Tuesday, 29 May 2012

How to order a meal or use SharePoint?

Before I suggest how you can make life easier for your SharePoint End Users I would like to share with you an event that happened to my family last Friday night which made me decide on today's topic.

You see, in the UK at the moment (well when I started writing this) we are having a heatwave. This means we have left our coats at home for a week, had to mow the lawn several times and my baldy head is very red. So on Friday night like many other families we decided to head for a nice country pub for our tea. After finding no room at several inns we finally settled on a pub where the waiting time for a table was only half an hour. So we got some drinks and waited. After only about 20 minutes the lady at the desk shouted over 'Table for Dale' and then showed us to our table and handed us each a menu. All seemed to be going well and we each chose what we wanted from the impressive looking menu. Then we waited.

Ten minutes passed and still nobody came to take our order. Twenty minutes and my stomach was rumbling, but still waiters and waitresses walked straight on by. Half an hour and I decided to change what I was going to order, but still nobody came to the table.

After forty minutes I began to look around and wonder why other people, who had come after us, were now being served their food. It was then a worrying thought entered my head. I stopped a passing waiter carrying a plate with a large fish on and asked, 'Excuse me, is it table service here?'. The answer, as I had feared, was a, 'no, you have to order at the bar, mate' and the waiter left shaking his head.

So we had waited hungrily for over 40 minutes because nobody had told us that orders had to be placed at the bar. I complained, a little, to the lady who had seated us and she did apologise for not saying, but pointed to some really small text at the bottom of the middle page of the menu (hidden behind a custard stain) that did say 'Order at Bar'.

So why did this get me thinking about SharePoint? It was because I was thinking about the poor End User who sits there in front of these great looking sites and while they can read lots of information they don't really know what they are supposed to do. They know they can upload documents, but do not quite know how to do this. They don't know that you have to open a document library first. Or they want to edit a document but they don't know they need to check it out first. There might be a picture on the site that they want to change or they might have heard about setting Alerts but don't know how to set one up.

Ideally End Users will have been given some initial SharePoint training but they will soon forget. I have to admit that I had been to that pub last year, but had forgotten that you had to order at the bar. So how can we help our SharePoint End Users to know the basics of what to do? Without them sitting around for over 40 minutes waiting for somebody to tell them. The best way is to put information on the site with instructions. If you have used SharePoint Designer you will know you can easily add Hover-Over bubbles or Help Straplines to your sites.

Office Talk have found that many customers try to get round this problem by creating short video clips of how to do basic SharePoint functions. Tools like the popular Contasia Screen Capture are great and fun to use, but can take weeks of work and never quite reach the professional standard you were looking for. So the cost of producing these internally can be quite expensive. The advantages of doing them yourself is that any corporate branding you might have used or anything unique to your site comes across, but is it really worth it. One of the leading SharePoint products that we at Office Talk resell is 'SharePoint CBT Clips'.

SharePoint CBT Clips are available for either SharePoint 2010 or 2007 version and are a super set of around 75 little video clips (about 3 minutes each) that show the End User exactly what to click on to do all the basic SharePoint jobs. Some of the classic ones like 'Working with List Data', 'Sending a Link to a Document', 'Recovering Deleted Items' and 'Connecting to Outlook' are all there. The great thing is the files are small and can easily be stored in SharePoint allowing the End User to access them directly through their SharePoint Site.

Now, I have worked in an IT Helpdesk and I know that giving the End User direct access to the information doesn't mean some of them won't still call the IT Helpdesk straight away but at least if you have the SharePoint CBT Clips the Helpdesk staff can just quickly send back a link to the exact video.

It really is a money saver. Oh dear this post is turning into an advert, but I am really impressed with these short clips and Office Talk are currently selling a Corporate Licence (which allows you to put all 75 on a SharePoint Server) for only £1350. It really is a way to dramatically reduce your training costs.

To find out more about, or purchase a copy of, 'SharePoint CBT Clips' please drop an email to our Marketing Manager Frank Faulds .

In next week's post I will be bringing you a free SharePoint Template to keep track of all the groups in Euro 2012 and let you back Roy's Boys in Poland and the Ukraine. This year let's go one better than 1996 and reach the final.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

How do you pick a Villa manager or SharePoint Consultant (Take 2)

This week I am going to be lazy as the sun is out and republish a blog from September 2010 because yet again the Villa are desperately seeking a manager.

So I am returning to my post that compared choosing a Villa manager with choosing a SharePoint Consultan. Main difference being though you don't have to pay SharePoint Consultants millions if you ever have to sack them. This year though Liverpool, the Baggies and possibly Chelsea are also looking for a new boss. So here is the revised blog advice on how to pick a new football manager or a SharePoint Consultant. Ok I am slightly biased as I am a SharePoint Consultant at SharePoint Specialists Office Talk, but this still doesn’t stop me making myself available to Villa owner, Randy Learner, if he wants to give me a call. Hopefully Randy is not aware of my performance on Championship Manager last week when I was sack as Villa boss after just seven games. My odds of getting the Villa job are quite low though with younger names like; Ole Gunar Solskjaer, Paul Lambert, Roberto Martinez and Roberto (I won Champions League) Di Matteo in the hunt. Perhaps I should stick to being a SharePoint Consultant.

So if you are starting a SharePoint Project what should you look for when you are interviewing possible SharePoint Consultants? I have put together a six point checklist that might help;

1. Do they have Knowledge in your business, or organisation area? In the same way I believe that Villa should look for a manager who has experience in the Premier League it is important that your SharePoint Consultant has worked on a similar project to yours.

2. Do they speak your language? If they talk in too ‘techie’ speak will they really be able to communicate successfully with your Project Team. Maradona (who was in the betting last time) might have been a brilliant footballer but he doesn’t speak English. That might be have been ok for the England national team but not the great Aston Villa.

3. Do they have SharePoint Connections? Are they well known in the SharePoint community and are they able to help expand your SharePoint with knowledge of business enhancing add-ons. In football the new manager needs to be able to attract new signings and it is useful to have contacts.

4. Are they Qualified? What Microsoft and SharePoint qualifications does the potential SharePoint Consultant hold? Managers in football now need the appropriate coaching badges to be able to manage. Oh dear, that goes against my application for Villa job. Perhaps my MCSE could stand for Managing Coaching Soccer Excellence.

5. Are they Available? How soon can they start working on your SharePoint. You don’t want to think that nobody else wants them but also you don’t want to have to wait seven months before they are available. With football some top managers who aren’t available can become available if you offer enough money as compensation. Please nobody say Steve Bruce.

6. Are they Affordable? It is important that the SharePoint Consultant is within your budget. You will be surprised at the differences in rates for Consultants in the UK. There is the argument you get what you pay for so if it seems too cheap ask yourself why. Also are they clearly stating how many days are involved in the SharePoint Project? Football teams (apart from Man City) are also feeling the financial pinch at the moment. Lack of money to spend was believed to be a key factor in Martin O’Neill leaving Villa. Randy Learner will certainly think about money when he makes his appointment. Maybe he should stick with Kevin McDonald and my all-time favourite player Gordon 'Sidney' Cowans.

If you consider these six questions you should find a SharePoint Consultant you can work successfully with. If you are located in UK and are looking for a SharePoint Consultant why not contact frank.faulds@office-talk.com to see if Office Talk can help. The future for Aston Villa is very bright if they make the right managerial appointment. If Randy Learner reads this SharePoint blog my advice would be either to see if former Villa idol David Platt fancies being a Premier League Manager.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Avoiding SharePoint Relegation

Two games to go now and for Villa fans it really is ‘squeaky bum’ time as we try desperately not to be relegated from the Premier League. Many fans have blamed the manager, others have blamed the owner and I blame the demise of my lucky pants.

No, there are lots of reasons for the appalling performances of the great Aston Villa this season and ideally they will start to put these right in the summer. Hopefully ready for another season in the Premier League. The Premier League without AVFC is unthinkable.

It isn’t just football teams that can flop though. SharePoint environments can also hit some pretty rough patches. My blog this week is going to compare how to prevent your SharePoint hitting the rocks with trying to avoid relegation from the Premier League. Many companies invest heavily in SharePoint with key members of the business forming a dream project team. SharePoint is launched with a big fanfare and everything is rosy. A little like a Championship team winning promotion. Reading and Southampton are celebrating now but for their managers the hard work has only just begun. Keeping their teams in the Premiership is the real challenge. With SharePoint the real challenge is getting users to use SharePoint and then keeping them using it. It is not as easy as it sounds.

Based on my 32 years of watching Aston Villa, my 7 years of SharePoint Consulting and my 8 years of playing Championship Manager I have drawn a list of six things that are needed to keep SharePoint working and to avoid relegation.

These are;

1. Management
2. Training
3. Investment
4. Planning
5. Reliability
6. Freshness

I have numbered them 1 to 6 but I think they are probably all of pretty equal importance. But let’s start with Management.

1 Management
SharePoint like a football team needs somebody who is in charge and takes ownership. They need the full backing of the Board but they also need to be accountable. Despite what Microsoft might claim SharePoint won’t look after itself. It isn’t a project that once started you can walk away from. It needs a manager or a management team. There might have been very few successful management teams in football (I can only really think of Clough and Taylor) but in SharePoint Management Teams can work.

2. Training
You might know how SharePoint works and might happily create custom lists and fancy views, but can all the End Users do this. In football even the best players need training and so it is in SharePoint that everyone needs some form of training and most importantly refresher training. It is worth setting up a designated Training Area where users can try new SharePoint tricks out. I have no idea what the Villa players have been doing in their training sessions this season. If you would like any onsite SharePoint training please visit the Office Talk website.

3. Investment
If you are using SharePoint you will need to continually invest in it and the money doesn’t stop after Go Live. As with a football club if you don’t invest in it your SharePoint will standstill or end up being relegated to the scrapheap. You need to invest in training, backup solutions, support and SharePoint Add-ons. I would strongly recommend having a SharePoint budget. But then as somebody who works for a company who just does SharePoint I would. If only Randy Learner would invest more money in Aston Villa perhaps the future wouldn’t be so bleak.

4. Planning
Maybe this should have been earlier but you need to have a plan. What would you like to do with your SharePoint, how are you going to develop it and will you be upgrading it? You always need to be reviewing and thinking what you can do next with your SharePoint. Football teams need to have a plan of how they are going to play and ideally a plan B when it doesn’t work. Football owners also need to have a plan of what they want from the team. Do they want trophies or a healthy balance sheet?

5. Reliability
Your SharePoint system needs to be relied on. It needs to be working most of the time and contain the type of information the End User needs. In the same way football teams need players they can rely on. Players who will put in above average performances most weeks instead of players who are brilliant every five games but disappear for all the others. Regular Health Checks can help your SharePoint be reliable.

6. Freshness
Perhaps some Villa players have been at Villa Park too long and become too comfortable. New signings may have freshened things up and kept things moving forward. In SharePoint freshness is vital and the need for continually updating content is so important. There is nothing more soul destroying than when as a SharePoint Consultant you are involved in an exciting launch, but return a year later to see exactly the same content and the Home site. Wolves were relegated this season with many of the players that had played for them in the Championship three years ago.

So those are my six pointers to avoiding SharePoint or Premier League meltdown. I feel that if you get those six right not only will you start to climb the table but your SharePoint will grow and grow.

So I need to now start thinking, what I can do as a fan to help the Villa beat Spurs on Sunday and keep them in the Premiership. Maybe my lucky pants need one last outing.