Archive for SharePoint

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.

Develop Workflows and Business Processes Without Developers

Representation drawn in chalk on a blackboard flow diagram

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

SharePoint 2016 Branding Revisit

With SharePoint 2016 looming in the horizon, it’s time to revisit some of the branding concepts in SharePoint. I describe SharePoint branding as the composite creation of an identity that expects an emotional reaction from its consumer. But wait, in SharePoint circle’s the word branding has been flagged as a dirty word, so therefore going forward I will be calling it “UI Style”. In my experience with SharePoint UI Style solutions, they are mostly composed of custom master pages, custom page layouts, tons of JavaScript, CSS and other UI assets. These UI Style solutions can bring state of the art site designs into SharePoint. However, they are custom and will require upkeep with each new version of SharePoint and in some cases completely re-built. So if custom UI Solutions are not future proof, what can you do about it? We will discuss this and other UI Style topics below.
SharePoint UI Style Evolution
First let’s take a look at the evolution of SharePoint UI Style from 2010 to 2016.
SharePoint_UI_Style_Evolution
Starting in SharePoint 2010, we can see the UI Style evolution with the introduction of the Ribbon menu, in 2014 we were introduced to the Seattle theme which was focused on removing chrome from the UI and now in 2016 we see the introduction of the “App Launcher” aka the “Waffle”. At this point the industry has a fairly good understanding of SharePoint UI Style designs and solutions. Here are the basics, the SharePoint UI Style is built on top of master pages, which include the outer layer composed of the header and footer. This is where you put your company logo, banner images and where the navigation control is displayed in your site. The center or what I call the “White Space” is where page layouts are loaded. Page Layouts are your home page, news articles, blog post and others. Note: that the concept of master pages and page layouts has been around since Asp.Net 2.0 and is stable. All other elements are called Web Parts, which gives you functionality like viewing documents, calendar, news feed, photo gallery and much more. While the out-of-the-box UI Style provides basic look and feel, if you want to change it you can either extend it or customize it, so let’s take a look at what a SharePoint Custom UI Style solution is.
Custom UI Style Solutions
Custom UI style solutions are normally built using this designer tools like Dreamweaver, Visual Studio and SharePoint Designer. Normally a designer would generate all of the images, CSS and HTML pages and then a SharePoint developer will take them and incorporate them into a SharePoint Visual Studio Project. Developers would then build a Visual Studio Custom UI Style solution that generates a file with the extension of WSP or Windows SharePoint. This file contains a CAB file with all of the DLLs, XML, CSS, XLT, JavaScript, Aspx and HTML files. Below is a very simple SharePoint Visual Studio project that contains master pages, page layout, CSS and JavaScript files. It is important to note, that you can build a custom UI solution without Visual Studio, you can perform the same action from SharePoint designer and Dreamweaver. Having said that, for large and complex UI Style Solutions you will benefit from the Visual Studio version control, and intellisense.

SharePoint UI <a href=SharePoint UI Style Custom Solution

Master Pages
When deciding on building a custom UI Style solution it is important to understand the impact specially when design custom Master pages. So let’s take a look at the master pages from 2010 to 2016, notice that the master page is are referencing specific versions of SharePoint libraries. When a new version of SharePoint arrives, these references will need to be updated. Which means that it requires you to re-deploy your solution and retest your site. For a smaller SharePoint implementation this should be no issue, however for larger and complex UI Style solutions this can be an expensive endeavor. So think and plan carefully when developing custom UI Style solutions.

Master Page References to SharePoint Version
On the bright Side
If you determine that you must have a custom UI Style Solution, then I encourage you to contact us or search the MS Partner Network and select a Partner nearest you for assistance. Also you can purchase a prebuilt UI Style solutions online from sites like bindtuning.com, pixelmill.com, topsharepoint.com and many others. If you like do it yourself, then I suggest you start at responsivesharepoint.codeplex.com it contains a simple to understand UI Style solution for SharePoint utilizing the latest bootstrap3 framework. I will warn you, these and most commercial pre-built UI Style Solution focus on Publishing Site and not Team Site.
Future Proof UI Style Solution
That’s right there is an alternative, a more future proof UI Style solution for SharePoint. It is nothing new, it has been recommended by Microsoft since SharePoint 2010 and with introduction off SharePoint 2016, it is even more important to a brace it. Let’s start with SharePoint as a service and not a platform. Choosing between the two can determine how future proof your solution is, if you decide to use SharePoint a service then you have full control of the UI Style design and implementation. Your site can be build using any Web technology including Asp.Net MVC, while SharePoint would provide all the services need to run by the site. When SharePoint is the platform, then you have less options for your UI Style solution. Having said that, recently Microsoft Pattern and Practices have release new tools to improve how you modify/extend the out of the box SharePoint UI Style. You can find more information on the tools at http://dev.office.com/patterns-and-practices. Below we will go over two examples how you can customize your SharePoint UI Style with no custom master pages or Visual Studio.
Themes
First let’s start with themes. Themes have been around SharePoint since 2010, they allow you to style elements without modifying master pages or page layouts. They get overlook by many developers but with patience and good CCS skills, you can create a theme that will operate in SharePoint with no custom development. Microsoft provides a SharePoint Color Palette Tool which allows you to set the background image, the font color, navigation background color, header footer and others elements. The tool is easy to use, and after you create your new theme you simply upload it into SharePoint and set your site to the new Theme as shown below. For more information on how to apply a new theme feel free to contact us.
SharePoint UI Style Theme
Modern Responsive UI
Modern web sites are now expected to support a variety of screen resolutions. Your SharePoint site is no different, it must have some level of support and one way is via Office PnP SharePoint UI Responsive solution. Recently Microsoft Pattern and Practice release a SP Responsive UI using a pure JavaScript Solution via there Pattern and Practice group. This SharePoint UI Responsive solution does not include any custom Master Pages or modified Page Layouts. It is simple JavaScript and CSS solution to Responsive UI solution prevents you from having conflicts when migrating to new version of SharePoint since it does not edit the Master Page. Another positive to this approach is that it works on Team Site while most Responsive solution focus on Publishing Sites.
You would enable the SharePoint UI Responsive solution into your Team Site using PowerShell and not Visual Studio as shown below.
SharePoint_UI_Style_Enabling_Responsive_Solution

The result is a Team Site which response to the screen resolution just as customers expect.

TeamSite SiteContent Responsive TeamSite Responsive
Team Site Responsive Site Content Responsive

This SharePoint UI Responsive solution is a great start for your development of a UI Style solution that does not have any dependency on the SharePoint infrastructure. With that and some create CSS design you can build any UI Style that means your need. Next step you would need to pick the right UI Style.

UI Style Conclusion
So far we talked about the evolution of SharePoint UI Style, how they are build and alternative future proof solutions. Now it is important to pick the right UI Style. Let’s first start by understanding what SharePoint means to you and your organization, what are the business use cases, and what is the organization strategy for the next 5 to 10 years. That’s right your organization vision and goals should drive the SharePoint UI Style and not the other way around. If your organization is an insurance company and you want to provide better care for your patience or if you are a none for profit organization and your SharePoint is focus on, bring awareness and driving donations. Each vision will result in a completely different UI Style with different implication for SharePoint. Perhaps one implementation displays the patient schedule, shows alerts, news announcements or videos. Or Perhaps the site, simply shares information on the latest donation events, and how visitors can make pledges. The bottom line is the right UI Style will help improve sales by keeping visitor engage when it clearing reflects your organization culture, vision and strategy. So how do you get there, start by reaching out to us and we will get you started on the right path.

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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