Friday, April 18, 2014

SharePoint Extranet on Office 365 – Part 1

So you want to use SharePoint for an Extranet.  First, let’s briefly consider reasons you would want an extranet in case you are still on the fence.  Simply put, if you have a need to collaborate with people external to your company, such as clients, vendors, and/or customers, you need an extranet.  A surprising number of businesses still “collaborate” and share documents by emailing back and forth.  
I recently purchased a new home and the number of documents that had to be shared (and re-shared) via email was astounding.  What if they had a website we could just post the documents to, and track what was left for me to send, and have a calendar of all the important dates?  You get the idea.  SharePoint works great for collaborating and sharing information with non-employees of any kind.  It’s not just documents, it’s tasks, calendars, and so many more of those out of the box SharePoint features you can take for granted.

Now you understand why you need one, and that SharePoint is a great solution for an extranet, so where do you build it?  You can do on-premise, hosted, or Office 365.  Your first inclination is probably to investigate Office 365 for an extranet solution.  This is the direction Microsoft would want you to go, you can get a site up and running quickly, and you aren’t responsible for the hardware.  It’s a logical first place to explore (if your company is willing to have all the information stored externally somewhere). 

Once deep diving into Office 365 as an extranet solution, you will most likely find its feature set to be pretty lacking if you want any real control over your extranet.  As Microsoft’s Senior Product Marketing Manager for SharePoint Bill Baer puts it, “For customers seeking only to share limited content and/or collaborate short-term without the need for a seamless logon experience or whose extranet environment is not subject to corporate or governmental policies, Office 365 provides an external sharing experience that can be leveraged to make data available over the Internet to remote employees, customers, and partners.”  

If that is all you are looking for, why not just use Google Docs for free, or drop box, or other similar service?  Simply put, most corporations needing to have a robust extranet require much more.  The customers we work with that need an extranet solution are not looking to share just limited content, collaborate for just a short term, and are subject to corporate and/or governmental policies.  They also require a seamless login experience, a way to manage and track external users, and an easier way to manage the sites without adding extra overhead to employees.  

You might once again say, but Office 365 is so easy to get going, maybe we can compromise some features.  It's not a small amount of features you'd be compromising, and I'll detail that in later posts.  If your real goal is trying to move everything to the cloud to get rid of the server overhead, and need to get a solid extranet up and running quickly, stay tuned for Part 2 in this series for a solution that’ll do just that, but also give you the extranet solution you really need.  

So who is a good candidate to use Office 365 for an extranet.  If you are a very small company, with little to no IT department, needing to share a few documents here or there with external people, and don't need any real control or view into who your external users are, then Office 365 is possibly a decent way to go for your extranet.  Other than that scenario, Office 365 doesn't provide you with the management, security, and control, that most companies would have as requirements for a solid extranet solution.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I can’t get the date for [Today] in SharePoint 2013

In my SharePoint 2013 Power User Fast Track class last week, a student asked if she could make a column display today’s date in SharePoint 2013.

This seemed simple enough using a calculated column, but then I discovered there is a restriction on calculated columns that forbids the use of the [Today] and [me] functions.  There are whole discussions on why this is the case, similar to this one. 

The simple explanation is that calculated columns don’t update until the individual item is updated. 

So what is the solution to this problem?  Well, the answer to that relies more on what your end goal really is.  If you want to be able to see items within a certain date range, then a view can work around this by using a simple filter like “deadline is less than [Today] +3”. This will show everything with a deadline of 3 days from now or less.

After some back and forth, I learned that the reason for the [Today] column is to remind users about items that are coming due.  A way to accomplish this in 2013 is to use workflows.  With SharePoint 2013 and Office 365’s SharePoint Online, we now have the ability to make custom workflows that loop.  Combining this capability with pausing workflows allows us to update or check our records every 24 hours. 

Workflows in 2013 CAN set a variable to Today’s date and then compare that to the deadline value. Or today’s date can be written back to a column in the item every 24 hours.

There are two things to consider at this point though.  One is that you need to set escape conditions for your loop so that SharePoint doesn’t run an infinite loop.  The best option is probably to set the loop to check if the task, document, or item has a “completed” condition.

The other consideration is what kind of load this will generate on your server.  While a dozen records being updated by workflows all at the same time will not create much of a drag, having thousands of records updated at the exact same time may create enough drag to bog your farm down.  You will want to set a large number of operations to occur very early in the morning (like 0200) or stagger the actions so some occur every half hour.  I'll leave that to your imagination unless specifically requested in the comments.

Other than what we can do in SharePoint, this once again emphasizes what my SharePoint mentor taught me when I started:  Sometimes what you are trying to do is not as important as the end result you want to accomplish.  

While we can’t create a calculated column that keeps today’s date in it, there are new ways of doing things that take our journey in a different direction but get to the same result.


Monday, April 07, 2014

Automatically Assign Users to SharePoint Roles or Groups - Set Up Security Policies in ExCM

Frequently, an organization would like to be able to automatically assign extranet users to an Extranet Role as part of the ExCM invitation and self-service registration process.  ExCM includes a feature named “Security Policies” that is designed to make this possible.

Follow the steps below to take advantage of this capability:
1.       From Site Settings, click on Extranet Settings from the Extranet Management group:

2.       Click on Security Policies under the General Settings heading:

3.       Select the Security Policy Tab in the ribbon and click on New Policy:

4.       In the New Security Policy dialog box, you have several options to set different types of Security Policies.  The most common use is to set a Site Collection policy (or Site policy, if you use sub-sites rather than Site Collections) to ensure that new registrants are automatically added to a specific Extranet Role whenever they first register for the site.  (Presumably, prior to this the administrator would have granted the Extranet Role specific SharePoint permissions.) 

This screenshot shows an example of setting a policy that will automatically add all new registrants to the Acme Collaboration Site Collection to the Acme Users Extranet Role.  Prior to this the Acme Users Extranet Role had been granted read permission to the site:

5.       The finished Security Policy looks like this:

Once the security policy is in place, any user that is added to your site will now be added to the role "Acme Users" without having to remember to do this step manually. If you want to save yourself some time, and possibly some unnecessary troubleshooting, make sure you set this policy up on every site collection you provision. If you are using our Site Provisioning and Governance Automation tool, make sure you set the activity to create the role, assign read permission, and Add Site Security Policy with every site provisioned saving you from manually doing all those steps.

Monday, March 24, 2014

SharePoint Conference 2014 - Site Provisioning and Governance Always Hot Topic

Site Provisioning and Governance Vending MachineAt the recent SharePoint Conference, held at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, there were several sessions on site provisioning and governance.  These sessions were highly attended, which shows that these remain hot topics and have been since the beginning of SharePoint really.

Why after all these years is there still such an interest in these topics?  The fact is, if there were a universally great way to provision sites and enforce governance, there wouldn't be the interest in these sessions.  My theory is that this is something everyone wants, but most have simply not found a way to achieve adequately.  Even those who have some subset of this in place, realize there is still quite a bit of room for improvement.

The problem: Self-service site creation is simply not an option if you care at all about governance.  That leaves provisioning new site collections up to IT, via Central Administration.  Creating uniform sites, with proper approvals, appropriate controls, and proper logging is quite cumbersome.  It involves many people and manual work, which leaves a lot of room for human error, and takes a considerable amount of time.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Course: InfoPath and SharePoint 2013 No-Code Workflow Deep Dive

Beginning with our 2007 “Mission: Automation” course on InfoPath and no-code SharePoint workflows, our courses on designing digital forms, and automating business processes through SharePoint workflows have been some of our most popular and effective courses ever!

Friday, January 24, 2014

New SharePoint Training Course: SharePoint 2013 Power User Fast Track

More and more companies are coming on board with SharePoint 2013 and more and more of their employees need to be trained to use it effectively.

PremierPoint Solutions is pleased to announce our newest course, a course that can take you from Power User to SharePoint Power User in just 3 days. Take it at our Nashville training center or Live Online right at your desk – your choice. Either way, it’s just $1695. And our engaging and interactive atmosphere makes learning fun!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

It’s a New Year’s Revolution!

It’s a New Year’s Revolution! Out with the old and in with the new!

Old what? New what?

PremierPoint Solutions Training Class Prices!
In our ongoing efforts to remove every obstacle to helping everyone receive high-quality SharePoint training, PremierPoint Solutions has dealt a death blow to 2013 prices.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Do you really need .NET experience?
As a SharePoint training instructor, I occasionally run across postings for SharePoint positions as I cruise the Internet reading up on SharePoint information in general.  This sometimes inspires me to take a look at what kinds of positions are out there and what the current trends are for hiring.  I look through job postings, not necessarily for myself but because I’m curious about what companies are interested in.
I’ve noticed that a lot of SharePoint positions out there have a funny little sentence in them.  I’m not just talking about positions that are marketed as programming or development positions – this requirement seems to be in about 95% of SharePoint positions I look at:
“.NET experience”

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Performance-Enhancing Skills: They're Legal

By Randy Moody

It’s kind of ironic, in a way.

In sports, performance-enhancing substances are a huge no-no.
But, in the workplace, performance-enhancing skills are exactly what you’re looking for!

What’s the difference between an office worker and a Power User?
Performance-enhancing skills.

Friday, December 13, 2013

You’re Invested in Your Employees – Now Increase Your ROI!

By Randy Moody

Management, you are already invested in your employees, and have a vested interest in their success, so increasing their competency, productivity, job satisfaction, efficiency, and self-confidence, while reducing employee turnover, can provide greater returns on that investment and boost your bottom line. With that in mind, here are

7 Benefits of Quality SharePoint Training