Thursday, July 28, 2011

Navigating the "World of SharePoint 2010” and All It Encompasses

Posted on EPC Group's AIIM.ORG Expert Blog - July 26, 2011 - 12:24 PM

By Errin OConnor, Founder & CEO at EPC Group.net

Microsoft SharePoint 2010 is one of the most popular software programs \ platforms in history and with it has come a community with a near cult following as well as a large number of extremely powerful products that can integrate with it and continue to allow it to be tailored to your organization’s specific business needs.

For a CIO or IT Director new to the world of SharePoint I can’t imagine the questions they must may have as the blogosphere \ web can provide them with a fantastic amount of free information (correct and unbelievably incorrect), but it is key to consider the source. Is this person that authored the article 2 years into SharePoint and on their 1st or 2nd deployment or an administrator within their company in a very specific environment meant to meet a specific need of their organization or a true SharePoint expert or just an SharePoint trainer speaking in theory.

Playing devil’s advocate, and not to say I am the top expert out there on SharePoint, but I know of myself and a handful of others in the U.S. who have been working with SharePoint since its 2001 release (in the Tahoe days).

It pains me to read 17 articles on governance that all have a different opinion but what are their experiences? (Client’s \ Sources, etc.) What set of external circumstances did this “governance project” have in terms of political landmines, possibly the business or I.T. having issues with the development department(s) or even the parent company who “owns” the top level SharePoint farm but a division or partner firm wanting to stand-up their own specific SharePoint farm to meet requirements or a timeline that the parent company cannot meet.

Business does not always play nice with I.T. and vice versa.

System Architecture – Environment

You can absolutely virtualize your entire SharePoint environment, including your SQL Server(s). EPC Group has completed 75+ SharePoint 2010 projects with absolutely no virtualization issues. This has been a long standing questions regarding, “Should we keep the front-end web servers virtual and make the SQL boxes physical?” You can absolutely virtualize the entire farm with no issues.

Third-Party Tools and SharePoint ISVs

Over the past 8 or 9 years I have had the sincere pleasure of working with some of the top SharePoint ISVs out there and over the years some of come and gone but they key players are still there such as:

1.Idera
2.Metalogix
3.AvePoint
4.Axceler
5.Colligo
6.HiSoftware
7.Tzunami
8.WebPartGallery
9.Bamboo Solutions
10.Quest
11.KnowledgeLake
12.And many others I do not have room to mention but are very reputable

From an I.T. Director or SharePoint decision maker’s standpoint, what product is right for your firm?

Are you looking for a disaster recovery solution, a Performance Monitoring, Security tools, Migration solutions, SharePoint \ Email tools, 508 compliance solutions, Web parts, a tool to take out the trash and clean the kitchen sink?

In all fairness there are so many ISVs with high integrity that really want to do what is right for the client and then there are others that are transactional and want to sell you the entire suite, all the support you can buy, and put fear in you that the sky may be falling unless you purchase their product.

It is critical that you develop our initial business requirements as well as your SharePoint roadmap to take into consideration the true needs of your business and then look at the support staff you have available.

Could one of these powerful third-party tools almost act as another full-time employee (FTE) and offer substantial ROI? In many cases, I have personally seen this be the case but do your homework, demo, test, and ask the tough questions.

SharePoint Conferences

Prior to reading this section you may want to have an Advil or Tylenol bottle close at hand. I have had the pleasure of speaking at most every type of SharePoint conference in the U.S. and a few in Canada and I can tell you that all of these conference have the very best intentions in mind; Sharing information to the attendees so they can take it back to their place of work and perform at a high level or provide this knowledge to co-workers, etc.

Having spoken at over 100 conferences in the past 2 years I see a pattern developing recently thou that is starting to take the “fire” or interest out of some of the conferences.

That issue is repetitive information and the same topics being shared time and time again. Titles that start with things like:

•Best Practices
•Real-World
•From the Trenches - ok that was mine :)
•Lessons Learned

Note: These are all great but its time someone kick the conferences up a notch and provide case studies, bring their clients, show massive amounts of screen shots, and talk about the failures and how they were overcome and how you had to sit down with the client and have the hard conversation to get through an issue and keep the project going.

Taking the same exact Technology type sessions from one coast to the other will work for a short time but it will not sustain longevity and attendees will indeed stop attending.

EPC Group.net is current engaged on several SharePoint projects that are 24+ months long (80K plus users) and with any project there are going to be small issues (and sometimes large ones) that must be ironed out and there must be constant, granular communications and conversations from both the consulting side and the client side (a marriage of sorts or at least a long term dating relationship) to make a project that is so high profile successful that everyone in the company has access to it as jobs may be on the line.

SharePoint is unique in that sense; we are not installing some one-off solution that only one department will use every now and then. This is a platform, an ecosystem for which is core to the business. There is so much Return on Investment (ROI) in a SharePoint 2010 initiative it is almost comical but sometimes it takes pioneers from within and a power user \ super user concept to get people to realize it or take a chance on innovation with this supercharged platform.

Monday, July 18, 2011

SharePoint 2010 - A Learning Management System (LMS) for Government\DoD, Private Sector\Fortune 1000, and Educational Institutions

From EPC Group's AIIM.ORG - SharePoint Expert Blog

By Errin OConnor, Founder & CEO at EPC Group.net (July 18, 2011-12:18 PM)

Your organization more than likely already owns SharePoint licenses and may be using it for collaboration, the Intranet, an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) \ Enterprise Records Management (ERM) solution, or to meet a variety of other business requirements. One area where SharePoint is being extremely underutilized by a majority of organizations is as a Learning Management System (LMS) or Enterprise training solution.

We all live in a time where information is almost instantaneous and mobile advancements in the world are only helping to increase our expectations of “information at our fingertips” 24/7. In looking at how organizations conduct training or certification classes or provide educational materials to their end-users \ students \ staff, there are a variety of existing methods such as classroom training, distant learning, or computer-based online training (CBT).

The “brick and mortar” training is slowly becoming a thing of the past as organizations \ institutes of all types are trying to cut back on airline and travel expenses, the loss of having their staff gone for days on end, or not having 24/7 access to the materials to allow for their already busy day-to-day schedule.

There are existing popular LMS systems that exist such as Blackboard, recently acquired by an investor group,and others but if you can achieve with SharePoint 2010:

•Courseware administration and development
•Course enrollment
•Assessments or quizzes for student \ class placement
•24/7 secured online training (and by the way you probably already own the licenses to SharePoint)
•The development of learning paths, tracking of student progress, and customizable (audience driven) courseware
•Grade tracking
•Integration with Plagiarism Prevention Tools
•Executive Dashboards \ Business Intelligence via seamless integration with Microsoft PerformancePoint 2010

The most powerful element, in my opinion, that other LMS systems do not always offer, is the tracking of a student or staff member’s training \ achievements \ certifications, etc. for the entire lifecycle of their training while they are in the organization \ institution.

If you not only take the above information into consideration, but the fact that Microsoft has acquired Skype, you can also offer real-time video chat and training to enhance the student(s) experience in a 100% integrated LMS SharePoint platform with Microsoft Outlook, Word, Excel, etc. as well as it having the ability to sit atop a SharePoint ECM solution with industry leading external (extranet) access from anywhere in the world.

SharePoint’s multimedia capabilities (Digital Asset Management) and metadata (content type) tagging will allow your training staff to offer an enhanced experience to the student(s) and collaborate across multiple departments (worldwide) in the development, version tracking, and ultimate final approval of the courseware for the organization.

SharePoint is being used by a large number of educational institutes and organizations \ government institutes as their primary or secondary LMS \ Courseware Management System. The following list is just a small sampling of its use and diversity as this platform:

• Branches of the U.S. ARMY
• Portions of Harvard
• Purdue University
• Portions of the University of Phoenix
• Kansas State University
• University of New Orleans
• University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC)
• Rhode Island Public School Districts
• Worcester State University

With a SharePoint Learning Management System (LMS), there is going to be some configuration and\or custom development which can easily be managed to scale for size or performance but if your organization \ institute already owns and is using the software, a SharePoint LMS is yet another huge way SharePoint can produce real measurable and tangible Return on Investment (ROI).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

SharePoint 2010, Mobility, Browser Compatibility, Compliance, and its Continued Dominance in the Marketplace

From EPC Group's AIIM.ORG - SharePoint Expert Blog

Like a stock trader who has purchased a “put” on a stock in hopes the stock value will decrease, I continue to see articles and blogs every now and then asking questions and making statements on doubts about how long SharePoint can remain dominant or how it will adopt to the ever changing mobile world. Also these folks question how SharePoint 2010 can meet compliance and eDiscovery challenges or replace Documentum, LiveLink, FileNet, or other ECM\ERM systems.

My theory on these writers or speakers who have these opinions (or hopeful “stock puts”) is that they do only that… write and speak but really don’t ever set foot into a client’s conference room or have more of a vested interest in LiveLink, OpenText, etc. succeeding, and don’t spend 5 days a week over months working with a client on their initial business requirements, political challenges, functional and compliance requirements, development best practices, roadmap, and governance challenges that the organization faces or will face. It’s one thing to speak in theory or abstract but a whole different world when you have a timeline, budget, and a client who is investing a great deal on a high profile project that will affect most everyone in the organization.

Mobility and SharePoint 2010

When implementing your SharePoint 2010 environment, which should be a Hybrid Platform to meet many of your organizations challenges over the years to come, mobility is something that must be in your organizations roadmap.

It is critical to gather your organization’s mobile requirements, such as:

•Is the organizations staff accessing Intranet\ECM content and will they need a specific tailored experience?
•What type of content do they want delivered to their mobile device?
•What devices (and version of the devices) is the organization going to allow (govern) users to have to access SharePoint? (I.e. Just BlackBerrys and iPhones or other devices as well?)

Note: This includes the browser compatibility governance the organization will allow.

•Are there specific business units or departments that would benefit from having business intelligence, analytics, and reports available at their fingertips wherever they are in the world and would that provide true ROI to the business?
•How will the organizations requirements around mobile affect our existing SharePoint roadmap or the existing configuration \ deployment we have in place and how can we adapt to stay ahead of the mobile curve
SharePoint 2010’s Mobile Browser Compatibility

SharePoint also supports a wide variety of mobile browsers, which includes:

•IE Mobile on Windows Mobile 5/6 and newer versions
•Safari4 and newer versions on the iPhone (3/4) and iPad (1/2)
•BlackBerry 4.x and newer versions
•Nokia S60
•Openwave 6.2, 7.0 and newer versions
•NetFront 3.4, 3.5 and newer versions
•Opera Mobile 8.65 and newer versions
Governing Mobile Devices \ Browser Support

Another little known fact is that you can govern the specific devices that can access your SharePoint experience and actually redirect the user to a specific template based upon SharePoint recognizing the mobile device’s browser and sending them to the specific template for optimal user experience.

I am guessing the detractors of SharePoint 2010’s mobile capabilities have not actually sat down with multiple clients and gathered the requirements, developed, implemented, and successfully rolled out either custom or tailored mobile applications to Fortune 1000 or large government organizations.

Technical Note: “In SharePoint 2010, the USERAGENT recognize for accessing mobile browser to redirect to a mobile view is managed by the file “compat.browser” within the server’s IIS directory that manages device profiles (If the web application port is, for example, 80, the file path will be "\inetpub\wwwroot\wss\VirtualDirectories\80\App_Browsers\compat.browser"). With a text editor, the file can be modified to change redirect behavior. The IsMobileDevice attribute of that mobile browser when set to FALSE will cause SharePoint to bypass the mobile view for that browser.”

This means you can govern the exact mobile devices as well as the pages these users will see to ensure an optimal mobile experience.

The PC is Not Dead, but We Are Headed Back to the “Dummy Terminal” Days (Somewhat)

We are years away from seeing major organizations completely get away from a desktop or laptop machine being used as a primary means of accessing the web browser to do their day to day tasks and activities. With that said, limiting the space on the users machine and forcing them to save their documents\content into SharePoint with the proper metadata (content types) tagging is upon us. Also, in the email world as PSTs are becoming a thing of the past, and we will also see the increase of users having increased (shorter) retention scheduled on their email to force them to either delete the email as it is not relevant or to move\archive it to SharePoint for storage as a record.

Note: There will always be exceptions when a user has a project or activity that may take years to complete and the email must be maintained for years to come but viewing email as well as social \ professional networking content as a record is definitely here today.

There have been 40+ enterprise projects that myself and my firm at EPC Group have implemented using SharePoint 2010 were the clients requirements were that SharePoint content must be compatible not only using Internet Explorer (IE) but also Safari (for MAC users) as well as Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. This was accomplished and you can, after a little configuration and testing, get almost the exact same experience on these browsers. There are some things natively that the users will not have the exact same experience with on these different browsers but that is where ensuring your mobile business and functional requirements are aligned properly to ensure project success and client satisfaction.


Compliance in SharePoint 2010

Your organization’s SharePoint 2010’s Enterprise Content Management Strategy should include information regarding:

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)- PII is broadly defined as information that can be traced back to a specific individual. Employees must distinguish between Protected PII and Publicly Releasable PII. All information identifiable to a specific individual is protected PII unless listed as publicly releasable PII.

•If government, Controlled Unclassified Information– "Controlled Unclassified Information" is a categorical designation, formerly referred to as Sensitive but Unclassified, that refers to unclassified information that is (i) pertinent to the national interests of the United States or to the important interests of entities outside the Federal Government, and (ii) under law or policy requires protection from unauthorized disclosure, special handling safeguards, or prescribed limits on exchange or dissemination. [1]
[1]White House Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, Designation and Sharing of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI), May 7, 2008

508 Compliance - Section 508 requires that federal agencies’ electronic and information technology is accessible to people with disabilities. GSA has been charged with the task of educating federal employees and building the infrastructure necessary to support Section 508 implementation. Using this web site, federal employees and the public can access resources for understanding and implementing the requirements of Section 508 as they apply to the development, procurement, maintenance, or use of electronic and information technology products and services, including software applications and operating systems, web-based internet and intranet information systems, telecommunications products, video and multimedia products, self-contained closed products and desktop and portable computers.

Note: For additional information: http://www.section508.gov/
SharePoint’s Continued Dominance

As I mentioned in a previous post, what other system can allow you to implement a Hybrid Platform with one licensing model, one common skillset for your support staff, and browser, mobile, and Microsoft Office compatibility with Social \ Professional Networking capability all built in? There is not one out there and that is why Documentum, LiveLink, FileNet, and many others are more and more wanting to “play nice” with SharePoint and offer more integration capabilities so that they have some option of even getting in the door or not being replaced.

Microsoft Office 15, rumored to be planned and in initial development in Redmond,will include SharePoint 15 (with a rumored release of sometime in mid to late 2014) which will continue to build on SharePoint’s already industry \ quadrant leading Enterprise Content Management, Social \ Professional Networking, mobility, collaboration, etc. to continue to be the market leader and “The Platform \ Ecosystem” for which organizations will turn to for at least the next decade.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Developing a Hybrid SharePoint 2010 ERM \ ECM Platform (SPaas)

Developing a Hybrid SharePoint 2010 ERM \ ECM Platform (SPaas)

Posted from EPC Group's CEO - AIIM.ORG BLOG - Link Here

In developing any Enterprise Records Management (ERM) or (ECM) Platform, the key to long-term success is your organizations ability to develop a roadmap that takes into consideration the hybrid types of business and functional requirements that the systems user base will encounter in the many months and years to follow its launch.

I am focusing on SharePoint 2010, but its key to take a step back and not just focus on the technology, SharePoint, but what the true needs of the organization are and how best an implementation can not only improve the work lives of the staff but to provide Return on Investment (ROI) to the organization.

This ROI can be measured in terms of productivity, limitation of legal and litigious exposure of "old" records no longer required by the approved retention schedule, improve search, or even decommissioning several other systems with the licensing, support, and O&M costs associated with those "other" systems.

There are so many organizations midstream in their initiatives that are not taking into consideration a “core set of metadata \ content types” but also the need for mobile compatibility and the development of a roadmap that takes into account the functional or business needs that may come into play 24 months down the road.

A SharePoint Platform as a Service (SPaaS) with a hybrid approach will allow you to avoid so many pitfalls and the need to re-architect or modify the system in the future. What should be in this SharePoint Platform as a Service?

Good starting points for services to include are as follows: (Note: Think in terms of a Hybrid SharePoint Ecosystem)

•Records Management Service
•Workflow (Reusable) Service
•Business Intelligence \ Reporting Service (Dashboards, Scorecards, etc.)
•Collaboration Service
•Intranet Service
•Extranet Service
•A possible Internet facing SharePoint Service
•Mobile “Edge Device” Service
•Learning Management System Service (Training)
•Application Development Service
•Corporate Communication Service
•File Share Replacement Service
•Social, or I prefer, a Professional Networking Service (My Sites, etc.)
•Scanning Service (OCR) (Paperless \ Green Initiatives)
SharePoint 2010 can accomplish all of these elements, but it is absolutely crucial for you and your project team to be forward thinking and not scared to face these items that will inevitably come up in a meeting in the next 24 months so why not be prepared.

The lack of, and\or, how to govern these items can be a major factor in many organizations not moving forward on several of the items I have listed above but I will address that in a future post.

To touch on one, the mobile world is here so if you are not developing your solution to be compatible or to be able to adapt to mobile technology in the future, you may be creating a whole new project for yourself in the future. These elements are true whether you are talking about a major government institution, a Fortune 500 company, or a 500 user SharePoint rollout.

In my posts to follow, I will drill down on strategies that will help you accomplish these challenges and help to ensure your SharePoint initiative is a success not only in phase 1 but in phase 5 or phase 6.

False starts in early phases can alienate your user base and stifle future phases or major ROI elements of SharePoint so get your hybrid SharePoint Platform as a Service (24-36 month) roadmap together as soon as possible.