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..