Thursday, May 27, 2010

Spotlight on 2010: It's 'Go' Time

As the great General George S. Patton once said, “Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” Now how best can one interpret this as we are handed a CD or download a copy off MSDN of one of the most powerful and versatile pieces of software released to date?

OK, maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but SharePoint 2010 is here and organizations are piloting it and beginning to implement it. My firm, EPC Group, is currently engaged in several SharePoint 2010 implementations, and it really is an amazing piece of software. There are several truths that still apply, though, when implementing this juggernaut in your organization. At EPC Group, we make sure we stress these, regardless of a 2010 or 2007 implementation.

So, what makes for a successful SharePoint initiative?

•Proper upfront planning (The System & Information Architecture)
•Looking at the big picture and developing a SharePoint Roadmap for your organization (A Roadmap for six months, 12 months and 18 months)
•Executive Sponsorship/Executive Buy-in
•Enterprise SharePoint Governance: planning and enforcement
•Development of a rock-solid environment with a corresponding disaster recovery plan so you do not ever lose your users’ confidence or their content
•Developing a core set of Metadata/Content Type standards in the initial stages of your initiatives
•Finding and achieving quick wins to “wow” your users
I started implementing SharePoint almost 10 years ago (wow, how fast time flies), and I find these seven bullet points still stand true. But with SharePoint 2010 (either SharePoint Foundation 2010 or SharePoint Server 2010), there are whole lists of new bullet points and implementation methodologies that must be followed.

With SharePoint 2010, just a few new items we must contend with (i.e. govern) are:

• The Ribbon: It offers new functionality in the SharePoint 2010 user interface. The Ribbon serves as the primary command surface that you can use to interact with objects inside of SharePoint Foundation. In earlier product versions, commands were accessed across multiple surfaces and located in varying menus.

• User Interface (UI) Improvements:

•Master Pages: In SharePoint 2010, application pages now reference the site master page. Content and application pages now contain the same content placeholders in SharePoint 2010.
•Cascading Style Sheets: The cascading style sheets in SharePoint 2010 have been revamped. The CSS has been divided into multiple files to enable more targeted customization scenarios and to improve page-loading performance.
• Windows PowerShell for SharePoint: A new command-line tool and supporting scripting language from Microsoft complements Cmd.exe in the Windows administration context.

• Silverlight Integration and the Fluid Application Model: A built-in, extensible, Silverlight Web Part specifically designed to host Silverlight applications. Closely related to the new Web Part is the Fluid Application Model (FAM) that enables secure, cross-domain integration between external applications and SharePoint Foundation deployments.

• Workflow Improvements

•New Workflow Activities
•Pluggable Workflow Services
•Workflow Events
• Alerts Enhancements: SharePoint 2010 takes advantage of the new mobile messaging framework to enhance its Alerts feature. The mobile messaging framework is itself extensible, so you can create your SharePoint Foundation solutions that incorporate SMS messages that are sent to mobile telephones.

• ECM Improvements: Managing millions of documents, eDiscovery capabilities, and the whole kitchen sink.

• Business Connectivity Services (formerly the Business Data Catalog): Provides read/write access to external data from line-of-business systems, Web services, databases, and other external systems within SharePoint 2010.

So with all of this new functionality, it is absolutely critical to address your organization’s governance strategy, your global content types, your power users, and your long-term document management strategy, because SharePoint 2010 really can do just about anything other than take out the trash and wash the car.

To finish off with one more quote, Jerry Seinfeld once said, “Why do they call it a 'building'? It looks like they're finished. Why isn't it a 'built'?"

Just implementing SharePoint 2010 out of the box and letting your users start to utilize it without these proper strategies and methodologies is not advised.

SharePoint 2010 is here, it’s powerful, it offers massive ROI to your organization, and many CIOs, IT Directors, and business leaders are going to have to start making tough decisions around things like:

• How do we migrate away from our older existing ECM platform (like Documentum, LiveLink, eRoom, etc.) and into SharePoint 2010?
• Where do we draw the line on My Site Collaboration and social networking?
• What really is our organization’s retention schedule?
• How are we going to finally get off file shares?
• Our e-mail .pst’s need to go, how can SharePoint and the Office 2010 suite help me here to lower the litigation and risk of .pst's, etc.?
• How do we finally get all of our different SharePoint implementations under one centralized umbrella instead of several dispersed implementations?

It’s an exciting time and SharePoint 2010’s ROI is huge—it’s just a matter of doing it right the first time. So ask the tough questions of yourself and your organization around some of the topics mentioned above if you're thinking about either upgrading or pursuing a new SharePoint 2010 implementation.

Errin O’Connor is the principal at The EPC Group, a Houston-based SharePoint consulting firm specializing in large-scale and government deployments.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

EPC Group aids Continenal Airlines in Tracking Delayed Flights in SharePoint,289142,sid182_gci1512750,00.html

When new regulations regarding long tarmac delays went into effect recently, Continental Airlines Inc. was ready to react with a SharePoint installation that puts various aspects of flight operations -- aircraft status, pilots, crews and customer care -- on the same page.

"If they're waiting to take off, operations needs to know how to manage the situation," said Denise Wilson, senior manager of technology in Continental's enterprise engineering group in Houston. "Passengers on that flight need to connect downline with other aircraft. There's a lot of coordination that goes on, and [Microsoft Office] SharePoint is really helping us bring all those disparate pieces together."

Continental's Airport Services group came to Wilson after the Department of Transportation announced the new delay rules on Dec. 21, 2009, saying they needed to have a tool up quickly. The rules, which went into effect April 29, prevent airlines from holding passengers for more than three hours on an idling plane. A violation carries steep penalties of as much as $27,500 per passenger. "There was not a long time frame to make this [SharePoint installation] happen," Wilson said.

With help from EPC Group Inc., an integrator based in Houston, Wilson's staff created a standardized, user-friendly SharePoint collaboration presence, including an InfoPath form that allowed 135 general managers at Continental's domestic airports to fill out a 16-page online form without any training. The form includes the names and numbers of airport workers, from the airport authority to the person who drives the stairs to planes waiting on the tarmac.

"The general managers needed to specify what they would do with a one-hour delay, a two-hour delay, at two-and-a-half hours," Wilson said. "Questions like, 'Who would bring the pretzels?' and 'Who would deliver the diapers and Handi Wipes?'" she said. "The airline business is very complex."

The InfoPath form was in production well ahead of April 29; and last week, Wilson rolled out a custom SharePoint collaboration portal that features a dashboard for Continental's centralized system operations center. People in the system-ops center can use the dashboard to find information quickly and coordinate with pilots, crews and dispatchers in response to delays from weather or erupting volcanoes.

EPC Group helped Continental develop a framework for the portal to support content management and e-discovery, the legal process of finding documents under subpoena for a court case. This was the fundamental driver for the portal, enabling Continental employees to store and retrieve presentations, images, contracts and so forth, Wilson said. EPC Group helped the airline come up with a standard structure across the organization to narrow searches, reducing the amount of time it takes to find information.

For example, if Wilson were to search the portal for SharePoint documents, she would get 8,448 results. If she limited the search to the "engineering work order" document type, she would get 22 results. "You can find what you need from your department or another department quickly and easily," she said. "It's a huge savings in time. Metrics show that people spend a large part of their day just looking for things."

The general managers had to specify what they would do with a one-hour, a two-hour delay, at two-and-a-half hours: 'Who would bring the pretzels?' and 'Who would deliver the diapers and Handi Wipes?'
Denise Wilson
senior manager of technology, Continental Airlines Inc.

Like most people, Craig Roth doesn't like being trapped in an airplane on a tarmac. "I'm glad they're tracking delays," said Roth, who is vice president and service director for collaboration and content strategies at Burton Group in Midvale, Utah. "I've often wondered, as I'm stuck on the runway for hours, why they can't collaborate better -- or at least tell us what's going on."

Speaking in his professional capacity, Roth said airlines didn't need to wait for the new regulations to implement document management and collaboration software. Lots of packages give businesses a better shot at letting the right hand knowing what the left hand is up to. Oracle Corp.'s WebCenter (formerly known as the Plumtree Collaboration Portal), for example, overlaps with some of SharePoint's functions, but is more of a native portal with standardization. IBM's Lotus Notes, the granddaddy of collaboration software, is mainly client/server-based, with Web access, whereas SharePoint is a Web-based application. Roth also noted the Webster Community Portal as a possible alternative.

"Then there are whole new categories of social software that would count -- blogs and wikis," Roth said. "To track airplanes, you could set up a wiki and have people post to it. If it's more complex, certainly you could code without the in-between layer of SharePoint. If I was an app-dev person, I'd maybe want to do a mashup with some coding and available options."

Continental's Wilson said she did look at several leading document management products, but found they were not as flexible as SharePoint -- and very expensive, too. Moreover, Continental has internal .Net expertise and partners with Microsoft, so a SharePoint installation was "a cost-effective solution for us," she said. "The ROI is huge. We've done this on a shoestring compared to other Fortune 500 companies in Houston," she added. Without revealing how much the implementation cost, she added that Continental is "pulling numbers to build other applications like we did for system operations on top of the portal -- for groups in operations, as well as marketing and reservations."

Cost-effective document management

Continental's business is built on four cornerstone goals: Fly to Win (have a successful operation); Make Reliability a Reality (get the passengers there on time, with their stuff); Working Together (as a team with dignity and respect); and Fund the Future (save money where you can). The SharePoint implementation is a Working Together and Fund the Future program, according to Wilson.

When she rolled out the portal, "The project sponsor told me there were "oohs and aahs, high-fives," Wilson said. "Airport Services liked it so much that we got a request to extend it internationally." The system is so user-friendly that Continental's senior director of system operations, who manages 200 people, can configure it to his needs.

In the project's next phase, in partnership with EPC and other application development groups within Continental, Wilson plans to configure a connection between legacy flight operations in Continental's mainframe and SharePoint. The system currently is internal, located on Continental's wide area network and intranet. Asked whether the airline would ever take SharePoint into the cloud, Wilson said, "We're just now investigating the possibilities and how that would work for us -- cost and feature comparisons. Historically, we have hosted our systems internally. It would be a significant change."

SharePoint 2010 is here!

That means.... so is our new 2010 book.

Check it out!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Putting applications into the cloud not so clear-cut a process

The enabling technologies of cloud computing -- the Internet, service-oriented architecture and virtualization -- have orbited IT for years, but experts say a convergence has reached escape velocity: The time is right for applications in the cloud. But how do CIOs choose which applications to deploy?

Cloud storage: Five best practices for moving to the cloud

Enterprise CIOs should identify the lowest-risk, lowest-value areas for initial forays into the cloud, according to Julio Gomez, co-founder of Innovation Councils LLC, a Concord, Mass. organization that brings together CIOs in various industries to discuss emerging technologies. "Council members are understandably reluctant to put sensitive customer data out in the cloud," he said. "But email archiving? Or even nonstrategic software development? There are many areas with clear ROI arguments that can be considered for testing in the short term."

Experts recommend that enterprises begin their cloud experience with non-mission-critical applications that take advantage of the cloud's "elasticity" to rapidly provision and deprovision resources. The cloud is ideal for such temporary needs as testing and development, for example, or for scientific simulations that need to run for a couple of weeks, then scale down.

The cloud also works well for cyclical demands, such as sales spikes in retail environments around holidays. It's a reasonable alternative to building new space for infrastructure expansion, a reliable strategy for disaster recovery and a sound spot for old emails. In fact, production email may be the cloud's killer app, with many enterprises moving mailboxes to Google Inc.'s Gmail.

Project-based applications also are a natural fit, according to Errin O'Connor, founder and CEO of EPC Group Inc. in Houston, a systems integrator that has spent the last decade implementing Microsoft's SharePoint Web collaboration application for such clients as Northrop Grumman Corp., Continental Airlines Inc., Chevron Corp. and the U.S. Navy.

"Say a project is six months long, and you need an area for users to collaborate on documents -- that's where the cloud shines," O'Connor said. "For example, an oil and gas company had a huge project to spin up between two organizations, with well drawings, project schedules and task lists. They couldn't just go to IT and say, 'hey, guys, we need a site set up for 7,000 users by Tuesday,'" he said. "But they could call a cloud provider."

The cloud is great for external access by distributed workgroups, O'Connor said, but the external security model of the cloud offering must be robust. "There are a number of different security models that work, but it's most important to match those models to both the internal functional requirements and the specific cloud offerings," he said. EPC Group built its own external security model for SharePoint that allows administrators to open specific and targeted content to external users without putting internal and secure data at risk. Users can register for external access, change their existing password and maintain their individual account information.

Inconvenient truths

Perhaps it makes sense to determine which applications not to move into the cloud. Experts agree that databases, with their high I/O requirements, are better left in a standing server. Also, if an application server is operating at 80% capacity, it might as well be left alone. Most servers, however, are operating at 10% to 15% capacity, a tremendous waste of compute power and capital expense, according to McKinsey & Co., a global consultancy based in New York.

The cloud is not going to replace everything; it's not good for everything. IT is very pragmatic. There are still mainframes.
Carl Meadows
senior product manager, The Planet

Another inconvenient truth is latency. Before moving an application to the cloud, consider whether it requires microsecond response time. "You're not going to get that over the Internet; it just takes too long," said Michael Salsburg, chief architect for Unisys Cloud Computing in Blue Bell, Pa. "You're going from microsecond speeds on a LAN to milliseconds on the Internet. WAN latency can increase by 500 times," he said. With the wind at your back, you can transfer about a terabyte a day to a server in the cloud; if you have tons of terabytes, you're better off putting them on disks and shipping them, he added.

Other truths will indicate whether putting particular applications in the cloud makes sense. Carl Meadows, senior product manager for The Planet, a Houston-based website hosting company with a free public cloud in beta, suggests that CIOs ponder these questions:

Does the application need to be highly available? "When it comes to IaaS [Infrastructure as a Service], you are buying a virtual instance that exists somewhere. High availability and global distribution is on you; it's not solved just by going to the cloud," Meadows said. CIOs should consider acceptable downtime: You can pay for high availability or recognize that it's an internal application that needs to be very available.
What elements of a workload can be scaled out? "If you can clone a workload and drop another image in, that's where orchestration on cloud services shines," Meadows said. You can also offload services to better tune a workload, like moving mail off servers.
What is the demand volatility? With a production workload in the cloud, you're trying to automate peaks; you need to determine the frequency of change, and pay for the most basic unit to support that. Hourly payment structures are great for project workloads and spiky activity, Meadows said, but with a steady-state application, you don't need an hourly rate.
What are the integration requirements? Does the workload need to integrate with an internal LAN? Is it an extension of a workload or a new workload?

"There's a common misconception that the cloud is going to replace all in-house datacenters in the next few years," Meadows said. "The cloud is not going to replace everything; it's not good for everything. IT is very pragmatic. There are still mainframes."

Unisys' Salsburg advises that enterprises align applications with the appropriate cloud: public, for nonsensitive, low-CPU apps, such as storage of old emails; private, for highly sensitive data like financials; and hybrid, for customer-centric applications that use a Web front end tied to back-end data. Workload requirements, such as transactions per second, storage requests, network traffic, among others, need to be evaluated as well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Fierce Content Management with Errin O'Connor

Founder and Chief Executive Officer for EPC Group, a SharePoint integrator, where he manages corporate strategy. In fact, O'Connor has written a new book due out later this year called Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010. He previously authored Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 Inside Out.

We asked O'Connor about the new release and why SharePoint has proven to be so popular in the enterprise.

FCM: What are the biggest changes in SharePoint 2010?

EO: The biggest and most exciting changes in SharePoint 2010 are around increasing SharePoint’s Enterprise Content Management capabilities. A large number of organizations with existing LiveLink or Documentum implementations also use SharePoint 2007 as a collaboration platform. Users tend to find SharePoint much more user friendly than their existing document management systems.

These organizations had concerns around the customizations that were required in Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS) to enable true records management, retention and the corresponding custom workflow development to match their existing systems. SharePoint Server 2010 offers a more powerful document management system than LiveLink or Documentum as well as an arsenal of other tools with business intelligence capabilities, seamless integration with other external data sources, enterprise metadata capabilities, powerful eDiscovery and professional networking.

What is so amazing about this is that a large number of these organizations already own licenses for SharePoint and can literally save millions of dollars a year by migrating away from their existing ECM solutions as well as other systems such as eRoom, WebSphere or even their existing Internet platform to have a single system that can be supported by a cross-functional staff.

The ROI in SharePoint 2010 with an enterprise governance model, support and run-time model, and single sign-on interface across the organization with true ECM, eDiscovery, BI, and supercharged collaborative features is something no other system can currently match.

FCM: Do you think Microsoft has done enough to address the major criticisms around governance?

EO: I have been working with more than 100 of EPC Group’s clients in the past four to five years on developing SharePoint governance and I believe the phrase, “Don’t blame it on SharePoint” should be acknowledged when it comes to organizations without a strong governance model.

This is due to the lack of proper planning prior to or during the deployment and not putting enough emphasis on SharePoint Governance but if there is one thing I can preach to the masses regarding governance and SharePoint is around the need for “Run Time” or “Operational” governance.

You need to know how to drive the SharePoint ship, maintain the SharePoint ship, dock the SharePoint ship, etc. Many organizations implemented SharePoint as an Intranet platform first without implementing site provisioning and enterprise metadata/Content Type Governance or identifying the Power Users who would support and champion the deployment and that, in my opinion, is why SharePoint has experienced criticisms around governance.

FCM: Why is SharePoint so popular?

EO: SharePoint’s popularity starts with its ease of use. This can be a double-edged sword though if organizations do not have a Site Provisioning plan in place. That being said, SharePoint is so popular because a user can request and get a site within an hour and be up and using it right away.

With a proper training model or simple things like the creation of a SharePoint training site with a collection of short three to five minute videos on “how to use SharePoint,” organizations can ensure their users are trained and quickly up to speed. With SharePoint 2010 and the Office 2010 suite, SharePoint is going to get even more popular. Can you imagine how powerful it’s going to be for users to create workflows in Visio 2010 and be able to then load them into SharePoint? With the addition of Silverlight, more powerful My Site capabilities, and the BCS (the upgrade to the BDC) this platform is in a class of its own.

FCM: What becomes of partners when SharePoint upgrades and begins to fill in some of the holes?

EO: My firm EPC Group has worked on more than 500 SharePoint implementations since SharePoint 2001 was first released and we have found that the more successful a SharePoint implementation is within an organization and the more we can empower our customers, we actually end up engaging in more projects with the client and end up building many more long-term relationships. My approach is not a “one and done”-type model where an installation is done and some gaps are filled but rather looking at the organization’s overall roadmap and helping them prepare a “platform” so that SharePoint can be relevant in their organization for many years to come. I find that the more successful the implementation is and the more buy-in, quick wins, and “wowed” customers we have to show real ROI, the client continues to engage EPC Group in many future phases.

FCM: How important are partners to SharePoint's success?

EO: I believe partners are critical to the success of SharePoint. Of course I am a SharePoint consultant and most would think I have a one-sided view on this. But people like me, and the dedicated folks at my firm, spend day-in and day-out “in the trenches” to understand the real business and functional requirements of the organization we are working with. Once a SharePoint implementation goes off the tracks, it’s twice as expensive to get it back in the right direction. These missteps could also cost you user support and give SharePoint a bad name within the organization. So the strategies that we have developed around SharePoint governance, site provisioning, power users, enterprise content types, tying in an organization’s retention schedule to the content types, etc. can save millions of dollars in litigation, increase user productivity and delivery real ROI.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

New Government Contract Vehicles..

EPC Group has finalized our ability to further our work with government organizations by offering 8(a) Stars, GSA, Minority Owned and Women Owned Business Contracting Vehicles. We are thrilled to continue servicing our government clients and look forward to working with new organizations continuing our goal of long term partnerships with our clients.