SharePoint: Teleconference requests in a Team Site


You may also be interested in: Simple SharePoint Migration Tool – Content Matrix by Metalogix


 

Editor’s note: Contributor Ellen van Aken is an experienced intranet adoption manager. Follow her @EllenvanAken

2013-09-27-Teleconferences-01.jpgThis is another example of how you can work with external partners via a Team Site.

What was the problem?

The company I used to work for was a big fan of conference calls, with or without a Live Meeting. We were facing some issues:

  • Computer audio did not alway provide good quality, so for calls with 3 or more people it was better to use a ”teleconference bridge”: a set of telephone numbers (one per country) with a unique entry code per meeting. Many employees, departments or project teams had their own permanent conference bridge.
  • Many employees did not use the preferred supplier, often because they did not know we had one or who it was.
  • It was not very clear how one could obtain a conference bridge.
  • Additionally, the Telecom department was unaware of the amount of conference bridges in use, and who owned one.

It was time for the Telecom department to give more attention to the request process.

One of the teams developed a form in HTML, which automatically added your Employee ID. Neat! After completion the form sent an email to the Telecom department. Telecom then added the Cost Center number, and forwarded the email to the telecom provider. However, the form was on a local server which could not be accessed by everyone, and the emails had to be manually stored by Telecom as individual requests, making it difficult to create overviews. For other locations, there was a manual process where you contacted Telecom and they completed another form.

They asked my team if this process could be improved. And guess what…it could! 2013-09-27-Teleconferences-02.gif

What is the solution?

The HTML-form was replaced by a Custom List in the employee-facing team site for all IT-related questions and information.

Every requester enters their Employee ID manually, but since you make this request only once (this being a permanent conference bridge), this is not perceived as a problem. I modified the “New Entry” URL so upon completion, the requester goes to a page with the next steps of the process. (Read here how to modify the URL, scroll to 2f.)

The Telecom department has set an Alert for Added Items, so they know about all new requests immediately. They enter the Cost Center code to the request and then the form is ready for the telecom provider.

Of course I suggested to set up an Alert for Modified Items for the telecom provider, but after some tests and discussions we decided to send the content of the request as an email to the provider with cc to the requester. (via Corasworks)

By using ”Reply All” the telecom provider then sends the conference numbers and other information to both the requester and the Telecom department.

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The part of the form that employees have to complete.

2013-09-27-Teleconferences-04.jpg
The part that Telecom has to enter.

When “Send Email” is “Yes”, Corasworks will send the content of the mail to the provider’s email address. That field does not have a default value to avoid accidental sending of incomplete content.

What are the benefits?

  • The request form is much easier to find and the process is more transparent; this means more people use the preferred way, saving costs and reducing complexity.
  • The Telecom department saves time on entering and managing requests.
  • Telecom department has an overview of the number of bridges in use, and who owns a bridge. This helps them to check if the invoices are correct.

I would have preferred to just give access to the telecom provider, and ask them to add the bridge number to the original request. That would have given the Telecom department even more information without them having to do anything. But well, you can’t always win2013-09-27-Teleconferences-05.gif.

You may also like to read about these examples where we used Team Sites with external partners:

High Tea Reservations
Crisis Management
New Packaging Requests

Data Encryption in a Post-PRISM Cloud

 

Editor’s note: Contributor Mike Fleck is Co-founder of CipherPoint Software, Inc. Follow him @mfleckca

2013-08-27-SharePointSecurityImpact-01.pngThe recent exposure of PRISM and the role that Cloud providers played in that program changes how businesses need to think about Cloud data encryption. These conclusions reduce to two bullet points:

  1. Implicitly trusting your Cloud provider is not a wise move when it comes to storing your sensitive and confidential data in the Cloud. Enterprises must maintain strict control of their information even while it resides and is consumed in the Cloud.
  2. Highly sophisticated organizations want your data. Enterprises need to adopt Cloud data encryption technologies that follow encryption and key management best practices.

Maintain Control

The Cloud provides great economies of scale for both the consumer of the Cloud service and the provider. For example, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon can buy more and better security technologies because they can split their cost-basis across a huge customer base.

The security challenge, then, relates to maintaining control of your information. As someone in one of my recent presentations said, “once you put your data in the Cloud it becomes the property of your Cloud provider who allows you the right to access it for a monthly fee.” With non-commodity Cloud offerings, enterprises can put the Cloud provider through months of due diligence and contract negotiations. That approach doesn’t work with offerings like Office 365 and the like. The best way to maintain control of your data is to encrypt it before it hits the Cloud and then maintain physical ownership of both the data encryption keys and the encryption/decryption functions.

Leave Encryption to the Professionals

While the US Government is the focus of attention these days (for obvious reasons) don’t forget that there are other nations trying to peek at your Cloud data. Like any other group of competitive organizations, if one is doing it the others are, too. This means that your organization is likely to face determined attackers with plenty of resources.

Here are some top concerns when it comes to the landscape of Cloud data encryption vendors:

  1. Proprietary Encryption Algorithms are the one thing that you never, ever want to use. If an encryption algorithm hasn’t been created, vetted, and accepted on a global academic and government scale then don’t use it. Period.
  2. Usability at the cost of security is an approach that vendors take when they don’t have the expertise and experience to devise a Cloud data encryption system that is both secure and usable. There will, of course, always be an impact to usability for securing your data but remember the first bullet. Cutting corners is as good as doing nothing at all.
  3. Encryption and key management requires a pedigree. Encryption and key management are highly specialized disciplines. Few organizations have the talent and experience necessary to make encryption and key management both secure and usable. There are a lot of moving pieces like Initialization Vectors, sources for random numbers, encryption key storage, key rotation, and key expiration just to name a few. We’ve touched on this topic in previous blog.

Another 4 processes to streamline with SharePoint


You may also be interested in: O’Reilly – SharePoint 2010 at Work


 

Editor’s note: Contributor Ellen van Aken is an experienced intranet adoption manager. Follow her @EllenvanAken

2013-09-20-4ProcessesStreamline-01.jpgIn an earlier post, I discussed 4 very common time-consuming processes that you can make more efficient by using SharePoint. But I guess that the next 4, although perhaps less common, still occur quite often.

You can make your project managers, your business venture managers and your IT department very happy if you can show them that you can facilitate these processes with a SharePoint Team Site.

5. Corporate projects needing input from many countries/businesses

Forget sending large status updates in PowerPoint or Excel per email. For large central projects, use a site where you can collect the status updates from every country or business in a list. If you need security, or want to allow that country or business to share their project documents and other information, you can use a site collection instead, where every country of business has their own site. You can use a Content Query Webpart to collect all updates in another site for the Project Manager.

It helps to create one page where the collective progress is shown – you may lose confidentiality but it will reduce the time needed to create reports and it will help the business to see how their own efforts contribute to the projects’ or company’s goal. Of course everyone will be able to set alerts.

All this will reduce inbox overload, make the project progress much more transparent and save the Project Manager lots of time in reporting.

Some examples:

  • Centralizing the organization
  • Capturing procurement terms and conditions
  • Local milestones for a divestiture
  • Action plans following the global employee satisfaction survey
  • A global sustainability project

Example: PMO in a Team Site

6. Business experiments

Why spend time and money on dedicated software if you are not 100% sure that your new business venture will be successful? Start with a process in SharePoint and see how things turn out. It will perhaps not do everything you think you need, but as you work with it you will learn more about your eventual software needs, helping you to define better requirements. And if your pilot fails, you do not have to add software costs to your losses.

Example: High Tea Reservations.

7. Temporary pre-ERP solutions

If your “Problem Process” is not yet in scope for your ERP-system, why not check if you can move it to SharePoint before making the leap to ERP? It may not be the ideal solution, but you may be able to iron out those process wrinkles, which will make your process more efficient now. And moving to your ERP-system later will be less painful because you have a better process to start with.

Example: CRM in a Team Site, now with screenshots!

8. Legacy processes

Chances are that you still have a few of those one-trick-ponies from the nineties or noughties in your application portfolio. The companies that created them have merged ten times or gone bust, there are no updates or support, the manual is lost, the user interface is outdated and they may even need separate log-on. This is a good opportunity to free up a server, use the regular support system, apply SSO and a familiar look-and-feel and generally reduce complexity.

We have used an InfoPath solution to replace an outdated Idea Submission programme, and replaced a visit-pass-request-system by a simple Custom List.

All these examples will help with “The daily dose of SharePoint” that your employees need to become more familiar with SharePoint. The more different uses of SharePoint they see, the more they will learn that SharePoint is a versatile tool that you can use every day, for almost every process.

7 Power User Solutions for SharePoint: A New Book

I’m very proud to announce that EUSP’s first, self-published, hard copy book, Black Magic Solutions for White Hat SharePoint, is now available on Amazon for $19.95! The Kindle version has been available for over a month, but we had so many requests for a printed version, we couldn’t hold out any longer.

Black Magic Solutions is for SharePoint power users who want to enhance the functionality of the SharePoint interface. We’ve kept the price down to half of what you’d expect to pay from a major publisher.

Topics include:

  • "If a Brit stumples in a jQuery forest, does anyone hear his cries?" by Dave Coleman
  • "Build Solid Script Libraries for your Enterprise" by Marc Anderson
  • "Build a Content Slider Web Part: Dynamic Display of Pictures and Text" by Wendy Neal
  • "Build an HTML5 Video Galleary" by Ben Tedder
  • "Modify Your SharePoint 2013 Navigation Menu with a jQuery Plugin" by Eric Overfield
  • "Create a Mobile Friendly SharePoint Blog with jQuery Mobile" by Josh McCarty
  • "Create a Team Site Solution for Running Agile Projects" by Paul Taveres

EUSP Authors

Most of the solutions are applicable for SharePoint 2007/2010/2013 and Office365. These are not updated articles from the EUSP archives. Each solution was written exclusively for this book. I speak for all the authors when I say, "Thank you for your support of our project." We look forward to seeing your reviews on Amazon.

 

Black Magic Solutions for White Hat SharePoint

Black Magic Solutions for White Hat SharePoint

 

SharePoint Fest Chicago 2013

 

Editor’s note: Contributor Bonnie Surma is a SharePoint community evangelist and vice president for TechAds Network and MarketPlace. She manages the services and advertising for SharePointJoel.com and is a co-administrator for the SharePoint Yammer Community #SPYam. Follow her @sharepointmom.

SharePoint Fest is in its 4th year of successful conferences. Join David Wilhelm and team in Chicago, October 7-9, 2013.

2013-09-21-SharePointFestChicago-01.png

SharePoint conferences in the mid-Atlantic do not happen often. Hearing that SharePoint Fest DC was coming to our area, it was a huge deal! Other than SharePoint Saturday events and the Protiviti-sponsored SharePoint Conference .ORG, we usually have to travel many miles for the larger conferences. It was a welcomed event for our SharePoint communities here in the mid-Atlantic.

David Wilhelm brought SharePoint Fest to DC in August, and I experienced firsthand the SharePoint Fest craze! I’d never met David in person but had interviewed him via email last year for SharePoint Fest Denver. What a delightful host! Spotting passion for a cause or purpose has never been a problem for me. The minute I shook David’s hand, I could feel both his passion for community and for having a great event. I was not disappointed.

Just looking at the superstar line-up of speakers and preconference sessions spoke volumes for the quality of information that would be shared. I arrived and immediately started seeing familiar faces. After catching up with a few and seeing the camaraderie among the group, it was apparent that momentum was building for a great event….not just among the speakers but the sponsors and attendees as well.

The craze moves to Chicago again October 7-9 and will be held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. Catch one of the full-day preconference workshops on Monday with industry experts Dan Holme, Chris McNulty, Peter Carson or half-day workshops with Ira Fuchs, Michael Blumenthal, Rob Bogue, Sean McDonough, or Jeff Willinger.

The main conference begins on Tuesday, October 8, with a keynote from Steve Fox, Director of Microsoft Consulting Services at Microsoft. Immediately following the keynote, the conference break-out sessions begin, focusing on 10 tracks: ECM, SharePoint power user, workflow, search, business intelligence, Office 365, social SharePoint, special topics, SharePoint development, SharePoint infrastructure and administration. Suggested tracks are listed on the website below the agenda. Session abstracts are also available to assist more with your planning.

As David quoted in my interview with him last year and is worth repeating this year…. “I and we are always committed to evolving along with the SharePoint ecosystem and want to always provide events that leave attendees walking away saying “I can’t wait to come back next year!’” I actually felt that after leaving DC this year. I was very glad to meet David and to see the results of his community labors through this conference.

Register today for SharePoint Fest Chicago. You will not be disappointed! Follow on Twitter #SPFestChicago.

Challenges Securing SharePoint Against Privileged Insiders

 

Editor’s note: Contributor Mike Fleck is Co-founder of CipherPoint Software, Inc. Follow him @mfleckca

2013-08-27-SharePointSecurityImpact-01.pngIt is well documented at this point that some leaked Wikileaks data came from SharePoint sites. Details have emerged regarding how the data relating to the PRISM breach was obtained, and this breach, like Wikileaks, also involved SharePoint.

To provide some structure for this discussion, we’ll break the discussion into three types of collaboration platforms: legacy file servers, on-premises SharePoint sites, and cloud collaboration platforms such as Office 365 and SharePoint Online.

Legacy file servers

Insider security threats in legacy file server environments include classic systems administrator issues (excessive permissions, inability to enforce need to know, lack of separation of duties). Third party products exist that can help add a layer of security control to these environments. These products enforce need to know by using an independent access control and encryption capability, which is usually managed by IT security or by the business manager (data owner).

On-premises SharePoint

Purpose-built collaboration platforms such as SharePoint bring a multitude of security issues, many of which depend on the use case, and the deployment model.

For example, SharePoint when deployed as an intranet collaboration system presents a different set of potential security threats versus SharePoint as an extranet collaboration platform. Regardless, however, it’s hard to argue that the SharePoint platform, out of the box, has sufficient security controls to prevent insiders from accessing sensitive information that they have no valid “need to know” of.

Even if you implement background checks and other process-based controls to mitigate insider threats, consider that administrator credentials are among the most prized targets by external attackers. Given the porous nature of perimeter-only security defenses today, implementing technical security controls that limit the damage that can be done from compromised system administrator accounts is just smart security (and part of a defense in depth strategy). It’s also worth acknowledging that systems administrators frequently take the path of least resistance, by combining service accounts and privileges. This can easily lead to a situation where the sysadmin’s credentials are literally the “keys to the kingdom.”

Locking down premise SharePoint sites requires an additional layer of access control and encryption.

Cloud Collaboration (Office 365, SharePoint Online)

Cloud collaboration systems bring a different set of security issues. Whether SaaS or IaaS, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that in external cloud services, outsiders (in the form of cloud service provider system administrators) are your new insiders (and insider threat).

Here’s an article that describes the havoc that can be brought by a rogue cloud service provider system administrator.

As with premise file servers and SharePoint sites, applying encryption and access control to data stored in cloud collaboration systems is the only way (from a technical control standpoint) to protect access to sensitive data. There are a number of different technical approaches to securing cloud data. Future articles will explore the various ways to do this.

Is Dropbox vs. Office 365: The Next IT Battleground?

 

Editor’s note: Follow contributor Mark Fidelman @markfidelman

A big mismatch is looming today between how CIOs view the world and how most employees view the world — and it’s creating an even deeper gap between the two.

For many of today’s employees, IT is the equivalent of the roadblock department in charge of slowing productivity and causing unnecessary headaches. Employees expect instant access to their work-related data and services and data from their personal tablets and smartphones – but, in most cases, IT is unable to support them. In today’s mobile world, employees are not waiting for IT anymore. They are taking matters into their own hands and bypassing IT altogether. That’s dangerous.

In fact, according to a newly released uSamp survey of 500 mobile business users (commissioned by my client harmon.ie) four in ten mobile business users happily ignore IT restrictions proclaimed by their slow-moving, draconian IT departments to try out file sharing services such as Dropbox. Its simple experience is a huge draw, and unlike SharePoint, it works just as well on Android and Apple phones as it does on tablets, PCs and Macs. So what’s the issue?

Its infamous security flaws, for one. Ask just about any CIO you know and they’ll tell you that Dropbox is a huge security risk.

In this August 2013 security research report, Dhiru Kholia of Openwall and Przemysław Wegrzyn of CodePainters detail various methods to bypass Dropbox’s authentication, intercept SSL data and use a combination of code injection and ‘monkey patching’ techniques to hijack Dropbox accounts. What’s more, according to the uSamp survey, one in four workers (27%) who shared a document using Dropbox and other unsanctioned cloud services suffered negative repercussions, ranging from lost business to law suits and financial penalties.

That’s a problem.

And it gets worse: 38 percent of respondents to the uSamp survey said that a document shared using an unsanctioned service such as Dropbox reached an unintended recipient in the past 6 months, and 27 percent reported a data breach and negative consequences as a result. So chances are uncomfortably high that if your employees are using Dropbox at their discretion, they’ll make a big – and potentially costly – mistake. Adding insult to injury, SharePoint customers waste nearly $1 billion a year in duplicate Dropbox file sync and sharing services, harmon.ie reports in this infographic :

2013-09-17-RogueITSurvey-01.jpg
The High Cost of Mobile Business Users’ Rogue IT Behavior

You can download the full report at http://harmon.ie/rogue-it-report-register.

So how can peace between IT professionals and their business users be restored? The de facto Dropbox and SharePoint co-existence solution is an expensive one. Can a clean cut be made? And if so, how?

One obvious solution is to deliver secure, full featured access to Office 365 and SharePoint from corporate-owned and personally owned iOS and Android devices, in addition to Windows. Given Microsoft’s reluctance to offer its prized productivity and collaboration suite directly to customers with multiple operating systems, five MDM vendors – Airwatch, Citrix, Good Technology, MobileIron, and Samsung KNOX – have taken matters into their own hands and offer secure access to Office 365 and SharePoint document collaboration and social features from iOS and Android devices, in partnership with harmon.ie.

That’s one potential solution; built-in data encryption for document collaboration is another. What additional mobile security solutions would you like to see over the next two to three years?

Course Summary of TrainSignal’s Course “SharePoint Server 2013 Administration” – Part 2

 

Editor’s note: Contributor Stephan Onisick is a Senior Software Developer for HP specializing in SharePoint Portal Applications. Follow him @StephanOnisick

Lesson 3: Installing SharePoint

Bill starts lesson 3 by explaining SharePoint Server Roles– basically this hasn’t changed in the big picture: there is a Web Server, Application Server and Database Server.

Next he goes into Server or Server Farm Topologies and explains a Single Server or Stand-Alone Deployment.

(I actually have a disagreement with Bill in that there is a difference between a Stand-Alone Install and a Single-Server Farm Install. What he is referring to in this example is a Stand-Alone Install.

The Single-Server Farm Install is scalable where the Stand-Alone Install is not. The Single-Server Farm is actually a Farm install on one actual physical server but is configured as a farm. I have been doing this install for all my development systems. Bill uses the term Stand-Alone later when he shows a Single-Sever. This was vetted with Chirag Mehta, ( a friend on SharePoint-Community.net)

Next he starts the basic install. After the Install completes, Bill chooses the option to run the SharePoint Products Configuration Wizard when it comes up and of course, we want to run it.

Even though Bill hasn’t used the terms “Grey Wizard” and “White Wizard” to refer to the SharePoint Products Configuration Wizard and the Central Admin’s Farm Configuration Wizard, I will be using this terminology as they are useful to point out some specific scenarios in Bill’s installation. Since the background of the next screens are grey, hence “Grey Wizard”:

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-01.png
Mysterious "Grey Wizard" or SharePoint Product Configuration Wizard

After this configuration wizard finishes, Bill Launches into the “White Wizard” or the Central Admin Farm Configuration Wizard:

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-02.png
Screen to Initiate the "White Wizard"

(At this point many people including me are yelling “Please Bill don’t do the configuration with the wizard!!” Alas, all to no avail. Bill even notes these sentiments. There are other ways to go through and configure farm services via PowerShell Scripts. But there is method to Bill’s going this route; basically, this course is an intro SharePoint Administration on 2013.

Actually this is not as bad as it seems: Bill’s methodology with the major services, like “Search” and “User Profile Administration”, is to initially delete the configured service; then, to reconfigure them.

His simple actions give the student confidence to do the same. This is exactly how I finally got my Profile Administration Services for SharePoint 2013 launched.)

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-03.png
Much Maligned "White Wizard"

Bill does a good job in explaining the basic services and deselecting the ones for a more advanced session.

(Note Bill actually restarts the installation from before the “White Wizard” was run in the next lesson. So that he can go through the wizard again. This means that the majority of services and databases just created will go “bye-bye” and be recreated in the next lesson.)

Lesson 4: Farm Configuration

At this point, Bill takes a step back. He actually picks up from before the “White Wizard” ran, just to see if everyone was awake. (I failed twice.) Some of the services and databases that we configured in the last lesson are gone.

He notes that there is only one Web Application present and that is for “SharePoint Central Administration v4” and then examines the IIS Manager and the SharePoint Central Administration Website.

Next after initiating the Farm Wizard, Bill sets up the “SPSvc” Service Account, Services Account, in Configure Managed Accounts to use an account other than the Farm Account. Bill also spends time discussing password synchronization and how to use the Register Managed Account to see what services are being run by which account.

After the end of the Farm Configuration Wizard, he creates the “Globomantics Main” Site Collection as a Team Site.

Then Bill shows the Services being managed by SPSVC after the Farm Configuration Wizard has been run under Configure Managed Accounts

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-04.png
Register Managed Account after Configuration

(Get any 10 Administrators in a room and there will be 10 ways of doing permissions. This screen under Managed Accounts is helpful to find out who actually has what.)

Finally Bill views the Site Collection in Central Admin and from the URL he opens the site created – you know, the Standard Blue and White SharePoint 2013 “Hello World” Screen. Bill concludes the lesson by showing the new databases created by the “White Wizard”:

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-05.png
Databases – Surprise! Now you see um again-Note Ugly Database Names!

(Note: When the databases are created by the Farm Configuration Wizard, the wizard tacks an ugly guid at the end of the name.)

Lesson 5: The Logical Architecture of SharePoint

If you’ve been doing SharePoint for any length of time this was a “snooze puppy”

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-06.png
Logical Structure of SharePoint

If you have knowledge of what the following terms are: a Farm, a Web Application, an App Pool, a Site Collection and a Site/Web — feel free to move to Lesson 6. If you are really new to SharePoint, the lesson is a good overview.

Lesson 6: Creating Web Applications

Bill walks through the creation of two web sites: the Globomantics Intranet Site and the Globomantics My Sites. But first he examines the Health Monitor. He notes that most of the warnings are because the installation is not complete.

Next he registers SPAdmin, the install account, for the security account of the App Pool he is about to create in the new Web Application. Then he creates the new Web Application from Central Admin:

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-07.png
Creating a Web Application

Bill provides a good explanation of Host Headers, which are needed to give descriptive and unique web directories for applications in IIS.

Next he fills in the information in the Create New Web Application Page so that a new App Pool will be built when the web application is created:

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-08.png
Basic Creation Screen–Bill will change the Ugly Database Name

(Note: See the ugly name for the Database Name with the long guid. This gets renamed to “Globomantic_Intranet” (Yeah Bill!) to make it more understandable and easier to locate.

Next Bill explains the concepts of Service Application Connections:

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-09.png
Web Application Services Hookup

He explains the use of a “Custom Connection Group” when not all default services need to be associated with a particular web application. This might be a web app to do some specific set of tasks.

After creating the Application, Bill is not yet ready to create the Site Collections, so he moves on to create the My Sites Web Application. Basically this is a “Rinse and Repeat” of the first Application created.

Next Bill configures the DNS on the Domain Controller:

2013-09-17-TrainSignalCourse-Part02-10.png
Configuring Domain Controller to Configure DNS–Go Bill Go!

(To me this is where Bill really excels doing off-roading. These little side trips can, and do, cost technical people complete days of searching and Googling because not everyone doing these tasks has mastery of all the disciplines involved.)

Next Bill creates a new Host Record in DNS for our Globomantics Intranet Sites (the site will not be accessed from the outside, so only one record is needed to locate the site internally.)

Bill creates another Host Header for the My Sites App. Then briefly reviews the IIS Configuration.

5 Features for your SharePoint 2013 Intranet Homepage


You may also be interested in: Simple SharePoint Migration Tool – Content Matrix by Metalogix


 

Editor’s note: Contributor Chris Clark is the Marketing Manager for Creative Sharepoint. Follow him @chrisclark005

Intro

A well designed homepage can be the make or break of an intranet. It forms first impressions of the system and acts as a starting point for a range of tasks and journeys.

Despite this importance, many organisations fail to get this keystone of their intranet right. All too often the homepage becomes a static page, crowded with generic content produced by a handful of designated authors.

Inevitably this has a knock-on impact on the rest of the intranet. Users avoid the homepage (in some cases, the intranet all together) and bookmark various other sites and pages instead.

So what can organisations do to create a relevant and engaging intranet homepage? Crucially, there must be a recognition that users’ expectations of the intranet have changed. Rather than just formal top-down communication, employees expect the homepage (and the intranet in general) to be a hub for bottom-up and peer-to-peer communication.

That communication is no longer limited to just change management initiatives or the CEO’s blog either. Employees want to see information relevant to their day-to-day activity, such as personal or organisational performance data.

The functionality in SharePoint 2013 has reflected these changes in user expectations. In this blog, we will explore 5 trending intranet homepage features and explore what SharePoint 2013 functionality is available to deliver these.

1. Creating an intranet newsfeed with SharePoint 2013

2. Surfacing intranet blogs with SharePoint 2013

3. Creating an intranet survey with SharePoint 2013

4. Surfacing intranet KPIs with SharePoint 2013

5. Creating an intranet discussion list with SharePoint 2013

1. Creating an intranet newsfeed with SharePoint 2013

An intranet newsfeed gives users the ability to rapidly and publicly communicate with one another, enabling them to ask questions, post updates, share ideas and more.

For management, it offers an opportunity to engage with employees openly, directly and personally.

Suggested SharePoint 2013 functionality: Newsfeed App

The SharePoint newsfeed provides a microblogging experience familiar from social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Users can post comments (including rich media), direct it at specific users with @targetting and tag it with a specific topic using #tags. Comments (as well as users and #tags) can be followed and liked.

The author’s profile picture, as well as presence (e.g. online, offline, in a meeting), is displayed on an interactive tile to the left of the comment itself. Newsfeeds can be added to multiple sites on the SharePoint intranet and all conversations are aggregated (and can be filtered) in the users’ MySite Newsfeeds.

Out-the-box example

In this example a member of the Marketing department has used the SharePoint homepage newsfeed to gather feedback on a recent company video. The video itself has been embedded inline from a YouTube link and another user has liked the original post and replied.

2013-09-15-5Features-01.png

Custom example

In this example we’ve simply styled the SharePoint homepage newsfeed app to have a custom header reflecting the organisation’s brand and SharePoint intranet theme.

2013-09-15-5Features-02.jpg

2. Surfacing intranet blogs with SharePoint 2013

Intranet blogs open discussions around relevant topics in the way that news articles cannot. They provide authors with the ability to not only communicate a message, but also to spark conversation and collect feedback. For readers, they offer the opportunity to have their opinions be heard and addressed.

Suggested SharePoint 2013 functionality: Blog Site and Content Search Web Part

The SharePoint blog site offers authors the authoring and publishing tools they would expect from a consumer Content Management system like WordPress – including rich text editing, the ability to embed video from sources like YouTube and the ability to publish content directly from Microsoft Word. Readers can “Like” or Rate (1-5 stars) blog posts, leave comments and follow / share via RSS or email.

The SharePoint Content Search Web Part can aggregate all blogs from multiple site collections and surface links to them (in chronological order) via a web part on the SharePoint intranet homepage.

Out-the-box example

In this example we’ve used the SharePoint Content Search Web Part to display all blog posts from all SharePoint site collections. This means we are seeing an aggregated view of personal blogs (from MySites), departmental blogs (from team sites) and organisation-wide blogs.

2013-09-15-5Features-03.png

Custom example

In this example we’ve displayed SharePoint blogs as part of a tabbed web part that also aggregates formal company announcements as well as company events in a calendar format. The web part has also been styled to include a profile of the blog author as well as a synopsis and to suit the organisation’s brand and SharePoint intranet theme.

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3. Creating an intranet survey with SharePoint 2013

Intranet surveys enable creators to rapidly crowd source valuable information from a large pool of employees. As participants in the survey, employees are likely to become more engaged as a result of having a convenient channel for bottom-up feedback. Due to the potential passing traffic, the intranet homepage makes the ideal location for a SharePoint survey.

Suggested SharePoint 2013 functionality: Survey App and Promoted Links App

The SharePoint survey app provides a template to quickly and easily construct surveys with various question types (multiple choice, rating scales, text fields). Once the surveys are completed it also provides graphical representations of the results (which can also be exported to Excel for further analysis).

The SharePoint promoted links app part creates metro-style tiles with a hover-over state to provide additional text information. The benefit of the tiles is that they are more visually engaging than a standard list and follow the theme of the SharePoint site.

Out-the-box example

In this example we’ve used the SharePoint promoted links app part to display 2 Calls to Action – “Take the survey” and “View the results”. When a user clicks on the “Take the survey” link, the SharePoint survey app is opened in a modal on the same page.

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Custom example

In this example we’ve embedded the SharePoint survey question directly onto the SharePoint intranet homepage to make it even more convenient for users, increasing the number of responses. When the response is submitted the web part dynamically changes to display a graphical view of the results. The web part has also been styled to suit the organisation’s brand and SharePoint intranet theme.

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4. Surfacing intranet KPIs with SharePoint 2013

By having convenient and regular access to KPIs, employees are able to align their activities more closely with the changing demands of the business. Increasing visibility of organisational level performance metrics also unites employees in a wider cause.

Suggested SharePoint 2013 functionality: Excel Web Access Web Part

The Excel Web Access Web Part enables us to display data from an Excel spreadsheet directly on a SharePoint page. The author has granular control over what data from the spreadsheet is displayed and what data can be accessed (e.g. displayed only a single chart, restrict the ability to open or download the spreadsheet).

Once surfaced on the SharePoint page, the Excel data can also be made interactive for users. Filters and refiners for Pivot Charts and Tables as well as animated charts (using PowerView) can be surfaced so that users are able to explore data in more detail.

Out-the-box example

In this example we’ve used the Excel Web Access Web Part to surface FY2013 sales figures against targets. Users can filter the chart to see data by a specific quarter or month.

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Custom example

In these examples we’ve displayed a variety of KPIs on the SharePoint intranet homepage combining a text description with a RAG status, indicating immediately to the user which areas of the business relevant to them are performing or under performing. In addition the web parts have been styled to suit the organisations’ brands and SharePoint intranet themes.

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5. Creating an intranet discussion list with SharePoint 2013

Intranet discussion lists, as the name suggests, allow users to discuss particular topics with their peers and subject matter experts. An intranet discussion list could be used for a wide-range of purposes, from a Questions and Answers area to a forum for Product Ideas. The benefit of discussion lists is that employees can tap into a wide organisational network of knowledge and resources.

Suggested SharePoint 2013 functionality: Community Site Features and Discussion List App

The SharePoint Community Site Features allow us to create forum-style collaboration areas. Users can ask questions or start discussions using a discussion list. The content can be ordered by category. Contributors are rewarded with scores for their replies (and designated “Best Answers”) and discussion lists can be moderated by appointed users if required.

Out-the-box example

In this example we have added a noticeboard to the homepage for users to post work-related “Buy and Sell” discussions / adverts. This sort of fast-changing and unpredictable content often helps drive traffic to the homepage.

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Custom example

In this example we have embedded the “Ask a Question” field directly into the page for convenience. Additionally, the responses to any questions or discussions added are displayed in-line on the same page, so users do not need to navigate to a new page to view them. The web part has also been styled to suit the organisation’s brand and SharePoint intranet theme.

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Conclusion

SharePoint 2013 comes equipped with all the functionality required to create a dynamic and engaging intranet homepage for users. For those that recognize the changing requirements of intranets and harness this new functionality, the rewards can be great. A good intranet homepage sets precedent for a wider intranet experience and can contribute to employee engagement and productivity.

Whilst SharePoint’s out-the-box functionality has vastly improved since 2010, the requirement for customisation remains in order to provide a fully branded and cutting-edge user experience.

SharePoint: Travel Arrangements in a Team Site


You may also be interested in: fpweb.net


 

Editor’s note: Contributor Ellen van Aken is an experienced intranet adoption manager. Follow her @EllenvanAken

In my previous post I realized that I did not have an example of data collection via Excel files, so here is one.

Are you on the receiving end of Excel files that you have to complete and return? Isn’t that annoying?

  • You have to open the file, enter the data, save the document on your PC, open email, pick file from your PC and then return it to the sender.
  • The sender has to spend lots of time on aggregating the different Excel files into one. He or she has to deal with changes.
  • Then you have to wait until the sender shares all information with you, as well as versions 2 and 3 etc. – if he or she ever does.

What was the situation?

Our HR team organized a global business development training several times a year, for a number of employees from all over the world. It was done in a central location. The training manager wanted to share preparation materials, as well as documentation and an evaluation for after the training, in a Team Site.

What is the solution?

The first step was to create a Team Site for the curriculum (calendar), the pre-reading material (document library) and pictures and bios of the attendees (picture library). After the training, the documentation would be added in another document library.

The training manager started saying “For our evaluation I always use SurveyMo…” but she stopped quickly when she saw the expression on my face2013-09-13-TravelArrangements-01.gif.

I added a SharePoint survey to the site.

2013-09-13-TravelArrangements-02.pngThen she told me she was going to send out the customary Excel file to collect travel and diet details. She was not looking forward to that, because it meant a lot of cutting and pasting information. Then there were always changes to the schedules after she had completed and shared the consolidated file. Surely she could spend her time on better things!

So, in the Training Team Site we created a custom list with the relevant fields.

Now, with the introduction of the site to the participants she also sent a link to the Travel Arrangements list, where everyone could add (and edit) their own information. We added a “count” on various diet preferences, so she knew how many of which diets were needed. We showed people how to filter the data to find attendees from the same country or with a similar schedule, allowing sharing a taxi or meeting up before or after the event.

I showed the manager how to set an Alert and how to export the information to Excel.

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The complete Travel Data Entry screen.

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All entries, allowing people to see eachother’s travel schedule. Clicking on a person’s name shows all details, such as flight number etc.

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Entries by dietary requirements. This was a useful view for catering.

After the training we created a template from the site to use for other instances of this training.

What are the benefits?

  • Sharing all documentation via a Team Site saves email traffic – there are no large attachments and everybody knows where the documentation is
  • The participants can manage their own travel schedule and can always see everyone else’s, allowing all kinds of interaction
  • The training manager saves time with the travel arrangements because all information is added to the list and she only has to export the information if she needs it as a document
  • Since we turned the site into a site template her next trainings will save her even more time because the configuration is done and the standard information is already in the template
  • The participants are being exposed to a variety of SharePoint functionality

Using a SharePoint list for the travel arrangements is only a small process change, but it is another example of how you can save time and effort with SharePoint.