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30 December 2016

Kanban, Books And SharePoint Services In Focus 2016

The year 2016 is coming to an end, and looking back I am surprised at how much has happened to the kalmstrom.com products and services. Product updates and custom solutions have kept us busy, and Microsoft has given us more work than we asked for.

Kanban Task Manager for SharePoint logotype Kanban boards with additional views
The Kanban Task Manager SharePoint and Outlook editions have been updated this year, with timeline, calendar and projects views and many more enhancements. Even if the kanban board is the core in this tasks and project management solution, I know that the additional views have been appreciated.
Kanban Task Manager Project view in Outlook
We have also added a kanban board to one of our most mature products: Folder HelpDesk. Kanban Task Manager for Outlook logotypeThis Outlook add-on for e-mail management, user support and issue tracking already had many useful features, but subscribers begun asking us if it would be possible to combine Folder HelpDesk with Kanban Task Manager for Outlook.

Folder HelpDesk logotype We encourage subscribers to combine kalmstrom.com products by offering very favorable fees for organizations who use more than one solution. However, in this case a combination of Folder HelpDesk and Kanban Task Manager would be difficult, so we decided to add a kanban board to Folder HelpDesk instead.

Now Folder HelpDesk users can see and manage their tickets on a kanban board in Outlook, and from the kanban board they can also reach the timeline, calendar and incidents views.



Microsoft updates
As we build our products on Microsoft platforms, we must always enhance them to support and take advantage of Microsoft's updates. Figuring out how to do that in the best way is a fascinating task, but this year there have been nearly too many changes in Office 365 and SharePoint Online.

When Microsoft stopped supporting server-side code in SharePoint Online we had to update nearly all of our products. Existing subscribers were not affected, but as we used some server-side code to facilitate new installations, we had to quickly update all our SharePoint sandboxed solutions. While updating we also added some new features, so in the end it was all for the good!

SharePoint Online from Scratch
SharePoint Online from Scratch coverIn the beginning of the year, I published a new book and e-book on Amazon. I called it SharePoint Online from Scratch, in line with my earlier Excel 2016 from Scratch and because it really explains Office 365 SharePoint from the very basics.

I am sure that even advanced users can find grains of gold in both books, but I prefer to start from the beginning to have everything in place before I continue to more advanced features.

SharePoint Online from Scratch has become popular, and as Microsoft introduced the new experience interface only half a year after the first publication a new version was released in the beginning of December.

I have also nearly finished another book, SharePoint Online Exercises, which will contain  hands-on step by step instructions on how to build SharePoint apps and solutions for common business scenarios. I hope to publish SharePoint Online Exercises in January 2017.

Custom solutions
Even if I have continued with my online tutorials, 2016 was the year when I decided to stop lecturing on site. I had been teaching since I left Skype in 2010, and even if the communication with my students was inspiring, the lectures meant too much travelling and being away from home and office.

Subscription iconSo, what have I done instead of teaching? I have of course worked with the kalmstrom.com products, but most of my time has been dedicated to the design of custom solutions and to assisting customers who have subscribed to service contracts. Now we can accept more such requests, and these commissions bring variation and new problem solving challenges that the whole team appreciates.

We are all looking forward to 2017, and next week I will tell you some about our plans for the coming year.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

27 December 2016

Anonymous Forms for SharePoint with DropBox and Flow

Office 365 iconIn a new article in the kalmstrom.com Tips section, I show how to combine Flow and Dropbox to get information into a SharePoint document library from people outside the company without any login at all. In the process I also describe how to create a restricted form in Word and use it as a template for the library.

Business dilemma
Sometimes you need to get information from people outside the organization into a SharePoint library, but you don’t want to create SharePoint accounts for them. Of course, you can receive files by e-mail and upload them to SharePoint yourself, but that is troublesome.

Using a cloud service for document sharing will not burden your mailbox, but it will give you the same trouble, and on top of that it will require a login. How can we get the information into SharePoint without giving people access?

Microsoft Flow iconLet a flow copy files from Dropbox
My solution to the access problem is to use a Dropbox Requested files folder and combine it with a flow and a custom library template. With this method, the whole procedure will be automatic, and no login will be required. The solution builds on two preconditions:
  • "Requested files" folders in Dropbox do not require log. A link to the folder is enough.
  • When the information uploaded to Dropbox is contained in fields that correspond to SharePoint library fields, a flow can copy field content from "Requested files" into new files in the SharePoint library.
In my demo I use quotations for meals at a staff party as an example. Such information is not sensitive, so I can use the Dropbox folder for it without taking risks if the link should be shared. The quotation form is restricted, so restaurant owners can only fill out the form and not modify the template. This is the process:
  1. Word files with forms to be filled out are sent to restaurant owners as e-mail attachments. Each e-mail has a link to the "Requested files" folder in Dropbox.
  2. Restaurant owners fill out the forms and upload them to the Dropbox "Requested files" folder. 
  3. A flow copies the information in each filled out form to new files in a SharePoint library, where the suggestions can be seen and rated by the staff.
Restaurant Flow for creating rating based files through Microsoft Word template and Quick parts
Step by step
This sounds simple enough, but building this kind of solution requires work with Word Quick Parts, a custom library template and custom SharePoint columns. Before you start with the actual flow, you must create a SharePoint library and a Word template with corresponding fields and set the library to use that template.

Then you can start building the flow, which starts from a blank template and actually is rather simple! If you are used to Flow or have studied the earlier Tips articles about Microsoft Flow, you will find this flow quite straight-forward.

All these actions give the Tips article about copying file info to SharePoint no less than six sections with step by step instructions. I hope they will be useful, if you want to try to create something similar!



Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

20 December 2016

kalmstrom.com Visit To Indian Buddhist Stupa

Earlier this month I visited the Indore office, and one day we made an excursion to the World Heritage monuments at Sanchi. It felt great to visit this Buddhist temple in good company with Hindu and Muslim team members in true ecumenical spirit.
Sanchi stupa

Relics sanctuary
The Great Stupa at Sanchi has been enhanced during centuries, but it was first constructed in the 3rd century BCE. It is the oldest stone structure in India, built over the relics of the Buddha. His cremation relics are divided among many stupas, and this is one of them.
Sanchi stupa

I was surprised that I could not enter the stupa. I thought it would contain a room for meditation, but it is solid and Buddhist monks worshiped outside the stupa.
Sanchi stupa

Tolerance and respect
kalmstrom.com has no Buddhist team member today, but when the team discussed what they wanted to show me on our excursion, they still decided on the Sanchi Stupa. They are proud of this place, which is on the UN lists of World Heritage Sites.
Sanchi stupa

At the core all religions preach tolerance and respect, but we have all seen many examples on prejudice and violence in the name of religion. Therefore it was an elevating experience to visit this holy place together with my Hindu and Muslim work mates.
Sanchi stupa

Final celebration
The excursion to Sanchi was made during my last day in Indore, after some days with work, discussions and planning at the office. As always, it was a great pleasure for me to visit the Indian team. I met long time colleagues who have become friends, and I could talk to new employees face to face for the first time.
Sanchi stupa

Please enjoy the photos, taken by the kalmstrom.com team members Abhishek Sharma and Bhupendra Singh!

Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

19 December 2016

New Views In Kanban Task Manager For Outlook

Kanban Task Manager for Outlook logotypeThe workgroup edition of Kanban Task Manager for Outlook V5 has been released. The new version has several new features, like month and project views, overdue indicator and a possibility to show more than one column in any phase on the kanban board.

Outlook editions
With Kanban Task Manager workgroups can cooperate on tasks and projects in a kanban board in Outlook. The add-in can be used stand-alone, but the Outlook workgroup edition can also synchronize with both Kanban Task Manager SharePoint editions.
Kanban Task Manager in Outlook
Kanban view
By default each Outlook task is shown as a color coded card on a kanban board with phases for the work process. Lanes for different kinds of tasks may also be used.

The cards can be filtered in various ways, and they can be dragged to another phase or lane and dropped there. New tasks can be created in the kanban view, and existing tasks can be opened and edited.

Month View
The Month View is a new view that can be reached from the kanban board. It gives a good overview of when tasks are planned to start and end.  The Month View is displayed either as a calendar or as a timeline, where tasks can be grouped in various ways.

The time slots can be dragged to change the start and due dates, and events can also be edited or created directly from the timeline.

Project View
In the Project View each project is visualized in the form of a pie chart. With this new view, managers and team leaders can quickly see  how many tasks there are in each phase of each project. Only phases that have tasks for the specific project are shown.

Completed icon and Overdue indicators
When a task on the kanban board is overdue, it is indicated with a red left border.
Kanban Task Manager for Outlook Overdue icon
When users fill out the % Completed field in the task, the value will be shown with an icon on the task in the kanban view. In the image below the task is nearly finished.
Kanban Task Manager for Outlook Completed icon
If the Trip to India task above had been overdue, it should have had the red overdue border, but it should also have had the rest of the completed icon marked with red – a strong "Finish this now" signal!

Phase Columns
To allow users with few phases and big screens to use their horizontal space better, we have added a possibility to use more than one column of tasks in the same phase.

In the image below there are many incoming tasks waiting to be moved through the phases. Therefore the "Not Started" phase has been set to show the tasks in two columns.
Kanban Task Manager for Outlook with two columns in the first phase

Upgrade
kalmstrom.com upgrade iconI recommend current subscribers of Kanban Task Manager to take advantage of the free upgrade benefit that is included in all kalmstrom.com subscriptions.

Try it
kalmstrom.com download iconIf you have not yet tried Kanban Task Manager, you are welcome to evaluate the solution. We allow 30 days free evaluation of the full product. Below you can see the new views, and there is a lot more documentation on the kalmstrom.com website.

Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

13 December 2016

Microsoft Flows – Better Than Workflows?

Office 365 iconMicrosoft has recently rolled out Flow, a service that eventually will replace the SharePoint 2010 and 2013 workflows. The new flows have many benefits, but I have also found a problem that organizations who intend to use Flow should be aware of.

Automate business processes
Microsoft Flow iconFlows, as well as workflows, are excellent when you want to automate time consuming processes that need to be performed repeatedly. They are often used for notification sending, but flows and workflows can also calculate time, archive list items and perform many other tasks that would have been tedious and time consuming without them.

Usability
Workflows are limited to SharePoint. Even if there are reusable workflows that can be saved as workflow templates, the most common type of workflow is intended to be used in one list or library only. It cannot easily be re-used in another app.

The new flows, on the other hand, can be used extensively with various services. They are not even limited to Office 365 applications but can also be connected to social media, Dropbox and more.

Creation
SharePoint Designer 2013 iconWorkflows are created in SharePoint Designer, while flows are created in the browser and need no extra installation. The service site, flow.microsoft.com, can be reached from the Office 365 App Launcher, and flows can also be created directly from within SharePoint.

For both workflows and flows, the creator sets trigger, condition and action. But flows use templates for the creation, and that makes them easier to build than the workflows.

Storage issue
Microsoft Office 365 User iconThe only important Flow drawback I have noticed concerns the storage. While workflows are stored in the SharePoint site where they were created, flows are stored in the personal account of the user who created them. This might be good for personal flows, but it creates issues if a user who has created flows for the organization leaves his/her position.

To avoid future problems, any organization that decides to automate business processes with flows should make sure to create a special user account for flows. If this account is used for creation of all flows but the personal ones, you can take advantage of the Flow benefits and handle situations when a user account is no longer available. The special account also helps when it comes to managing potential costs in cases of high volume flows.

Flow Tips articles
We currently have three Tips articles about Flow. In the first article I show how to create a product decision flow, and after that I expand the flow to add a status update on Facebook. Such an expansion would not have been possible with a workflow! In the third article I create a flow that sends a reminder e-mail.

Below you can watch the first demo, and in the kalmstrom.com Tips section you can learn more about Microsoft Flow.


By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

08 December 2016

SharePoint Online From Scratch With New Page And Library Info

SharePoint Online from Scratch coverSharePoint Online from Scratch was published as e-book and paperback at the beginning of 2016, but we have already released an update. The new version includes SharePoint Online enhancements like the new library experience and the new page model. In the update process I also re-wrote the first chapter about getting started with Office 365 and made other enhancements to the book.

Practical use
SharePoint Online from Scratch focuses on no-code, hands-on instructions and explanations on how to practically make use of a SharePoint tenant for collaboration within an organization. The book also gives examples on how to use SharePoint for management of common business processes.

Multimedia tutorials
Microsoft has a lot of SharePoint instructions online, but they have no real course or manual with a progression. You have to know what you are looking for to use the Microsoft tutorials, and how can you search for something when you don't even know that it exists?

Before you can browse Microsoft's articles you need to know the basics and a bit more of SharePoint, and you can learn that in my book. Video demonstrations are great, but to be optimal they need to be studied in a context. SharePoint Online from Scratch gives links to kalmstrom.com Tips articles with demos, and I believe this combination of textbook and video is a good way to explain things.

SharePoint Online new page model web parts New page model customization
Not even Microsoft has given much information about the new customizable SharePoint Online page model, which is now an alternative to wiki pages and web part pages. I hope my book will fill a gap, because in the updated version I go through the different possibilities and explain how each new page model web part can be used.

New library experience
The new library interface may be used instead of the classic experience interface, and as it is easier for users and give some new possibilities I think it will soon be the most popular option. But today some customizations can only be made with the classic experience, so through the whole book I have commented on and showed both the new and the classic library interface.
SharePoint Online command bar
Frequent updates
I must admit I had hoped that my SharePoint Online book would be up to date a bit longer, but at the same time I appreciate the enhancements Microsoft has rolled out during the year. For many users the new interfaces for pages and libraries are easier to understand and customize than the classic design.

But SharePoint power users complain that the new interfaces give less possibilities – and authors complain that their books become old too early!

On Amazon.com today
The new version of SharePoint Online from Scratch is released on Amazon.com, and very soon both e-book and paperback will be available on all Amazon sites.
Excel 2016 from Scratch cover
It feels very satisfying to know that my books are popular and readers find them helpful. My first book, Excel 2016 from Scratch, is still up to date, because I created it from the preview version and Microsoft has not made important changes.

Therefore I have already begun drafting two more books, about SharePoint Online and Office 365!

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

06 December 2016

OneDrive for Business Behind The Scenes

Office 365 logoOneDrive for Business gives each Office 365 user a personal site collection and a storage space of 1 TB (unlimited in the E3 and E5 subscriptions), but Microsoft has not made it easy to really take advantage of these benefits. I have now published two new Tips articles with demos to help users benefit from having their own SharePoint site collection.

First I describe the limited OneDrive library that most people see and use, and then I explain how you can get behind the scenes and give OneDrive all the standard SharePoint features.
OneDrive for Business logo
Sync
OneDrive for Business is primarily used for synchronization between SharePoint libraries and your computer hard drive. The synchronization creates a library folder in the user's PC or other device, and after the first time the synchronization is automatic.


The synchronization gives users an opportunity to work with library files offline, and it is convenient to add files to SharePoint by placing them in the library folder for automatic upload. But you can do more with OneDrive.

Storage and sharing
The default OneDrive library is intended for file storage of personal files. By default all files in that library are private, but users can easily share them with other people within and outside the organization. However, the default library lacks some important features, like the possibility to create views or add columns.

The OneDrive for Business storage space is huge, but if you don't go behind the scenes all files and folders have to be kept in the limited default library. If you want to categorize files by placing them in different libraries, you will discover that new libraries cannot be created from the default library page. This is a drawback, but it is possible to overcome the problem. That is what I show in my second demo.

Create subsites
SharePoint iconTo be able to use all SharePoint functionality with your personal site collection, you should open the Site Settings, find the Site Contents and create a subsite. That subsite will give you everything you are used to in SharePoint, and the libraries you create will be standard libraries, by default with the new experience interface but with a possibility to return to the classic experience.

If the Site Settings isn't available directly from your default OneDrive for Business library, you can still reach the Site Contents by replacing the onedrive.aspx in the URL with viewlsts.aspx. Learn how in my demo!


Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

01 December 2016

SharePoint Online New Page Model

SharePoint iconMicrosoft has recently introduced a new type of SharePoint Online page, and I have begun updating the kalmstrom.com Tips section with some new articles on this new page model.

The most common SharePoint pages, the wiki pages, can be highly customized, but it is not always so easy. With the new page model, Microsoft wants to give SharePoint Online users a less complicated alternative.

The new page model has a number of specially designed web parts. Show them by clicking on a plus sign, and  add the part you prefer to the page by clicking on the web part icon. The web part options will be displayed in a settings pane to the right.
SharePoint Online new page model web parts
The options are not as many as in the wiki pages, but in the new page model simplicity is in focus, not power and advanced features.

The first article about the SharePoint Online new page model starts with a short introduction. After that I show one of the simplest web parts, the Quick Links part. With this web part you can add links pointing to documents and pages and have a preview of the target on the published page. I have embedded a demo below.

I will soon publish more articles with demos on the SharePoint Online new page model! For now you are welcome to visit the kalmstrom.com Tips section to study the introduction article.


Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions