Working with OneDrive for Business is More Productive when SharePoint Online Users have Realistic Expectations

Microsoft has expanded user accessibility to Office Online to include not only smart phones and tablets powered by Microsoft operating systems, but also iOS and Android devices. Nevertheless, Office Online performance is not uniform across all of these devices. So SharePoint Online stakeholders, administrators and power users should set reasonable expectations for end users, to ensure adoption does not suffer as the result of deploying OneDrive for Business and Office Online apps.

This writer recently tested performance of Excel Online on:

  • a PC running Windows 7, Professional with 8 GBs of RAM
  • a PC running Windows 8.1, Professional with 12 GBs of RAM
  • a Surface 2 tablet running Windows 8.1 RT
  • a Samsung Galaxy Note 2.1 10.1 running Android Jelly Bean

A large spreadsheet depicting monthly cash activity for over 100 types of transactions, over 8 years, provided the content for the test.

We observed substantially different results from each of the devices included in our test. Even the 2 PCs were challenged to easily scroll through columns of data. We could manouver around the spreadsheet with our Surface 2 RT, but were very challenged to achieve satisfactory results with our Samsung Android Tablet. We should also note the latter device supports several different browsers: Samsung’s version of Google Chrome, Chrome, and Firefox. We were not able to successfully work with Excel Online with either the native Samsung browsers, nor with Firefox. But we did obtain satisfactory results with Google Chrome on this device.

Excel Online does not include an actual “GoTo” button. Documentation we found about Excel Online claimed the GoTo feature still exists. All one need do is “[t]ype in a cell reference and jump to that location in the spreadsheet”. But type in a cell reference where?? Unfortunately the documentation does not specify just where a user should look for the form box required for this process to work. A click on the Excel keyboard shortcuts did not produce a keystroke combination for the GoTo feature.

As we noted above, in our opinion, SharePoint Online stakeholders will do well to thoroughly test Office Online performance across as many of the devices in use at a specific organization as they can, before rolling out Office Online to end users. The objective ought to be to minimize any negative impact on SharePoint Online adoption by end users.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Building Workflows for No-Code Solutions Using External Data with the BCS in SharePoint 2013

In the eleventh and twelfth units of a set of fifteen units of video training content on building workflows for external data, in either SharePoint 2013, on premises, or SharePoint Online, Office 365, Fabian Williams, a SharePoint Server MVP, presents a set of procedures, and their underlying components, most likely to be useful for an audience of SharePoint, or Office 365 application developers. These video tutorials will not likely be useful to SharePoint power users. An experience set which includes extensive work with JavaScript, modern Open Protocols (including OAuth and OData), and Visual Studio is required to digest the information Williams communicates, and to put it to good use.

The comparatively high barrier to entry implicit to the principles presented in these two video tutorials (the first of these is titled External Data and SharePoint Workflows. Both of these units are included in a set titled SharePoint 2013: Working with External Data in SharePoint 2013 using BCS and Workflows – On Premises, and Online, which is available for purchase and for local use by either individuals, or groups) should stand in contrast to how workflows, as a method of developing processes, is usually presented.

But the barrier to entry does exist and SharePoint stakeholders researching how best to develop custom solutions for specific implementations will do well to respect it. For example, in the first of these units Williams informs his audience the technical foundation underpinning no-code workflows has been substantially changed in SharePoint 2013, and SharePoint Online, Office 365:

  • SharePoint 2013 Workflows are Powered by Windows Workflow Foundation 4 (WF4)
  • WF4 is Built on the Messaging Functionality That is Provided by Windows Communication Foundation (WCF)
  • WF4 and WCF are Hosted in Workflow Manager Client 1.0 (WMC 1.0)
  • WMC 1.0 is Used to Manage Workflow Definitions. WMC 1.0 Also Acts as Host for the Execution Processes

In order to ensure optimum return on investment in the form of time, and, perhaps, cost, anyone viewing these videos should also have a grounding in Web Services and the new Stages feature of Workflows in SharePoint Designer 2013.

The flip side of the high bar represented by these two units, for those developers bringing the required experience set to this presentation, amounts to a highly condensed, information-packed, presentation of how to successfully build a complex process with no-code tools, in this case, SharePoint Designer, 2013.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

In-Context Access to Training Content Presents Benefits Beyond a Reduction in the Cost of SharePoint Support

As Microsoft refines the features of SharePoint, and SharePoint Online, Office 365, and adds more services like Delve, these computer platforms will take on more of a mission-critical role for the organizations opting to implement them.

In posts published on earlier dates to this blog, this writer has presented opinions about why computer platforms playing a mission critical role for the organizations opting to implement them tend to deliver substantially more value than platforms not chosen for such a role. This lesson does not appear to be lost on Microsoft. One can be confident product marketing will continue to add more “high value” features to SharePoint and to SharePoint Online, Office 365 in the not too distant future.

An in-context access method like VisualSP can play more than one role in a mission critical implementation of SharePoint. This type of solution can be used to expose training content to a wide cross section of SharePoint users. But it also can be used to expose business specific training content directly to personnel as they perform computing tasks.

For example, consider a banking business, and, further, its commercial lending operation. There is no reason why video tutorials on how to safeguard electronic loan documents in shared document libraries could not be added to VisualSP. By adding this content, and availing of the out-of-the-box viewers we ship with the product, organizations can be confident personnel will not have to leave the corporate computing environment to “Google” unfamiliar terms, or to find explanatory content about procedures. All of the required content can be curated for them and organized into a content set for exposure with the system.

We are confident the increased productivity our customers have enjoyed as the result of implementing our system will be consistent for this type of business-specific application. Further, organizations looking to reduce the amount of one on one training time otherwise required to teach personnel to perform new procedures can consider adding video training content to our system specifically designed to answer “how to” questions on business topics.

If you are considering a mission critical role for either SharePoint, on premises, or SharePoint Online, Office 365 and would like to learn more about the method described in this post, please contact us.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Learn More About Why SharePoint End Users Benefit from an In-Context Method of Accessing Technical Training Content at SPTechCon Boston

If your organization would like to add a method of training end users in the technical procedures they need to learn to successfully complete work in SharePoint, and you plan on attending SPTechCon, Boston, next week (September 16 – 19, 2014), then please stop by our SharePoint-Videos booth. We will be exhibiting VisualSP, our award-winning help system for SharePoint at the Conference, on Thursday, September 18, and Friday, September 19, 2014.

A number of very prominent businesses, including:

  • Regeneron Pharmaceuticals
  • Deere
  • Visa, International
  • Zoetis
  • CoBank
  • First Republic Bank

and some very prominent public institutions, including:

  • the City of Tallahassee, Florida in the US
  • the City of Edmonton, Canada
  • the Parks Agency for Canada
  • the University of Colorado, Denver, Medical Center
  • West Georgia Technical College

have implemented VisualSP as a method of hastening end user adoption of SharePoint computing.

An important added benefit of their decision has been a decrease in the number of end user requests for help figuring out how to how to complete a process in SharePoint. SharePoint stakeholders at these organizations have learned about the availability of a type of instructional technical content particularly suited to end user consumption, with little, if any need for a support representative to play a role in the training process. This type of training content includes short, to-the-point video tutorials, light on abstraction and completely devoid of bobby heads. End users can consume this content on-demand, directly within a SharePoint workspace with VisualSP.

So, if you are registered to attend SPTechCon, Boston, next week, please stop by our booth. Asif Rehmani, CEO of SharePoint-Videos and creator of the VisualSP Help System will man our booth, along with Michael Blonder, Vice President of Business Development. We will be fully equipped to provide you with a tour of the VisualSP Help System and to spend time learning more about what your organization expects to get from its investment in SharePoint, and the role end user training is expected to play in the process. Please contact us to shedule a meeting.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Working with the OData Protocol, Web Parameters and URIs to Expose External Data in SharePoint

Expressions of the OData protocol are usually incorporated within Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs). These expressions add parameters to Internet locations, at the application layer (hypertext). Once the syntax of a URI has been successfully completed, a web browser can be used as a “universal client” to parse data repositories for targeted segments of data, which users can consume as web pages.

In two video tutorials included in a new set of video training content led by Fabian Williams, SharePoint Server MVP, we demonstrate not only the importance of a thorough grounding in web application development to a successful effort to build Apps to expose external data, with the BCS, in either SharePoint 2013, or SharePoint Online, Office 365 via Visual Studio and OData sources, but, further, the value of knowing how to leverage debugging skills to correct errors and to keep a development project on track.

These videos are titled, respectively:

  • BCS External Data, Visual Studio, REST and OData – Part 2, and
  • BCS External Data, Visual Studio, REST and OData – Part 3

They are both included in a set titled SharePoint 2013: Working with External Data in SharePoint 2013 Using BCS and Workflows On Premises and Online.

The first of these videos presents viewers with a problem: Fabian attempts to add data from an OData repository to resources for a project in Visual Studio, and, subsequently as new content for SharePoint Online, Office 365. Both attempts fail. Fabian demonstrates how to debug the failures with an emphasis on the web application nature of the task. Accordingly, he spends a considerable amount of time looking at how the data has been encoded for browser display, and makes several adjustments to it. Later, he also investigates viewing permissions, and makes additions to the Metadata Term Store to ensure the proper privileges are in place to 1) add the content to SharePoint Online, and, later, 2) to work with it.

The second of these videos amounts to a demonstration of how to construct a working URI, complete with a series of parameters. The objective of the series is to populate a web page with specific sections of data parsed from an external data set via the OData protocol.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Using the BCS to Pull External Data into SharePoint 2013 with Visual Studio

Microsoft is attempting to rebrand its code editor, Visual Studio, as a preferred method for developers to product Apps conforming to the Office 2013 App model. In a set of three video tutorials, Fabian Williams, a SharePoint MVP and widely acknowledged subject matter expert, demonstrates how the BCS can be used, via Visual Studio, to pull external data into SharePoint 2013.

All three of these video tutorials are included in a new set of training content titled SharePoint 2013: Working with external data in SharePoint 2013 using BCS and Workflows. This set is available, exclusively, on SharePoint-Videos.com.

In the first of the three videos, titled “BCS External Data, Visual Studio, Rest and OData – Part 1″ we demonstrate how to build the development environment, including:

  • Configuring OData End Points URI
  • Create and Configure a BDC Service Application
  • Create and Configure a Secure Store Service Application
  • Add a Set of Permissions to the BCS Metadata Store (optional)

An added benefit to viewers is the demonstration Fabian Williams provides of how Microsoft Azure can be used as a cloud IaaS, for OData, to support the development examples included in this set of tutorials. Anyone with an interest in rapidly putting together a working example of one of the applications included in this set will likely want to consider using Azure, so the tips on how to get servers, and sites set up quickly and correctly will likely come in handy. As to the rationale for using OData, Fabian Williams remarks on several occasions, throughout the entire set of videos, on the comparative ease of building each of the examples he demonstrates with the OData protocol (even in comparison to the approaches supported by SharePoint Designer 2013).

Included in this video tutorial, as well, is a discussion about “auto hosted” vs “provider hosted” app development options for SharePoint, including a note on how Microsoft is deprecating the “auto hosted” option. Steve Fox also spent sometime on this topic in his set on SharePoint 2013: Beginning Development, which is also exclusively available from SharePoint-Videos.com.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

An Overview of Secure User Authentication for Office 365

On September 1, 2014, a successful hack of a celebrity’s iCloud account was heavily publicized. In the aftermath of this type of event, it is normal for consumers of similar services from other ISVs, most prominently, Office 365 from Microsoft, to look for assurance from their IT department of the comparative security of their online computing policies and procedures. Fortunately, a white paper is directly available from Microsoft which speaks to these concerns.

This white paper was published in May, 2014, and is titled Security in Office 365. For readers who have not had an opportunity to review this white paper, much of the information in the first 12 of the 24 pages in the document is taken up with a description of the data security architecture Microsoft has implemented for Office 365, and some of the automated tools built specifically to safeguard the process of consuming data from this cloud, SaaS offer.

On page 13, Microsoft specifically addresses “Secure end-user access”. Mention is made of Azure Active Directory and more information about this method of user authentication can be found via a search with Microsoft’s Bing Search engine.

A point of debate with regard to the iCloud hack mentioned at the top of this post is two-step verification. This white paper describes “multi-factor authentication” options for Office 365. Notably absent is any recommendation about whether or not organizations with a public tenancy on Office 365 should use this feature. In this writer’s opinion, consumers should be led towards a “right decision” on topics like user authentication, and the defense options available to SharePoint, SharePoint Online, and Office 365 administrators. On the other hand, the absence of a recommendation can be understood as, unfortunately, this type of verbiage can be crafted into a point of exposure to law suit, culpability, etc. for a cloud, SaaS ISV like Microsoft.

Also noticeably absent from the white paper is any discussion of the need for Office 365 tenants to implement an operational risk management policy to support the automated tools and features already built into Office 365. Once again, and for the very same reasons just mentioned with regard to whether or not it would be helpful for Microsoft to recommend an approach, this writer can understand why the need for procedures is not addressed in this white paper.

Nevertheless, it is strongly recommended service administrators implement policies and procedures to support the user access controls described in this white paper. Readers should not be lulled into a complacent attitude about the need for supportable, proven procedures to ensure the security of personnel availing of online services like Office 365. Automated tools are not enough. Secure procedures are, and will be definitely required.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

A Hands On Example Using SharePoint Designer, SQL Server and the Secure Store for SharePoint 2013 to Work with External Data

In a video tutorial titled Using SQL Server to interact with BCS External Data, Fabian Williams, a SharePoint Server MVP demonstrates each of the steps required to create an external content type in SharePoint 2013. The steps are taken with SharePoint Designer 2013, SQL Server, and the Secure Store.

This video tutorial is included in a set of video training content titled Working with External Data in SharePoint 2013 using BCS and Workflows. The set is available for purchase for local, on premises unlimited viewing by organizations of any size. The set is also included as a course for SharePoint 2013, and is available for unlimited viewing by anyone with a valid subscription to SharePoint-Videos. The target audience for this video tutorial set are SharePoint Administrators, Developers, Designers and Architects.

As anyone watching the above mentioned video tutorial will note, Fabian actually recommends viewers consider passing over SharePoint Designer 2013, for Visual Studio for one simple reason: OData has not yet been added as a method of connecting to SQL Server in SharePoint Designer, 2013. In contrast, OData can be used with Visual Studio, with no requirement for any hard coding, to accomplish the same objective depicted in this video. Per Fabian, opting to use Visual Studio for the task will reduce the amount of time required to build the external content type depicted in this example to “a few seconds”.

This writer was impressed with the granularity of the presentation. Fabian actually builds the external content type in the video. So viewers benefit from a step-by-step depiction of each of the procedures required to accomplish the task. The steps taken, as mentioned at the top of this post are effected with SharePoint Designer 2013, SQL Server and the Secure Store. Of course, as a video tutorial, this presentation can be paused, or repeated as frequently as viewers require, which provides the best opportunity for maximum retention of the material presented.

One final note: the video is likely to be of greatest value to the intended audience. It is not likely SharePoint power users will get much out of it, unless the right permissions are in place to afford specific viewers an opportunity to practice the procedure.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Microsoft Joins in the Effort to Hasten User Adoption of Office 365

Microsoft recently announced its decision to directly participate in the process by which larger organizations, and their partners, in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors implement Office 365. This participation includes direct management of Office 365 on boarding for organizations purchasing at least 150 related SKUs.

Of particular interest to this writer is some information included in a web page, titled Office 365 Adoption Offer. Per the terms of this offer, Microsoft will reimburse organizations qualifying to participate in the program a set dollar amount, per seat, towards the costs incurred by the organization to contract with either Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) or a “Cloud Productivity Competency Partner” to hasten user adoption of Office 365 computing.

SharePoint-Videos offers products specifically designed to support similar efforts, and has released both a Lite and a paid version of its VisualSP Help System (in the form of an App) for Office 365. So any discussion about user adoption methods is of interest to us, as well.

Microsoft’s decision to directly participate, and, further, to financially support the efforts of larger organizations to implement Office 365, to an extent, legitimizes the whole adoption effort, not only for Office 365, but for SharePoint, on premises, as well. Too often this writer has discussed adoption with prospects and customers who hold the opinion adoption is less than a necessary step in their strategy to obtain ROI in one of these computing platforms.

The operating principle behind these positions is an opinion about SharePoint (and, now, Office 365) computing. Some how the task of successfully accomplishing work on either platform should be an easy one. The thinking goes further to include an assumption of a high level of out-of-the-box ease of use for the various components included with these packages.

As anyone with considerable experience with SharePoint (or Office 365) can attest, the above assumptions, unfortunately, prove, more often than not, to be inaccurate. A decision to deny the real need for methods to hasten user adoption, further, actually impedes the natural process users would otherwise enter into to “warm up” to the computing methods required to successfully accomplish daily tasks on one of these platforms.

So Microsoft’s decision to directly participate in the effort should be taken as very good news.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Organizations developing custom apps to surface external data in SharePoint 2013, need to follow a specialized set of procedures

In a set of video tutorials on the topic of how to work with BCS to surface external data in SharePoint 2013, or SharePoint Online, Office 365, Fabian Williams, a SharePoint Server MVP provides a set of guidelines likely to be very useful for any organizations planning on developing custom apps for similar needs. The title of this video tutorial set is Working with External Data in SharePoint 2013 using BCS and Workflows – On Premises and Online.

The first 3 video tutorials in this set of training content are full of references to the preliminary steps any developer should take to ensure the custom app, which is the subject of the development effort providing the topic for the course, is not only useful, but also supportable. So any organization with a past history of expending serious resources (time, money, personnel) to develop custom solutions, only to find management and user support, post implementation, were less than optimum, will likely benefit from a review of this set.

Fabian’s attention to this approach to the topic can be found as early as in the first few seconds of the second video tutorial in the set, titled “Overview of External Data with SharePoint BCS”. Fabian states one of his objectives: “If we’re talking about BCS, and if we’re talking about workflows in the context of external data, I want you to have an understanding of what that external data is. It’s EXTREMELY important. How you interact with that data depends on a, where that data is, so there is some logistics involved. Is it behind your firewall? Do you own it? Is it out there in the cloud in Office 365, SharePoint Online, Azure?”

This writer has to admit feeling a bit uncomfortable listening to this portion of the training set. Why would Fabian take the time to make a point of the absolute NECESSITY of his audience understanding the importance of thoroughly understanding these foundation steps? Eventually the point became clear. Fabian took the time to focus on what amounts to the imperative of app developers thoroughly assimilating the data architecture supporting their custom solution in order to drive home a point about “supportability” and the need for realistic solutions design in this area of organizational need.

Seen from this perspective, in other words, reflecting on this new set of video training content as, in part, an exercise in how to put together an approach to custom app design, which promises success either for SharePoint Online Office 365, or for SharePoint 2013, On Premises, Fabian’s presentation is entirely consistent with sets we published earlier this year on the SharePoint 2013 App Model, jQuery and JavaScript and Beginning Development.

Ira Michael Blonder

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