Exploring How SharePoint Online, Office 365 Might Impact the Future of SharePoint Branding

Correct branding is a mission critical feature of, arguably, most, if not any successful implementation of SharePoint. In turn, adding an effective brand to SharePoint components — sites, libraries, lists, even newsfeeds — supports and hastens user adoption of the computing platform. So getting a glimpse of the likely future of best of breed branding methods for SharePoint and SharePoint Online, Office 365 makes sense.

SharePoint-Videos has published sets of specialized training content on branding for SharePoint 2010 and 2013. These sets have been led by Yaroslav Pentsarskyy, an acknowledged subject matter expert on the topic, published author, SharePoint MVP and a group manager at Avanade. You can learn more about these content sets on the following links:

Therefore we are pleased to announce a webinar, to be held on Thursday, October 23, 2014 titled The Role of Branding in the Future of SharePoint. We are jointly sponsoring this event (which is a free webinar) with RackSpace. The panel participants will include Yaroslav, Randy Drisgill and John Ross (both of whom have also been awarded SharePoint MVP status).

SharePoint stakeholders who may be looking to gain a better understanding of how the graphical design of user interfaces impacts on how end users adopt SharePoint computing are likely to benefit by attending the webinar. The topic is not only compelling, but the panel of experts selected for the discussion ensures the audience will be treated to a “correct” view of the topic and the development options available to organizations looking for the maximum benefit from a SharePoint branding effort.

There are many methods of accomplishing tasks in SharePoint. Features tend to overlap. Users can, inadvertently, chooses a “wrong” approach. So a premium ought to be put on information communicated from widely acknowledged subject matter experts like the participants in this panel discussion.

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

If improved collaboration is an objective for SharePoint implementation, consider supporting it with external data

Many organizations implement SharePoint to promote better collaboration between Lines of Business (LoBs). The notion is SharePoint newsfeeds, rating systems, and tags for items/people/events/whatever, will all contribute to better efficiency across an enterprise. Efficiency means not only a lower cost of operation (as the result of substantially less duplication of effort), but higher levels of user adoption of SharePoint.

It may make sense for these organizations to develop solutions to expose external data for users to consume within the SharePoint work space. External data often amounts to information compiled by LoBs. This information is produced by LoB specific procedures, almost always implemented to support day-to-day business. Adding data about core LoB processes for the whole enterprise to consume makes sense, especially when Yammer newsfeeds, and SharePoint tags can be used to ensure all personnel are aware the data is available to be consumed.

SharePoint-Videos offers two sets of specialized training on both segments of the kind of effort we are espousing in this post. SharePoint administrators, developers, and architects can gain an overview of how it might make sense to pull external data into SharePoint from a course we recently hosted, titled SharePoint 2013: Working with External Data in SharePoint 2013 using BCS and Workflows. This course is led by Fabian Williams, a widely acknowledged subject matter expert on the topic, published author, and SharePoint Server MVP.

The course on collaboration is, presently, only available to subscribers to our web site, and is titled SP13-317 Making Enterprise Social Real in your Organization with Yammer and SharePoint. This course is led by Naomi Moneypenny, who is the CTO of Synxi, an ISV with machine learning solutions for SharePoint and Yammer.

If you would like to learn more about how these two sets of content can be used, together, to add value to collaboration efforts, please contact us. We’ll be eager to expand on this conversation with you.

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

It makes sense to keep technical training for SharePoint end users as simple as possible

Because SharePoint end users often are responsible for tasks completely unrelated to SharePoint, but need to successfully process computing tasks within a SharePoint work space, it makes sense to keep the presentation of technical training materials for them as simple, and as direct as possible. Few interactions could be more difficult than the effort a Tier I SharePoint support person might have to make to help a confused end user select the right training content from a page full of training assets. But this unpleasant experience can arise if SharePoint stakeholders inadvertently end up inundating end users with just too much training content.

We think a system like our VisualSP help system for SharePoint, provides the most useful method of exposing training content to SharePoint end users within the context of the SharePoint work space. VisualSP encloses all of the links to training content within a curated section of the SharePoint user experience. End users can access training content either from a tab in the SharePoint ribbon, or from a graphic box located directly on the SharePoint page. So end users can be directed to identify specific areas on the SharePoint page where all of the training content will be available to them.

With content curated around how various scopes work in SharePoint there is no need for a help system like ours to guess about what an end user needs to do on a page. Guessing about objectives was a big component of Microsoft’s “Clippy” in-context technical support system. But “Clippy” was not well received by Office users, and was eventually removed as an option. We think it’s better, as we mentioned above, to simply expose authoritative technical training content, with a demonstrated high level of utility when accessed on-demand.

If, in contrast, an in-context help system serves up technical content on each and very feature of a SharePoint scope, the risk of end user “information deluge” is great. SharePoint end users simply don’t have the time, or the interest to warrant an effort to provide them with technical information about each and every feature in a document library, or a list.

The most damage done by this latter type of in-context help system is to diminish end user enthusiasm for SharePoint computing, which ought to be at the very center of an adoption effort.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Function trumps form when SharePoint stakeholders consider how best to provision technical training content to end users

Branding should be an important consideration for SharePoint functionality wherever possible. A voluminous quantity of usability research has demonstrated the comparatively greater usefulness of technical features branded to appeal to end users. But for end users in need of technical training content to help them successfully complete work in a SharePoint computing environment, it may make more sense to eschew branding in lieu of greater functionality.

Our VisualSP help system for SharePoint is a case in point. Out-of-the-box, the in-context access system of our product amounts to the tab it creates in a SharePoint 2010, 2013, or Online ribbon. But sometimes end users may struggle to find the tab. This difficulty is more likely to arise where they have already been instructed to use either the circle with the question mark at the upper right of the out-of-the-box SharePoint user interface, or the search box prominently displayed on each page.

For these users, asking them to now look for a different on-screen emblem, this time a tab in the ribbon labeled “help” may amount to asking a bit too much. So the best solution for these users is to implement our VisualSP web part. This web part can be added to any SharePoint page. We provide some branding controls for our web part. The web part can even be implemented to over ride the ribbon tab with content unique to a page, site collection, or even a web application in SharePoint.

But it may be a right decision to opt to expose the content directly on the SharePoint page, where users can’t miss it. Perhaps it would be better to brand just how the technical training content end users require is actually, and finally, presented to them. But with the content plainly visible on the web page, the likelihood of someone informing a support team they can’t find it, should be “slim to none.”

Sacrificing design for functionality makes sense if end users have a burning need for the kind of on demand technical training content best suited for an in-context method of exposing it to them, like our VisualSP product. If branding is a very important consideration, perhaps designers can build an attractive (and prominent) box for the content exposed by our VisualSP web part directly on the page.

Please contact us if you would like to learn more how this method can benefit your organization.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Lots of interest in OneDrive for Business at Office 365 Summit, New York

At the Office 365 Summit in New York City, a lot of the discussion in the Adoption track focused on learning more about OneDrive for Business. Cynthia Wade, the leader of the track spent a lot of time fielding topics on OneDrive for Business. From the level of interest her audience exhibited in the topic, OneDrive for Business likely represents the primary basis for user interaction with Office 365 for most larger organizations in the fall of 2014.

The reliability of any estimate of how users are actually consuming Microsoft’s Office cloud, SaaS offer was reinforced by a set of comments from Cynthia’s audience on how best to roll out this new computing platform. A majority of the audience affirmed the notion of using pilot efforts to carefully roll out the Office 365 computing platform across their organizations.

If organizations are slowly rolling out this computing platform one shouldn’t infer any lack of interest from this pace. This even was very well attended. This writer noted a cross section of Microsft partners, SMBs and even larger organizations in attendance. We attended the adoption track, but we need to note two other tracks were running at the same time. One of the tracks spoke to development, while the other was dedicated to sales and MEC.

Although we didn’t choose to attend the developer track, we can say the way the new set of Office 365 APIs was presented in the morning’s Keynote was worth a comment. The availability of these APIs affords Microsoft an opportunity to transform an otherwise defensive position on the question of the depth of apps for its cloud and mobile devices into a big opportunity. Now any App developer for any platform can simply plug in these APIs to literally drop Office 365 in.

We expect Microsoft will add further clarity on just what the benefits of adding Office 365 to apps is likely to mean. By feeding each segment of the range of Office 365 consumers portions of big benefits, it’s probably a reasonable assumption the platform will be a topic of major interest for the foreseeable future.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Social Groups and SharePoint promise big returns, but require a substantial effort

SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online, Office 365 have been designed with collaboration as one of the primary out-of-the box feature sets. So organizations can benefit by implementing Yammer groups, but should plan on a lot of effort to ensure success.

We’ve recently published several posts to this blog about a new set of video training content exclusively offered on SharePoint-Videos: SP13-317 Making Enterprise Social Real in your Organization with Yammer and SharePoint. Naomi Moneypenny, who leads this curriculum, emphasizes the importance of Yammer groups for the ROI opportunity they represent. In her opinion, a finely tuned Yammer group can perform like “email on steroids”.

But Moneypenny also makes very clear the selectivity organizations must exercised when they choose an administrator for a Yammer group, if the choice is to prove to be the right one. In this writer’s opinion, specific organizations can make a highly useful determination as to whether or not the effort required is worth it, based on the objective for the Yammer group.

Organizations operating within very heavily regulated industries can especially benefit from high performance Yammer groups. It is much easier to monitor compliance with new guidelines when key personnel who need to perform differently when regulations change are all participants within a Yammer group. As well, new information can be disseminated to this same group in a much faster fashion when the information is included in a Yammer group alert. Finally, everyone benefits when members of a Yammer group are posting status updates on the topic of how they are deciding to implement these new regulations.

On the other hand, some organizations simply won’t benefit from even a finely tuned, high performance Yammer group. So, for them, it won’t make sense to make the effort required to get the group going correctly.

Bottom line, SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online, Office 365 are computing application platforms. When they are understood in this way, then stakeholders should narrow their focus and highlight a specific set of computing procedures (enterprise content management, enterprise document management, collaboration, business intelligence) rather than maintain a very horizontal approach seeking to capitalize on all of the features and capabilities of the platform.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

It make sense to incorporate risk management policies into SharePoint and/or SharePoint Online workflow architecture

Workflows designed to automate organizational processes should be designed to support approved risk management procedures. The potential for problems to arise from workflows designed without attention to these procedures is too great to proceed otherwise.

Properly attending to this requirement means proposing applications of SharePoint’s out-of-the-box approval workflow not only “horizontally”, but also “vertically” within one’s organization. This step will ensure all of the stakeholders have been informed about the proposed automated process before it is actually implemented.

SharePoint, and/or SharePoint Online stakeholders can safeguard against the chance of implementation of workflows before this necessary “reality check” against approved risk management policies and procedures has been completed by incorporating the topic of workflows in a governance plan, and designating points of required approval within the publishing process for any of these automated procedures.

Anyone with an interest in learning more about why taking these steps should be mandatory for any organization need only read a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal. This article, titled Texas Hospital Changes Ebola Patient Account, includes mention of the type of problem we have just presented: “the hospital had ‘identified a flaw in the way the physician and nursing portions of our electronic health records interacted in this specific case,’”. The interaction between these portions, as clarified in a companion article appearing in the New York Times, on the same day, is actually controlled by two separate “workflows”.

Few, if any organizations want to take the risk of ignoring the kind of sound risk management policy required to ensure safe automated processing of otherwise repetitive tasks. But in the case of the hospital mentioned above, the fact two separate workflow procedures apparently were in place for two different groups of personnel, who otherwise maintained an important (if not vital) hierarchical decision-making system, potentially hid information of critical importance to the organization, itself.

SharePoint-Videos offers several sets of video training content on building workflows with SharePoint 2007, 2013, and even SharePoint Online, Office 365. More information about the sets we offer can be found on our SharePoint Corporate DVDs page on our web site.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Microsoft Announces Office 365 Summit World Tour

Microsoft has announced a series of world wide conferences for Office 365. The title for this event is Office 365 | Summit. Each of the conferences included in this effort is designed to speak to the needs of important segments of the consumer community for this product, all the way from partner sales personnel, to product advocates from the communities of users who will consume the product. The latter will be supported via an adoption track.

This writer has registered to attend the New York City Office 365 Summit, adoption track, which will be held on October 9, and 10. We plan on writing posts to this blog on topics on relevant topics emerging at the conference. One set of topics likely to be covered will be the announced half day sessions on Office 365 end user training. SharePoint end user training via short, right to the point video tutorials is a core offering of SharePoint-Videos. These sets of video tutorials for SharePoint 2010, and 2013 provide the foundation of our training offer, both for the immersive training experience represented by any of our group subscription offers to our web site, and for the unique in-context, on-demand training experience delivered by VisualSP, the help system for SharePoint. So we will be very interested to learn how Microsoft recommends stakeholders in a plan to implement Office 365 and SharePoint Online address the need for training end users.

The experts selected for this track had not been announced at the time this post was drafted. But, we would hope, the speakers will be appropriately selected to address not only the end user training aspect of any plan for Office 365 adoption promising success, for the rest of the track, as well. Other sessions of interest to us include several scheduled for the second, and final day, of the conference. Session descriptions include a bold claim: “In this session, we will present the Microsoft customer adoption journey and highlight the 4 key phases for success. We will show you how to drive successful adoption of Office365 within your organization.” Needless to say we will be very interested to attend this topic and hope to learn some new and promising techniques, which, in turn, we plan on sharing with our readers via posts to this blog.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

How to capitalize on a hybrid sharepoint computing architecture, combining on premises and cloud components

Many organizations are considering how best to support parallel SharePoint computing efforts, both on premises, and SharePoint Online via a cloud SaaS provider. But what if it were possible for these organizations to get the maximum return on this effort by capitalizing on complementary features of both platforms, which can be safely interconnected?

On October 9, 2014, SharePoint-Videos will host a class exploring topics on how SharePoint on premises and online can be implemented in a complementary manner. The title of this online course is Implementing SharePoint 2013 Hybrid for Search, Business Connectivity Services, OneDrive for Business and Yammer. This course will be led by Fabian Williams, a SharePoint Server MVP and a widely acknowledged subject matter expert on this topic.

Almost any enterprise IT organization will acknowledge there is no harm integrating purely online services like Yammer with an on premises SharePoint implementation, as long as the decision does not create security issues, or diminished productivity. Ditto for an enterprise search service capable of returning results both from online EDM, ECM and on premises versions of the same processes. For businesses functioning in heavily regulated industries the latter requirement is not an option. It is a mandatory requirement if an organization is to maintain its compliance with regulations.

At the same time, many enterprise IT organizations have adopted an accommodative policy about online computing, in large part, to provide the support BYOD programs require and the overall trend towards consumerized IT. So it makes sense for these organizations to complement SharePoint on premises, with an online component. But, as is the case for almost any IT project, it will likely be required for these organizations to demonstrate return on the investment. So any opportunity to safely interconnect the two computing environments should constitute a topic worth studying.

Fortunately, our class, scheduled to be held this Thursday, October 9, 2014, promises to provide a lot of the detail required to actually address the task of making connections between platforms, where it is safe to do so. Anyone interested in registering for this class can do so via the link provided above.

Ira Michael Blonder

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

Ask questions before leaping into an enterprise social effort for the best possible chance of success

Many of the same type of questions most subject matter experts recommend be asked about any plan to implement SharePoint 2013, or SharePoint Online, Office 365, should be included in any plan for an enterprise social effort, at least according to Naomi Moneypenny. Moneypenny presents these questions and her rationale for adding them into any plan to implement an enterprise social feature like a Yammer group, in a video tutorial titled Planning a community and populating Group Tabs.

The answers to these questions, Moneypenny contends, will provide any stakeholders in an enterprise social effort with a method of validating the soundness of their implementation plan. The questions include:

  1. What is the reason for the group?
  2. How will people join the group?
  3. What are the qualifications for people to join the group?
  4. What would this group look like if your effort is to succeed?
  5. How should success be measured?
  6. How will others benefit should the group succeed?
  7. What is the implementation plan for the group?
  8. What do you need for the plan to work

Moneypenny recommends anyone asking the second question, above, should also be asking about whether the group will be private (in other words, invitation only), or public (so people can discover and join it as they wish). The third question, the one on qualifications, should help illuminate whatever known, or unknown barriers may impede people from joining the group. Moneypenny stressses the need to remove as many of these, as possible, to ensure anyone truly interested in the group can join. The fourth question, which talks about how success is specifically defined for this enterprise social effort, lays the ground work for demonstrating ROI and, potentially, quantifying the actual benefit the group ultimately delivers (if any) to the sponsoring organization. The final question opens an opportunity for stakeholders to actually formulate a plan, which, in turn, can be presented to a sponsoring organization to ensure support is in place.

Asking, and answering, each of these questions before embarking on a project to build a Yammer group is, in this writer’s opinion, a useful preliminary exercise which can protect an organization from committing resources (people, money) before a compelling case has been made for the project in the first place.

Ira Michael Blonder

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