A sensible approach to rolling out enterprise-wide SharePoint solutions, on premises, includes a training component

Sharepoint Server 2010 or 2013, Enterprise Edition, can be used as the computing platform for custom solutions. The core, out-of-the-box, features of SharePoint Server, when combined with the comparatively less expensive development cost of customization make this type of implementation attractive for stakeholders. Including a training component for personnel distributed across the organization is a good way to add to the odds of success in the overall effort.

We offer a lot of specialized training content on the flavors of popular functionality often talked about in the SharePoint user community. The complete list of what we offer can be found on SharePoint Corporate Video Packages, which is a recently re-designed page on our popular SharePoint-Videos site.

We offer a number of sets of training content on the SharePoint 2013 app model; branding SharePoint sites in SharePoint Server 2010 or 2013; Business Connectivity Services (BCS) and External Data; and no code solutions built with workflow with SharePoint Designer, Visio, and even browser controls. A good way to determine whether or not our training sets will provide the kind of technical content conforming to a specific implementation plan is to schedule a tour of the package before purchasing it. Spending sometime reviewing our training content before reaching a purchase decision makes a lot of sense. Please contact us to schedule a pre-sales tour.

The content included with any of these sets can be added into our VisualSP help system. Once the content has been stored locally, and added into VisualSP, then any personnel involved with a planned implementation of a custom solution can access the content with no constraint on the frequency of use of the content. Further, the content is entirely made up of video tutorials, which have been demonstrated to be one of the most useful types of training content, especially given the ease with which users can repeat courses by simply replaying a set of videos.

Any customer of ours with an interest in purchasing one of these sets may be eligible for a special pricing offer reserved for bonafide, long-standing enterprise products customers of ours. Please contact us via the link we provided, above, if you would like to learn more.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

An added benefit of deciding to purchase VisualSP, the help system for SharePoint

VisualSP, the help system for SharePoint, includes an in-context access method for SharePoint end users to consume training content uniquely useful on demand. The best example of this type of technical training content are short video tutorials. The combination of these two features has been shown to deliver high value benefits: SharePoint end users can actually start to manage themselves, which rewards them for their efforts to process computing tasks in a SharePoint computing environment. An added benefit is a reduction in support demand.

But what about training for the personnel responsible for supporting these SharePoint end users? Can a decision to purchase VisualSP help an organization meet this need? Research has also shown SharePoint professionals, including SharePoint administrators, developers, designers and architects benefit most from a different kind of training experience. This class of SharePoint user benefits most from an immersive training experience, which is usually handled by providing staff with either an onsite, in person training course with a subject matter expert, or sending the team to a training school for classes lasting a few days. Either of these options can be costly, with the average bill for an in-person training course in the vicinity of $2,500.00 per attendee (not including travel costs).

So we are pleased to announce a new feature of our VisualSP help system. Any VisualSP customer who has also opted to purchase our annual maintenance plan, will also receive an annual subscription to all of the content on SharePoint-Videos.com for a designated administrator, at no additional charge.

Our site subscribers enjoy an online, immersive training experience. The set of contents on our site exceeds 900 video tutorials exclusively on topics directly related to SharePoint computing. Therefore, a subscription like the one just mentioned, can provide a worthy complement to an in-person training class. In some case, a subscription to our site can even suffice, without the need to add an in-person training course.

Please note: this subscription includes log in credentials for one customer contact. But there is no reason why the credentials can’t be passed around a team of SharePoint professionals within an organization to ensure each member of the team gains the right understanding of an important, targeted SharePoint technology. Please contact us if you would like further information on this new feature of VisualSP ownership.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Windows Phone 8.1 includes improved browser performance for SharePoint sites, lists, and libraries

Microsoft’s new smart phone operating system, Windows Phone 8.1 includes an improved web browser. SharePoint lists published from Access 2013 databases can now be resolved correctly on Lumia smart phones. Mobile consumers of SharePoint 2013 and/or SharePoint Online, Office 365 will likely be pleased with this improvement.

This writer uses a Lumia 925 Windows Phone with a cellular data plan and telephony services from T-Mobile. After a protracted wait (an upgrade to Windows Phone 8.1 was expected back in June 2014), the Lumia 925 was finally upgraded to Windows Phone 8.1 in early November. One of the most welcome changes associated with the new operating system was an improved web browser. With Windows Phone 8.0 it was not possible to display a SharePoint list served from SharePoint Online, Office 365. The list was created from an Access 2013 database residing on our local servers. This database was exported as a SharePoint list with the browser controls provided, out-of-the-box, with Access 2013.

Is this a big deal? In this writer’s opinion, the answer is “yes”. The content reposed in the list we’ve mentioned is “mission-critical” to our organization, so the access limitations experienced with Windows Phone 8.0 were a serious impediment to our daily routine. We haven’t a good alternative to using the Lumia 925 for this purpose. We don’t own any iOS mobile devices. We have loaded Office for Android on an LG D415, but we haven’t been successful getting it to work. So for most of our mobile computing needs, the Lumia 925 is our best light weight option.

The better browser performance is not the only high-value improvement we’ve already experienced with Windows Phone 8.1. Better access to multi-tasking is another important new feature. Readers should understand some limits on what we mean by “multi-tasking”.

Any reader interested in this topic, with a few moments to spare, should read a recent interview, Windows Phone 8.1 apps/multitasking FAQ. This writer only became aware of the “back button hold down” procedure of viewing multi-tasking apps running in real time after reading the interview. As Sarah Fegert explains in the interview, it isn’t possible with Windows Phone 8.1 to have a unified view of two applications running on the same screen, as, for example, owners of mobile devices running Android KitKat, can do. But Windows Phone 8.1 is still, nevertheless, very capable of multi-tasking. SharePoint administrators may want to gain further understanding of the multi-tasking capabilities. The interview with Fegert would be a good start.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Consider using coaching to provide the expertise your SharePoint, or Office 365 project requires if it is to be successful

SharePoint-Videos offers consulting services. Referred to as Corporate Consulting, these services are offered in blocks of 10, 20, or even 40 hours.

A quick read of our description of the consulting services we offer indicates a number of advisory services: “[g]uidance on SharePoint strategy and best practices”, “[o]ne-on-one training to help you ramp up in areas of SharePoint that you are not familiar with”, and, finally, [g]uidance on vendor solutions that would fit your need”. Research has shown the value of advisory services as a contributor to the success of IT projects. Simply running a query on the string “effectiveness of IT coaching” with either Bing, or Google will serve up a rich set of articles on the topic from prestigious publications and academia.

So it’s safe to assume the type of consulting services we offer conform to best practices in the IT industry, as they are applied to enterprise business and comparably sized organizations in the public and not-for-profit sector. Further, our group of consultants can be especially useful for SharePoint projects. A review of the short bios we provide on our course instructors, which can be found on the Our People page of our web site, should indicate an important common thread tying them all together: each of our instructors is a widely acknowledged subject matter expert in her, or his specialty. Most of our people are published authors on the topics they teach.

We think it makes more sense for organizations committed to achieving a successful result from their IT projects built for SharePoint, to leverage widely acknowledged subject matter experts like those in our team, who, in turn, train in best practices, as they grapple with planning for the personnel required to deliver on this critical objective. The odds of success are simply much greater when a subject matter expert is serving as an advisor on the team.

Please contact us to learn more about our consulting services.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Understanding how Power Pivot and Power Query contribute to a successful Business Intelligence project built with Power BI

For readers familiar with Microsoft’s Power BI suite of tools for Excel, but not clear as to how Power Pivot, and Power Query interact within a Power BI project, a webcast from TechEd Europe 2014, titled Overview of Business Intelligence in Office and Office 265 may be worth watching. The webcast is led by Peter Myers, a subject matter expert on the topic, and runs about 1.25 hours.

Myers identifies the target user for the Power BI suite: a business analyst from a Line of Business (LoB) unit within an organization. He explains how research has shown analysts are the biggest users of Excel for data analysis. He also explains how a central IT support organization usually interacts with this target user, including a mention of why it makes sense for LoBs to sponsor an effort to produce a data governance plan, which a central IT organization can use to sign off on a business intelligence (BI) project, which an analyst, as the target user, will be likely to produce.

But what I found to be really useful within the first 10 minutes of the webcast, was how Myers presented the first of his three components of a successful BI project:

  1. “Explore”
  2. “Visualize”
  3. “Control”

The “Explore” phase, as Myers presents it in the webcast, is characterized by a need to collect data directly related to business process and to provide it with a form suitable for analytics manipulation. The steps in this phase amount to “[c]ombin[ing] and analyz[ing] large datasets; [s]ummarize data, and discover trends” along with a need to “[I]nstantly preview charts and pivot tables” (quoted from one of the slides included in this webcast).

As he describes the “large datasets” typically required for the type of analytics he is about to demonstrate, he segues into a presentation of Power Pivot as a tool developed to overcome Excel’s row limitation (he explains this limit amounts to 2 to the power 20 rows). He defines Power Pivot as “the ability to load data into the workbook, but not into the work sheet. It is loaded into a data model”. So Power Pivot is used to store large amounts of data for the overall Power BI process.

When he turns to discuss the process required “to access data”, which he explains typically includes a need to “access, filter, cleanse, and to transform before it is added to the workbook”, he introduces the Power Query add-in. He goes onto explain how Power Query can be looked at as the Data Warehousing tool for the business analyst to implement an ETL (Extract, Transform and Load) process in Excel.

To reiterate: stakeholders in a Power BI implementation for SharePoint 2013 on-premises, or for SharePoint Online, Office 365 should free up sometime to watch this webcast.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Data Visualization is a popular requirement for Office 365 computing built on Business Intelligence components

Microsoft’s TechEd Europe 2014 event, which was held in October, 2014, included a presentation on the Business Intelligence (BI) opportunities presented by Microsoft Office and Office 365 products. The title of this presentation, which is now available for public viewing as a webcast on Microsoft’s MSDN Channel 9 web site, is Overview of Business Intelligence in Office and Office 365. The presentation is led by Peter Myers, an expert on Microsoft databases who is based in Australia. Myers is affiliated with Bitwise, a Microsoft partner.

Microsoft is not the only ISV looking to capitalize on the increasing appetite of enterprise business consumers for data and the visualizations (dashboards, charts, color coded heat maps, etc) produced from it. But Microsoft may be favorably positioned in the competitive landscape for this market. The core segment of enterprise consumers driving ISVs to produce ever more powerful data visualization solutions are Lines of Business (LoBs). LoBs usually exist within so-called silos. As the result of an important parallel enterprise computing trend, Bring Your Own Device/Bring Your Own App (BYOD/BYOA) LoBs now find themselves needing to “self manage”, in other words, to provide themselves with the development and administrative resources they require to successfully build out the computing infrastructure they require in order to drive business. Enterprise IT is neither positioned any longer to lead, nor even to support the kinds of development requirements LoBs surface.

What makes Microsoft’s position in this market attractive is the ubiquity of Excel as the spreadsheet platform of choice for most LoBs. Developing BI add-ons to Excel, Power BI, Power Pivot, Power Query, etc, made a lot of sense since the procedures required to install these tools, administer them, and customize views to deliver targeted data visualizations were all kept within the scope of the skill set of what Gartner calls “Citizen Developers”, meaning power users who play other roles in the organization, but, nevertheless, have the skills required to configure applications to deliver a lot of the result they require.

Microsoft competitors (for example, IBM and Apple, or even Tableau Software) are attempting to work with the same consumer segment with similar solutions for Excel. Nevertheless as the IP owner for Excel, as mentioned at the top of this post, Microsoft looks to be the leader, at least at the time of this post.

The next post will include comments on the opening section of Myers’ presentation.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

What are the mandatory requirements organizations must meet to support hybrid computing scenarios built with SharePoint 2013, on-premises, and Office 365?

So what are the mission-critical components of an acceptable foundation for a hybrid scenario for SharePoint 2013 on-premises computing, and Office 365? Paolo Pialorsi presents 6 of these in a webcast recorded at Microsoft’s TechEd Europe 2014 event, which was held in October, 2014 (the title of Pialorsi’s presentation is Overview of Microsoft SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 Hybrid Scenarios):

  1. “Directory Federation via ADFS and Azure AD Sync
  2. “Internet routable AD domains”
  3. “SSL certificates and secured communication channels”
  4. “Good bandwidth and Internet connectivity”
  5. “Office 365 Enterprise Subscriptions”
  6. “SharePoint Server 2013 Enterprise on-premises

The fifth and sixth components are obvious. The fourth requires further definition as “good” means different things to different people. For graphics intensive computing (working with dashboards, Power BI, Power Query, etc), high speed broadband data connectivity (at speeds faster than 3M per second download) should be in place. But for normal web page viewing, speeds below 1M per second should suffice.

The third component must be supplemented. Anyone following the 2014 tech industry news will likely be familiar with the security problems detected in the OpenSSL data communications standard. Neither Office 365, nor SharePoint Server 2013 (or Windows Server, SQL Server, etc) made use of the standard, but third party applications may have made use of this standard, and, therefore, should be closely reviewed to ensure any security issues have been corrected.

More broadly speaking, a plan must be created for users to implement as to precisely how data (corporate, personal, third party, etc) is to be handled in a hybrid computing scenario to buttress the third component of Pialorsi’s list with secure procedures. So this third component should be recognized as, perhaps, even more “mission-critical” than any of the others.

Of course, it will not be possible to enforce a set of security procedures without the first and second components of the list. So care must be exercised to ensure ADFS and Azure AD Sync have not only been correctly implemented, but are also, themselves, secure.

Pialorsi includes a few limitations on the scope of what can be done with the hybrid scenario he presents. These include the following:

  1. “Office 365 + DirSync does not support multi-forest environments”
  2. “Some Service Applications cannot be shared” – “User Profile Service” “Managed Metadata Service” “Word Automation Services” “Workflow Services”

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

The objective for a hybrid cloud computing solution should be to bring on-premises and cloud computing together

Early into a one hour presentation on hybrid computing scenarios for SharePoint 2013 on-premises, and Office 365, Paolo Pialorsi states an objective most organizations will likely implement when they embark on a hybrid cloud computing project — to build an integrated computing solution from cloud and on-premises components.

The title of Pialorsi’s presentation is Overview of Microsoft SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 Hybrid Scenarios. He points to two prime areas where hybrid computing scenarios will likely make sense: enterprise search, and any services built with Business Connectivity Services (BCS). The latter usually pop up for organizations needing to pull external data into a SharePoint computing environment.

When the broad benefit of a seamless computing experience is applied to enterprise content search, Pialorsi explains, users will be able to “[s]earch for content in both SharePoint Server 2013 and SharePoint Online at once”.

These users should also be able to consume “on-premises business data” from SharePoint Online (and, presumably, through the use of mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets).

Finally, the computing experience for users, regardless of whether or not they are working on-premises, or remotely, must be uniform.

The principal drivers pushing organizations to implement these scenarios include polices designed to support Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) initiatives. Once BYOD policies are approved, most organizations experience a substantial change in the manner under which data is processed. Some content is reposed on line, in addition to the usual content with is stored on-premises.

Pialorsi cites Active Directory Federated Services (ADFS) as one control organizations should implement to simplify the task of supporting BYOD computing by providing communities with a “single sign-on for users via ADFS”.

Two other drivers for hybrid scenarios include trusted solutions and performance concerns with regard to “[s]ome business data (ERP, DBMS, DWH) [which] are on-premises”.

We’ve written elsewhere in this blog on the topic of how organization can, inadvertently, restrict their own ability to capitalize on perceived benefits to be realized from a decision to implement cloud computing, by implementing full trusted solutions for SharePoint. One can argue the Office 2013 app model provides a route for these organizations out of this restriction, but, as Pialorsi notes, the pace at which organizations have implemented the Office 2013 app model has been very slow. Bottom line: as long as organizations require trusted solutions, SharePoint 2013 computing, on-premises, will have to stay as is.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Hybrid scenarios for SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online Office 365 were presented at Microsoft’s TechEd Europe 2014

Hybrid computing scenarios for SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online, Office 365 were presented at Microsoft’s TechEd Europe 2014 event last month. The webcast of this presentation, which is led by Paolo Pialorsi, and titled Overview of Microsoft SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 Hybrid Scenarios is of interest to us. We recently an online course on the same topic, which was led by Fabian Williams, a Microsoft MVP. We will also host a one hour panel discussion next Wednesday, November 19, 2014 on the topic, as well. Anyone interested in this topic who would like to attend our webinar next week can register online.

A lot of analysts have written about hybrid computing since Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft spoke to the concept during Microsoft’s most recent earnings conference call. These analysts have, generally, focused on the implications of a hybrid computing scenario on data storage. But as Pialorsi illustrates via his presentation, and Fabian Williams also extensively examined during our online class, when the computing platform underpinning the discussion is SharePoint, a successful effort to build a hybrid computing solution between SharePoint 2013 and Office 365 promises a lot of other benefits for organizations, as well.

The principal computing themes promising a lot of value from a hybrid scenario are enterprise search and external data and business connectivity services (BCS). The catalyst for engaging in an effort to mine this value is, as Pialorsi points out, the very slow rate at which enterprise organizations are moving to a cloud, only, computing solution. These organizations are not only likely to implement a comprehensive computing solution like SharePoint 2013, they are also very likely to decide to simultaneously support separate instances of SharePoint computing on-premises, and in the cloud via Office 365.

Any opportunity to safely interconnect both computing platforms is likely to stimulate implementation interest by these organizations and, therefore, is worth an exploration. Microsoft, and its consumers, are uniquely positioned to truly capitalize on this opportunity.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Some limitations on building dynamic diagrams with Visio Services for SharePoint 2013 on-premises and SharePoint Online, Office 365 should be kept in mind

This a second and final post on a webcast published on Microsoft’s Channel 9 web site titled Interactive Visual Dashboard Solutions with Visio Services. There are some important caveats about using Visio Services to produce data visualizations like the “interactive dashboards” Ian White presents in this presentation.

Data sources are limited. Visio Service currently provides no support as of yet for OData, so linking to external data from sources like MySQL, or other non SQL Server databases otherwise accessible via the OData protocol unfortunately won’t work. As well, Data linking is only available with Visio Professional, (available online as Visio Pro for Office 365). The graphics produced with Visio Standard will publish correctly with SharePoint, Enterprise Edition.

The Visio diagrams, as published for browsers, are presently read-only. So it is not possible, presently to draw on the diagrams “in the browser”. On a positive note, some of the process of creating shapes is automatic once data is linked to a Visio diagram. As well, an extensive set of symbols and images is provided with either Visio Standard, or Visio Professional, out-of-the-box. These lend themselves to the kind of implementation in dashboard displays usually created for data visualizations built on business performance metrics.

There are differences between what users can do with dynamic diagrams built with Visio Services on-premises vs. in the cloud: With SharePoint 2013 on-premises, “Native External Lists support via BCS – WCF, .NET, OData” is possible; however, in an Office 365 implementation, “Native External Lists support via BCS” is the only option. As well, the security features of Visio Services with SharePoint 2013 on premises “Supports Kerberos, SSS & Unattended Authentication”, vs. the “multi-tenant environment” of Office 365, as a public cloud option.

On the subject of available data sources, Visio Services for SharePoint 2013, on-premises can be used to link to SQL data via ODC, Excel Services, SP Lists via BCS, and any other data sources conforming to OLEDB or ODBC. Custom linkage is also possible. But in an Office 365 implementation, Excel Services and/or SP Lists via BCS are the only option.

For anyone curious as to what topics are covered in the remainder of webcast, Ian White does provide a working demonstration of how to build interactive diagrams within this presentation, complete with demonstrations of how to use the Visio feature set.

©2014, Ira Michael Blonder & Rehmani Consulting, Inc. All Rights Reserved