19 April 2017

Scalable, Cost-Effective SharePoint School Solution

SharePoint iconA huge amount of information flows through a school, not only from teachers to students and vice versa but in all directions between students, administrators and other staff. Controlling and managing all this information is a daunting task, but in SharePoint it can be handled well.

During a recent series of remote control workshop sessions with the SharePoint admin at a chain of US sports schools, I have made some good progress. Below is a summary of what we have achieved within a rather low budget.

Base of site collections
For permission reasons we decided to divide the information into site collections, so we set up one collection for each school location and also some collections that were shared among all schools. In each site collection, we created SharePoint groups for students at the location, for staff and for Enterprise admins who should see everything.

We also created various document libraries with default Enterprise Keywords sets. Thus, users will be able to tag their information simply by uploading it to the proper document library.

Two site collections, with different editors, are intended for reading by everyone. The Enterprise collection has announcements from the company management, policy documents and a graphical site map. The main content of the Development collection is a video list and an Exercise Plans library, and I will share some details about both of them.

SharePoint iconTeachers and trainers in these schools often create videos to illustrate a drill, move or technique, and there are literally thousands of them. Managers had tried to organize the videos into folders, but the shortcoming of folders soon became obvious to everyone involved. The same video could be used to illustrate several different techniques, and having the same video in many folders is wrong in lots of ways.

Therefore, instead of using folders, we built a series of managed metadata fields. The metadata will make it easy to find exactly the right video for a specific subject. To make it easier to tag each video, the edit and display form of the list was customized to embed the video.

Office 365 has a Video app that would have been useful, but it demands a more expensive SharePoint license than the one this organization is subscribing to. Therefore it was decided that the actual video files should be placed on a 3rd party video host.

PowerPoint library
The Exercise Plans library contains PowerPoint files, and a special template is used for new files. This template allows for several special layouts. One of them shows an embedded video and its description. Another layout has a background picture of the sports arena, where the trainer can draw movements and patterns.

Each location site collection has been given a contact list, where users can drag and drop their contacts using Outlook. We have also put some work into a mobile friendly contact search page in the Enterprise site collection. It allows users to search for contacts and click-to-call the phone numbers of the found contact. The search results will be permission trimmed, so that each person only can see the contacts shared with him/her.

The school chain had a limited budget but huge needs, so it was a real challenge  to find the right solution. We went through several iterations and ideas and ended up with a cost effective, scalable and very useful solution. I am looking forward to working more with this school to enhance it further.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

28 March 2017

Get Live Excel Survey Results Into SharePoint With PowerShell and Azure

SharePoint iconExcel surveys are useful when you want to get input from customers or other persons outside your organization. An Excel survey is created and answered in Excel Online and does not require login.The problem is to transfer the answers from Excel Online to SharePoint as they come in, but that can be done with a PowerShell script. We recently created such a solution for a client.

The Excel survey option
Excel iconWhen external sharing is enabled in a SharePoint site collection, the Excel survey is shown as an additional option when users create a new library item. We have an article about the Excel survey in the Tips section, from where the demo below has been fetched.

The Excel survey is easy to set up and work with, and it also has the added benefit of anonymous sharing. That is, you don't have to create accounts for the people you want to have survey answers from. Instead you can allow people from outside of the organization to fill out your form without any log in.

Get the data to SharePoint
One potential problem with Excel Surveys is that the results are saved in an Excel table instead of in a SharePoint list. When the survey is finished, you can of course use the different "Export to SharePoint" techniques that I have described in several Tips articles. However, to use the submitted responses as they come in and build workflows or flows on top of the results is extremely tricky.

PowerShell iconSolve problems with PowerShell
SharePoint and Office 365 comes with a plethora of features that we and our customers make use of every day. Sometimes you need a bit of glue to put it all together, and these days PowerShell is usually our answer.

In this case we used an Azure Function built in PowerShell to resolve the transfer problem:
  1. Microsoft Flow icon Created a flow that runs on each file modification in the SharePoint document library where the Excel survey is stored.
  2. The flow in turn calls to an Azure Function with a http get request, essentially notifying the function that there is work to do.
  3. The Azure Function built in PowerShell connects to the SharePoint document library, finds the new information in the Excel table and adds corresponding new rows to a SharePoint list.
  4. Our client can now continue building workflows and flows based on what happens in the SharePoint list.
We are very happy with this technique and are already using similar steps to solve other business needs. Essentially it allows us to run a PowerShell script based on a trigger in SharePoint. That an Azure Function can be run on a free shared infrastructure is also helpful, of course.

Combining the power of SharePoint with Azure like this, opens up a world of possibilities. This is only the beginning!

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

21 March 2017

SharePoint Online From Scratch Updated With PowerApps And Flow

SharePoint Online from Scratch coverMicrosoft has enhanced Office 365 SharePoint in several different ways lately, and as an author I am of course eager to cover them all. Therefore I have now released a new version of SharePoint Online from Scratch, on Amazon.

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 must 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 Tips articles with demos, and I believe this combination of textbook and video is a good way to explain things.

New experience and new page model
Microsoft has recently introduced a new user interface for SharePoint Online apps (new experience) and pages (new model). The new interface is more intuitive and easier to use than the classic one, but for several reasons you cannot just go over and start using it everywhere.
SharePoint Online New Experience Command Bar
All app templates don't have the new experience yet, and among those are such common apps as the calendar and tasks list. Furthermore everything you can do in the classic interface is not possible in the new one. You can for example not connect lists to Outlook or Access, and you cannot customize new model pages to the same extent as you can do with wiki pages.

The new experience, on the other hand, has features that are not available in the classic one. As a result of these differences, SharePoint administrators need to understand both interfaces, and SharePoint Online from Scratch now describes both. This has given the book more pages, but I have kept the price at the same level as before.

PowerApps and Flow
Microsoft PowerApps iconSharePoint Online lists that use the new experience have a PowerApp button in the command bar, so that users can start creating mobile friendly apps directly from within the list they want to use. PowerApps are created automatically this way, but for best result you should modify them. I give some examples on how to do that in the new version of SharePoint Online from Scratch.

Another new button in the modern experience lets IT professions create flows, which is Microsoft's replacement for SharePoint workflows. These can be used extensively with various services, and when you create a flow from a SharePoint list you will have a choice of all templates that include SharePoint.

Microsoft Flow In SharePoint Online from Scratch I show how you can continue building your flow from such templates, and I also give a general description on how Flow works. The classic workflows from the earlier versions of the book are still there, because everything cannot be done with a flow or even a SharePoint 2013 workflow. A good SharePoint admin should know all the options!

On today
   amazon logo     The new version of SharePoint Online from Scratch is released on all Amazon sites. I have joined the Kindle Matchbook program, so of you buy the paperback first, you may buy the e-book for a very low price. That way, you can take advantage of both the nice layout of the paperback and the e-book hyperlinking and use the edition that suits you best at each occasion.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

16 March 2017

SharePoint Pages Instead Of Library Files For Company Guidelines

SharePoint iconOrganizations that use SharePoint tend to share most of their documents in libraries, and this is often the best way – but not always! In a new Tips article, I suggest a method that uses pages instead of documents. It is less common but quite striking when used on certain kinds of documents. In my demo I use new model pages, but everything that can be done in the new model can also be achieved with wiki pages.

Pages versus documents
Pages can of course only be edited and shared inside SharePoint, so you cannot always use them instead of documents. However, I recommend you to try pages when suitable. Once you get away from documents, you will find that it is easier to both read and edit pages as compared to documents. Furthermore, pages load much quicker than documents and can be more interactive, containing live videos etc.

Company guidelines
Most organizations have documents for company guidelines that should be shared among users. For such documents the page method is suitable, if you want to present the guidelines in a more elegant way than just uploading them to a document library. Therefore I have used a few of these documents as an example in my demo.

Subsite with pages
The page method idea is to create a subsite called Company Guidelines and add the content of each document on a separate page in that site. The page should of course have the same name as the guidelines document.

Custom links
When all pages are added to the subsite, I remove the default links from the Quick Launch. Instead I add links to the pages with company guidelines. This is done in the Site pages library, where I also set one of the pages as the default one.

With a link to the Company Guidelines site in the top navigation, users can easily reach the guidelines, and when the site is open they have all the pages at hand in the Quick Launch.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

08 March 2017

SharePoint Online Content Type With New Experience

SharePoint iconWe have recently updated our Tips articles about content types to the latest version of Office 365 and the new experience interface. Using content types is the best way to make sure that items in a SharePoint list or library will have the desired content. A content type is a kind of template that decides what each item should contain, how it should look and which metadata should be collected.

Make similar content look alike
All organizations produce a lot of content, like invoices, quotes, manuals, guidelines and reports, and this content should preferably be created and managed in a consistent way. It should, for example, contain the correct metadata. When each kind of content has its own content type, it is easy for users and managers to create and keep track of SharePoint content.

Quotes library
In my experience, the concept of content types requires some learning. To make it easy to understand, I have recorded some demos on how to create a content type for a Quotes library.

When there is no custom content type in a SharePoint library, users can create any type of document that is allowed by the default Document content type. No metadata columns will be visible, and there is no way to limit the creation choice to a special type of documents, for example Word.

By adding a custom content type to the library and remove the default one (only from this library, of course), I can limit the user choices and give the library the desired columns for metadata.
SharePoint opens Word

Word template
To further enhance the content type, I add a Word template to it. I use the Word Quick Parts to create a table where the cells correspond to the metadata columns in the SharePoint library, and this way the required metadata can be easily added to the document and also become printable.

In the final Quotes library it is only possible to create new documents based on my Word template, and even if I cannot force users to actually fill out the metadata it is very easy to do it. The columns are present in the document itself, and dates and values in choice columns can be selected.

Library template
SharePoint custom library template The last step is to save the Quotes library as a template, so that it can be used on other sites. It will now show up among the other templates when you use the "Add an app" command.

Even if I have taken a Quote document content type as an example in the articles, content types can be defined for any item type, including list items, media files and folders. The method is similar whichever item you use, so I hope the Tips articles will be helpful.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

28 February 2017

Dedicated Teachers Behind Study Manager For SharePoint

The other day I read in a Swedish paper that refugees who had come to the town Tierp as unaccompanied minors had managed very well in Sweden. As I have had a lot of cooperation with teachers and IT technicians in Tierp, this was really good news to me.

When you come to a foreign country as a refugee you often have experienced traumatic events, and that might be especially true if you arrive as an unaccompanied child. In those cases, it is extremely important that you are met by a welcoming society and dedicated teachers and other adults.

Study Manager for SharePoint logotypeI know Tierp has such devoted teachers, because I have had the privilege to cooperate with some of them in a project that resulted in the SharePoint solution Study Manager. The development of this product was sponsored by Tierp and initiated by professionals who teach Swedish to immigrants.

What we created for Tierp was a learning platform in SharePoint, where teachers can add and organize teaching material and where students can practice at their own pace but still with teacher supervision. The solution has served the immigrants who study Swedish very well.
Study Manager for SharePoint
"It is a joy to work with Study Manager", says one of the teachers, Medina Becirovic Emkic. "The solution works splendidly. All students, also those who are not used to computers, can work with the exercises, as Study Manager is so easy to use."

The article I read is unfortunately only in Swedish, but it says that most of the young people who came as unaccompanied minors to Tierp between 2007 and 2016 is working and have a good income - even a little bit higher than the average for Swedes of the same age! None of them have been convicted for a crime. cooperation iconSuch a result can only be achieved when the immigrants get qualified help to learn Swedish quickly. The whole team is familiar with Tierp and Study Manager, and we all congratulate the Tierp society and the young immigrants to the success!

Today Tierp takes advantage of Study Manager for many more subjects, and Study Manager has become a standard product that is used also by other schools and companies. If you think Study Manager could be useful to your educational purposes, you are welcome to try the solution.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

24 February 2017

Office 365 From Scratch Published On Amazon

Office 365 from Scratch cover Office 365 is a quickly expanding platform – so quickly that it might be difficult to keep track of what is included and how to best make use of it. With my new book, Office 365 from Scratch, I want to help decision makers and administrators to learn the Microsoft cloud platform. Office 365 users who want to know more about the possibilities their accounts give them, will also find parts of the book interesting.

The topic Office 365 is huge and cannot be covered in one book. My intention has instead been to introduce the different parts of Office 365 and specify the right words for the features in apps and services. Microsoft has a lot of information online, but it is not easy to find it if you don't know what to search for!

Office 365 from Scratch starts with general information on Office 365 and describes how to get started and add user accounts. After that I introduce:
  • Microsoft OutlookExchange, for e-mail, calendars and contacts. E-mailing is mission critical for most organizations, but managing growing mailbox sizes can be a nightmare for IT-departments. The stable and secure Exchange Online is often one of the reasons for using Office 365.
  • Microsoft OneNoteOffice, which includes the most common applications for word processing, calculation, presentations and notes. The Office 365 Enterprise subscriptions include the Office desktop suite and online editions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
  • Microsoft SharePointSharePoint, for enterprise content management and sharing. I have already published two books and hundreds of video demonstrations solely about& SharePoint Online, but in a book like Office 365 from Scratch there is only room for an overview of what is most important to know. I also give information about apps that build on SharePoint: Video Microsoft OneDriveand My Site with Delve and OneDrive for Business.
  • Office 365 Groups, a service built on SharePoint and Exchange. In a Group users can share documents, work on project plans, schedule meetings and receive e-mails in a shared inbox – often concerning a specific topic, such as a project.Office 365 Planner icon The Planner app is included in all Groups, and the Conversation apps Teams and Yammer make use of Groups just like StaffHub, the brand new app for work scheduling.
  • Microsoft FlowFlow, Microsoft's replacement for SharePoint workflows, can be used extensively with various services, and you can create flows for elaborate collaboration over multiple platforms.
  • Microsoft PowerApps iconPowerApps lets IT professions create mobile friendly apps connected to data from various sources and distribute them to users within the organization.
  • Power BI iconPower BI helps you create interactive visualizations of data from unrelated sources and show them on websites or in apps.
  • Sway is a presentation app where users work on a web-based canvas.Office 365 Sway icon It is possible to insert images, text, documents, videos, charts and maps from many different sources in the sways.
Office 365 from Scratch includes links to Tips articles with video demonstrations. I hope these articles will make the learning more varied and enhance the understanding.

        Office 365 from Scratch is sold at Amazon. Just like my earlier books, Office 365 from Scratch is available as e-book as well as paperback and included in the Kindle Matchbook program, which lets you buy the e-book for a very low cost when you have purchased the paperback.

I have had good assistance with this book. My mother Kate helped me organize the material, Rituka Rimza proofread the manuscript and Vijayant Rimza created the book cover. I am grateful for your contribution!

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

16 February 2017

PowerApp With Current User's Phone Messages

Microsoft PowerApps iconIf your organization uses a SharePoint list for phone messages, you can create a PowerApp from it and make a workflow hide all messages but the current user's. This way each user will see his/her own messages in the app. In two new articles in the Tips section, I describe how to achieve this.

Phone messages in the mobile
In some of my earlier tutorials I have described how to create and enhance a phone messages SharePoint list. Now there is one more: how to create a PowerApp that shows phone messages. Such messages are of course ideal to have in a mobile phone, and as PowerApps give a mobile friendly user interface, a phone messages PowerApp sounds like the perfect solution. It can be done, but you have to take some more steps after letting PowerApps auto-create an app from the SharePoint list.

Auto-creation from SharePoint
PowerApps has a button in the command bar of SharePoint lists with the new experience interface, so it is very easy to create a PowerApp from a list. But the result of the auto-creation is seldom optimal, and in the case of my simple phone messages app it is actually bad. The list only has four columns: Who called? (which is the re-named Title field), Telephone number (to call back), (the person who was) Called and a Yes/No column for Returned.

Microsoft PowerApps in SharePoint
No easy search for "my calls"
In SharePoint you can easily filter the list by Called, so that you can see only your own calls, but when you create a PowerApp all items will be included and there is no such filter option. There is a search, but it is only possible to search text fields.

I want the reception staff to be able to select the persons called among the SharePoint users, so 'Called' is a column of the type Person or Group and not a text column. This means that users cannot search for their own messages in the app.

Add the "Called" field
Even worse is that the "Called" field is not displayed in the Browse mode of the PowerApp, so users have to open each item to see who was called. Instead of Called, there is a rating field connected to the item ID, which is not very useful. In the demo below I show how to remove it and add the Called field instead.

Hide content
So, now the "Called" field is displayed in Browse mode, but if there are many messages in the list users will have to scroll a lot to find their messages, as all messages in the SharePoint list are displayed in the PowerApp.

To solve the problem and let each user see only his/her own messages, I suggest a SharePoint 2010 workflow, which can set permissions. Create an Impersonation Step that replaces all permissions with an edit permission for the person in the "Called" field. This way the items with "Lisa" in the "Called" field will be hidden for everyone but Lisa, and each user will see only his or her messages – in the SharePoint list as well as in the PowerApp. You have to be a site collection owner or admin to create such a workflow, and in the demo below I show how to create it.

With these two actions, you can create a much better PowerApp than the auto-created one. I have found that PowerApps quite often work like that. An experienced SharePoint admin can give users really efficient apps, but it might be difficult for other people to create something useful.

I must point out, though, that even with these modifications this PowerApp is far from perfect. For example it still shows all my phone messages, not only those I have to return. Further ideas would be to make the phone numbers clickable, so you can actually return your phone calls directly from the PowerApp and then mark the phone call as returned.

However, those modifications are for another demo. I hope you find this a useful example, even though the results need further improvement. If you want to try my suggestion, I recommend you to read the articles and not just watch the demos, as they give some extra information. And if you are new to PowerApps, study the introduction article and demo first.

Intro and Projects Power App
Phone Messages Power App
Hide Content

Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

15 February 2017

Another Indian Science Triumph

Today India once again has made history. Even if USA and Russia might be the countries we most often associate with space ventures, India has also invested a lot in space activities – and been very successful! Today's record launch of 104 satellites in one single mission with good measure beats the earlier Russian record of launching 37 satellites in one go.

I have mentioned the high competence of Indian technicians in this blog many times before, even if it mostly has been in a context of computer program development. But India is also a leading space nation. ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), the governmental space agency that launched the satellites today, is highly respected worldwide.

India has an ambitious space program, and I especially like that it largely focuses on social benefit. Earth observations from satellites allow mapping, weather services, agricultural planning and disaster management, and instead of building a fiber network, like we do in Sweden, India uses telecom satellites to provide the country with internet.

To be independent of other countries, India has developed their own cost-effective and reliable launch systems. I have earlier written about the Mars Orbiter Mission, which got a spacecraft into orbit around Mars in 2014, and the record launch this morning was another triumph. It involved complex issues in management and maneuvering to avoid collisions among all the satellites.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle carried one main satellite for earth observations and 103 smaller nanosatellites, most of them from the United States but also from other countries (Israel, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Switzerland and United Arab Emirates). It took less than ten minutes for the rocket to spew out its "passengers".

Congratulations to the success!
Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

09 February 2017

Office 365 Groups With Auto-Created Collaboration Apps

Office 365 iconThe Office 365 Groups service is included in all subscriptions that have Exchange and SharePoint. Groups can be created in several ways, but in a new article in the Tips section I give an introduction to Groups and show how to create a group in Outlook.

Quick setup of collaboration tools
The most important advantage of using Groups is that you very quickly can have a set of collaboration media organized for a group of people who want to work together, for example on a project. By default all Office 365 users may create groups.

Create an Office 365 group and choose people that you wish to collaborate with. Then the service will quickly set up a collection of resources for the group to share. You don’t have to worry about manually creating or assigning permissions to the shared resources, because when you add members to the group, they automatically get the permissions they need to the tools your group provides.

The group apps
Office 365 Groups iconWhen a group is created, Office 365 automatically creates an inbox for e-mail messages, a calendar, a SharePoint site collection, a Planner site and a OneNote notebook for that group. All group members can reach these apps from their Outlook mailboxes, where a new group entry will be added in the folders list.

The group also gets a ‘Connectors’ feature, where users can connect the group to many different cloud services within or outside Office 365. Any group member can add a service and let filtered information from that service flow into the shared inbox.

Used in multiple apps
You can create a new group from Outlook, as I show in the Tips article and in the demo above, but groups are also created  automatically for several Office 365 apps. You can for example start with Planner instead and have the group created there.

When a user creates a team site from the SharePoint Favorites, a group will be created automatically. The new conversation app Teams, which is still in preview, also build on auto-created Office 365 Groups.

Last month Microsoft released another app that makes use of Office 365 Groups. It is called StaffHub and is intended to help users who don’t work at a desk to manage their workday. StaffHub also makes it easy for managers to schedule work and share information.
Office 365 from Scratch cover
Office 365 from Scratch
All these Office 365 apps and services are described in my next book, Office 365 from Scratch. It has now come to the proof-reading stage, and I hope to release it in a couple of weeks. I will surely come back to you then!

Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

24 January 2017

The Puzzling SharePoint Title Field

SharePoint iconThe SharePoint 'Title' field has been there from the beginning, inherited from the Office applications. I have noticed that this field often is left empty in library files, which is a pity as it is important for the SharePoint search. On the other hand, if people don't use it, why have it there at all?

Today I will show how to hide the 'Title' field, but first I will give two suggestions on how to actually get data into the field instead.

Title in lists and libraries
When you create a new list item, you cannot save it until the 'Title' field has been given a value. Therefore most users learn to fill out the title field with relevant information in lists.

When you create a new file in a SharePoint library, there is however no such compulsion. On the contrary, the title field is rather hidden to users. To enter something in the title field, they actually have to edit the file properties and how many regular users do that?

SharePoint Search leading field
In SharePoint searches, the title field has the highest rank of all, so that is where SharePoint starts to search, and hits in the title comes first in the results. If the title field is empty, the file name becomes prominent. Imagine how the SharePoint library searches will work if users leave the title field empty and don't change the default file name, Document, Book or Presentation!

Change the display name
Sometimes people avoid filling out title fields, or fill them out badly, because they don't understand the meaning of the field. Therefore, the easiest solution to the title problem is to simply go into the library or list settings, open the 'Title' column and change 'Title' into something else. Use a word that is more explanatory, or rename the 'Title' column instead of adding a new column.

When you change the list column name in this way, only the name displayed to the users will be changed. The column name will still be 'Title' in flows and workflows. It works well in SharePoint lists, where something has to be written anyway and a relevant name gives relevant input.

In libraries, users might be more inclined to actually open the properties and fill out a field called 'Keywords' or something similar, but this method does not force them to do it.

Auto-fill the title
If we assume that users change the default file names when they create new files in SharePoint libraries, it is possible to let a workflow add the same text as in the file name to the 'Title' field. The solution is not optimal, but it is better to have the file name in the title field than having it blank. This workflow is also useful if you want to add titles to a lot of files where the field is empty.

Hide the title
As a last resort, you can create a new document content type where the 'Title' field is hidden. I would only do this when the 'Title' field is not used or is repeatedly filled out in the wrong way. In a new article in the Tips section, I have described how to hide the 'Title' field, and you can also see it in the demo below.

I have created multiple articles and demos where I have stressed the importance of using metadata. This new demo does not mean that I back away from that, but in special cases, when SharePoint Search is not important, hiding the 'Title' field can be the best option.

Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

18 January 2017

Auto-Creation Of SharePoint Project Site Collections

SharePoint icon The team has recently finished a custom SharePoint project that gave us good experience and a very flattering testimonial. I will describe it here, because I think that many more organizations would benefit from our solution for automated creation and configuration of site collections.

Randek is a Swedish company that delivers high performance woodworking machinery to house manufacturers all over the world. The company runs large and long projects for their customers, and they contacted to have assistance with their project management system.

Before they started to use our solution, Randek created a subsite for each project and configured it manually. This is of course a time-consuming method that is prone to errors, so they wanted our help to develop a solution that automates and improves the current system.

I will let Marcus Englund, Software Developer at Randek, explain the situation, so I quote from the testimonial you can find in full on the Services page:

Randek icon"The goal was to automate the creation of SharePoint project sites that will be used by Randek personnel as well as consultants and customers. The project sites act as a collaborative platform for our often long and work intensive projects."

After a workshop where we got to know Randek's situation and heard their requests and suggestions, we offered a solution that worked as the Randek people had intended, but with a few enhancements.

For example, it is easier and more user-friendly to enter information in a SharePoint list than at a script prompt, so we suggested that a SharePoint list should be used instead of a script. Then a script could get the parameters from that list.

"The project became both a development project as well as an education in SharePoint and project management."

Kanban TaskManager for SharePoint iconThe solution we offered, auto-creates a site collection for every new project entered in the SharePoint list. Kanban Task Manager for SharePoint is installed in a subsite to each site collection, so that the Randek staff can manage the tasks connected to the project in an efficient manner.

The configuration of these sites is of course also automatic and builds entirely on Randek's requests. When the solution came into place, Randek changed some of these requests to make the solution work better.

This is something we are used to in custom projects, because it is difficult for a customer to take everything into consideration from the beginning. Sometimes we can do such changes quickly, while other changes take more time.

"The team has given progress updates on almost a daily basis, and the collaboration has been excellent. As the project developed some issues occurred, and the flexibility of the team to adapt to new demands has been perfect. The final product is all that we asked for and more."

PowerShell iconChanging systems is never easy, but we included migration services in the offer: a manual/scripted migration of existing information from subsites to the new structure. For Randek this was a smooth operation, and they could quickly start working with the new system without any disturbances for their customers.

"We can, without hesitation, recommend Peter Kalmström and his team to anyone in need of SharePoint development, and although there is a significant distance between our companies we have, throughout the project, always felt as if the team has been very close through chat-sessions, Skype calls and emails."

The site creation application we created for Randek is automatic, correct and easy to use, and we are all happy that the customer is satisfied with it. We can also honestly return the praise and say that working with Marcus Englund and Randek was a positive experience not only from a development point of view. My colleagues and I also got to know some nice new people!

Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

11 January 2017

SharePoint Online Exercises - New Book Released

        Learning by doing – we are many who consider actually doing things is the best way to learn. That was my starting point when I wrote my latest book, SharePoint Online Exercises.

Student exercises
I have been a SharePoint teacher for many years, and I have often given my students practical problems to solve. I might for example ask them to create a phone messages app that receptionists could use instead of handing out yellow post-it notes to people who had been unavailable.

After an introduction the students tried themselves, and to their help they had suggestions with step-by-step instructions. Working this way, the students did not only learn how to create a phone messages app for SharePoint. That was not even the primary goal! The purpose of the exercise was instead to let the students try many useful SharePoint features and techniques in the process of solving the exercise.

Step by step
It was when I saw how much my students appreciated the step by step instructions that I decided to create SharePoint Online Exercises. Among all exercises I have chosen twelve, which together cover many important SharePoint areas. I had good help from my mother Kate and from General Manager Rituka Rimza. As usual our Lead QA Vijayant Rimza created the book cover.

We adapted the exercises for SharePoint Online, as Microsoft's cloud platform is becoming increasingly popular, but I hope students with on-premise editions of SharePoint will also find them useful.

Video demonstrations
YouTube iconEach exercise in SharePoint Online Exercises has a link to a Tips article with a video demonstration. In the demonstration I show a similar project as the one described in the step by step instruction, which gives another dimension to the exercise.

Use with SharePoint Online from Scratch
My earlier SharePoint book, SharePoint Online from Scratch, give a more thorough and detailed description of Office 365 SharePoint, and it has a careful progression from easy to complicated. SharePoint Online Exercises does not have the same dept, but if you study both books you will have a more varied learning process.

Kindle and paperback on Amazon
        Both books are sold at Amazon, just like my first book, Excel 2016 from Scratch, and all three are available as both e-book and paperback and included in the Kindle Matchbook program. On the website you can see presentations of all three books and also have previews of the Kindle versions.

I like recording demos and writing books, so SharePoint Online Exercises will not be my last one!

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

10 January 2017

Kanban Task Manager With New Design and E-mail Management

Kanban Task Manager for SharePoint logotypeKanban Task Manager is the most popular product among new subscribers, so it evidently serves its purpose well even as it is today. But Kanban Task Manager also has great development potential, so in 2017 we plan to enhance Kanban Task Manager in several ways. Both the Outlook and the SharePoint editions will have a new look and be easier to work with when there are many tasks on the kanban board, and we will also include better e-mail management.

New design
We have understood that the current  kanban board design is not optimal for big teams with many open tasks and projects. Therefore we have already begun working on a total re-design of the kanban board, with smaller and clearer kanban cards. We have also moved the filter options to a left pane, to make better use of the vertical space. The image below shows the new design of the SharePoint editions, and the Outlook editions will have a similar look.
Kanban Task Manager Current Development
E-mail management
Another idea will require more research and longer development time: we want to add an e-mail management feature to the SharePoint editions of Kanban Task Manager. With such an enhancement, organizations can handle e-mail conversations on the kanban board, all the way from the initial issue report to the final closing of the ticket. This way Kanban Task Manager can be used for issue tracking and user support as well as for projects management.

Kanban Task Manager for Outlook Convert iconThe Outlook editions of Kanban Task Manager already have a "Convert e-mail" button, and so here we only have to make the e-mail conversion automatic to get a good function.

For the SharePoint editions we have to add an e-mail feature. E-mail management is already possible if you combine one of the Kanban Task Manager SharePoint editions with our product HelpDesk OSP, but we can do better.

Add-in enhancements
There are currently two SharePoint editions of Kanban Task Manager: a sandboxed solution and an add-in. There are some differences, but we plan to enhance the add-in edition so that it works more like the sandboxed solution. At the same time we will of course keep the add-in advantages, like the easier installation.

We want to move more of the functionality to the host web, thus avoiding the problems of cross-site scripting. That will remove the need for having a special edit form, which we currently have in the add-in edition. It will also make the 'My Tasks' embedding work better in the add-in edition.

The only thing we cannot change is the support for SharePoint 2010. Only the sandboxed solution of Kanban Task Manager supports that version, because Microsoft did not introduce add-ins (or apps, as they were called at that time) until SharePoint 2013.

The whole team is looking forward to the development of new Kanban Task Manager versions, and I hope you are looking forward to using them!

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

04 January 2017

Yoga, Cooking, Sketching And Road Trips - Meet New Developer

Really good developers are curious, imaginative and open-minded, and I have found that these qualities often go hand in hand with having other interests than programming. Today I have the pleasure to introduce one of these multi-talented people: our new Software Developer: Abhishek Sharma. Below Abhishek tells his story.

IT Career
I completed my Bachelor of Technology in 2012, but gaining knowledge is useless if we don't use it, so I started my professional career. I worked with technologies like WPF, MVC, ASP.NET, JavaScript and SQL Server, which helped me to polish my programming skills.
Abhishek Sharma photo
Eager for challenges
Sugar is not the only taste of survival, and it is the same with programming. I am always eager to try new things and explore new logics that carry out difficult tasks in a simple way. Finding something challenging beyond my experience makes me happy, because that way I can raise myself one step further and eventually the challenge seems smaller than nothing.

Coding is not my sole interest. I love to sketch, dance and photograph – and to help my mother in her cooking. I know she doesn't need it and never even wanted it, but  I still always try to do some "Abhishek special" to take over all credits from my mother.
Sai Baba of Shirdi

Indian spiritual master 
In the sketch above, I have tried to depict Sai Baba of Shirdi. He was an Indian spiritual master, regarded by his devotees as a saint, fakir or satguru. सांईं means Sai and is written with Hindi letters.

The other word, ॐ, stands for a mantra that sounds like "Om" or "Aum". It is written in the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, and its meaning is beyond explanation. But you can feel it! Sit straight with your body and mind relaxed, and take a slow deep breath. Then start chanting the mantra, and you will feel the effect it creates on mind and body.
Abhishek Sharma photo
Road trips 
Another thing I like, is to make adventurous road trips with friends. At one occasion we covered more than 700 km in single day on bikes. It was in the middle of the winter, and the visibility was less than 10 meters.

Some people said it was foolish and dangerous, but my reply was: "It might be dangerous for one or two persons, but it was worth living the moment with a group of friends I trusted." That trip taught me that we can achieve something unexpected when we work as a team, no matter how bad the situation gets.

PowerShell scripts
PowerShell iconDuring the two months I have been working with the team, I have been involved in a couple of PowerShell projects, directed by Peter Kalmström and our Lead Developer Jayant Rimza.
I created PowerShell scripts for automatic e-mail notifications and for automatic installation and upgrade of SharePoint sandboxed solutions.

Kanban Task Manager
Kanban Task Manager for SharePoint logotype I also worked on the My Tasks app part, which is included in our popular Kanban Task Manager SharePoint Add-in. There I used client side scripting language. gave me a chance to explore new logics to satisfy our customer requirements, and I believe I will meet their expectations in the future.

Abhishek Sharma
Software Developer Business Solutions