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Monthly Archives: August 2009

SharePoint – What’s It Good For? A Health Care Mini Case Study

[Note: this blog post is cross posted at Mark Miller’s site here:]

One of my company’s more unusual clients is a New York City doctor who is a leader in his particular field of medicine (eye care).  Like many doctors, he has a strong interest in research.  He wanted to do some research on a rare eye disorder that affects a relatively small number of people in the U.S. and Canada.  I don’t know the number, but it’s really too small for a large pharmaceutical company to invest its own private funds with an eye toward eventual commercial success.  I’m sure large pharma’s do some amount of research into rare diseases, but I believe that the U.S. government is probably the largest source of funding.  Like anything, resources are scarce.  Many doctors across the country want to perform research and trials.  As a result, there’s more than a little competition for that government funding.  This is where my company and SharePoint enter the picture.

The fundamental idea is that a master organization will recruit other doctors across the country and enlist those doctors’ practices in a particular research study.  These individual practices must sign up with the master organization and then, subsequently, sign up for a particular study.  The relationships look like this:

  • One master organization.
  • Many different doctor’s practices sign up with the master organization.
  • The master organization obtains funding for individual studies.  At the outset, there is just the one study on a specific rare eye disease although we’re already ramping up for another study.
  • Individual doctors’ practices sign up for specific studies.  A specific practice could sign up for one or multiple studies.

The master organization itself is broken down into groups:

  • Executive committee
  • Steering committee
  • Individual study committees
  • Administration
  • others

Finally, when a specific doctor’s practice signs up to participate in a study, they need to provide professionals to fulfill a variety of roles:

  • Investigators (including a primary investigator, normally a doctor, along with one or more additional investigators)
  • Coordinators
  • Technicians
  • Grants administrators
  • others

The above roles have very specific and highly proscribed roles that vary by study.  I won’t get into more detail here, but if you’re interested, leave a comment or email me.

And now I can answer the question, SharePoint – What’s it good for?  The answer – it’s really good for this scenario.

This intro is already longer than I expected, so I’ll summarize the vital role that SharePoint plays in the solution and dive into details in a future article (if you can’t wait, email me or leave a comment and I’ll be happy to discuss and maybe even try to do a demo).  We are leveraging a wide array of SharePoint features to support this concept:

  • Sites for committees, individual roles (coordinator sites, investigator sites, etc). 
  • Security to make sure that different practices don’t see other practices’ data.
  • InfoPath forms services for online form entry.  This is a particularly big win.  Normally, these difficult forms are printed, mailed to the practices, filled out and mailed back.  The advantages to the online forms are obvious.  They do introduce some complexities (licensing and human) but that’s another story.
  • Out of the box web parts, like announcements (when does committee [x] meet?) and meeting work spaces.
  • Forms based authentication in combination with a CodePlex tool to provide self-registration and password forget features.
  • Customized lists and list views for visibility into study activities which simply aren’t possible with pure paper and pencil approaches.

With the exception of the forms based authentication module and a handful of InfoPath forms, this project is using nearly all out of the box SharePoint functionality.

Before I wrap up this min-case study, I want to point out something very important – no on involved with this project (aside from my company of course) has any idea that a thing called “SharePoint” is playing such a fundamental technical role.  Nearly all of my end users view this as “the web site.”  Our client values us because we’re solving their business problem.  SharePoint is a great technical blob of goodness, but done right, that’s irrelevant to end users.  They need a problem solved, not a wonderful blob of technology.


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Cloud Computing, Emphasizing SharePoint

In lieu of a SharePoint Shop Talk session this Thursday, my partners and I at Arcovis are teaming up with Cloud Strategies and Integrated Systems and Services Group to give what I hope will be an interesting presentation on Microsoft’s online services, focusing on the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS).  Arcovis actually uses BPOS for its internal SharePoint portal so we have some hands on experience and the kind of experience borne of daily use.  In fact, the demo itself is running in our very own BPOS environment.

You can read all the gory sales details here but the main points are:

  • The Cloud Computing Value Proposition: When to Consider Moving to the Cloud
  • Microsoft’s Online Services: Business Productivity Online Suite Overview
  • SharePoint™ Online Spotlight
  • Live Demonstration: Empowering your Business using SharePoint Online
  • How to Get Started with Cloud Computing

    I’ll be giving the live demo and I think it should be interesting in its own right, divorced of the whole cloud / online thing.  I’m going to describe a very common business process, the famous New Hire / On-boarding process.  I’ll demonstrate a solution that uses SharePoint to implement that process.  The demo will include notifications, a dashboard and just generally cool visibility to what’s going on with new hires.

    I’ve personally implemented this solution for three separate companies, so I know it’s a pretty common process that people like to automate using SharePoint.   With luck, Arcovis will be using this ourselves soon enough 🙂

    So, if you’ve had any interest in cloud computing from a very practical SharePoint point of view, this webinar is just what you need to do this Thursday 🙂

    Register here:


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  • SharePoint Talk Shop Recap

    We held our 3rd SharePoint Shop Talk session yesterday.  Twenty-five folk braved the overly aggressive registration screen (we’re working on that!) to sign up and dial into the call. 

    The topics varied widely although they were a bit more end user and light admin focused this time.  We spent a lot of time discussing the age old question, “how do I secure a view”.  There was some SharePoint Designer in there, a bit of content deployment, version of web parts on publishing pages (there really isn’t any versioning for web parts), best practices for setting up security (answer = “it depends” and keep in mind Joris’ post here: and analytics (which led to promoting Todd Klindt’s post here about LogParser and SharePoint: 

    A pattern seems to be forming with these calls.  A question is emailed in or asked during the Q&A and the bottom line answer is “it depends.”  The panel discusses various angles to the question, we may stray off onto the odd tangent or two, but in the end, we’ve had a pretty thorough discussion of that topic.  My goal with these sessions is that question asker walks away from the call with more options to solve her problem than she had before she joined the call.  I think it’s safe to say that that’s happening (in fact, she may have too many options in some cases).

    Next week, my colleagues and I at Arcovis are jointly presenting a webinar with two of our partners, Integrated Systems and Services Group and Cloud Strategies about Microsoft Online services.  I think it’s going to be very informative.  Our role (Arcovis) is to present a short demo on how to build a real world solution using Microsoft on line.  We’re going to demonstrate a human resources application to manage the on-boarding process for new hires.  If you’ve wondered about MS Online, check this webinar out. 

    This webinar probably means that we won’t be holding a Shop Talk session next week, but keep tuned 🙂  If we do have it, it won’t be on Thursday.

    Once again, my thanks goes to the panel: Harry Jones, Natalya Voskresenskaya and Laura Rogers.  Thanks, guys!


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    SharePoint Shop Talk (Open Q&A) This Thursday, 08/20/09 at 12:30PM EDT

    We are holding our 3rd SharePoint Shop Talk session tomorrow, 08/20 from 12:30 to 1:30 PM EDT.

    You can read about last week’s session here: SharePoint Shop Talk Thoughts and Reactions

    Bring your questions or email them in advance to

    Register here:


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    SharePoint Shop Talk Thoughts and Reactions

    We held our second “SharePoint Shop Talk” session yesterday and it was a lot of fun.  We had fewer attendees this time (mainly because our partner, ISSG, didn’t send out a big email invite to their customer base).  On the other hand, we had probably more than twice as many questions to answer.  We had so many, in fact, that we couldn’t get to all of them, so now we have a little bit of a head start on questions for next week’s Shop Talk session.  The questions and our responses touched on data view web parts, setting user region specific information programmatically, SharePoint designer workflows, crazy infrastructure question about Kerberos (that was probably a plant by Bob Fox) and jQuery.  Sadly, no banjo jokes, however.  Sigh…

    We’ve registered the site, and we want start using that to do all the usual things, like announce the schedule of calls, put up the recordings of the sessions and the questions/answers themselves.  (don’t bother clicking the link as there isn’t any content there as yet).

    On yesterday’s call, we had the original expert panel which included my Arcovis partners (Natalya Voskresenskaya and Harry Jones).  We added Laura Rogers of (and elsewhere) fame.  To top it all off, SharePoint MVP Bil Simser joined the call and we roped him into the discussion.  Bil even dusted off an old blog entry and updated it in response to one of the questions. 

    If you’re interesting in participating as an “official” panel member, fire off an email to and let us know (I promise that that email address now works!) or DM me, Natalya or Harry via Twitter.

    Thanks Bil and Laura!

    That’s a lot of SharePoint firepower on the line ready to answer your questions as best we can. 

    I’ll be posting details for the next SharePoint Talk Shop session on my blog and twitter. 


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    InfoPath // One Explanation for “Unhandled exception when rendering form System.Xml.XmlException: Unexpected end of file while parsing Name has occurred. “

    I was working on an InfPath form today and ran up against an old friend, “Unhandled exception when rendering form System.Xml.XmlException: Unexpected end of file while parsing Name has occurred.”

    This happened to me a long time ago and I don’t know what exactly I did to resolve it.  Honestly, I think that I had been transitioning to a new project and never saw this one resolved (my replacements had to deal with that headache).  I do remember it was a devil of a problem.  I spent several unsuccessful days dealing with it.  Since then, I’ve seen this come up on MSDN forums at least once over the last year and never really saw an answer for it.

    I hit it today and fortunately this time , I had just made a change to the form.  I backed out that change and the problem went away.  It turns out that it’s possible to create a from template using InfoPath Designer in such a way that it generates a parse error on the forms server side of the fence.

    In my case, the problem was caused by these steps:

    1. Add a new element to a data source as a text field.
    2. Drop it onto the form.
    3. Change it’s display into a drop down list.
    4. Tell the drop down list to pull its values from a SharePoint custom list.

    I don’t know if those steps cause a problem or maybe, somehow the data in the list itself is a problem. I’m going to experiment a bit and see if I can nail downt he parameters of this with any more detail. 


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    SharePoint Shop Talk Open Q&A Session Thursday 08/13 @ 12:30 PM EDT

    Arcovis will be hosting our second “SharePoint Shop Talk” session this Thursday at 12:30 PM EDT.  Show up with your SharePoint questions and we’ll do our best to entertain you with banjo jokes, smart but harmless put-downs of our fellow panelists and maybe even answer a question or two.  This week’s “official” panel includes yours truly, my Arcovis partners (Natalya Voskresenskaya and Harry Jones) and Laura Rodgers (of twitter & EndUserSharePoint fame).  Bob fox threatened to join too, but I don’t take that too seriously.  Last time, we had a great level of audience participation which blurred the line between panelists and attendees and I expect the same will happen Thursday.

    This event is co-sponsored by Integrated Systems and Services Group (

    Please register here:

    If you have questions that you’d like us to take, just dial into the call and ask it.  If you want us to think about it first, send us an email or leave a comment here.

    See you then!


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