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Monthly Archives: September 2007

MRO Workflow case study using MOSS, SPD, InfoPath & web services.

Overview

This entry describes a case study describing an actual MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Operations) workflow approval process implemented in MOSS.

This is not an overtly technical discussion, but instead serves to provide a real-world example that demonstrates how the MOSS platform met a real-world need.

(This entry is cross posted between http://paulgalvin.spaces.live.com and http://blogs.conchango.com)

Background

The client’s MRO process had been characterized by the following

  • Manual approval process.
  • Some support using excel spreadsheets.
  • Irregular approval process.  The same MRO purchase approval process would vary day to day, person by person.
  • Lots of paper and hand-written signatures — purchase requisitions required up to 3 written signatures before final approval.

The objectives of this project included:

  • Fully automate the process.
  • Enforce enterprise standards for approval.
  • Provide consolidated view of MRO purchasing to various managers.
  • Detailed audit trail.

As a side effect of the solution, written signatures were no longer required.

Approval Process

The approval process consists of four "swim lanes": Originator, Direct manager, Functional manager and division manager.

Originator:

Sees the need for the purchase and starts the process.  Note that the originator may or may not actually enter the purchase requisition, but instead direct another staff member to do so.  Some times, the originator does not have the technical expertise to fill out the PO requisition.  For example, a user may want to requisition a new laptop computer, but does not know the best vendor, IT standards, etc.  In this case, the originator works with IT and IT actually fills out the requisition. 

Direct manager:

This is the direct manager of the originator (which may be different from the person who actually entered the PO requisition into MOSS).  Direct managers must approve the PO requisition before the system seeks approval further down the line.

Functional Manager:

The functional manager is the individual responsible for ensuring that the proposed purchase conforms to enterprise standards within the scope of a particular corporate function.  For example, IT purchases are approved by an IT functional manager. 

Division Manager:

Division managers approve purchase requisitions strictly by dollar amount.  Division manager approve purchase requisitions in excess of a configurable dollar amount.

The Solution

We used the following tools and components to implement the solution:

MOSS: Serves as the platform off which everything else "hangs".   MOSS provides bedrock services for security, master data, audit trails and other features.

InfoPath forms services: A MOSS component, this enables users to fill out purchase requisitions via a web browser.

SharePoint Designer (SPD): We used SPD to implement the automated workflow process.

Web Service: A c# web service enhances the user experience by enabling cascading selections lists in the InfoPath form and provides better performance with respect to filtering data.  See here for a technical deep dive on this subject and our reasons for using it.

Custom Lists: MOSS user profiles provided a given user’s direct manager, but did not provide most of the data that controlled workflow decisions (e.g. whether the divisional manager is required to approve the PO requisition).  We used custom lists in an "Enterprise Data" site to maintain data such as "Divisional Manager Approval Dollar Amount", "Functional Area Manager" and so forth.  Lists integrated very nicely with InfoPath and also provide create/update/delete (CRUD) functionality with auditing and security out of the box.

Use Case

This use case illustrates how the solution fits together:

  1. Paul wants a new laptop.  He describes his needs to Vivek, an IT person familiar with corporate laptop standards, preferred vendors, etc.
  2. Vivek logs into MOSS, accesses the PO Requisition form and enters the requisition on behalf of Paul.  The form prompts Vivek for a purchase category which then uses the web services to populate a drop-down list of company-approved vendors.  Vivek also specifies the corporate functional area of this purchase (e.g. "IT" or "Finance").
  3. SPD based workflow starts, determines Paul’s direct manager and routes the requisition to his manager, Stacy.
  4. Stacy approves the purchase requisition.
  5. SPD workflow inspects the requisition and determines it’s an IT purchase.  It routes the workflow to the IT functional manager, Wonson. 
  6. Wonson approves the requisition.
  7. SPD workflow again inspects the requisition and determines that the purchase amount exceeds a maxium dollar amount and routes it to the division manager for approval.
  8. The division manager approves the purchase requisition.

Notes

  • The use case demonstrates a "clean" run with no rejections or jumps. 
  • Every approver has the ability to approve or reject the requisition as well as provide written comments.  These are logged in the audit trail.
  • If a responsible manager rejects the purchase requisition at any point, the PO requisition is "dead" and the process must be started from the beginning. 
  • Workflow notifies the originator at every step of the process.
  • No written signatures — the client determined (after some forceful recommendations) that the audit trail as provided via workflow history, served their auditing needs.
  • Effort — it took approximately three man weeks to implement this solution.

Conclusion

This solution leverages MOSS as a development and run-time platform.  The client was able to leverage core MOSS features to automate a routine business process that affected nearly every employee in the company.  With the exception of a simple web service (which itself leverages MOSS), almost no actual "programming" was required.

The solution also serves as a "showcase" for the client, demonstrating how different MOSS features can be combined to create a fully featured business application and generate new consulting opportunities in the future.

Glossary

MRO: Maintenance, repair and operations.  These purchases typically include items such as notepads, chairs, personal computers, printers, cell phones and the like.

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Exam 70-542: Study recommendations (Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 – Application Development)

UPDATE: In comments, someone posted this link: http://www.midnightmonkey.co.uk/blog/blogging/?page_id=5.  It looks good to me too.

I passed the MOSS technical exam today, entitled "Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 – Application Development".  I found the exam to be pretty rigorous and that it matched up quite well with Microsoft’s preparation guide.

I’ve been working with MOSS on a daily basis and nothing beats actual hands-on experience for all of these exams.

That said, I took note of what I was studying as I studied.  I believe that all of these resources are helpful, particularly as a means of reinforcing that hands-on experience.

 

Subject

Link

Excel Services

http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms519581.aspx

Search

No special recommendation.  I had taken a class on search earlier this year and real-world experience carried me through.  Work with the "search center" component of MOSS.

BDC

http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms563661.aspx

Audiences

http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms496822.aspx

Profiles

http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms496822.aspx

Content Mgmt

http://www.sharepointblogs.com/tonstegeman/archive/2007/02/01/moss-custom-policies-part-1-creating-a-custom-information-management-policy.aspx

http://blogs.msdn.com/ecm/archive/2007/03/04/customize-the-page-editing-toolbar-in-moss-2007.aspx

http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa674506.aspx

BI

Hands-on working with KPI’s in MOSS.

Workflow

http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa830816.aspx

Info mgmt

http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb397403.aspx

Variations

http://aspnetcoe.wordpress.com/2007/02/09/customize-variation-root-landing-logic/

Records mgmt

http://blogs.msdn.com/recman/archive/2006/06/16/633393.aspx

Infopath

http://msdn.microsoft.com/msdnmag/issues/06/08/infopath2007/default.aspx

Many of those links led to more links and I tended to follow them up to about 3 levels deep.

I wouldn’t say that everything I read directly applied to the exam, but I don’t regret reading any of it and even if some bits were not directly relevant. It’s all good stuff to know and I strongly recommend the material for all aspiring well-rounded MOSS developers.

MOSS/WSS Search results (and dataviews): view the raw XML data

This may be obvious to many, but while studying for my MOSS programming exam, I learned that it’s pretty easy to get the actual XML from a search query via the user interface.

One quick method is as follows:

  • Access advanced search.
  • Perform a search that returns some data.
  • Edit the page (via site settings).
  • Change the XSL to the following:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<
xsl:stylesheet version="1.0" xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform">
  <
xsl:output method="xml" version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" indent="yes"/>
  <
xsl:template match="/">
    <
pre>
      <
xsl:copy-of select="*"/>
    </
pre>
  </
xsl:template>
</
xsl:stylesheet>

  • Hit apply.
  • View Source in the browser.

Note that the <pre> tag doesn’t do much except serve as a convenient marker when you view the results. 

This trick can be very helpful when working with managed properties and customizing search.  It will provide a definitive list of the XML available for you to use in your xslt which would have been very helpful the last 25 times I created some customized search results.

This ought to work for dataviews as well, though I have not tested that out as yet.

No CQWP for WSS? Try this…

I see that Eric Kraus was faced with a requirement normally met with a content query web part.  The problem?  He was in a pure WSS environment with no access to the CQWP.  Rather than curling up in the fetal position (an urge I have to fight every day, it seems), he came up with solution that at least gives WSS shops a fighting chance to succeed.  It’s described here.

Brilliant and detailed view of content management API

Stefan Goßner has put together a terrific 4-part series on the SharePoint Content and Deployment API here.  It offers a great overview and very good examples in code (C#). 

I first picked up this link from joris poelmans blog at http://jopx.blogspot.com/.

Even if you’re like me, in that you have not had to do much hands-on work for content management, this is well worth 20 minutes of your time to read. 

Using the API, one can:

  • Export and import content very easily.
  • Re-parent content.  If you want to export some content from a site "A" and send it to site "B" but in a totally new place in the hierarchy, this is possible.
  • Export content from a site A and import selected bits into site A.
  • Re-link content (meaning deal with all the hyperlinks).

WSS, doc libs & lists, Calculated columns involving [Me]

Someone on the Internets was asking about how to create a calculated column on a list that would show a value formatted as "[User] – [Status] – [Location]" as in "Paul Galvin – Drinking [free] Beer – The Beach".

Paul would go in and update his entry in the list and the calculated column would update appropriately.  The [User] should default to the the user entering/updating the list.

A calculated column cannot use "volatile" functions such as [Me] or [Today].  I solved it in a test environment with these steps:

  1. Create a text column named "Current User".
  2. Set its default value to [Me]
  3. Create a calculated column called "Calc Test".
  4. Set its value = [Current User]

I went in, added an item to the list and it worked.

Passed my 70-315 exam today!

I passed the "Developing and Implementing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual C# .NET and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET" exam today in the great state of NJ at the venerable offices of SolarTech in Hasbrouck Heights.

I put this exam up there with BizTalk in terms of difficulty.  You can’t fake your way through it.

To study, I used the the MCAD/MCSD Self Paced Training kit book entitled Developing Web Applications with Microsoft Visual Basic .NET and Visual C# .NET.

Microsoft guidelines (here) are exactly correct IMO.  The book addresses everything and if you have a modicum or real-world experience, it should be a straight-forward exam.  If not, take the time get some real world experience or at least execute the labs in the book.  That will probably give you what you need.

I even go so far as to recommend the book to pro’s, especially self-taught people like myself.  It covers some basic stuff which I just never had a reason to stumble upon in my travels and I’m kicking myself a little bit for never having taken the time to learn them.

SharePoint Designer, “Collect Data from User” and using those results.

Use the "Collect Data from User" action to create and assign a task to a user that prompts them for data.  Among other things, I’ve used it to prompt a user to approve or reject a request and enter some comments.

This action takes the form of:

Collect data from this user (Output to Variable: collect1)

Clicking on data pulls up a series of dialog boxes where you specify what data the user should provide when completing the task and this user is obvious.

The output part (Variable: collect1) saves the ID of the task.  You use this in your workflow to extract the user’s actual response via the "Compare any data source" condition. 

That condition shows as

If field equals value

Click on field and then the f(x) icon and it pulls up another dialog box.  Use this generalized dialog box to to tell SPD two things;

1. What is the list and column whose value you want to compare.

2. How should the workflow engine locate the specific row in that list?

To do this:

  1. Change the "Source" dropdown to point at the correct task list.  Note that the dialog box expands to show a "Find the List Item" section.
  2. In the Lookup Details field dropdown, select the name of the field whose value you want (this maps to what you called in the Collect data dialog box from above).
  3. In the "Find the List Item" section, select "Tasks:ID" in the Field dropdown.
  4. In the value field, click on the f(x).  This opens yet another dialog box.
  5. Change the source "Workflow Data"
  6. Select the workflow variable that matches to the "Output to Variable" from the Collect data action.
  7. Click OK/OK and you’re done.

It looks like this for me:

 

At this point, you can now use that value in your workflow as required.

Additional Notes:

As a brief aside, I always create an appropriately named workflow variable of type "List Item ID" and use that instead of the auto-generated "collect1". 

This "compare any data source" dialog set is used in several different places in SPD and is well worth mastering.

==end

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Intermittent IE crashes when accessing documents in a WSS/MOSS document library

I’ve been plagued by this for 9 months and I see that people on the MSDN and Usenet forums have it too.l

Sometimes, when accessing a word document (or other doc types) from a document library causes Internet Explorer to simply crash and go away (taking all the tabs with it if any are open).

This MS hotfix may solve it: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/938888

Also, there’s some description about the problem here:

http://jopx.blogspot.com/2007/07/solving-internet-explorer-crash-when.html

Will the real XPath step forward?

Overview:

Created a custom list that manages a content type with some dozen columns.

Added it to a page and then via SPD, converted into a data view.

Problem:

My Xpath expression was returning blank for a column named "Current Position".  I referenced it thusly:

    <table border="1">
      <xsl:for-each select="/dsQueryResponse/Rows/Row" >
        <tr>
          <td>
            Current Status:
            <xsl:value-of select="@Current_x0020_Status"></xsl:value-of>
          </td>
        </tr>
      </xsl>
    </table>

The column in the CT is named "Current Status".  It shows up in the lookup as "Current Status".  Everywhere you look, you see "Current Status".

While thrashing madly about, looking for a solution, I instead referred to "@Recruiter" and behold! — that actually returned back the current status.  I expected it to return back the recruiter when I did that.

Solution:

I poked about in SPD.  Go to that page in SPD and it shows the data view.  You can inspect the actual data provided to the view and associated Xpath.  Here I found out that indeed, the Xpath pointed at "Recruiter".  Strangely enough, the "actual" recruiter field pointed from "Recruiter1".

Take Away:

SPD provides authoritative Xpath expressions for rows & columns in a data view.

Second, it shows the actual data.  So for example, a column of type shows this:

<nobr><span><A HREF="/sites/Corporate/HumanResources/TalentAcquisition/_layouts/userdisp.aspx?ID=17">Galvin, Paul</A><img border="0" height="1" width="3" src="/_layouts/images/blank.gif"/><a href=’javascript:’ onclick=’IMNImageOnClick();return false;’ class=’ms-imnlink’><img name=’imnmark’ title=” border=’0′ height=’12’ width=’12’ src=’/_layouts/images/blank.gif’ alt=’No presence information’ sip=’PGalvin@xxx.com’ id=’imn_77,type=smtp’/></a></span></nobr>