Archive for Workflow Automation

See the Impact Digital Transformation Can Have on Your Bottom Line

Digital Transformation has become an industry buzzword. We’re here to clarify what it means in dollars and cents.

Digital transformation represents an organizational change where data becomes relevant and valuable. Once transformed, these organizations use data to improve decision making, connect with their customers, improve vendor relationships and allow employees to provide higher level skills and value to the organization.

Digitally transformed organizations think about their products and services in both a physical and digital space, use technology to improve customer service, often have an enhanced perspective of their market and how their business model operates within that redefined market.

We believe that digital transformation is a qualification to compete in today’s business environment.

The question people often ask next is – how much does this cost?  We posit the answer to that question is nothing.  The cost (and risk) is in remaining stagnant. Digital transformation uncovers assets previously underutilized by the organization. The proper investments in digital transformation will only empower your organization to survive and thrive – and when done properly it should yield an immediate and direct ROI that returns value back to the organization straightaway.

We’ve developed a Digital Transformation Accounting Worksheet ROI calculator for you to experiment with. Punch in your numbers and let us know what you think.  We would be happy to discuss your digital transformation in more detail.

About Noah:

240-Ullman,-NoahNoah is the Director of Business Development for BlumShapiro’s Technology Consulting Group. He brings over 25 years of business experience from entrepreneurial start ups, to over a decade of working at Microsoft in various sales, marketing and business development roles. Noah has launched Windows XP, Office XP, Tablet PC, Media Center PC, MSN Direct Smartwatches (an early IoTattempt), several videogames, a glove controller, and a wine import company/brand. Noah spent three years living overseas building out Microsoft’s Server and Tools business in Eastern Europe working with the IT Pro and developer communities. He considers himself a futurist, likes science fiction and loves applying what was recently science fiction to real world problems and opportunities. 

Send Custom Emails Using Azure Functions as Scheduled Tasks in SharePoint Online

Recently, a client of ours was looking to have a daily email sent to each user that has an overdue task, or a task that is set to expire. The email had a specific format. Each task needed direct links and had to be grouped by the date that it was due. Since it was an on-premises Project Server and SharePoint 2013 farm, it was not too difficult to build and embed the solution into the farm. I took care of this by building a SharePoint timer job, which leveraged a SharePoint search to retrieve all tasks where the due date was before the next business day. Once deployed, and activated, this timer job was automatically scheduled to run every morning, and the SharePoint admins could trigger it manually.  Everything worked great.

Another client of ours was looking for a solution exactly like this, except they were strictly SharePoint Online / Project Online. They had no on-premises farm, there were no real servers to even speak of. One option would have been to create a PowerShell script or .NET executable to run the code, and have that process run as a Scheduled Task on some server. However, there were no servers. Even if they did, what was the point of being in the cloud, if you are still stuck with a foot (or process) on the ground?

So, I turned to Microsoft Azure, and that’s where Azure Functions came into play.

Azure Functions

Azure Functions are programs or code snippets that run in the cloud. They can run on schedules or can be triggered by different types of events (HTTP request, item added to Azure Blob Storage, Excel file saved to OneDrive, etc.). Think of this as a Windows Scheduled Task that can be triggered by modern events and activities.

The programs or code snippets can be created and edited within the Azure Portal, making it easy to get up and running with an Azure Function. The languages supported by Azure Functions are more than adequate: PowerShell, C#, JavaScript, F#, Python, PHP, Bash, and Batch.

Note that I could have also used Azure WebJobs to accomplish this, but I felt that Azure Functions had many positives. Azure Functions are easy for the client to maintain, it has automatic scaling, they only pay for how long the code executes, it supports WebHooks and can be easily triggered via an HTTP request.

Send Custom Emails from SharePoint Online

For this solution, I created the Azure Function in Visual Studio pre-compiled with the SharePoint Online client-side object model (CSOM) DLLs. The solution was straightforward, as it would use CSOM to query SharePoint Online’s search service for all overdue tasks and tasks due within the next business day. It would then do some logic to build the email content based on the assigned users, and then send out emails using SendGrid. SendGrid is built into Microsoft Azure, so configuring it was a breeze, and you get 25,000 free emails a month!

Once deployed, I configured the Azure Function to run on schedule (like before), and it can even be triggered by an HTTP request, so putting an HTTP request in a SharePoint site workflow or Microsoft Flow means that any site user would be able to trigger this function as needed.

Long gone are the days where there are integration servers laying around in the data center waiting to get more processes to help them consume more of their over-allocated resources. Most servers, virtual machines, really, are now dedicated to a specific application, and shouldn’t share their resources with one-off processes.

Azure Functions is a great server-less architecture solution to these problems. Whether you need to send emails, calculate metrics, or analyze big data, Azure Functions can be a solution for you. Learn more about how BlumShapiro can help your organization with issues like this.

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.

How Non-Developers Can Use Microsoft Flow to Create Automated Workflows

In my previous article, Develop Workflows and Business Processes without Developers, I mentioned how there are numerous options for creating workflows without the need to write actual code. In my second article on workflows, I’m going to go a little deeper into one of the options I discussed: Microsoft Flow. As I mentioned, Flow is a drag and drop service solution used to create automated workflows within Office 365. These workflows can connect different applications and services; including enterprise apps (Office 365, SharePoint Online, Salesforce, CRM) and social apps (Twitter, DropBox, MailChimp), to name a few. The drag and drop interface allows for a relatively simple solution for creating an automated workflow.

Getting Started with Microsoft Flow

To get started with Flow, it’s as simple as going to the Microsoft Flow site and then starting to build new applications within the browser. Other options and software require separate applications for you to install to get going. Flow is completely browser-based, so no need to download anything else! Once you are logged into the site, you have the option of using any of the hundreds of templates already built, create a new process from a template or even start out with a blank canvas to create your new workflow. Some templates available with Flow can help with tasks such as:

  • Sending yourself a reminder in 10 minutes
  • Sending a “Working from home today” email to your manager
  • Blocking out your Office 365 calendar for an hour

Note: If you do not have an O365 plan that includes Flow, you can sign up for a free 90 day trial.

Automated Workflow Integrations and Templates

In addition to the many triggers and steps Flow has to offer, there are a lot of different services that integrate with Flow. There are too many to list, and it keeps growing, so follow the URL to see the latest services that integrate with Flow.

Some of the services and templates available can truly make your day to day office tasks easier. For instance, of the out-of-the-box templates, there is a flow to send a “working from home today” email to your manager. You can even take that template and tweak it so that it’s also a “don’t forget to submit your timesheet” button that you press once a week to your direct reports. Anything that is repeatable can easily be made into a Flow process.

Some more advanced templates integrate with other third party services. For instance, there is a template which automatically creates a Dynamics CRM entry from a SharePoint list item. Imagine having a SharePoint list which allows users from across the company to add in potential sales contacts. Not all users in your organization may have access to CRM, so when they create an entry using the SharePoint list, Microsoft Flow will automatically trigger and enter the sales contact entry into CRM without any action. You can easily configure this template to have an approval step if the process feels too automated!

Microsoft Flow on the Go

For remote workers, there is a mobile app for iOS and Android that allows you to trigger the workflows or get notifications by the press of a button. So you can open the Flow app, and trigger your email without the use of your computer. You even have the ability to send SMS (text messages) from the flow itself. So, if you are out-of-the-office, enable the Flow which texts you anytime your favorite client emails you, and you will be ahead of the game.

By using Microsoft Flow, your users can create workflows into back-end systems to help run business processes – all without having to call IT! Flow has provided users with the empowerment to work and create their own automated workflows. Still need help implementing automated workflows for your organization?  Looking for help with a workflow that is too advanced for Flow or need to integrate with systems not yet available with Flow? Contact us and see how BlumShapiro Consulting can help get you started on your way and assist.

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.

SharePoint Mobile App Review, Tips and Tricks

Today I’d like to discuss the new SharePoint Mobile App, aka the Intranet in your pocket. In 2016, Microsoft released SharePoint 2016, along with a mobile application for the product. If you have not already downloaded the app, I highly suggest you download it, and follow along with the tips provided below. This post will serve as an introduction to the SharePoint Mobile app, highlight some of its capabilities and provide tips to make sure you take advantage of the features offered. So, let’s get started.

SharePoint Sites Feature

Sites 1It is important to understand that SharePoint is hierarchical and the sites screen illustrates this concept. This concept was not illustrated well in the current mobile web view of SharePoint, so the progress made with the app has not gone unnoticed. The mobile app provides a clean and simple sites screen, and by default settings, sites are ordered by your most recent activity. The sites screen menu provides access to view lists, libraries and sub-sites. Along with seeing the sites that you use, you also have the ability to share sites with others, or mark one as a favorite. This screen brings the best of SharePoint right to your fingertips and is a perfect start.

Embedded Browser View

A view of a site in an embedded browser view.

While navigating between sites the app will display each site differently. Some sites will load via an embedded browser in the app whereas others will have a native app screen. The embedded browser view is SharePoint’s mobile web view, and while it is not as clean or user-friendly as a native screen, it still provides the ability to see the site’s content. In the past, the mobile web view would open every site on a separate browser page causing confusion and a poor user experience, so having the embedded browser view for sites as part of the mobile app navigation is a major improvement.

Quick Tip

If you regularly use a site, I highly recommend pressing the “star” button on the site screen. This will add the site to the “Following” tab for quicker access. Remember to remove sites which you no longer have an interest in, by un-clicking on the “star” button.

SharePoint Links Feature

LinksMicrosoft knows that SharePoint is a great tool for collaboration, sharing and empowering users. The links screen provides you with easy access to both internal and external resources.  If your company has a “Quick Links” section on their intranet, then those links should also display on the SharePoint App.  If you don’t see any links displayed, contact your administrator and request that they update the “Featured Links” section in Office 365.

 

SharePoint People Feature

PeopleThe people screen provides you with direct access to your contact list and their profile pages. Creating and managing your contacts is key to getting the most out of SharePoint. If you have never used the Microsoft contacts capabilities, now is a great time to give it a try. To add new contacts you just need to navigate to Office 365, select the people link from the quick launch and start adding contacts.

I highly suggest you start by creating contacts for leaders within your organization. If you need help finding these individuals, the search feature will serve as a big help. To view an individual’s page, click on their name in the people screen. This will open a page that clearly displays their contact information, title, a photo, who they work with and recent activity.

Quick Tip

One of the most important features of people is the ability for you to add notes about your contact. For example, you can create a note that contains information about when you met a certain individual. This information can only be seen from your end and is one of the “hidden” features available in Microsoft People.

SharePoint Search Feature

In my opinion, the greatest feature in the new SharePoint mobile app is search. Using the search feature in the app is the easiest way to find the information you are looking for. The app allows you to drill down and search based on specific dimensions including sites, files, people or recommended It is clear to me that Microsoft’s investment in SharePoint search is paying off. Give it a try—go ahead and search for a file either by name or the content of the file.

See what else SharePoint can do, when it comes to workflows and automation of business processes.

Conclusion

Microsoft’s release of this SharePoint app shows their commitment to both the mobile space and SharePoint. Here at BlumShapiro Consulting, we are Gold Certified in Collaboration and Content. We are Partners in Office and Collaboration and are ready to help your business leverage these Microsoft tools. Learn more about SharePoint by looking at our library of posts on the topic here. Contact us to learn more about how SharePoint can help your organization.

Learn more about SharePoint from our library of blog content >>

 

About Hector: 

hectorHector Luciano, Jr., is a Consulting Manager at BlumShapiro, a Microsoft Gold Partner focusing on SharePoint, Office 365, mobile technologies and custom development solutions. Hector is focused on delivering high value solutions to his customers in Mobile and SharePoint.