Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Free SharePoint Training Video Library

We've been working on putting together a free SharePoint Training Video library for a while now and as of today it is officially launched!

To start out with, we have six, 30 minute to 1 hour videos available. The videos are delivered by our expert SharePoint instructors and consultants. These training videos are more in-depth than many of the free screencasts that you might find on the Internet.

They are presented similar to the way we deliver modules in our classroom-based SharePoint training courses. Generally, they all include some lecture on concepts and then show detailed demonstrations. Of course, in our classroom courses, students also receive a comprehensive course manual, work through detailed hands-on lab exercises and get to ask their expert instructor all of the unique questions they have. So, these free training videos are not a replacement for thorough training in the classroom, but we feel that they may be a great place to start for a lot of people.

Our plans are to populate the library with different videos that will appeal to learners that have different skill levels and different roles within their organization. To start out with, we have at least one video available for each of these SharePoint experience levels: Just Getting Started, Intermediate, Advanced. We also target different videos to the following SharePoint roles: IT Manager, IT Administrator, IT Developer, Non-IT Manager, and Non-IT User.

All that is required to access the library is to register for it during the sign-up process. Once you are registered, you can watch as many of the videos as you want to and as many times as you want to. Since you will be registered for the library, you will get an email from us any time we add new videos to the library (this is a good reason you should give us a valid email address and add sharepointsolutions.com to your white list).

Sign up today and let us know what you think about the videos!

Monday, July 13, 2009

What are you hoping for in SharePoint 2010?: Public Request!

Seems like today is a good day to ask this question.

The reason is that today is the first day of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans. And, the first official "sneak peek" of SharePoint 2010 will be given on Tuesday in a breakout session titled "Building Solutions on SharePoint: The Value Delivered Today, and a Sneak Peek at Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2010 ".

The session will be given by our friend at Microsoft, Owen Allen, and his colleague, Arpan Shah.

One thing that I haven't run across anywhere on the Internet is a wish-list of features for SharePoint 2010 that was contributed to primarily by the public. (Someone else has probably tried assembling one, but I just haven't run across it yet).

Granted, it is probably way too late for a groundswell of public opinion that would cause any substantial changes to be made to the 2010 feature-set, but still, seems like it would be fun and potentially useful to have a public record of what the people are wanting! In fact, after the actual feature-set becomes known, I will commit to doing an analysis of what people were hoping for vs. what is actually delivered, and will publish the results on this blog.

So, give us your SharePoint 2010 wish list in the form of comments to this blog post. We will publish any comments that are not blatant rants or deemed offensive.

Let the people be heard!

P.S. If you think this is a post that others might want to know about and participate in, please Digg it with the linked image in the upper right corner. If you are not already a member of Digg, I believe you will have to create an account before you can digg the article, but that is a free and painless process. Also, if you are a twitterer, we would love for you to tweet out a link to this post. Thanks!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Why NOW is the Best Time to Get Started Developing SharePoint Designer Workflows

Regardless of the size of your organization, you are certainly looking for ways to save money in these difficult and uncertain economic times. That’s one of the reasons SharePoint has remained extremely popular during our present economic downturn—companies are only investing in those areas they know will provide huge returns quickly.
One of the areas where SharePoint, even the free WSS (Windows SharePoint Services), can quickly provide very high returns for your company is in the area of no-code workflows created with SharePoint Designer. Here are some of the reasons why:
1. SharePoint Designer Workflows are Easy to Write
When I started college back in 1985 one of my professors told me that in five years all programming would be plain-English programming, “You’ll just sit down in front of your computer and tell it what you want.” Well, 1990 came and went and here we are 19 years later. If you’ve seen C# code, then you know that all programming isn’t plain-English programming.
Workflows written with SharePoint Designer are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to plain-English programming. Everything you add to your workflow—and most of the configurations—are just selecting things from drop-down boxes and lists. There is no complicated syntax to learn or lists of command and functions to memorize.
2. SharePoint Designer Workflows Can Be Written by the Business Users Who Are Close to the Business Process
Once your organization has identified a particular business process that could benefit from some automation, you will usually either hire an outside programmer to write a customized program, or make use of a programmer inside your company. These programmers are usually very costly to hire and employ—they are also usually far removed from the business process you want to automate.
For example, let’s assume that you work in your company’s purchasing department. When an employee needs you to order something, she fills out a paper requisition form and send it to you via inter-office mail. When you get it, you contact her manager for approval. If it’s over a certain dollar amount, you may also need to get the approval of manager’s manager. Once you’ve received all the necessary approvals, you order the item and then communicate the expected delivery information to the person who requested it. If the requestor wants an update on the status, they call you, you get the information, then you call the requestor back with the information. On top of all this, you periodically call the requestor to see if the item has arrived so you can take it off your radar for tracking. If it’s late, you’ll need to contact the supplier. There is a lot of communication and tracking going on in this scenario.
You realize that your job could be a lot easier—and you could do more important work—if this process of requesting, approving, tracking, and communicating could be automated. So your company contracts a computer programmer to write a system to handle all this. After a few good meetings this programmer will eventually be able to understand the technical mechanics of your process. However, she probably will never fully understand how this process affects the entire company and how it is a component of the culture of your organization—only someone close to the business process understands those things.
It would be so much better if you, as the business user who has the full understanding of this process, could be the one to also automate the process. Because Microsoft designed SharePoint Designer workflows to be a tool for information workers and end users to use to automate their business processes, you can take control of the automation process without bringing in a costly programmer that doesn’t understand the full ramifications of the process.
3. SharePoint Designer Is Now FREE!
So, how much would you pay for a program that allowed your business users to automate business processes in near plain-English? $299.95? That’s what you would have paid a few months ago. However, Microsoft recently made SharePoint Designer 2007 available as a free download. It’s no longer cost prohibitive to allow end users to have access to this powerful program.
To get started writing your own workflows, download SharePoint Designer 2007 for free now.
4. There Are Lots of Great FREE Resources on SharePoint Designer Workflows
Have you visited our SharePoint Workflow Resource Center yet? If not, you really need to. You’ll find lots of information here including whitepapers, recorded webinars and demos, links to our best blog posts on SharePoint Designer workflows, a sample module from on of our workflow training courses, case studies, and much, much more. You really owe it to yourself to spend some time browsing this resource center.
5. Instructor-Led SharePoint Designer Workflow Training Is Very Affordable
Although SharePoint Designer workflows are easy to write, it’s likely that new users will benefit from some training where they get hands-on experience with help from an expert instructor. After all, the best way to learn to write workflows is, well, by writing workflows. In our workflow class, students write very practical workflows that they can also use in their own organization for things like handling supply requisitions, reserving equipment, and routing forms for digital signature approval—with time limits.
We currently have an opportunity for instructor-led SharePoint Designer Workflow training.
6. The Things You Can Automate Are Practically Limitless
Every business must have business process to function properly. It’s likely that a large number of those processes could benefit from SharePoint Designer workflow automation.
7. Extending Your SharePoint Designer Workflows with Additional Activities is Very Affordable
Although Microsoft has given information workers and end users a lot of power and functionality right out of the box, you will eventually want your workflows to do some heavier duty things such as set permissions on list items, loop through items in a list, FTP items to remote servers, send emails with attachments, or read RSS feeds.
We listen closely when our students and our SharePoint consulting clients tell us they need additional functionality in their SharePoint Designer workflows. We’ve created solutions to meet many of these requests and rolled them into a suite of activities called Workflow Essentials. If you want to take your SharePoint Designer workflows to the next level, you owe it to yourself to check out this very affordable product. At only $795 per Web Front End, it’s much more affordable than many other SharePoint workflow products, but provides great power with the value.
8. SharePoint Designer Workflow Consulting is very Affordable
If you need a little help, or a lot, with your SharePoint Designer workflows, we are here. Our expert consultants are available for anything from a 1-hour web consultation to help you plan your solution or help you solve a particular problem you’re having, to a multi-day on-site engagement where we can get involved at any level or depth in your automation project. Web consultations are only $250/hour and can save you many hours of looking for solutions online. Discounts are also available if you purchase multiple blocks; and longer engagements can be priced per project or per hour.
The Bottom Line: What Are Some Real Numbers?
You’re probably wondering what all this really means for your company. Let’s take a look at the example I gave above. We’ll assume that our purchasing agent earn $15/hour ($600/week, $2,400/month, $30,000/year) and spends 15% of his time getting approvals and communicating with the requestors. He estimates that by automating this process using SharePoint Designer workflows he can cut the amount of time he spends by two-thirds. This will save him 10% of his time. On a weekly basis this will save the company $60/week, $240/month, or $3,000/year by freeing up that employee to do other things that computers can’t do.
Since the SharePoint Designer program is free, If the employee attended our online Essentials of InfoPath and SharePoint Workflows class, the company only has a $1,495 investment and is saving money after only six months. Even if you add in the time the employee spent in the class (30 hours x $15 = $450) and time spent writing the workflow (10 hours x $15 = $150), the company is still saving very quickly. And not only is the company saving money, but the purchasing agent is will likely be much happier and everyone else who orders materials will be happier as well—they’ll probably all be saving time too.
It’s likely that after automating one process, this employee will identify several other processes that can be automated as well. For example, he may spend quite a bit of time attaching purchase orders to emails and sending the emails. With a $795 investment in Workflow Essentials, he can now automate this part of his job. And all the activities are available to all other workers that may want to make use of them. If one $8/hour employee saves 30-minutes each week from one of these automated processes then that’s a savings of around $200/year. If 100 of those employees save a half hour each week, or only 6-minutes a day, you’re looking at a $20,000/year overall savings. The numbers just keep adding up the more you automate even seemingly minor processes.
With the quick returns that SharePoint Designer workflows provide, I can’t think of any reason why your company wouldn’t be investing in this valuable area of technology. Can you?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Check Out These SharePoint Designer Workflow Essentials Videos!

I recently recorded a bunch of videos that demonstrate how each of the activities in our Workflow Essentials product work. If you aren’t already familiar with Workflow Essentials, it adds more than two dozen activities and conditions to your SharePoint Designer workflows so you can do so much more with them.
Most of these videos are only 2-3 minutes long. But these activities are so easy to use that even in just a couple minutes you’ll get to see how to add them to your workflow project, how to configure them, and then get to see how they work in a real running workflow.
You can  watch all 13 Workflow Essentials videos together. Although there are 24 activities, many of the videos include multiple activities so you get to see how they work together.
You’ll can also access any of the videos for a particular workflow action by visiting the Workflow Essentials product page; then find the activity you’re interested in and click on the Watch Video link.
One of the most common things that information workers and end users would like to do in their SharePoint Designer workflows is manage permissions on items in SharePoint lists and libraries. Workflow Essentials makes this really easy with three activities: Grant Permission on Item, Delete Item Permission Assignment, and Reset Item Permission Inheritance. Below, you can watch the video that shows how to add and configure these three activities and then you’ll get to see them in action.