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Monthly Archives: May 2009

SharePoint Demonstration: Leverage SharePoint to Build a Vertical Business Application

[Note: I want to straight away say that I have a financial interest in the desired outcome of this demonstration, which I mention in the interest of full disclosure, etc.  This is actually the first time I’ve ever blogged about an event where I stand to benefit personally in this way.]

This web demonstration takes place Thursday, 06/04 at 12:30 EDT, ending at 1:30PM EDT.

In cooperation with my excellent business partner, Integrated Systems and Services Group (ISSG), I have been working to develop a vertical business application using SharePoint as the platform.  In this case, we’re building an application that serves the needs of manufacturers that make customized product for their customers.  In these cases, a great deal of collaboration needs to take place between the customer and the manufacturer.  There’s also a great deal of collaboration required between different groups within the manufacturer, including sales, engineering, research and development, legal and other groups.

The demo is going to show an application that facilitates that kind of collaboration, along with a discussion on how all of those collaboration bits need to integrate with a backend ERP system.

Lastly, this isn’t going to be a SharePoint demo.  This is a demonstration of a solution for a specific niche problem that happens to use SharePoint as the platform.

So, why would you bother to sign up and see this demo?  I don’t expect too many readers of my blog to be all that interested in a solution for make-to-order manufacturers 🙂  Your take-away would be the concept itself – using SharePoint purely to deliver a business solution without regard to SharePoint itself.

If you’re interested, please sign up here(https://www323.livemeeting.com/lrs/8000043750/Registration.aspx?pageName=skmqfwbr5smmlx20).

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You Can Pry SharePoint Designer From My Cold, Dead Hands

My latest article is up at www.EndUserSharePoint.com.  I wrote about SharePoint Designer, End Users and the outline of a strategy that End Users might try and follow in order to demonstrate competence and build trust around this tool.

The comments are more interesting than the article itself.

Check it out.

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Efficiently Follow Microsoft SharePoint (and Other) SharePoint Forums

I have been following MSDN forums for well over a year (and possibly almost 2 years at this point) and every now and then I hear from someone how “hard” it is to do that.  I find it quite easy and thought I’d share my “technique”.  This technique also works for www.endusersharepoint.com (http://www.endusersharepoint.com/STP).

Taking MSDN as an example, I first go to standard forum page such as the General Questions for SharePoint main page here: http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/sharepointgeneral/threads

You should right away notice that the forums are RSS enabled, as shown:

I’ve been using Google Reader for managing my RSS feeds for a long time now (www.google.com/reader).  I go there, add the RSS feed for the forum and now I’m getting all new forums posts via RSS.  My Google feeds for SharePoint forums look like this:

 

Google provides me a nice view of the posting itself:

And finally, Google lets me use the keyboard to scroll through the postings in the forums this way.

I can quickly scan through posts and focus just on those I feel I can make a useful contribution.

Alerts close the loop.  Updates to posts don’t come through RSS (though I think they used to a long time ago).  However, if I post a response to a forum posting, the forums alert me via email and IM that someone responded in turn.  Or, if I can’t make a useful contribution but I want to know what others have to say, I can drill into it and explicitly request alerts when others do respond.

In an hour or less you can set this process up and and in a week of regular use, learn the various keyboard tricks and shortcuts so that this becomes second nature.

I use the exact same technique for End User SharePoint.Com’s “Stump the Panel” forums.  This is their RSS feed: http://www.endusersharepoint.com/STP/rss/.

Forums are an awesome way, possibly the best way short of direct personal experience, of learning the product and getting a nice survey of how the world, at large, uses SharePoint.  Give it a try!

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Use Custom Lists for More Effective Workflow Auditing

I’ve reorganized my life a bit and found some time to submit an article to www.endusersharepoint.com.  My latest article is up here: Use Custom Lists for More Effective Workflow Auditing (http://www.endusersharepoint.com/?p=1658).

This is the opening ‘graph:

SharePoint Designer workflow doesn’t give us a lot of visibility into what’s happening with our workflow solutions.  And, the visibility that we do get is hampered by a relatively poor interface and 60 day time window.  This 60 day window can be a major disappointment to new SharePoint Designer users because it’s not advertised by the tool itself.  It’s not at all uncommon for someone to fire up SharePoint Designer, create a workflow solution that leverages the “Log To History List” action…

The problem is that after 60 days, any messages that you create this way are deleted from the workflow history list!  After a bit of teeth gnashing and “what were they thinking?” arguments, the bottom line is this: it happens and it needs to happen.  The question is, how can we get around it?

The official answer is to rely upon SharePoint’s built-in auditing feature.  From an end user’s point of view, however, that’s very weak in WSS and not much better in MOSS.  Fortunately, we can still leverage the familiar SharePoint Designer tool to create a durable workflow history and audit trail which is an order of magnitude more useful to boot.  Here’s how.

I describe how to create a more friendly and useful audit solution for declarative workflow created in SPD. 

I was inspired to write this article from a recent project for a client that had developed nine technical SPD workflows in support of one logical business process.  Assuming for now that nine is a reasonable number, it was certainly a challenge to debug it or view the overall status of the process in one simple view.  Each of these separate technical workflows has its own independent workflow history list and that’s just not manageable.  I was able to combine all of them into a single audit list using the technique I describe on the site.

Check it out.

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Bamboo Calendar Interacting with SharePoint Causes “An unexpected error occurred”

Today, I’ve been working in an environment that uses a Bamboo calendar web part for some improved collaboration.  This a standard medium/small farm with two load balanced WFEs, a “application server” for indexing and InfoPath and a clustered SQL back end.

The client installed some disaster recovery software onto one of the WFEs and that resulted in a broken WFE for a specific site in the site collection.  Whenever load balancing pointed at the affected WFE and that site, users saw a largely blank white screen with the sentence “An unexpected error occurred”.  No other info showed, just that sentence.

They asked me to look at it.  I easily reproduced the problem and then added a ?contents=1 to the end of the URL.  This is how I learned they were using the Bamboo web part.  I went back to the page and now, suddenly, it showed me a nice orderly error message:

 

I don’t know what was happening or what I did to get the controlled error message to display other than appending the ?contents=1 bit of the query string. 

This is probably a very rare edge case but if you get that message, “An unexpected error occurred” go ahead and add ?contents=1 to the query string and see where that leads.

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Griping about Windows Live Comment Control

I picked windows live spaces back in July of 2007 as my blogging platform.  For the most part, I don’t have any regrets and Microsoft certainly extends it over time (though I mainly find out about new features by accident).

My biggest complaint right now is blog spam.  This person / account (http://cid-82b0534bceed9881.profile.live.com/) (among others) frequently adds a lot of spam comments to my blog in the form of comments.  MSFT added a nice feature to show “recent comments” so at least I can fairly quickly identify them (whereas before, I had to go into each blog entry separately) and clean them up.  It’s still time consuming.

I wish that:

  1. MSFT would put some better filtering for spam.
  2. That I could block specific people from adding comments.
  3. Failing the above, I could more easily identify and delete spam.  Right now, I need to do it comment by comment and it’s slow, especially when some spam robot person/program adds 25 to 50 comments in one session.

If you’re a windows live user and have some useful tricks to share, I’d be grateful.

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SharePoint Saturday Phenomenon Continues (plus, my slide deck)

I returned from Washington DC yesterday after attending the latest SharePoint Saturday.  What a remarkable event!  Continuing the tradition of other SP Saturday’s, it was very well run.  The environment, the overall organization, the flow, vendor area, food … all of it was terrific.

Of course, the best part is the content and I don’t think anyone was disappointed.

It’s really quite amazing to me how so many people are rousing themselves out of bed early on a Saturday to go and listen to people talk about SharePoint for 8 hours 🙂  Amazing.

Odds are, there’s a SharePoint Saturday event coming your way and if there isn’t, why don’t you start one?

I presented at the conference with the tongue twisting title, “Using the SharePoint Platform to Build Vertical Business Applications.”  You can get the presentation here: https://cid-1cc1edb3daa9b8aa.skydrive.live.com/browse.aspx/Public.  It’s not my usual sort of presentation and I had fun with it.  I’ll be giving this again in June at the North VA user group conference at the end of June.

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