Archive for Brent Harvey

Develop Workflows and Business Processes Without Developers

Companies are beginning to embrace technology at a higher level. However, there are still a number of businesses that have processes, a.k.a. workflows (an automated process) that rely on a user to manually enter information into an Excel spreadsheet. This spreadsheet can range from a simple list to one which has “complex” calculations that accounts for crazy exceptions (like adding 2% to the total if the month ends on a Tuesday while raining). These lists usually have one or two gatekeepers who know their calculations by heart, so if they leave the organization, the process becomes a headache for someone else or worse—grinds the business to a halt. Bottom line, it could be bad for a company.

Imagine taking your complex process and developing an application to take it over. This may seem like a steep challenge, but in today’s technological marketplace, there are services and apps that can help users create workflows and apps. Taking advantage of the technology to create these apps and workflows provides a huge benefit by getting the process knowledge and logic out of one person’s hands and into an automated process—making it accessible by anyone. This will also help to document the process and uncover any inefficiencies and deficiencies.

Microsoft, among other companies, are gearing application and workflow development toward power users and away from developers. These products are built with users in mind first, using a drag and drop interface. Most of the software tools are intuitive so little direction is needed to develop these workflows. These users already know the process intimately and don’t need to learn C# or Java or whatever language they have never heard of. However, having a technology specialist can still provide insight into workflows that might not have been thought of in the first place.

Workflow Automation Products

Below are a few Software as a Service (SaaS) workflow products that are geared towards power users.

Microsoft Flow

Flow is a drag and drop service solution used to create automated workflows in Office 365. These workflows can connect different applications and services; both enterprise (Office 365, SharePoint Online, Salesforce, CRM) and social (Twitter, DropBox, MailChimp). For example, you can easily create a Dynamics CRM entry from SharePoint list items. This happens to be a preconfigured template; requiring little effort to implement. Flow also has the ability for you to create your own custom workflows using their drag and drop interface.

PowerApps

PowerApps is a service that allows users to build Android, iOS and Windows apps without writing any code. This SaaS allows you to connect custom APIs, SharePoint, Excel, etc., and turn this data into an app. You can easily create an app to list and fill out information. Users outside of the office can use these apps on their phones and all of the data would be up-to-date in a SharePoint Online list, Excel, etc. Like Microsoft Flow, it is also hosted in Office 365 and has pre-built templates.

Power BI

Power BI is a service which can be used to build dashboards and data analytics reports using data from different sources within your organization. There are out of the box connectors to programs like Excel, Project Online, Adobe Analytics, Salesforce, CRM and others. Power BI can improve processes, even when data is in different locations that requires someone to pull together data from different places into one location. For example, say all project financials are located in an Excel spreadsheet over in Finance, yet the actual project costs are tracked by each individual team. To get all of this data into one report, someone would need to get the data from at least two different sources and merge them into one report. Power BI can automate that. Power BI is used to aggregate data from different sources into one location. In our example, instead of an executive calling on someone to get the numbers, compile them and produce a report; those numbers are displayed in Power BI, which is always up-to-date, and can even be drilled into or associated with key performance indicators (KPIs).

SharePoint Workflows

SharePoint workflows are also designed for a power user to create business processes (workflows). These can run on either SharePoint on premise or online. These workflows work well for approvals and processes that reside in SharePoint. External site integration is possible out of the box, but it does take some technical knowledge to do this. Some products fill that gap and have created a usable drag and drop interface with pre-built connectors. Two top vendors are Nintex and K2. Just like Microsoft Flow, users can build workflows by dragging actions onto a canvas.

Which Workflow Tool is the Best?

We recommend that organizations evaluate all software and services that are available to determine which product would best suit their unique business needs. They should look at features such as which product might integrate best with their existing software and what is the future software/technology strategy of the organization?

How can we help?

All organizations can benefit from streamlining processes or eliminating manual tasks. Workflows are easier to create than ever before, however, having the technical expertise of a consultant can be extremely beneficial. By being able to leverage our past experience and intimate knowledge of the products you need, we can determine the best technology for your project and implement the process along with guiding and training your users to do this themselves.

About Brent:

Brent

Brent Harvey has over 10 years of software development experience with a specific focus on SharePoint, Project Server, and C #and web development. Brent is an Architect at BlumShapiro Consulting. Brent is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert in SharePoint 2013, Solutions Associate in Windows Server 2012, Specialist in Developing Azure Solutions and Professional Developer in SharePoint 2010.

Workflow Automation CTA

On the Leading Edge of New Technology

Being on the leading edge of any technology can be exciting, but it’s often frustrating and even costly. There is an inherent risk associated with adopting technology that is new. Lack of community support or documentation if something goes wrong are just a couple of the issues that can arise. However, there are benefits to being an early adopter. For example, working hands-on with a new technology is the best way to understand how it works. As technology consultants, we view it as our job to understand what’s coming so we can advise our clients with a clear eye to the future.

Scenario

A client asked us about alternatives to their current Remote Desktop Services (RDS) implementation which was being hosted by a third-party vendor. There were a few issues with their current setup, namely cost and maintaining multiple logins, and they didn’t have any type of domain or user directory. After exploring a few different RDS deployment scenarios, they ultimately decided on using a preview version of Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) on Azure virtual machines.

They really liked the idea of using Azure AD DS because of the promised benefits; no servers (on-premises or in the cloud) to maintain, simplified user interface, etc. We shared our assessment of the risks and unknowns of using an untested technology, but the client whole heartedly accepted these risks because there were so many more upsides to using Azure AD DS for their specific setup. So, we set out to implement Remote Desktop Services using Azure Active Directory Domain Services…and we learned a couple of things along the way which we are happy to share with you.

Sometimes the Leading Edge is the Bleeding Edge

The first lesson learned was that with Azure AD DS, you cannot be added as a Domain Admin or Global Admin. They have their own security group called AAD DC Administrators that you have to create yourself. A good thing to note when dealing with Azure AD DS. Which lead us right to our second lesson learned.

When trying to add the Licensing Manager as a member of the AD group Terminal Server License Servers group, a permissions error popped up:

The computer account for license server [ServerName] cannot be added to the Terminal Server License Servers group in Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) because of insufficient privileges.

Leading Edge

Thinking back to that security group, I thought, “I am not a Domain Admin, I cannot be a Domain Admin.” I felt a little helpless. Thankfully the computer didn’t need to be added to the group since all RDS servers were on the same domain. But still, I couldn’t help feeling like something might be a miss later.

As a Microsoft partner we have top tier access to Microsoft support, who recommended a few solutions to this issue…which resulted in the same permissions’ roadblock.

When the Microsoft support engineer mentioned this was the first he has heard of someone trying this, I thought, I must be a pioneer attempting this while AD DS was still in beta. But one thing was for sure, the Azure AD DS team liked the idea that someone was trying out an RDS implementation with it.

When you work with a beta version or when you install something without waiting for Service Pack 2 to be released you are blazing a new trail. When you do something new there is a thrill of being the first person to try something, and a long-standing honor in the tech world to be the first to figure something out.

In the end, after another hiccup or two, the rest of the Remote Desktop Services deployment went well, without any additional permission issues. And the result showed us that Remote Desktop Services does work well with Azure Active Directory Domain Services and was able to accomplish the client’s goals.

Once the beta for Azure Active Directory Domain Services is complete, I’m wondering if RDS will be on the list of supported technologies. Then I will feel like a true trailblazer cutting a path for others to follow.

Our experience with Microsoft tools gives us an inside track and an ability to work with these new technologies because we deeply understand the underlying platform. While being on the bleeding edge of technology can be risky, having experts to help guide you, navigate any issues and provide needed support can help mitigate some of these risks. And in the end, the benefits to your organization will outweigh any roadblocks encountered along the way.

About Brent:

Brent

Brent Harvey has over 10 years of software development experience with a specific focus on SharePoint, Project Server, and C #and web development. Brent is an Architect at BlumShapiro Consulting, working on projects across varied industries (banking, manufacturing, health care, etc.). Brent is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert in SharePoint 2013, Solutions Associate in Windows Server 2012, Specialist in Developing Azure Solutions, and Professional Developer in SharePoint 2010.

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Reorganize Your Content in SharePoint

There is never a bad time to think about how your content can be structured better. This is especially true if you are migrating to SharePoint from an old platform, upgrading, or even sticking with your current SharePoint system. This article will give you a few key areas to think about when reorganizing your content in SharePoint.

First off, I want you to think about the date when your current system was implemented and how your company looked. Now think about how your company has changed since then. Your company could have grown exponentially, departments and teams could now be located in different towns/states/countries, or you might be doing old processes in radically different ways. In any case, it’s safe to say that your company has not stayed the same. So does it make sense for your content structure to stay the same?

Roadmap

Reorganizing your content should be a well thought out process. A formal roadmap will need to be created to get your content from Point A (current structure) to Point B (completed structure). Steps in your roadmap should be well defined, assigned to specific people and time boxed.

PointAtoB

Your plan might be for content to be reorganized in your current system then migrated. If you are migrating to a new SharePoint system, this is great to get your users to experience the new structure in their current environment. Otherwise you can reorganize while the content is in transit, or even after it has been moved. All of this will depend on the tools you are using, timing, business priority, etc. Many factors!

As part of your roadmap, it is always a prudent idea to think about the future of your company. As you thought about how your company changed, you also want to keep in mind how your company WILL change. No one can predict the future, but your company might have a strategic 5/10/20 year plan where they list out their growth strategy. That plan would be a good guideline when planning out your new structure.

 

Some Reorganization Steps

  • Consolidation of Libraries There are many different scenarios why you should have multiple document libraries. Ease of security management, for one. But that doesn’t mean you need multiple document libraries. SharePoint content can start to sprawl, since the ease of adding libraries might not give the user pause when choosing between creating a new library and using a current one.
  • Add Content Types / metadata This can go hand-in-hand with the consolidation of libraries. If you are adding different document types to one libraries, you might want to distinguish them with Content Types or even just columns on the library. How many times have you created a new library for the current year (e.g. Financials 2014 and Financials 2015) when one library would be sufficient with the addition of a year column?
  • Archive content / Keep Content in place Not all data needs to make it over. You can segregate content by putting it into an Archive site or even keep it where it resides (if it’s not going away). Remember, all this content can still be discoverable in SharePoint. SharePoint search can return results of content in prior versions of SharePoint or to other file systems and web sites.
  • Remove Content Not all content is still used or even useful. Why have a survey to determine where the company picnic should be if it was 2 years ago. Backup this content and do not give it the green light to migrate.
  • Rename Content Sometimes “Shared Documents” just isn’t descriptive enough.
  • Consolidation / Creation of Sites Teams and departments may no longer work together or even exist.
  • Move Content to the Front Most people that go to your SharePoint site might not be regulars. It’s also a good idea to determine what might be the most relevant to all users of the site and put that on the home page.

 

If you are moving to SharePoint, upgrading, or migrating to the cloud, it is always a good idea to take a step back and look at your content. It very well may be that it can use a little bit more organization.

 

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BlumShapiro Live Tiles with Count

BlumShapiro is excited to announce that our technology consulting team has created a new app that will help SharePoint users extend the functionality of Live Tiles / Promoted Links. The free app “Live Tiles with Count” allows you to create multi-colored live tiles with the option to add item counts. Instead of your live tile just pointing out the link to open issues, you can also have it show how many open issues are assigned to the logged in user!

Read the rest of this post to see all the features, some screenshots and some sample CAML queries.

Description

Live tiles are a great way to give users quick links to content contained within a site. Live Tiles with Count allows you to get an actual count of items within a specific list on your site. The item count can even be filtered based on a CAML query.

This app allows users to easily create, and personalize live tiles.

BlumShapiro Live Tiles with Count features:

  • Standard live tiles hover functionality
  • Easily create live tiles and add to a SharePoint site
  • Choose different colors for each tile
  • 19 built in background images or upload and use your own
  • Add counts of lists on current site
  • Filter list count by CAML query

Screenshots

 

 

CAML Query Examples

Assigned To field is the current user or group the current user is in.

<View><Query><Where>

<Or>

<Membership Type=’CurrentUserGroups’>

<FieldRef Name=’AssignedTo’/>

</Membership>

<Eq>

<FieldRef Name=’AssignedTo’></FieldRef>

<Value Type=’Integer’>

<UserID/>

</Value>

</Eq>

</Or>

</Where>

</Query>

</View>

 

All items where the ID is greater than or equal to 1

<View><Query><Where>

<Geq><FieldRef Name=’ID’/><Value Type=’Number’>1</Value></Geq>

</Where>

</Query>

</View>