘Global Warming’ and the importance of being 'Green'. I must admit that I am not a great recycler - you can probably be arrested for making comments like that these days – although I am quite keen on saving the planet. I do reuse carrier bags from the weekly shop and I do use recycled toilet paper (purchased not my own), but I just never seem to find the time to really sort through my smelly rubbish. Although, I was a fan of the ‘Wombles’ when I was younger and I did win a coveted Blue Peter badge in a ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ competition. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention that I also received a signed photograph of the Blue Peter team which Valerie Singleton, Lesley Judd, John Noakes and Peter Purves signed as it might show my age. So how can we get ‘green’ with SharePoint? Well, several companies including Officetalk offer hosted SharePoint solutions which mean employees can access their vital work files wherever they are. It is also fairly straight-forward for companies to configure their own SharePoint Portal so they are available remotely or through a VPN. This is a ‘greener’ solution because it cuts down the need to travel in an ‘environmentally unfriendly’ car to the office every day. The lack of travelling would also gives us busy workers more time to spend with our hands in our rubbish bins separating all the plastics from aluminium containers. SharePoint can play a part in helping your organisation implement a number of ‘Green’ Business changes. The simple sharing of information in document libraries across all departments instead of leaving the laser printer and photocopier churning out sheets of paper and ozone can save a lot of trees. It seems that all companies are looking at ‘Sustainability’ to see how they can help the Planet and this is where the SharePoint Project Team can shine. SharePoint is brilliant for creating paperless forms system and also pretty good at developing surveys and questionnaires. SharePoint could be used to create ‘Environmentally Friendly’ Systems like ‘Recycling Unwanted Office Equipment to Employees’, ‘Green Suggestions’, ‘Information on Public Transport’, ‘Monitoring of Electricity Usage’ or ‘Car Share Scheme’. Whichever way you want your company to become Eco Friendly SharePoint can help. Officetalk Consultants will happily offer you advice, or design for you, any of these and we will even give you one of these systems to get you up and running. Don’t worry there is no running really involved you can save your energy for other things. As a starting point and to make me feel better I have created in nice green colours)’Car Share 2009’ Site template that can be installed straight to any MOSS or WSS 3.0 SharePoint system. It is purely a Site Template (STP) file. This template includes a system allowing employees to offer and setup Car Sharing programmes. It also has a survey included that can be used to gather information on how your employees get to work each day. All of this can be easily customised to meet your needs. To order this ‘Car Sharing 2009’ SharePoint Template for less than £60 just click the following link; Order Now Feel free now to view the videos of ‘The Good Life’ and ‘The Wombles’ and see the delights of Felicity Kendall or Madame Cholet depending on your personal preferences. Don’t forget to drop me an email to at with the subject title ‘The Good Life’.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Classic SharePoint

Many railway stations these days have been modernised to cope with the 21st Century commuter demands, but some (like the one at Evesham) remain just as they were in days gone by. In it’s day Evesham station probably was ‘state of the art’, but now it just has a peaceful ‘oldie-worldie’ nature about it. Sitting in this old fashioned Waiting Room typing my weekly SharePoint blog there is a certain relaxed feeling about this station that belongs in a different era. It reminds me of the first film I saw at the pictures, ‘The Railway Children’ the whole pace of life seems slower. Maybe sometimes we don’t need change for change sake. Microsoft keeps giving us new versions of Office and other applications. Yes, Office 2007 has some pretty ‘neat’ features and especially improves the integration with SharePoint, but is it really any better than Office 2003 or even Office XP? I miss the familiar environment of Office 2003 and now have to go hunting for the simplest of operations (like a Word Count). This is similar to these new modern stations, where you have to hunt out the right platform or try to get the automatic barrier to accept that you are really inserting the correct ticket. At least here at Evesham I only have a choice of two platforms. Hope this is the right side for the 8am to London Paddington? I am typing this on my laptop which is unfortunately running Vista and again this is a Microsoft development that perhaps wasn’t really needed. I am still much happier with my Windows XP desktop in the office where it is so much easier to install new programs or search for my files. Perhaps it is just that I am getting too set in my ways and don’t want to have to adapt the way I work just because of new technology. So what of SharePoint? Like many of the Officetalk Consultants I was introduced to SharePoint when it was the 2003 version. The version before it became an Office server and a version that with Windows SharePoint Services 2 really started the SharePoint revolution. The enhanced searching, improved office integration and expandability of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) means that for any organisation entering the SharePoint arena now there is no choice (well apart from whether to go WSS 3 or full Moss, but that is another blog post). But what if you were one of those pioneering companies that went the SharePoint 2003 Portal Server route? Should you invest in a migration tool (AvePoint or Tsumumi are possible), start again from scratch on 2007 or stick with 2003. Just as Evesham Station lacks add-on features (like advanced Ticket machines or vending machines to get a Twix from - when you’ve had no breakfast), SharePoint 2003 lacks some of the bite of MOSS. SharePoint 2003 doesn’t receive emails, it can’t use Information Rights Management (IRM - set documents so users can’t copy or print them) and it doesn’t support mobile devices (MOSS offers the option of displaying as a simple text-only format). Microsoft claim many new features in MOSS 2007 over SharePoint 2003. Below are the top 20 that I think are pretty good and worth a mention; Andy Dale’s Unofficial SharePoint 2007 New Features Top Twenty 1. Addition of Workflow 2.Emails direct to SharePoint 3. Recycle Bin 4. Information Rights Management (IRM) 5. Data Connection Libraries (helps with live links to SQL Database data) 6. Folder-Level and item-level Permissions 7. Cascaded Style Sheet (CSS) and ASP.NET 2.0 support 8. Excel Services (I did a blog about that) 9. Wikis 10. Works with InfoPath Forms 11. Mobile Support 12. Task Co-ordination 13. Automatic Breadcrumb Bar (let’s you see how you got to where you are) 14. Re-Parenting (No this doesn’t mean having your children adopted but it gives you the ability to move sites around) 15. Alert Customisation (You can set up other people’s Alerts) 16. Key Performance Indicator Web Part (great for traffic lights) 17. Retention and Auditing Policies 18. Permission Delegation (Let somebody who is not in IT do the work) 19. Integration with Office 2007 applications (now why wasn’t that there with SharePoint 2003) 20. Social Networking (well, it might catch on in the business world) For the official Microsoft complete comparison between SharePoint 2003 and 2007 visit; So if you already have SharePoint, but it is the classic version of 2003 then you need to consider which of these new features is going to really enhance your business. You might think you like the old feel of your trusted SharePoint. Like Evesham station it will continue to do the job it was designed for and won’t be as busy, or costly, as today’s modern day version.If you need any information about the migration tools offered by AvePoint, or Tsumumi, give Frank a call on 01386 833535. Now , why is my train over twenty minutes late. I will never get back in time to see the Villa UEFA Cup game on Channel Five at this rate. If only they had some MOSS workflow to send an email to my mobile phone telling me what the holdup was.

Friday, 5 September 2008

SharePoint’s Simple Workflow

Midnight on Monday saw the close of the transfer window so for many football fans it was a late night. Some were following developments on the internet and others were tuned into Sky Sports News, all waiting for news of a major signing for their team. As a Villa fan the last minute striker signing didn’t materialise, but when the radio alarm woke me up shortly after 6am the following morning I wished for some SharePoint Workflow in my life. Why did I need SharePoint Workflow? Because getting ready for work in the morning involves a number of very mundane routine tasks. They are probably the same in most homes across Britain. My normal morning routine is feed cats, make breakfast, empty dish washer, pack lunch-box and empty bins. As you see hardly inspiring and although this is often done on auto-pilot there is still a lot of room for mistakes. Many a time, I have arrived at work minus my blue plastic lunch-box, or returned home to find three very cross cats staring at an empty bowl. So I think I need some ‘Automated Workflow’ to manage all my morning rituals. Workflow is one of the hidden gems of SharePoint and you don’t even need to have full MOSS to use it. Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 with the help of that clever software SharePoint Designer can let you create some very advanced Workflow. In SharePoint Workflow is simply a string of automated ‘Actions’. Each one being initiated when a defined ‘Condition’ occurs. Going back to the example of Andy’s morning (okay, perhaps it isn’t clever enough to perform these manual tasks but the theory is good). First task is ‘Feed Cats’, well in SharePoint Designer world we could enter a ‘Condition’ of ‘When new day starts with 6am alarm’ it sets off the ‘Action’ of filling one of the cat bowls with that very cheap dried catfood, the cats like from Lidl that costs less than £2 for four days, and the other bowl with water. In your SharePoint organisation this could be sending Request Form to three different Document Libraries if a form is submitted with the time of greater than 6am in the Time field. After the cats have been fed you could calculate the level of catfood remaining and if it is below a certain level an email could be automatically sent to my wife asking her to purchase another packet or the Weekly ‘Dale Shopping List’ could be updated to include catfood. SharePoint Designer allows you to insert 24 different types of Actions in your SharePoint workflow. These include sending emails, updating lists, deleting items, date-time stamping and adding to Task Lists. These many Actions can be applied to 7 different Conditions. It might not sound a lot seven but when you realise that these can cover any of the fields in any of the lists and that you can use any of twelve Condition Statements (i.e. Contains, Begins with, Does not include, Greater than, etc) you soon realise that you have hundreds of possible Conditions. More choices than I have for my breakfast. The Breakfast Workflow on SharePoint could be as follows; Condition – A form is submitted and the field Breakfast Equals Toast Action – Email Toaster “ ANDY requires 2 slices of WHITE toast.” When the Email is created in the Action section you could define who receives the email and also add items from the fields in the submitted form to the Subject, or Body of the message. This can be a completely automated process. You will see in the Action above that the name of the breakfaster, the number of slices required and the type of bread have come from the submitted form. The toaster could then change a status entry on the form from ‘Requested’ to ‘Toasted’ automatically and this could be passed to the plate. The workflow could then add butter and a type of jam as appropriate and then send the full plate back to the user (ANDY) who submitted the original breakfast request. The Workflow could then move on to emptying the dishwasher and making the sandwiches for lunch. Well, it could automate emails being sent to the servants requesting these operations - if we had any! With the aid of SharePoint Workflow many routine clerical tasks can be automated. Officetalk have been involved in automating many tasks for customers over the last few months. These have included Invoice Processing, Holiday Request Systems, Room Booking, Project Approval Systems, Expenses Submitting Systems, IT Helpdesk and New Employee Creating. The Consultants at Officetalk are always up for the challenge of more SharePoint Workflow. Two pieces of advice when using SharePoint Designer to perform Workflow; Firstly, you don’t need to perform all the steps in one workflow. It makes life easier for you to manage and find problems if you do each stage as a separate Workflow. You can use as many ‘Conditional Branches’ as you wish, but try to avoid designing too many Workflow Steps. If in doubt create a new Workflow. Secondly, if you have applied Service Pack 1 to WSS 3.0 you will need to add the following hotfix because Microsoft somehow forgot to test if automated Workflow worked when they released this service pack. Instead Workflow only worked if it was started ‘manually’. So don’t panic, if your Workflow doesn’t work at first, just make sure you have the hotfix. I guess I had better empty the bins then before I leave for work. Oh, and I’ll just check the Villa website again - just in case..

Friday, 29 August 2008

SharePoint Backup – A Ripping Yarn

According to my family I have always been an unfortunate chap and if things can go wrong they often, in a ‘Frank Spencer’ style, do. So perhaps trying to ride a tandem bicycle around the Peak District last week after I hadn’t been on a bike for over twenty years was asking for trouble. I should have been more prepared for possible problems and this has got me thinking about the tricky issue of backing-up SharePoint. Before I go into the limitations and restrictions of backing up and restoring SharePoint I will share with you my unfortunate mishap on the bicycle made for two. With my wife seated behind me we started off quite well, if slightly wobbly, down the Tissington Trail. This bike with it large range of gears and small hard pointed saddle was very different to my beloved Chopper in the 70’s. Within ten minutes of leaving the Bike Hire Hut my troubles began. An unexpected ripping noise signalled the start of a small split in my jeans in a rather unfortunate place. Further ripping noises left me in a very embarrassing position with my underpants now clearly visible to all passing cyclists and startled walkers. At least many of them smiled and only a few rude children pointed. I was not prepared for this unplanned exposure and without even a coat to cover my modesty it was left to my daughter to cycle back three miles and purchase a very expensive pair of tight fitting of black cycle shorts. Half an hour later and I was fully covered and everything was back to normal until the chain snapped seven miles from the bicycle hut.. Next time I will be more prepared and plan better for every possible eventuality. Disaster can strike in SharePoint as well as on the front of a tandem. There are several ways of backing up MOSS or WSS and each of these protects a different part of your portal. These backup types are as follows; 1. SQL Database Backup (Using an application like Symantec Backup Exec) 2. SharePoint Backup Agents (Using an application like SharePoint Agent for Backup Exec) 3. Basic SharePoint Backup (from SharePoint Central Administration) 4. SharePoint Designer Backup (from the Site – Administration menu) 5. Regularly Saving Sites as Site Templates (including content) 6. SharePoint Recycle Bins For a real ‘belts and braces’ approach it is probably best to use all of the six above. Why all of the six? Because each of them allows you to restore different sections. 1. SQL Backup A full SharePoint database backup is the approach that many take often using the popular Symantec Backup Exec and this is great for doing complete restores. So in a disaster when your server totally fails this is ideal, but for minor troubles it is a bit over the top. It would be similar to having to rebuild the whole tandem just because the chain had snapped or having to replace a cyclist because he had a rip in his jeans (although my wife might have thought this was a good idea). 2. SharePoint Agent The SharePoint Agent allows the Backup Administrators to backup and restore at the Item level. So if Betty from Shipping manages to delete the all the UK Shipping addresses they can be restored fairly quickly by the Backup Administrator (usually the busy IT Department). This is similar to the nice Bicycle Repair man who fixed our chain, but had to leave his shop unattended for half an hour to do so. 3. Central Administration This backup is a feature in WSS 3.0. You can specify the items that you'd like to back up or restore. However, as part of a farm backup, this can back up the configuration database and the Central Administration content database, but will not be able to restore them. Yes, this is a serious limitation. Perhaps the most annoying part of this backup type is the fact that it can’t be scheduled. The main use of this backup is when you are about to perform a major task on SharePoint. It is similar to checking the state of the bike before starting a long journey. 4. SharePoint Designer A very useful tool that has the added feature of being able to backup and restore sites. This is a must whenever you are using SharePoint Designer to make changes to sites. It is so easy to make a change that will prevent users accessing the site but a couple of minutes spent backing-up first means that you can restore it in minutes if things do go wrong. This tool has saved me and other Officetalk Consultants from angry End Users on more than one occasion. To receive an introduction course on the many features of SharePoint Designer you can email 5. Save As Site template If you are a SharePoint Site Administrator and you don’t trust the backups that your IT Department say they are taking then you can perform your own backups. All you need is to go ‘Site Settings – Save Site As Template’ and tick ‘Include Content’. Very powerful and will keep most of the settings. Limitations here include a limit of 500MB (although there are work rounds for this from the command prompt) and that some webpart settings are not saved. It can still save a lot of heartache. 6. Recycle Bin Simple yet one of the best improvements in WSS 3.0. The Site Recycle Bin allows users to recover their deleted files for up to 15 days. They can restore them themselves although most will still call the Helpdesk first. Administrators can change the number of days these are stored for or even turn the Recycle option off. Turning it off though is like the tandem hire people not giving us a puncture repair kit. After reading all this you are probably even more confused about how to backup and restore SharePoint. The real answer is probably to invest in a third party solution that allows full backup and restore of every part of SharePoint from the full databases to the individual sites, lists and items. Officetalk recommend AvePoints awarding winning DocAve software. DocAve offers continual real-time backup of all parts of SharePoint and because it runs on an internet browser any user with the right permissions can easily restore items or lists instantly or roll them back without the need to hassle the IT Department. This software is straight forward to install and a trial period of 14 days allows you to try before you buy. So it is worth trying out. It is a shame my expensive cycling shorts didn’t come with a free 14 day trial period. I could have watched two Villa games for the price of those shorts.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Selling SharePoint - "The Unpredictable End User"

At the start of last seson everyone thought that Hull and Stoke would be relegated, but instead Newcastle and Middlesbourgh follow Albion to the Championship. Football like SharePoint End Users can be difficult to predict. Until you roll SharePoint out to the business you never really know how the users will cope with them. It helps if the SharePoint Project Team can include members from all the key areas of the business, but still you can’t allow for all behaviours. How can you know that Beryl, in Shipping, always clicks her mouse twice or that Tony, in Production, has a mouse phobia and only uses the keyboard? As with premiership defences and the Delap long-throws it is difficult to know exactly how End Users will react to the new SharePoint system. So how can the SharePoint Project Team help prepare their End Users? The first way is to get a sneak preview of possible problems by always having a ‘Pilot Group’ to test before going live. Many of the questions asked by members of the Pilot Group will be the ones that the End Users will ask so get the fixes, or excuses, ready first. There are going to be things that SharePoint will not be perfect on, but at least after the Pilot Group you will have an answer ready for the End Users when they hit the same shortcoming. It may not always be cost effective, or possible, but all End Users should get two to three hours basic SharePoint training. This will make them feel easier about this new environment and give the Project Team another chance to purr about their new SharePoint system. Another way of helping the End User to cope with SharePoint is with the excellent Computer Based Training (CBT)available from Office Talk. These clips produced by CBT Clips guide the user through all the basic SharePoint tasks. If you have more than fifty End Users it is really worth invested in a set of 60 of these SharePoint CBT Clips and storing them on the SharePoint portal. Take a look at the example below on ‘Adding Announcements’;

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

SharePoint Fashion Show

The new Premiership football season is now only just over a week away and Aston Villa look terrific in their new claret and blue nike shirts with the name of their new charity sponsor Acorns across their chests. Lining up for the traditional pre-season squad photograph they really look the part, but will this smart appearance help them get premiership points this season? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. In this week’s article I will be discussing how important the look of a company’s SharePoint really is to the success of SharePoint. That might not sound too exciting, but I promise you a couple of interesting bits and I am not just talking about the Barbara Windsor link. SharePoint can with the aid of SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio produce some pretty spectacular looking SharePoint sites. In fact designers can produce such terrific websites using SharePoint these days that people really don’t believe they are SharePoint. However, for an internal SharePoint site how great looking does it really have to be? Personally, I believe it is useful that employees know that they are using an internal system and that it is different to the public facing website. The most important part of SharePoint for the User is not how pretty it looks, but how quickly they can find information and how much more information they have available. It is great Martin O’Neill having the best looking football team but unless he buys some defenders soon this Villa team will be in for a difficult season. The key requirements of any SharePoint project should be accessibility, performance, security and the information stored. As a SharePoint Consultant with Officetalk I am involved in planning many SharePoint Projects and I try and persuade customers not to get too bogged down with ‘Look and Feel’. Designers can often spend hours just trying to get the right thickness of a rounded edge around the company name. Yes, SharePoint Designer can use Custom Style Sheets and can do all kinds of clever things, but what is the real benefit of all this packaging to the End User? Okay, it needs to look reasonably good, hopefully more Barbara Windsor than Hattie Jacques (when Babs was in the ‘Carry On’ films not the early East Enders). More important to the user though is how quickly it loads. They don’t want to wait an extra twenty seconds each time because the page includes some fancy flash animation. It is much more important that the draft document they were working on with Cheryl from Accounts two months ago is quickly accessible. Even with the very basics in SharePoint it is possible to choose from a good selection of different coloured themes and nearly match the Corporate colours. It is fairly straight-forward to have the company, or organisation, logo on each page so very quickly the sites can get that corporate feel. Just in case the employee forgets who they work for. A nice feature of SharePoint is the “Personalize This Page” option so the user themselves can always make changes so they have their own personal view of the page every time they open it. People have their own individual preferences. At the Villa I always sit at the side in the Trinity Road stand but others prefer the view from the Holte End behind the goal. So why should SharePoint Project Teams spend ages dictating the way that SharePoint looks. I always encourage Project Teams to develop basic Site templates to help the users to be able to navigate around all the sites. Just don’t tie them down too much and don’t spend half of your SharePoint Project budget on making the sites look super impressive. A SharePoint Portal I saw the other week looked amazing and I had to check to make sure it really was SharePoint, but looking deeper I found a few major issues. They had spent so long getting the snazzy look that they hadn’t properly configured either the Search indexing or the Email integration. Perhaps they just ran out of time or money on the project. One last point to mention is don’t be afraid to have your SharePoint looking like SharePoint. Microsoft might have made it fully customisable but they designed the templates this way to make it as easy as possible to navigate. Now, I must check the Villa website to see if they are about to sign any more players who not only will look reasonable in those mighty fine new shirts but will actually make a difference on the pitch.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Bake A SharePoint Cake

A SharePoint Project is no different to baking a cake. Without the right ingredients it can flop and you can be left with a sticky mess that nobody wants to finish. But what are the 'right ingredients' and where do you start? Perhaps the best way to find out is to follow the example of the television programme 'Blue Peter' and start with "one I made earlier". So lets start by looking at a succesful SharePoint Project, although how we measure success is another question. We will count a successful SharePoint Project as one where one month after 'Go-Live' people are no longer saving documents to their cluttered shared network drive and the word SharePoint is not always preceded by an expletive. The success story we will look at is a Chemical Manufacturing company based in the heart of England. Their SharePoint Project took just over six months (slightly longer than my Gran bakes one of her fruit cakes for), but you can't rush these things. So what ingredients were used in this successful project (the SharePoint one not my Gran's fruit cake). The most important one is a good SharePoint Project Team (obviously 'SharePoint' is a vital ingredient as well). Without a well built Project Team SharePoint can be doomed. The 'Well Built' Project Team needs to include a mixture of the following; 1. Project Owner - This must a member of the Senior Managers or even Mr. Big MD himself who will push SharePoint out to all areas of the business. I know it is tempting, but try to keep this away from the IT Manager. Otherwise who is going to shout at the IT Manager. 2. Project Manager - This person is in charge of the whole Project and they should have a good knowledge of the whole business. Still try and keep this job from the IT Manager as well. 3. Technical Lead - Now IT can get involved or it could be worth employing a SharePoint Consultant (I can recommend Officetalk in the UK, you might even get me). 4. Project Team Members - These are key people from each part of the business where SharePoint will be used. These Project Members can also become Super Users after Go-Live so treat them well and get them some SharePoint training. It is important to make these Project Team Members fans of Sharepoint as they will be the ones promoting it back to their area, or Department. The number of Project Team Members depends on how many Sites you think you will require although the best number is 6 to 10. If you have more than 10 the term about 'too many cooks' becomes true and you will never get anything decided. So now the Project Team is in place and you are ready to start mixing SharePoint with the first Project Team Meeting after weeks of trying to find a suitable day to hold it. The offer of a buffet lunch normally clears a few diaries. Now the ingredients are in place you can start following your recipe that will help lead your first SharePoint Project Team Meeting. This Officetalk freebie will help you start blending. SharePoint Project Checklist If only it was so simple to make a successful football team. Then I could supply Martin O'Neill with a checklist of players he should buy for the Villa.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

SharePoint Towers

In this post I will be talking about the selection of the SharePoint Consultant in SharePoint Projects with a hint of Basil Fawlty thrown in. I have written before about how important SharePoint Consultants are as 'supposedly' they have done it all before and know many of the SharePoint pitfalls (and hopefully the fixes). As a SharePoint Specialist myself (ok 'Consultant'), with Officetalk, I believe I have aided a number of SharePoint Projects, but how does a company find the right SharePoint Consultant? Summertime means a trip to the English seaside armed with an umbrella. Last week I went, with my wife, to stay in a hotel on the East Coast for two nights. The appeal to us of the hotel was that it was a Windmill. So with childhood images of Windy Miller and Camblewick Green in my head we travelled to the seaside. On arrival we were met by the owner (lets call him 'Bernard') who is the star of this posting. Bernard, probably in his late 50's, starts by showing his disappointment that we have arrived ten minutes late. When we booked he had insisted that we inform him of our expected arrival time so he could plan what time to take his dog for a walk. Reminding me of Basil Fawlty, in the classic British comedy Fawlty Towers, Bernard had this continual grin that I felt was hiding his real feelings. I kept expecting him to run out and start attacking his car with a branch. On the subject of cars, I have to mention the small carpark, that only really fitted five small cars, but Bernard insisted that it could accommodate seven medium sized cars - if they double parked (there was even a car parking position diagram in the Welcome Pack). This tight parking meant that nobody could actually get their car out of the car park during their holiday, but Bernard did request that guests left their car keys with him if they were leaving the premises. So why am I talking about an eccentric-hotelier in my SharePoint Blog? The reason is because you need to choose the right SharePoint Consultant. You don't want someone who tells you exactly when you should start your project or one who tries to cram too many items into your Project Scope. Don't let the SharePoint Consultant try to dictate how many sites are included in your SharePoint and never lose sight of whose Project it is. I have to blame myself for the choice of hotel because my wife did point out several bad reviews she had read about the hotel and it's owner a week before. At least we took the advice over avoiding the microwaved kippers. So when choosing your SharePoint Consultant make sure you ask to see some references from other SharePoint Projects they have worked on and if possible do your own research. Another highlight of Bernard's bizarre behaviour was how he insisted on us deciding what we wanted for breakfast the next morning the very second we had finished today's breakfast. Don't let your SharePoint Consultant force you into quick decisions. The game of 'Find the Bernard Sign' also became a favourite pastime. These polite signs included "No Take-Away Food in Rooms", "No Eating on the Bed", "No Cars Entering or Leaving Car Park after 9pm" and "Take all Your Belongs Home. People often leave mobile phone chargers". Again take on board your SharePoint Consultants advice, but make sure that they don't restrict you too much. At times Bernard was trying to organise our holiday and I even felt I had to inform him of all our plans for the day. I am sure he looked disappointed when I said we were spending the morning at the beach, perhaps he was worried about us bringing sand back on our shoes. Or maybe he just didn't like the fact I was wearing my Aston Villa football top in his hotel lobby. I had to get a mention of the Villa in somewhere this week ! To be fair I must comment on the good points about Bernard. He was always there (yes 'always') and always offering to help. On arrival he gave us a very useful map and a quick briefing about the local area. I believe a good SharePoint Consultant should also always be available for you and be able to start by giving you a taster of the kind of things SharePoint can do. At Officetalk we often start a SharePoint project by giving the company a copy of our Checklist and then giving them time to see which areas they want to include. It is also important that the SharePoint Consultant communicates in ways that you and your project team understand. You don't need lots of SharePoint jargon you just need advice and suggestions that you can consider. Even if they develop sites or webparts (SharePoint controls) for you make sure you understand them and have documented how they work. So always be careful when choosing your SharePoint Consultant because you don't want to end up staying at SharePoint Towers, especially if it is 'Faulty' !! [Make sure you click on the Windy Miller link because it is priceless]

Friday, 18 July 2008

Excel Services – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) has a number of clever features and parts that at first glance look pretty impressive, but these all come with a level of frustration. One of these much hailed features is ‘Excel Services’ and this is what I am writing about this week. Now, over the last two weeks I have compared MOSS to Sky television and SharePoint itself to the film Mamma Mia so I thought I would complete a hat-trick of comparisons this week. So what can I compare the merits of ‘Excel Services’ to? It has to be the former Villa player and current England international Peter Crouch. Appropriate as this week Peter has been on his travels again rejoining Portsmouth from Liverpool. So why is ‘Excel Services’ like Peter Crouch? Well it isn’t because it is a much travelled, tall, lanky and got big feet! The Good Excel Services like a 6’ 7” footballer does seem a neat idea. The ability to have a webpart in SharePoint that can display live Excel style tables and charts is very useful. Excel Services lets you link directly to the latest data from an SQL database and automatically refreshes the chart. Charts are great because they look colourful and make the SharePoint site stand out. A bit like Peter’s height. With Excel Services you can share a working spreadsheet with a whole host of people without having to email lots of copies and you can stay in control of it without having to worry that John from Accounts is going to accidentally delete all the October sales figures. One of the great features of Excel services is that you can include a pivot table with the chart which can allow users to change filters and ranges to see different views of the chart. For example they can select only data from June 2004 (when Peter played in the World Cup). Excel Services also includes the ability to access the ‘real’ Excel Spreadsheet where the data is stored. For displaying RAG (no, not an old piece of cloth, but the now trendy Red, Amber, Green Service Levels) a pie chart via Excel Services on SharePoint is ideal. The data is continually available to anyone who needs to see it. SharePoint can use popular Dashboards to display these Excel services. A feature I personally like about SharePoint Excel Services is the option to include parameters. These parameters restrict the areas in the table, or chart, that a user can change. Perhaps this is similar to the way Rafa Benitiz used to restrict Crouch’s appearances. What is good about Peter Crouch and why do so many teams repeatedly pay so much for him? He is a good finisher with a good strike rate (it seems according to the tabloids both on and off the pitch) and has great close control, oh and he is quite tall. The Bad The more you use Excel Services the more you begin to accept its weaknesses and work around them. Many managers have realised with Peter Crouch that despite his height he really can’t jump and is prone to getting his legs in a tangle. So what is ‘bad’ about Excel Services? Any version of Excel below 2007 cannot view the spreadsheets behind it although there is a free converter you can download from Microsoft. You are also unable to publish .xls documents using Excel Services, they have to be .xlsx (the new Office 2007 version). Now, you would have thought that one advantage of Excel Services in SharePoint would be that you don’t need an Excel client to view them. Well, this is true but you do need Excel (and yes the latest 2007 version) to create the Excel Services to start with. Unlike Google Spread there is no web-based editing tool. This is like having Peter Crouch upfront, but nobody in the team who can cross a ball. That’s where Steve McClaren went wrong! What else is there to moan about with Excel Services? The way that you lose a number of the features that you have in your original Excel can be frustrating. That nice hyperlink you had, the clever way you had frozen the top or that cool flash animated text. Excel Services is like Peter quite basic. He isn’t a tall Michael Owen. The Ugly Peter Crouch may not be in same league as Peter Beardsley, or Ian Dowie for ugliness,( allegedly) but he won’t win many beauty contests. His long matchstick legs make him looked awkward. Although, his lack of Daniel Craig style physique, does not prevent him being a valuable asset as a striker. Excel Services again falls short in appearance because for improved performance Microsoft has restricted the appearance of charts in Excel Services. In super Excel 2007 you may have created a dramatic three dimensional shaded pie chart with a relaxing water-bubble background, but when published in Excel Services all that remains is a bland 2D pie chart with no background. Don’t panic there is always a webpart from Bamboo Solutions for creating pretty SharePoint charts if Excel Services does not meet your needs. Excel Services may not be the ‘all singing and dancing’ answer to reporting in SharePoint, but it is a pretty useful addition and has a big future. Like Excel Services Peter Crouch isn’t pretty and has his knockers, but I wouldn’t have been disappointed if he had re-signed for the Villa instead of Portsmouth.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Mamma Mia SharePoint

Two very different visits to Birmingham this week. First, to the fountains of Brindley Place on a wet Monday afternoon for the spectacular launch of the new Aston Villa kit and then on Thursday night off to Star City for the first night of the Mamma Mia film. The Abba based film was superb even allowing for the campness and Pierce Brosnan’s not totally in tune singing. So why is this musical film so good? Mamma Mia has so many things going for it, which is similar to Microsoft’s SharePoint. For a start it features the Abba songs which these days, unlike in the late 70’s, are ‘cool’. Everyone likes Abba and everybody will dance to ‘Dancing Queen’. It was so different in 1978 when my Abba pencil case was mocked - I never did find out who drew that moustache on Anni-Frid. Similar to the ‘Abba factor’, a major plus for SharePoint is that it is so fully linked into Microsoft Office 2007. Now considering that over 95% of companies worldwide use MS Office, that does give it an unfair advantage over any of it's competitors. But any good product needs more than just one thing going for it just like Mamma Mia. The very funny musical has an excellent cast including the always popular ‘I don't really always play the same character’ Colin Firth, Mrs ‘I pull funny faces’ Walters and the talented singing Meyrl Streep. The main features of SharePoint are it's powerful Workflow, the mighty Search Engine and the impressive Document Management. It is all good stuff and SharePoint's website style front-end with the ability to create artistic Corporate Branding means it almost as appealing as the Greek Island that makes Mamma Mia so magically colourful. I did say ‘almost’! Mamma Mia will be the feel good cinema hit of summer and will appeal to many different types of people. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or where you come from, everyone has a favourite Abba song. It also doesn’t matter which type of organisation you are part of, or which department you work in, SharePoint can help you. It really does cover everyone as the impressive officetalk demonstration sites will show you. It might not be as funny as Julie Walters trying to get a 'man after midnight' but SharePoint will let you share more information than ever across your business. Look beneath the surface of SharePoint and there are some hidden gems. In Mamma Mia you have an appearance of Benny (or is it Bjorn, they always look so similar with all that facial hair) and the Swedish flag is flying on the yacht. One of SharePoint’s hidden joys is the ability to make Calendar Appointments into Workspaces. It might not sound a lot but within two minutes you can create a Meeting Workspace for all of your Board Meetings for the next fifty years. You can add an item to the Agenda for the meeting in May 2024 to arrange a celebration for the 50th Anniversary of Abba winning the Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’. Another SharePoint highlight is the Alert feature in the way it lets you know exactly when someone has added a new item to that folder you are monitoring. The whole Mamma Mia film is a terrific piece of entertainment. Although, of course, if you analyse it too closely you realise that there isn’t really much of a plot and if there is it was possibly stolen from ‘Three Men and A Baby’, oh and how did the daughter find all the addresses out in the first place? SharePoint also has it’s flaws, like only having 2D charts in Excel Services, but these do not prevent it from being an outstanding piece of software that will delight the vast majority of customers and I believe be around for a long long. Microsoft are determined that SharePoint is the future and in the words of those four Swedish legends ‘The Winner Takes It All !!’.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Which SharePoint (MOSS or WSS) Suits You, Sir?

As the cost of living continues to soar it is time to tighten our belts. Don’t worry I am not going to go all political in this week’s offering, although if Mr. Brown does happen to stumble across this blog perhaps he could help by knocking a couple of pence off the fuel tax . As this is unlikely we have to make cuts elsewhere and unfortunately in our house the first thing to go was the monthly Sky subscription (well it was either that or my Villa season ticket). So instead of paying £24.99 a month to receive Sky with the Sports channels (not missed quite so much in the summer) we had to downgrade to FreeView. We all have to make sacrifices; even the cat is now having Lidl catfood. Now with FreeView, no longer can I watch the endless re-runs of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ on UKGold or keep up with latest football news on Sky Sports News, instead I only have forty channels to surf through. Comparing FreeView with Sky started me thinking about SharePoint. Everyone when looking at SharePoint asks the same question of the Officetalk SharePoint Specialists, “what is the difference between SharePoint Server (which some annoying person decided to call MOSS) and Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) ?” It is a question that I dread because it isn’t straightforward to explain without going into long boring feature lists, but suddenly I had the perfect example because it is similar to the ‘FreeView or Sky’ argument. Apart from to see Helen Chamberlain on ‘Soccer AM’ why do people choose Sky over FreeView? No, stay with me on this because I think the comparison could work. WSS is like FreeView because it is impressive, a big improvement on what came before and it is FREE. Well, free if you already have Windows Server 2003, but then you need a telly and a TV Licence to watch FreeView. Microsoft Office SharePoint Server though, like Sky, is an extra that you have to buy. So what do you get with MOSS for your money that WSS doesn’t give you. With Sky I can get my Sports channels, the option of High Definition, some interactive games, the option to select my favourite channels and if I had Sky Plus I could even rewind live programmes. That would have been useful when that shapely streaker ran across the wicket at Lords. With MOSS I get the chance to link to external data sources (like SQL Server or SAP R/3) and present the information using pretty Excel charts. MOSS also gives me the options of individual MySites and Audience targeting (very useful with larger companies). As Sky gives you more channels MOSS gives you more Site Templates (including Dashboards and KPI sites) with more inbuilt Workflow. Other advantages with going full MOSS are to use web-facing InfoPath Forms, it allows Single-Sign-On and Content Publishing. When you look closer there are a lot of extra features with MOSS, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are features that you need. Many organisations will find WSS meets the majority of their needs so why have Sky when all you really want is to watch the repeated Eastenders on BBC 3. The best way to find out is to have a look at the “Officetalk MOSS v WSS Comparison Sheet” . This lists the main features of SharePoint and says if they are available on WSS or MOSS. I hope you will find this useful. Now, maybe Sky will read this post and think that I have promoted their services so well that they will give me my old Sky package back free for the whole of the football season. Officetalk MOSS v WSS Comparison Sheet

Friday, 27 June 2008

SharePoint "Open All Hours"

There was a time when an English business like Dolly Parton worked from nine to five, but those days are long gone. Now many businesses are part of a global market and have to be available twenty-four seven, like the new Tesco near me, they never close. Although, why is it that the cosmetics isle closes at 10pm? Just something I have noticed. The increased popularity of Hosted servers, the faster Internet and the epidemic of mobile devices mean that many people can now do their work any place and at any time. Of course, it also means that they can check their Facebook every hour of the day. The business clock really doesn’t stop with Inboxes pinging all night long. But what happens the times that you finally manage to escape the range of the mighty Internet. Those times when you are visiting your old Uncle Ivor in the Welsh mountains, or you are sat on the underground somewhere under the heart of London. OK these are probably the times you want to be able to escape from work, unless your Uncle Ivor is really having one of his moaning days. But there are times when you still need to be able to work. You still need to be able to connect to the company Intranet (if only to find the phone number of your next customer to tell them you have got lost after leaving Uncle Ivor’s cottage). So how does SharePoint allow you to survive away from connectivity? The answer is that out-of-the-box SharePoint struggles to be portable. Yet again the SharePoint Project Team (often mistakenly referred to as ‘The IT Department’) is left to apologise for Microsoft’s failings. As if taking the blame for Vista wasn’t enough. But hold on, help is at hand in the shape of Colligo. No, not a world famous bald Italian referee, but an add-on that means SharePoint can be with you even when the Internet is not. Like Pierluigi Collina (the referee) Colligo Contributor has no frills but is very clear and easy to follow. With no training at all I recently had a group of six ‘sales’ staff using Colligo Contributor in less than ten minutes. How Colligo works is by copying a very basic version of selected document libraries and other SharePoint lists from the SharePoint portal to the local machine. It’s not fancy, but it certainly is clever. It gets even cleverer though, because it synchronises both ways. So when you are not connected you can edit forms or add new information and then the next time you do connect to the SharePoint Server Colligo automatically adds your changes to the server. SharePoint is now at the heart of many businesses and the addition of Colligo makes it an even more powerful tool and a saviour for the customer facing staff who travel the globe visiting existing and potential customers. No more do they have to beg for access to the corporate network or pay inflated hotel tariffs. They can now fill out forms on their laptop, safe in the knowledge that when they are back in the office the new information will be synchronised in a click. They no longer have to request wireless keys only for the customer’s IT Manager to arrive, sigh heavily and tell them he needs a written request with a month’s notice signed by two great-grandparents. Colligo really does let you have SharePoint anywhere. I can now make changes to my Villa fixture list for next season on my laptop and the next time I connect to the network Colligo will update my Villa calendar on SharePoint. Now isn’t that impressive? Let’s hope the Villa defence is as well synchronised next season!!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Six Summer SharePoint Sizzers

Last weekend was one of those rare British sunny weekends, which meant it was time to get the old barbecue out and enjoy some outdoor cooking. After removing the cobwebs and encouraging a rather large (strangely spotted) spider that I didn’t really want an extra eight legs in my burger I was ready to light the barbie. Now, I don’t know how pyromaniacs manage it because trying to get wood to set fire is not easy. I was armed with a pack of little wooden blocks, purchased from the twenty-four hour garage, which according to their bag were ideal for outdoor stoves and heaters. Every time I managed to light one the flame went out within a minute. This frustration continued for over an hour and even the addition of a complete ‘People’ Sunday news paper and several fire-lighting cubes failed to start a blaze. So frustrating then, to see that on ‘Eastenders’ on Wednesday one dropped cigarette caused an instant raging inferno. Unperturbed I kept going and maybe it was the added white spirits that helped, but just one hour later we were tucking into various meat products on different shaped rolls.
So why am I talking about barbecues in my SharePoint blog? The reason is that like the meat that was sizzling on the Dale barbecue SharePoint has some add-on products that really make it very tasty. In a week that has seen a number of SharePoint applications being triumphant at Microsoft Tech Ed I would like to share with you my top six SharePoint Sizzlers that will really spice up any SharePoint Project. Now, each of these SharePoint ingredients has a very different part to play so I don’t think I can put them in any order of importance, instead I will just go for an alphabetical order.
Bamboo Solutions Webparts I have mentioned them before, but every SharePoint project can benefit from a piece of Bamboo. Their range of exceptional webparts make them the market leaders and if you want more from SharePoint take a peek there first. My current favourite is ‘Calendar Plus’ one that allows you to colour code your appointments. I have made all my Aston Villa fixtures for next season claret (sad – but true!!) Many companies have engineers and architects who produce complicate CAD drawings. With CADnection you can load them straight into SharePoint, edit them in SharePoint and it even copes with X-Refs. Award winners at Tech Ed 2008. Colligo is a real SharePoint gem because it provides easy offline synchronisation allowing laptop users to always have access to their most important SharePoint libraries.
Another Tech Ed winner and a vital SharePoint Application. DocAve is the perfect Backup Application for SharePoint allowing instant backup and restore of individual items, lists or sites. No longer is there a need for you to backup using a combination of Symantec, SharePoint Backup and SharePoint Designer. They also have a great migration tool for when you need to move from 2003 to 2007. As mentioned in last week’s blog Media Rich for SharePoint allows you to store thousands of high quality images, videos or audios in SharePoint. An award winning application that fully manages E-Learning within the SharePoint environment. If you have got SharePoint already and you want to start E-Learning this is the package to use.
Now I am not suggesting you need all of these ingredients on your SharePoint barbecue but they are all ones that good SharePoint chefs should be aware of.
Now, roll on a wet August and the return of the football season.