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Monthly Archives: September 2009

SharePoint Shop Talk Thursday 10/01 @ 12:30 PM EDT (tomorrow!)

SharePoint Shop Talk registration is up and ready for tomorrow.

We have a few questions teed up that address some management issues (dev/test/prod and syncing up service packs), email notifications (how to select people to email based on metadata of a document) and some discussion around using InfoPath forms services in an FBA environment.

As always, if you want to talk about a topic:

You can read about past SharePoint Shop Talks on my blog here: http://paulgalvin.spaces.live.com/?_c11_BlogPart_BlogPart=blogview&_c=BlogPart&partqs=cat%3dPublic%2520Speaking

Register for the session here: https://www.livemeeting.com/lrs/8000043750/Registration.aspx?pageName=h6hm9ptg8zt7302t

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Windows Live Spaces and Twitter Counter

I was DM’d a message from twitter today and thought I’d blog the answer.

The question is: “Hey Paul, quick one for you,how did you get the twitter counter into your live space as the script code is blocked when saved Thx”

I did this by adding a custom html widget to my live spaces page and using the little code snippet:

<a href="http://twittercounter.com/?username=pagalvin"   
   title="TwitterCounter for @pagalvin">   
   <img src="http://twittercounter.com/counter/?username=pagalvin"     
        width=88     
        height=26    
        style="border:none"       
        alt="TwitterCounter for @pagalvin">
</a>
 
 

This uses a version of the twitter counter widget interface that gets past the windows live censor thing that we all hate so much and wish would get a bad case of poison ivy.

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Managing Approval Groups with InfoPath in an FBA Environment

I have an expense approval process that I need to implement using InfoPath in a forms based authentication (FBA) environment using forms services (web based InfoPath).

There are two approval groups and the process works like this:

  • User fills out an expense report and submits it for approval.
  • That triggers an email to first level approver group.
  • First level approver reviews and approves or denies the report.
  • If first level person approves it, system notifies second level approver.

On the InfoPath side of things, I have different sections that hide/appear based on whether the user is a member of one of those approval groups.

In an FBA environment the username() function always returns blank, sadly.  What I’ve done is set up a a custom list called “Approval Groups”.

I don’t add any additional columns to the list.

When the form opens up, it has a rule like this:

The “set a field’s value” is here:

This is basically saying: Query the approval group custom list and filter that query by looking for any row where Title’s value = “NORDIC”.

If that returns any value, then the current user is a member of that group.  I know it contains that value because the string length is greater than zero.

Close the loop by securing the individual items in the Approval Group list.  At run-time, if the current user doesn’t have appropriate security access to that item then the query won’t return it, string-length will be zero and now you know the current user is not part of that group.  You can use that fact as needed in the form.

This is a super brief write-up.  I’m pressed for time or I’d provide more detail.

I don’t know how relevant it is that I’m in an FBA environment.  This would probably work well in a non-FBA environment but I can imagine cases where this would be useful.

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SharePoint Shop Talk Recap (09/24/09 edition)

We finished our 8th SharePoint Shop Talk open Q&A session yesterday.  During that session, we covered the following topics:

  • How to send out a highly formatted email from a workflow created using SharePoint Designer.
  • Where to find information on the differences between SharePoint 2010 and especially Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (the free version of SharePoint). 
  • We discussed jQuery maintenance and management.  More specifically, “where should the jQuery go?”  We had a great discussion around this topic and one interesting new ideas (to me) is the idea of a content delivery network.   This bing search pulls up a lot of interesting data on the subject: http://www.bing.com/search?q=microsoft+content+delivery+network&FORM=DLSDF7&pc=MDDS&src=IE-SearchBox
  • Someone mentioned that parts (or maybe even all) of the up-coming mega conference in Las Vegas in October will be broadcast over the internets.  Check out this site for more information: http://www.week3.org/Events/default.aspx
  • We talked about RSS.  That discussion covered a lot of ground.  There’s a CodePlex project that does better RSS than what you get out of the box and www.endusersharepoint.com has some good articles up by Laura Rogers on how to use DVWP to build really good RSS sessions.

That about covers it.  People seem to be getting a lot of help from these so we’ll keep them going.

In a burst of efficiency, I’ve already set up next week’s SharePoint Shop Talk session.  You can register here: https://www.livemeeting.com/lrs/8000043750/Registration.aspx?pageName=h6hm9ptg8zt7302t

If you want to participate, fire off an email to questions@sharepointshoptalk.com, hit me up on twitter (@pagalvin) or leave a comment here.

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SharePoint Shop Talk Thursday 09/24 @ 12:30 PM EDT

Registration is up and ready for tomorrow’s SharePoint Shop Talk at 12:30 PM.

During these conference calls, a panel of experienced SharePoint pro’s take your questions via email, via live meeting or directly over the phone.  We do our best to provide independent expert advice on all topics related to SharePoint.

Email your questions to “questions@sharepointshoptalk.com”, twitter them to me, leave a comment here or just show up on the call and ask.

We also welcome and seek insight from audience members.

You can read some recaps on previous SharePoint Shop Talk sessions on my blog.

This week we already know we’ll be addressing questions relating to workflow (a constant favorite) and search to name a few.

Register here: https://www.livemeeting.com/lrs/8000043750/Registration.aspx?pageName=dv3m7cl30sxkq2n1

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SharePoint Shop Talk this Thursday 09/17/09 12:30 PM EDT to 1:30 PM EDT

The next SharePoint Shop Talk takes place this Thursday, 09/17 at 12:30PM EDT.

What is SharePoint Shop Talk?  It’s a one hour conference call where a panel of SharePoint pro’s answer questions.  Send your questions to “questions@sharepointshoptalk.com”, leave a comment on my blog here or just ask them out loud on the call.  The panel tries to offer several different approaches to solving the underlying problem behind the question and just generally provide unbiased expert advice.

This week we continue with the same panel, including myself, my two Arcovis partners Harry Jones and Natalya Voskresenskaya and Laura Rogers of SharePoint911.

Briefly recapping last week – we had more questions than we could answer, so this week, we’ll start off with those.  We had 34 registrants and I think 25 people actually joined the call.  We covered a wide variety of subjects that I would say were 75% end user oriented, including:

  • Strategies for rolling up content from sub-sites to top level sites inside and across site collections.
  • The impact of customizing editform.aspx using SharePoint Designer.
  • Dealing with the famous “collect data from a user” SharePoint Designer workflow action.
  • Using jQuery to solve some common user interface problems.
  • Time zone questions (for a geographically distributed environment)

We covered several other items as well, but the details escaped me.

I promised to do follow up with a live meeting to dig into one of the questions and still need to do that. 

Register for this week’s session here: https://www323.livemeeting.com/lrs/8000043750/Registration.aspx?pageName=bhj8dbrswhv1hv8r

This week, we’re going to talk about at least:

  • Strategies for managing and getting at version history for documents
  • Suitability and ideas around using SharePoint as a front end that allows your customers to view some financial data.
  • Workflow questions (as usual).

We’ll see and hear you there!

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SharePoint Saturday New York

I’ve uploaded my presentation for the New York SharePoint Saturday here: http://cid-1cc1edb3daa9b8aa.skydrive.live.com/self.aspx/SharePoint/Follow%20the%20Yellow%20Brick%20Road%20to%20SharePoint%20Mastery.pptx

It’s not terribly useful if you don’t go to the presentation, but I do hope to add a lot of notes between now and Tampa, when I present it again.  That would give it more legs and context and be more generally useful.

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Wouldn’t it be Cool if …

I was going through my huge pile of MSDN magazines to get my wife off my back for 30 seconds to make room for new MSDN magazines and I came across an older article about integrating MS Speech Server with workflow foundation and I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to integrate all that with SharePoint?  It would be kind of neat to be able to say “Create site named [cool site] in site collection [papa bear]” into my cell phone and have it do that.  I can imagine an architecture where speech server hands off the commands to a workflow application that does all the work.  That’s very easy logic to implement on the server side of the fence.

On the UI, you’d have to do something to get it rolling.  I’d probably go to a “speech monitor” kind of SharePoint site that has some jQuery running that monitors a queue that is updated by the workflow application and shows, in real time, what’s happening. 

That would be a pretty crazy technology train right there.  Cell phone dialing up to speech server on some machine.  Workflows bridging the gap between Speech Server and SharePoint.  jQuery enhancing a plain Jane SharePoint UI. 

Is there any practical component to this?  Who knows.  Who cares?

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Consulting Can Be a Little Like Pulling Out Your Own Teeth

[Note: This article cross-posted to End User SharePoint here: http://www.endusersharepoint.com/2009/09/09/sharepoint-a-case-study-in-ask-the-expert/]

Sometimes, when you’re working as a consultant (as a profession, or in a consultative role within your company), you find yourself living in an Onion story.  The Onion has a series of articles called “Ask an [expert] about [some problem]”.  This follows the famous “Dear Abby” format where a concerned person is asking for personal advice.  The onion’s “expert”, however, is so focused on his/her area of expertise and current problems that the expert ignores the question entirely and rambles on about his area of expertise.  As consultants, we need to keep that in mind all the time and avoid falling into that trap.  It’s classically described like this – “when you use a hammer all day long to solve your problems, everything starts to look like a nail.”  We professional consultants are always on guard against that kind of thing, but we come into contact with people who are serious professionals in their own role, but are not consultants.  They don’t have the same need or training to do otherwise.

Last week, I wrote about one of my company’s clients and an on-going project we have to enable high quality collaboration between various eye doctors in the US and Canada performing clinical research on rare disease.  In addition to leveraging core SharePoint features to enable that collaboration, we’re also working an expense submission and approval process.  It’s complicated because we have so many actors:

  • A handful of individuals at different doctors’ practices who can enter expenses on line.
    • There are over 40 doctors’ practices.
    • At some practices, the doctor uses the system directly.
    • At many practices, the doctor’s staff uses the system directly.
  • A financial administrator (who works for my direct client) who reviews the expenses for accuracy and relevancy, approving or denying them at the organizational level.
  • A 3rd party accounts payable group.  These people pay all of the bills for out client, not just bills coming out of the rare disease study. 

The Accounts Payable group has been a challenge.  Working with them yesterday reminded me of the Onion series.  In my role as business consultant, I explained the need to the accounts payable company:

  • Clinical studies sites (doctors’ practices) incur study-related expenses.
  • They log onto the “web site” and enter their expenses using an online form.  In this case, the “web site” is hosted with SharePoint and the expenses are entered into an InfoPath form.  Expense receipts are scanned, uploaded and attached directly to the form.
  • An automated workflow process seeks approval from the appropriate financial administrator.
  • You, dear 3rd party AP company – please review and approve or deny this expense.  I’ll send it to you any way that you want (within reason).At this point in the discussion, I don’t really care how it needs to be bundled.  I want to work with the AP group to understand what they need and want.

When I explained the need, the 3rd party took a deep dive into their internal mumbo jumbo lingo about expense approval processes, Oracle codes, vice presidential signatures, 90 day turn-arounds, etc.  And panic.  I shouldn’t forget about the panic.  One of the bed rock requirements of the consulting profession is to learn how to communicate with people like that who are themselves not trained or necessarily feel a need to do the same.  Among other things, it’s one of the best parts of being a consultant.  You get to enter a world populated with business people with completely different perspectives.  I imagine it’s a little bit like entering the mind of a serial killer, except that you aren’t ruined for life after the experience (though entering the mind of an AP manager isn’t a walk in the park 🙂 [see important note below***] ).

One of the great things about our technical world as SharePoint people is that we have ready-made answers to many of the very valid concerns that people such as my AP contact have.  Is it secure?  How do I know that the expense was properly vetted?  Can I, as the final payer, see all the details of the expense?  How do I do that?  What if I look at those details and don’t approve of them?  Can I reject them?  What happens if the organization changes and the original approver is no longer around?  Can we easily change the process to reflect changes in the system? Can I revisit this expense a year later if and when I get audited and need to defend the payment?

As SharePoint people, we can see how to answer those questions.  In my client’s case, we answer them more or less like this:

  • InfoPath form to allow sites to record their expenses and submit them for approval.
  • Sites can return to the site to view the status of their expense report at any time.
  • As significant events occur (e.g. the expense is approved and submitted for payment), the system proactively notifies them by email.
  • The system notifies the financial administrator once a report has been submitted for approval.
  • Financial administrator approves or denies the request.
  • Upon approval, the expense is bundled up into an email and sent to the 3rd party payer organization.
  • The 3rd party payer has all the information they need to review the expense and can access the SharePoint environment to dig into the details (primarily audit history to verify the “truth” of the expenses).
  • 3rd party payer can approve or reject the payment using their own internal process.  They record that outcome back in the SharePoint site (which triggers an email notification to appropriate people).
  • In future, it would be nice to cut out this stilly email process and instead feed the expense information directly into their system.

In conclusion, there’s a life style here that I describe from the professional consultant’s point of view, but which applies almost equally to full time employees in a BA and/or power user role.  Work patiently with the experts in your company and extract the core business requirements as best you can.  With a deep understanding of SharePoint features and functions to draw upon, more often than not, you’ll be able to answer concerns and offer ways to improve everyone’s work day leveraging core SharePoint features.

***Important note: I really don’t mean to compare AP people to serial killers.  However, I could probably name some AP pro’s who have probably wished they could get a restraining order against me stalking them and asking over and over again.  “Where’s my check?”  “Where’s my check?”  “Where’s my check?”

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SharePoint Shop Talk Thursday, 09/10/09 at 12:30PM EDT

SharePoint Shop Talk continues this Thursday at 12:30 PM EDT to 1:30PM EDT.  This will be our 5th call I believe.  SharePoint Shop Talk works like this:

  • A panel of SharePoint Experts answer questions.  This week the panel includes Laura Rogers, Natalya Voskresenskaya, Harry Jones and me.
  • Any SharePoint question is fair game. 
  • Send or ask questions:
    • By email: info@arcovis.com
    • Twitter directly to @pagalvin
    • Leave a comment on this blog
    • Write the question down on the back of a piece of poster board, one side of which is covered with $20 bills and mailed to my home address (leave a comment and I will be in touch with you directly).
    • Lastly, dial into the call and just ask it out loud.

This week we have a few questions around SharePoint workflow.  Two sample questions:

  • “How do I deploy a SharePoint Designer workflow from development to test?”
  • “Does SharePoint Designer workflow work well with InfoPath?  How I can share information between an InfoPath form and a SharePoint Designer workflow?”

This week’s SharePoint Shop Talk registration is up.  Click here to register.  We hope to hear you there!

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