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SharePoint Implementation Success

Posted by Andy Campbell on Tue, May 26, 2009 @ 16:05 PM

A prospective client just came to AKG with a sputtering SharePoint implementation. After some quick analysis, we discovered that this SharePoint program was suffering a common malady – control wars between the business leadership and the CIO organization. This is a common SharePoint killer and while the solution – collaboration between the two camps – is easy enough to describe, it is somewhat harder to manage. More often than not, an innovator (or innovative work team) in the business group discovers SharePoint and immediately sees how it can help them get work done. Because they are in a hurry, they look for the path of least resistance. How can we get SharePoint up quickly? The answer often lies in a CIO work-around. Already you have the seeds of a problem. The classic CIO approach – "tell us what you want to do, and we'll figure out what technology to use" – has already been outflanked. The CIO has legitimate concerns of its own. How is SharePoint going to be governed? Who decides what site fits into what Site Collection? How will network and information security be protected? When the inevitable push for custom code arises, how will that be managed? As SharePoint user adoption spreads (and it will), how do we factor in help desk considerations, operations and maintenance, migration from WSS to MOSS?

We've been through the cycle. We've started with a client at the one-server guerilla level – installed and operated by the business unit as an "R&D pilot". It probably was the right way to start – it got things off and running and started to solve business problems immediately. Over time, however, the "pilot" had accumulated 20,000 users, which was a bit like hiding a rhinoceros behind a bulrush. To make a long story short, the CIO's office wisely pulled the pilot into its framework and, to its credit, didn't kill the culture and norms that fostered the success of the application. The application is still user driven, first-tier support is still provided by people in the work-groups (maintains ownership and dynamism in the site while minimizing resource impact on the CIO), and responsible innovation is encouraged. The program has grown to 42,000 users and 1,000 workgroups.

Are there points of friction? Yes. It isn't the unrestrained, immediate response environment it used to be. There are more hoops to jump through. The program has perhaps tilted a bit too far toward emphasis on the technical at the expense of the business, but it continues to grow and the dialog between the tech and business sides of the house continues as well.

So, what's the bottom line here? If SharePoint implementations are going to succeed at the enterprise level, a working arrangement needs to be forged between the CIO's office and the business leadership. It will require compromise on both sides, and it will succeed if both sides see the advantage of playing it this way.

For long term success, SharePoint implementations depend on a healthy give-and-take between the business leadership and the CIO's office. SharePoint adoption depends on this dialogue.

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Topics: SharePoint implementation, CIO, Success, Managing the Business, Tech Partnership

Installing Service Pack 2 for WSS or SharePoint causes licensing information to change

Posted by Michael Perry on Tue, May 26, 2009 @ 16:05 PM

Many people have been emailing and blogging about the issue when installing service pack 2 for SharePoint. After installing service pack 2 the licensing information for SharePoint reverts from the original license key to a trial license. This can be fixed by downloading a hotfix from Microsoft or by re-entering the license key in Central Administration. I have included a screenshot of what happened when the service pack was installed on DevKL:

I then re-enter the proper license key and this is what shows on the Convert License Type page:

For more information please visit the Microsoft SharePoint Team Blog.

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Topics: moss, SharePoint, WSS, Installing Service Pack 2, licensing information

SharePoint at the Enterprise Level – Best Practices

Posted by Andy Campbell on Tue, May 12, 2009 @ 15:05 PM

A growing number of organizations are moving enterprise functions into SharePoint. AKG has been supporting a SharePoint Enterprise rollout at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for over five years and has watched the program grow from 300 users on a single server, to over 42,000 users on 40 servers. Over the course of the journey, we have learned a number of things.

It is important to create a balance between end-user discretion and central administration. You need both to succeed, and an overemphasis on either side creates its own set of problems.

There is a direct relationship between the power of SharePoint and its accessibility to the entire community involved in an enterprise. In the FAA's case, it made early decisions to make its platform available to all its key stakeholders – including Federal Government employees, contractors, and key partners such as airplane manufacturers and pilots organizations.

You can serve a stakeholder community and maintain an adequate security posture – our FAA platform falls under Federal Government security standards (SCAP in the FAA).

If done right, you can run a large SharePoint program by involving user organizations as first-tier user support. At the FAA, we train workgroup "administrators", who know the business of the group, and know SharePoint. This means that we support a network for 42,000 with less than a dozen people – and this includes the help desk function.

We provide user training in a number of different flavors ranging from classroom to computer-based. Despite claims by many, SharePoint is NOT simple enough for the majority of users to figure out on their own. You can "deploy and pray", but your user rate will suffer.

SharePoint is growing in power and sophistication, and there are smart ways to incorporate some of the additional features and functionality, like PerformancePoint (business intelligence), excel web services, the business data catalog and data retrieval engines like Dundas (recently acquired by Microsoft).

Interestingly enough, we recently had an information sharing conversation with Pfizer (SharePoint platform – 62,000 users) and discovered that Pfizer is doing just about all the things we've discovered independently.

Bottom line? SharePoint has been around long enough for solid best practices to emerge, and for the landscape to be littered with failed or semi-failed efforts. Take the time to create a rollout plan based on best practices that emphasis user adoption, not just technical deployment.

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Topics: sharepoint best practices, Enterprise, Enterprise Level SharePoint

STC Conference: starting with accessibility and usability

Posted by Lindsay O'Bannon on Fri, May 8, 2009 @ 16:05 PM

By Benjamin Hartley, May 8, 2009

The Society for Technical Communicators (STC) Conference kicked off with a strong emphasis on accessibility. Shawn Henry opened the conference with a rousing call to improve accessibility for disabled people – and in the process open up new markets and improve the economy. She also explained how the same techniques which make products available to people with disabilities can make products more useful to everyone. For more information on Shawn's efforts, go to http://www.w3.org/WAI/

The keynote speaker, David Pogue of the New York Times and Macs for Dummies fame, expanded further on that subject in his speech "The Power of Simplicity". He explained how technology now faces more hurdles than it did in the past, as products which were once niche markets are becoming more mainstream, and as more and more features are added to these products. Technological products, whether cell phones, TVs, computers, or kitchen appliances, are becoming more complicated. This makes it harder for people to use these products, and leads to frustration with the devices and the documentation which supports them.

The solution Mr. Pogue advocates is simplicity. In the design process, the creators of a product must consider how difficult it is to accomplish tasks and work hard to keep the processes as simple as possible. In this process, it is key to understand who will be using a product and what they wish to accomplish. It's important to remember that the people designing a given product are most likely engineers, developers, or other specialists, and they may not have a complete understanding of how regular people will use their work. It is here that the technical communicators must step in. In our expanding roles, technical communicators must take the lead in connecting product developers with end users, making the product better – and not incidentally making the technical communicator's job much easier!

In fact the changing role of the technical communicator was an important topic at the conference as well. The US Department of Labor currently uses an outmoded definition of "Technical Writer" which groups such professionals in with poets, songwriters, and novelists. While those specialties certainly have their value, there is very little resemblance between their work and that of a technical communicator. STC is continuing to work toward changing that classification to better reflect the technical communicator's real work as a mediator and advocate for consumers, and a producer of a wide range of material.

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Topics: usability, accessibility, developement

Excel Services Compatibility Checker

Posted by Lindsay O'Bannon on Mon, May 4, 2009 @ 16:05 PM

By Rick Wilson  May 4, 2009

A while back I had a customer who wished to use Excel Services to do some project reporting dashboards.  After initially uploading the Excel file and configuring Excel Services accordingly I tried opening it with the Excel Web Access web part.  The follow error appeared on the screen.

This and many other things within Excel that can cause similar errors including adding images  or query tables.  If you are using one excel sheet to populate several dashboard it can extremely frustrating when a simple change to your Excel file causes them all to display an error screen.

After searching around for a while I came upon the Excel Services Compatibility Checker.  This tool is available as a download and it allows you to determine what items within your Excel file will cause Excel Services to error out before you upload the file.  Thus avoiding the annoyance of all your dashboards breaking because someone though it would be cool to add an image to the file.

Click here for the Excel Services Compatibility Checker download page.
Click here for information on the most recent build of the tool.

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Topics: moss sharepoint, moss, MOSS 2007, Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft SharePoint technology, Excel Services Compatibility Checker, SharePoint Excel Services

SharePoint Saturday Blog – May 2nd in Reston, VA

Posted by Lindsay O'Bannon on Sun, May 3, 2009 @ 16:05 PM

By Kathy Gessner, May 3, 2009

I attended the SharePoint Saturday in DC on May 2nd at Microsoft in Reston VA. This was 8 hours of concentrated SharePoint. This event sold out in 26 hours with 200 attendees and 28 speakers. There was something for everyone from End Users to Admins to Developers. The conference used Twitter to notify attendees of updates and raffle winners. So I am now on Tweeter (kkgtweeter). I am not sure how I feel about it yet. It was difficult to do during the conference since my cell phone had no service. I have found an app which ties face book and tweeter into a dashboard called the TweetDeck which has helped. The social networking tools are definitely becoming a way of life in the technical community.

The opening session spoke about the state of SharePoint today. As of February 2008 Microsoft hit the $1 billion dollar mark for revenue and 100 million licenses for SharePoint. These SharePoint installations come in all shapes and size according to NS Rana an 11 year Microsoft veteran. As SharePoint matures companies are expanding SharePoint from an intranet to encompass Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and Knowledge Management (KM) stated Erin O'Connor from the EPC Group. Companies are customizing more including site provisioning, charge back models for SharePoint Services, and Business Intelligence for Dash boarding. Thomas Vander Wal stated that the next level will be to determine how the social tools fit into SharePoint. Thomas feels that social computing can help move from the traditional collaboration teams of 12 people to collective sharing of ideas with thousands.

I spent most of my time in the End User Track:

Building interesting dashboards with SharePoint Designer by Susan Lennon: This session actually showed how to do dashboards using out of the box features such as calculated fields. The difficulty with using calculated fields is generating the HTML code necessary to color code. Susan provided a link to a code builder for calculated fields: http://www.pathtosharepoint.com/HTMLcc/default.aspx . This is great.

Another trick presented by Susan was to use a calculated field that generates a specific letter based on the status. The beauty of this trick is when using SharePoint Designer the calculated field displays the letter corresponding to the status and when you format the font to the appropriate Wingding or Webding font a symbol displays for the letter. The hard part of this trick is knowing which letter corresponds to which Wingding or Webding. Susan has done the hard part for us by providing a matrix: http://wss.lennontechnologies.com/blog/Materials/WingDings.doc

The Frugal Admin: Make your own site templates by CA Callahan: This session was fairly straight forward but CA presented several tips for making sure that your templates are self referencing and will not break when migrated to another site collection or even used within the same site collection.

  • All images should be contained in the template not referenced to another site library
  • URL should be relative not absolute
  • Issues list content is not saved in a the template
  • To save Workflows you must save the template with content
  • People and groups are not carried with the template
  • Any list using user information such as Assigned to field will no longer contain data
  • Lookup fields that lookup people information will be broken

Using the SharePoint Platform to Build Vertical Business Applications by Paul Galvin: This session was very interesting, however I think it needed to be more in depth. One of the challenges I face with SharePoint are those individuals who want a full blown application and expect SharePoint to fit the bill. SharePoint is an excellent platform that includes: Scalability, Security, Search, Document Management, and Integration capabilities that allow developers a place to start rather than having to build these features into their application. With Out of the Box SharePoint you can usually get an 80% solution to a vertical business application. To gain the other 20% you will need to do custom coding.

The session I found the most exciting was the session on Mind Manager Templates for SharePoint Site Planning by Mark Miller. Mark hosts www.Endusersharepoint.com . This site is invaluable and it is usually the first place I go with a problem. I think we all struggle when implementing SharePoint with the documentation and configuration of sites. Mind Manager is a third party tool that has been on the market for awhile and is used mostly for brainstorming, however Mark Miller has taken SharePoint Documentation and planning to a new level using this tool. He has created SharePoint Templates for Mind Manager that allows for the planning of:

  • Sites and subsites
  • Lists and Libraries
  • Security Settings
  • Configuration Settings
  • Workflows
  • Content Types

All in all it was a great place to network, talk to experts, and learn that we all face the same issues. Well worth getting up at 5am on a Saturday and not getting home till after 7pm.

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Topics: SharePoint Saturday, SharePoint Conference