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.

Friday, 13 June 2008

SharePoint London Domination

Thanks to John Terry’s stumble London still waits to win football’s top European Club competition. The great British cities of Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and even Nottingham have won that huge European Cup, but alas London still waits. However, when it comes to SharePoint Projects then London appears to be the dominate force. A recent report released by officetalk showed that over 70% of their new SharePoint customers so far in 2008 have been based within a ten mile radius of the Queen’s house Buckingham Palace. Why is this?

Birmingham and Manchester continue their battle for the title of England’s Second City with Birmingham trying to make up for giving us Ozzy Osbourne and Jasper Carrot while Manchester now gives us five episodes of Coronation Street every week. But when it comes to new SharePoint Projects both cities are lagging behind the Capital.

Based in the beautiful, if slightly prone to flooding, Vale of Evesham, Officetalk are ideally placed to reach customers all over Great Britain (sounds so much better than UK). Officetalk’s large base of UK SharePoint customers stretches from as far as the Orkney Isles right across the country to Guernsey, but still they're continually called to follow the steps of Dick Whittington to London, usually without the cat. Their SharePoint Specialists (of which I am one) take the train to London with the ticket prices varying depending on what day it is, what time it is and whether Pluto is in line with Mars. These Microsoft Certified Sharepoint Consultants can now recite the order of tube stops on the entire Central Line and hear the call of, ‘Please Mind the Gap’ in their sleep.

So come on Midlands, Lancashire, Yorkshire and co. let’s get SharePointing. Bill Gates claims 60% of UK companies will be using SharePoint 2007 by the end of 2009. But how many of those will have a Greater London postcode? Now isn’t it about time we had a Birmingham team lifting that European Cup again? Up the Villa !

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Another Two Hundred Holiday Snaps

It used to be just the Japanese tourists who went everywhere with their cameras hanging around their necks, but now all of us seem to carry some kind of image recording device to capture those "magic" moments. Mobile phones now come with in-built cameras as standard that even store video. So every part of our lives and every vaguely interesting view we see can be recorded. Returning from holiday no longer means a trip to the chemist and then a week wait to see if our twenty-four exposes an adequate quality. Instead we just bluetooth our two hundred plus pictures from our phone to our PC. Then take our laptop around to our friend's house and bore them rigid with our on-screen slide show that contains several pictures of the same scene from slightly different blurred angles. It is not just at home that the avalanche of digital photographs has occurred because many companies and organisations are finding their networks getting filled up by photographs and videos are varying sizes. Not all of these are employee's holiday snaps or embarrassing pictures of the office Christmas Party, but they are actually quite useful pictures that could one day be used in marketing materials or on company websites. The problem is how will they ever find the slightly useful ones again. It isn't like an email or Word document they can just search for with a word from the text. A picture might contain several people and different items that could be of interest in the background. SharePoint has become the great Information Storer and Manager for many companies, but even SharePoint shakes it head at the thought of storing the thousands of images that many companies have. So the photographs are stored in user's personal drives (often more than once) or lost for good. Added to the photographs there are videos and even audios (many companies have to legally record telephone conversations with customers). So what is the answer ! Very few software products over the years have made me go wow, but that happened last year when I first tried out Media Rich for Sharepoint . It was just so impressive because it used all the function of SharePoint that I was used to but gave me all the digital media features to allow me to store thousands of images and use them in so many different ways. I could zoom in on tiny sections of pictures, change between many different image formats, rotate, change to black and white and all without leaving SharePoint. I could certainly have fun with my latest holiday snaps and even zoom in on that blonde topless sunbather in the top left hand corner. So impressed was I with Media Rich for Sharepoint (as well as the blonde sunbather) that I convinced my bosses at officetalk to become the main UK reseller. For Councils, Advertising Agencies and Media groups the benefits of Media Rich for Sharepoint are vast saving them both time and money. They can now finally have real Digital Asset Management and really use their SharePoint investment. Now to search my Media Rich for Sharepoint library of Villa goals for that 1996 strike by Dwight Yorke goal against Leeds in the Coca Cola Cup Final.