Friday, 30 October 2009

SharePoint Training Pays Off

Brad Guzan is probably not a name known to many of you, but on Tuesday night he incredibly saved FOUR penalties for Aston Villa to help them beat Sunderland and reach the last eight of the Carling Cup. Yes he is Villa’s brilliant American goalkeeper named ‘Brad’, the one who isn’t Brad Friedel. So how did Mr. Guzan, who only plays in cup games, manage to save four penalties from four different players? He puts it all down to training and practicing saving penalties every day. So when you are thinking of how to get the best out of your SharePoint project team make sure you train them well because it will help your SharePoint Project succeed.

Make sure that all SharePoint Project Team members and any Super Users (always helpful for promoting SharePoint) are aware of exactly what SharePoint can do and have a good basic understanding of all the features. They might not be able to save Sunderland penalties, but they should know about all of the following;

1. Layout of SharePoint
2. Changing SharePoint Navigation
3. Creating SharePoint Sites
4. Adding Announcements, Contacts, Calendar and Task items
5. Uploading Documents and Images
6. Defining version control and document approval
7. Use Metadata and Site Columns
8. Creating Custom Lists
9. Creating and Editing Views
10. How to add Document Templates using Content Types
11. Best way to Search
12. Designing Surveys
13. Creating Alerts
14. Managing SharePoint User Rights

Apologies if the list above looks familiar to anybody who has been on the Office Talk SharePoint Super User one day course, but I thought I would reuse the list I cover in that course. Of course, I am always happy to run on-site SharePoint Training courses just send an email to if you require any SharePoint training.

Whether the training is done by a SharePoint Consultancy, like Office Talk, or even just using some of the free on-line training from Microsoft it needs to be included in every SharePoint Project. SharePoint has many excellent features (like Content Types, recurring meetings, calculated fields), but if the main users don’t know about them the full return on investment of your SharePoint might never be reached. The extra training that Brad Guzan did on penalties might just mean that come next March the Villa are again parading around Wembley with a shining cup.

My SharePoint tip this week is to use the ‘Totals’ section on a View. If you create, or modify, an existing View then scroll down and you will have an option called ‘Totals’. Click on the ‘+’ to open the options. You can now on many of the columns add some basic calculations like ‘count’, ‘sum’ even ‘standard deviation’ (if I could only remember what that was about from my O’Level Maths). If you ‘group’ your columns first you can get some pretty impressive figures. Maybe not as impressive as saving four out of five penalties, but still very useful.

Now who is going to tell Brad Guzan that he is dropped for Saturday’s game at Everton?

Don’t forget for all your SharePoint Training needs visit Office Talk.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Please Backup SharePoint - A Bang From Behind

Last Friday, whilst I was parked admiring the pleasant views of Evesham and eating my slightly limp ham sandwich, I was startled by a sudden unexpected bang to my rear. A lady of 'advancing years' had unfortunately clipped the back of the car and within minutes we were exchanging insurance details and assessing the damage. As the lady was fully insured there was no need to panic as everything was covered, but I started thinking what if she had been one of those many UNINSURED drivers?

This was a reminder to me of how important it is to make sure you have your SharePoint fully (comprehensively) backed-up. So many companies fail to have a good 'quickly restorable' SharePoint backup. As I have stated in previous blogs I am a great fan of the DocAve SharePoint backup solution (not only because Office Talk are an Authorised Reseller . This is the kind of insurance policy that even gives you a courtesy car and then returns your car looking spanking new.

Disaster can strike in SharePoint, as well as at the rear of your car, at any time so it is so important to have a Backup solution in place. 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 car just because the bumper is dented.

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).

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 your car before you make even the shortest 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.

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. Office Talk recommend AvePoint's awarding winning DocAve software.

Click here to find out about AvePoint

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.

This weekend sees the mighty Villa travel to local rivals Wolves (who haven't beaten us since 1980). For reasons you might have read in previous blogs my family are mainly Wolves supporters so I will be sitting with them on Saturday trying not to look too delight when the Villa third goal goes in. Perhaps I need a backup plan in case we get beaten.

Friday, 9 October 2009

SharePoint Passes the Test

This week saw me having a fairly routine if slightly unpleasant hospital test and this got me thinking about two SharePoint topics. Firstly, the importance in any SharePoint Project of a ‘Test Environment’ where you can try new things out and learn how things work. The second SharePoint thought I had was how they stored all the x-rays (digital images) and sent them to the relevant GPs. Was this an opportunity for Digital Asset Management (DAM) in SharePoint like I discussed in last week’s blog.

To my surprise on my hospital visit as I entered the X-ray room, dressed in my fetching hospital gown (which lack instructions on how they should really be tied), I was somewhat surprised to be met by an extra three people in the room who were a mixture of trainee doctors and trainee radiographers. I got the feeling that for one of them it was their first day. Well, my appointment letter did warn me that this was a ‘Training Hospital’ and if I wasn’t happy for students to be in attendance I should indicate this prior to my appointment. I understand that everybody has to learn new skills in any job, but having three trainees was somewhat nerving. Hopefully they had been able to initially practice their techniques on dummies or plastic models before they were allowed on real patients. Yes, I hope they had access to a ‘Test Environment’, although I don’t suppose anybody is built quite like me.

With any SharePoint installation, even the smallest ones, it is important to create a ‘Test Environment’. This doesn’t have to be a full replication of your ‘Live Environment’ but needs to have the same version of SharePoint on with the same level of Service Packs and Hot Fixes. The reason for the ‘Test Environment’ is to be able to try new webparts, third party add-ons, master pages and other major changes before you add them to the ‘Live Environment’. This can also be where you have your training sites where your SharePoint Project Team can play and learn about SharePoint. Here they can create sites to their hearts content safe in the knowledge that they will not generally be seen. Without a ‘Test Environment’ the ‘Live Environment’ can quickly get filled with extra sites that somehow don’t get deleted and end up in the Search Scope.

In my experience for any reasonably sized SharePoint Project (i.e. 200 plus users) I would strongly recommend a three environment approach. This is, of course, dependent on available hardware, but is also now more achievable with the increased use of Virtual Machines (VM’s). Always check though that the version of VM you are using is supported by Microsoft for SharePoint (only the more recent ones are). My preferred setup of environments is as follows;

1. ‘Development Environment’ - A play area to try new webparts, add-ons, updates, etc.
2. ‘Test Environment’ – A regularly updated copy of the ‘Production Environment’ that allows for more detailed testing of workflow, logon permissions, system integration, searching, etc. This should also be used for User Acceptance Testing (UAT).
3. ‘Production Environment’ (sometimes called ‘Live’) – This is the business critical working environment that MUST be regularly backed-up and have very minimal downtime. Always consider your backup strategy (Office Talk will happily chat to you about the benefits of DocAve as your SharePoint backup solution).

So now I just wait for the hospital to process my test results, pass them to my GP and then perhaps in a week they might communicate them to me. It certainly makes me think how a bit of SharePoint workflow could speed up this process.

Friday, 2 October 2009

That DAM SharePoint

Last month I went to a wedding at Breadsall Priory in Derby (yes, for those who read this weekly SharePoint Blog the one where I had the unfortunate hole appeared in my trousers). Now thousands of photographs are starting to appear of the happy event – luckily none of the hole in my trousers yet. Everybody seems to have taken photographs and videos of the couple on their big day and now all of these are appearing in various forms on Facebook, as well as being emailed around the globe. These days companies/organisations seem to have ever-increasing mounds of digital photographs. Without being able to reply on Facebook they a way of making these digital images generally available to their employees and customers.

So how useful can SharePoint be at handling large amounts of pictures and video (commonly called Digital Asset Management, or unfortunately DAM for short, hence the term ‘Dam SharePoint’)?

For those who know SharePoint (either WSS ‘available free’ or MOSS) the SharePoint features allowing you to do the following with your photographs can be useful;
1. Add metadata (properties like a drop down for ‘Guest Type’ which could include Groom/Brides Mother/Page Boy/Hanger On)
2. Create workflow (maybe automatically email all pictures of Best Man to Best Man’s parents or remove all photographs that include that hideous looking guest in the green suit)
3. Add Approval. Let the happy couple themselves approve which pictures are fit for publication
4. Add permissions. Define exactly who can see which photograph. You don’t want Auntie Joan seeing what Uncle Bill was up to.

All of these basic SharePoint document features are useful, but if you really want to get the best out of your photographs there is a terrific product available called ‘MediaRich for SharePoint’. This product not only lets you store your photographs on SharePoint (even the ones of last year’s Christmas Office Party), but also gives you some powerful options to let you manipulate the photographs. You can use it to zoom in on an area in the photograph and then automatically refocus. So you can easily crop the cute picture of that four-year old bridesmaid trying to hide under the brides dress and send it on to her mum.

MediaRich for SharePoint lets you convert your photographs instantly to over 20 different formats including PDF and Photoshop. It can also let you stretch it, make it into trendy black and white, flip it over, produce a website size version, change resolution and most useful of all sharpen the image (so you can easily get a sharp close up poster sized picture of the gravy stain on the Bride’s Father’s suit).

The powerful nature of ‘MediaRich for SharePoint’ has to be seen to see the impressive range of easy to use features. It really can help you store, search and enhance all of your company’s valuable pictures and videos.

Office Talk as well as being SharePoint specialists are European Partners for MediaRich for SharePoint. If you want to see a demonstration please email Frank Faulds ( and tell him you read about it in Andy’s blog.

Now, on Monday night Gareth Barry is back at Villa Park with his new team so I must now go and crop him out of all the Villa photographs in my SharePoint MediaRich Library.