The SharePoint Conference was a blast. For a while, the enthusiasm was permeable. In fact, during the keynote on Monday #SPC was the trending hashtag. It’s amazing to watch the Office Product Group embrace Yammer and the Cloud. While I think Microsoft will continue to invest in on-premise servers, it’s clear that our product teams are able to enable new scenario’s with Yammer and the Cloud that help power the new way to work. As the pace of change continues to shrink, I think Microsoft has a unique value proposition around helping organizations continue the journey to become a social enterprise.
For me, the Sleeper ISV was Collabware. The company has some interesting reference customers and helps round out SharePoint’s enterprise content management story by extending native capabilities. They make things like content type enforcement easier.
The Sleeper Feature was Access Services. At SharePoint Conference, Access was positioned as the way to build forms in SharePoint 2013. I think the repositioning of Access makes a lot of sense. Historically Access limitations involved chunkiness around data design, form creation, and collaboration. Power users began to leverage different tools with SharePoint (InfoPath, SharePoint Designer) to build Access-like applications because they were web based and could automate business process. Access 2013 creates web applications that are SharePoint hosted and stored in SQL. The authoring process feels reminiscent to creating SharePoint lists and views — many navigation controls are auto-generated. Access applications can consume information from SharePoint lists (either as an import or a link) and its databases can be developed against should an application become mission critical. I still need to explore some details around workflow — but overall I think the story is fairly robust.
Below are summaries from sessions that I attended.
Conference Key Note
SharePoint 2013 marks a move from a site centric paradigm to a people centric one. Microsoft believes by embracing cloud and social, they can better help organizations deal with an increasing pace of change that has become the new normal. As a result, the development team has been split into a group that focuses on delivering faster with the cloud and a group that packages new releases for on-premise. The investment pillars for the new release are around Experiences (UX), Innovation (Capabilities), and Ecosystem (App Store).
The acquisition of Yammer supports that effort by bringing to the platform best in class social capabilities, a rapid innovation cadence, and a voluntary adoption model. Microsoft views Yammer as the place for social conversions while SharePoint is the place for social collaboration. In support of that, there is a new feature within Yammer that makes it easy to share documents directly from SkyDrive Pro.
Social conversations are the most efficient form of many to many communication. As a result, Yammer helps organizations overcome and silos and deal with change by connecting people, by helping people organize in groups, and by engaging people in the organizations mission.
While social has the power to help an organization transform, the cloud can help an organization be productive from anywhere, on any device. SkyDrive Pro, Office Web Apps, and the mobile clients for SharePoint, Yammer, SkyDrive, and Business intelligence are compelling as the office becomes a service.
In that new world, Applications become a great way to extend the capabilities of the platform without having to install code on the platform. Organizations can choose to host their extensions themselves or automatically in Azure. Autohosted applications are cool because the identity plumbing is done for you.
Introduction to the Cloud App Model for Office and SharePoint 2013, Part 1
The main design goals of the Office Application Model is to make Office development more approachable and to provide a consistent platform regardless of where the software is hosted. For example, while there are 700,000 SharePoint Developers in the community — 75% of all world wide developers use HTML5. Because the new application model is based on HTML5, developers who are not familiar with .NET can extend Office and SharePoint leveraging familiar models like REST, OAuth, and OData. Apps can be written for SharePoint, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Project. Apps are useful to handle scenarios where end users have to open another browser to get data.
What’s New in Managing Your SharePoint Online Environment
With the new Office 365, Microsoft has exposed a PowerShell interface with SharePoint Online. The interface only exposes commandlets that allow administrators manage Tenant settings and Site Collections. If needed the interface can be extended via applications developed against CSOM to allow for detailed automation.
SPO Powershell out of the box helps troubleshoot customizations (Get-SPOAppErrors). In addition, it can help manage site collections making it easier to automate tasks like quota allocation. The automation will be useful as software limits continue to expand (3000 site collections are now supported per tennant).
How Yammer and SharePoint are Approaching Social
In part the acquisition of Yammer by Microsoft makes sense because both organizations have a similar vision for organizations: In a complex and changing world, breaking down organizational silos drives meaningful results through improved connections, coordination, and engagement.
Yammer is an open messaging system that promotes communicating across organizational silos. In contrast, closed systems like email reinforce silos that exist because people only know who they know. In the next twelve months, Yammer is focused on enabling capabilities around cross-platform discovery and a unified inbox. In the near term the Yammer team hopes to improve discovery of content through unified search, surfacing top messages, and real time activities. Over time, the Yammer inbox will merge into outlook over time. The goal is to put an open messaging system underneath email.
The SharePoint team is working on integration with Yammer and Office. Some examples of integration include sharing through Yammer as well as incorporating the Yammer feed into the Outlook people pane and the Lync contact card.
If you are starting the social journey with Microsoft, the team recommends starting with Yammer. Microsoft promises a roadmap that brings a customer’s tool of choice (Yammer, SharePoint, O365) to the next unified iteration of Social.
Best Practices for ECM in the Cloud, and how large organizations can get the most out of Office 365
SharePoint Online, entering its third iteration, has been scaled to support large Enterprise deployments. For example, dir sync now supports 2 million objects. In addition, the storage limits for site collections in O365 is 100GB. In addition, enabled features like eDiscovery and Records Center help organizations manage risk associated with lots of content. Finally, the ECM team understands that the hybrid scenarios are important to organizations and have worked to ensure features like eDiscovery and Search support an on-premises and O365 scenario.
Many people I support struggle with high availability and disaster recovery with SharePoint. While the basic principles of HA (protect against a single point of failure) and DR (be able to recover in the event of a long tail disaster) are straight forward; the many roles that SharePoint plays in organizations complicates planning decisions. After all, immediate deployment requirements may be significantly different than future expectations. While sponsors may want to build with the future in mind, budgets present a different reality. One option when facing choices is to deliver SharePoint as a series of defined services; each with its own service level agreement (http://avisuj.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/governing-sharepoint-as-a-service). Another approach is to plan to quickly adapt to changing expectations around up time, recovery time and recovery point. In this blog post, I’ll share how you can build agility in your business continuity plan by reviewing options and evaluating how you can move from one configuration to another.
Business Continuity Options
A highly available system isolates against a single point of failure at any application tier in order to ensure up-time. System recovery is measured by how quickly the system is restored from disaster (recovery time) and how much data is lost (recovery point). Below is review of options:
Business Continuity in Practice
Because organizations I work with optimize for teams that are responsible for different tiers in SharePoint and cost, they typically run:
- Multiple Application Servers and Single Point of Failure Database
- Clustered Virtual Hosts
- Cold Environment restored from a database backup and scripted installs
An organization can easily move from a crawl to walk availability pattern by simply deploying additional servers and following TechNet guidance around configuring database mirroring (http://technet.microsoft.com/library/dd207314(office.14).aspx). Moving from walk to run availability patterns involve either a database migration (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc512725(v=office.14).aspx), a P2V conversion (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc764232.aspx), or migration to new farm via the database attach process. The recovery method an organization uses is influenced by the technology deployed to support an availability pattern.
To summarize, while moving from one availability option to another takes effort, it can be done. For your success, I would build to existing business requirements. I’d also articulate clearly to future customers how much it would cost to meet more demanding service level agreements.
I had a lot of with 450 of my closest friends at SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities. The event is top-class with amazing speakers. Below are a couple of things I took from the sessions I sat through:
Microsoft’s Office 365 SharePoint Online: What’s Up in the Cloud?
Zandy Garrard and Maria Hall talked about the major drivers for SharePoint online and their experience enabling scenarios. The primary reason they see organizations look at the cloud is to reduce on-premise infrastructure. Additionally, certain capabilities (like external collaboration) are easier to enable in O365. Single sign on between the cloud is done through dir-sync (copies id’s) and ADFS (authenticates). They noted that the current site collection limit in SharePoint Online (300) impacts information architecture. Stay tuned as near term announcements on the cloud are very promising [AS].
SharePoint Site Usability and Design Tips for Non-Designers
Wendy Neal shared her best practices around end user design. Rule Number 1: Don’t make me think. Users navigate site both by browsing and by search, so both need to be though out. The primary navigation should be limited to 9 max links. Every home page should answer what is this, what can I do, and where should I find content. In addition site owners should be intentional about what content shows above the fold.
Taming General Mill’s SharePoint Environment
Scott Yokiel and Mike Roberts from General Mills shared lessons learned from their implementation from SharePoint Portal Server. Originally they organized content by business unit. They found that some site collections became very large. In addition, they found that they were doing rework during re-organizations. Moving forward they are organizing SharePoint according to capabilities: connect, share, portal, and solutions. In addition, General Mills is transitioning their SharePoint implementation to out of the box because it is more supportable. Their approach to SharePoint is evolving in part due to the organization’s maturity. SharePoint evolves with organization’s.
Everybody Lies: Troubleshooting SharePoint Issues with House M.D.
John Ferringer walked through the main diagnostic tools in SharePoint — Event logs, ULS logs, and IIS logs. He provided an overview of tools used for parsing like the ULS Log Viewer and Log Parser. John’s advice on validating web sources is priceless.
I’m looking forward to the SharePoint Conference. I’m excited to move forward with SharePoint 2013.
I demonstrate software to prove a point or expand vision. I’ve found that a knowledge management demonstration significantly moves sponsors in their SharePoint journey from collaboration to business empowered development.
On the surface, the message is compelling because its simple. Employees gain knowledge while collaborating with each other. In order for the Enterprise to gain from these learnings, an effective system makes it easy to share, identify, and discover relevant content and experts. The demonstration details break into walk conversations around branding, content types, content query web parts, and search query web parts.
On June 2, I presented “Knowledge Management Portal – A No-Code Search Driven Application (Office 365)” at SharePoint Saturday St. Louis. Here I’m going to share cliff notes of that presentation with the same end goal — to empower you to tell the story by introducing concepts and resources.
SharePoint as a KM Application
The same functionality that makes SharePoint a great collaboration application makes it great for Knowledge Management. How that functionality surfaces is different — while collaboration focuses on the interaction (upload, download, check in, check out), personalized content is front and center in knowledge management. In order to light up the capability, I mash-up concepts I’ve already shared around branding, document libraries, and search web parts.
In order to keep content fresh and relevant, I strongly suggest building a dynamic display using content query or search web parts. In addition, I recommend removing distractions by applying a simple master page (to make it easier I published customer.master).
Document library settings can help keep content fresh and discoverable through metadata and workflow. Configured appropriately, SharePoint can convert context around an uploaded file into metadata that can be used later during discovery (for example, explore column default values). Tasks can be used to capture metadata from users after upload via workflow, making the system feel more approachable. In addition, workflow automates content archiving helping the system feel fresh.
Search Web Parts
Dynamic content is critical to keep a page fresh. For most people, the easiest way to enable dynamic content is to aggregate user contributions (it’s a hell of a lot easier to keep a page fresh if you can delegate authoring =P). Within SharePoint, Content Query and Search Query Web Parts are the tools of choice to aggregate and customize display of content.
The Content Query Web Part can be pointed to a specific document library or it can aggregate a specific content type. The Search Query Web Part extends the Core Search Results Web Part by pre-loading a query. In SharePoint 2010, the display of both web parts can be modified via XSLT. In SharePoint 2013, Search Query Web Parts takes advantage of Display Templates.
Search Query Web Parts can be added to a WCM page in order to dynamically expose fresh content. Likewise, they can also be added to a Search Results Page in order to draw attention to specific content. Because search queries can capture user context, adding configured search results page to navigation is an easy way to customize content to particular role.
Hey site collection administrators — have you wondered why you have to enable some SharePoint features in multiple places? It’s the benefit and a curse of a delegated system. In part, SharePoint has layers so that roles can be assigned to different people:
As a result, some organizations I work with only staff one or two people to support SharePoint. Other roles are staffed out of the business.
That’s great – but most people interact with SharePoint as a collaboration application. The layers can be intimidating and may lead to SharePoint sprawl. Sprawl happens because users tend to create sites when they need a library and create libraries when they need views.
As a result, I see many SharePoint structures where the vast majority of libraries and lists are empty. We can fix this problem by realizing people use applications and as a result we should govern applications.
As the collaboration governance plan indicates – much of the SharePoint structure should be thought out within the implementation of a collaboration service. Frankly for most collaboration projects, site structure should be flat. Automatic deletion and retention policies can help content fresh and costs down. Based on internal research, if 30% of content in a SharePoint farm is expired – organizations save nearly 90% in storage.