Since the Mayans Were Wrong

clip_image002I guess I need to write another blog entry. Actually, this is an easy one, unless I want to try my hand at interpreting the signs around me. I’m not good at recognizing the obvious, let alone the future, but I can predict one thing; this is the last blog entry for 2012. The world didn’t end, but I am giving myself and my editor (wife) a week off. So you can check back on January 5th 2013 for the next update. Coincidently, the post on January 5th will be the 200th SharePoint Story – that’s pretty cool. I may not be a prognosticator, but maybe I can make some sense of history.

When I started this blog, I was planning for others to contribute the stories. I thought that might be interesting, and I didn’t think I had 200 stories to tell, I wasn’t sure I had 6 stories to tell. Apparently, I underestimated myself, and the interest level in ordinary stories about SharePoint in use. As I look at the statistics about this blog, the #1 story of all time remains SharePoint of My iPad, and it represents just under 5% of all the stories ever read! Ironically, the second most popular post is No iPad For Me, a.k.a. the worst prediction I ever made. The timing of those two posts, (Feb 2010 and April 2011) would indicate that Microsoft was about two years too late to the market with Windows 8 (I bought my iPad in Oct-Nov 2010). My Top-5 posts include another curious pair, one deriding the value of email (Task vs. Email vs. Task) and one of several posts ridiculing the use of Excel as a means of tracking a list of items (Excel v. Custom Lists). I have attacked email and Excel multiple times, and I still think SharePoint will ultimately defeat those two stalwart competitors, but I think I will be retired before that day arrives. Rounding out the Top-5, sitting comfortably at #4, is a story about our first formal encounter with Marc D. Anderson (Symply the Best).

I guess if I really wanted to ramp up my stats, I’d make that 200th post “Why Marc Anderson thinks Excel and email will ultimately be replaced by SharePoint running on an iPad.” Fortunately, I don’t care about stats (but if Marc ever said that, I’d pay attention). Every now and then, someone says something nice about this blog, and that’s usually enough to keep me writing. If you are wondering what you can expect to find here in 2013, the answer is: “more of the same.” I once described SharePoint as an empty building next to a highway ramp, and in our case, there is still room for a lot of new tenants. During the last quarter of 2012, we made plans and promises for several new projects and we are receiving some very good feedback on the initial activities around those solutions. I will continue to share the things we learn from our attempts to bring those projects to fruition, including the misadventures when we or Microsoft get things wrong.

You can also expect me to mention the people, products and organizations that we like. Most of those can be found on the “Who We Like” page, but I realize that I left BA Insight off that list. We use their Longitude Search product and it was a pleasure dealing with them when we made that decision. I hope to make that page a little more attractive (that shouldn’t be hard) because people do ask me about products, services and vendors, but I am still trying to avoid advertising on this blog.

I will periodically make a promotional comment about AIIM, and I will blatantly support, endorse and encourage you to participate in the events of the New England Chapter of AIIM. As always, I want to be transparent here. As you can see at the top of this page, I am the Program Director for AIIM New England. What you may not know is that as of January 1, 2013, I will also be serving on the Board of AIIM International. I’m psyched about that opportunity because I strongly believe that the educational opportunities provided through AIIM, the AIIM Conference, the AIIM Community and the network of Chapters is the best and most cost-effective way to build a proper foundation for the things we build on SharePoint.

Thank you for visiting this blog and for sharing your comments here and on the various social media outlets where we interact. I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season and I wish you the very best in 2013!

I Blame the Sunrise

clip_image002There really is no SharePoint Stories blog today. There are several posts bouncing around in my head, but none made it to paper for a Saturday read, and I’m not going to break tradition and publish on a Sunday or a Tuesday. That said, I do have some news.

One of the reasons there is no post today, is that it will be based on several meetings with our customers that took place near the end of our annual Policyholders Meeting. It is always amazing to me to hear and see people’s reaction to the service we are delivering through SharePoint. It’s all good blog fodder; some challenges to come, a looming concern and some lessons learned, but I need time for thoughts to gel.

On the other hand, if you look to the right, you will see that I am the Program Chair for the AIIM New England Chapter this year. We recently held our kick-off event and we had a great time. We also introduced the events for the coming year, and the next one is just about a month away. We will be closing the show at the AIIM Boot Camp, and I hope to see you at both events. While we are on the subject of AIIM, I am thrilled to announce that I will be speaking at the AIIM Conference in New Orleans in March. I understand that registration for that conference is opening soon, so keep an eye on the conference site because the 2012 conference sold out in record time. If you find AIIM content anywhere near as interesting as I do, please do me a favor and go to the AIIM New England website, or follow the Chapter on Twitter or Facebook.

Time to Build Something

AIIM Conference 2012 - Ready for KeynotesLate last week, I was discussing a SharePoint project with a group of coworkers, where I had to keep saying “that doesn’t matter” and “it doesn’t make a difference” following each with “from SharePoint’s point of view”. I was working with a newly assembled team in our company who, among other things, are trying to organize a big bunch of documents that they inherited. My first encounter with this group spawned a blog entry about the importance of context, over on my AIIM blog. This second meeting was the result of the experts having categorized the stuff they have and my first pass at how we might want to deal with those categories in SharePoint.

The result of their examination of content in hand and content imagined included 29 categories of information and 46 topics within those categories. After the meeting, we agreed to build a site that will be comprised of 3 custom lists, 9 libraries and two sub-sites. The sub-sites will be created from templates as we will need to have many of each type over time. In addition to that, we will repurpose one existing custom list by pulling a special view of its content into this site using Marc Anderson’s SPServices library (something we learned last week). The distillation process during this week’s meeting was governed by 4 principles:

  • Finadbility – The first objective was for people to be able to come to this site in the future and find what they looking for without a lot of poking around.
  • Usability – The site should be characterized by a good user experience. That means, we should organize content in ways that support useful webpart views, dashboards and clear navigation based on the implied question “how can we help you?
  • Sustainability – Three of the four people in this group will retire in less than 10 years. Not only does this site store the content that the people who will take over our jobs will need, we don’t want their first task to be to rebuild this site.
  • Governance – There is some stuff on this site that needs to be protected, some that needs to be monitored and some that needs to be destroyed when it becomes out of date.

I was very impressed with the members of this group, and their ability to imagine how they would work with the site, how their content might evolve and how future employees, without the benefit of the 90+ years of tacit knowledge in the room, would look at this content. However, we finally reached a point where our discussion exceeded our collective imagination. In describing the way a library’s metadata might allow for a specific view to be rendered in a webpart, for example, I was asking them to build imaginary extensions to imaginary objects. In trying to help me design a better solution, they were describing hypothetical documents that might result from meetings with hypothetical stakeholders. It was time to actually build something. I don’t dance nearly as well as Marc Anderson so I suggested that I start building the site, in my office, on Monday.

There are two important lessons to take away from this meeting, they aren’t included here, and neither have anything to do with SharePoint. The first take-away from our meeting is something that I actually have to go around and fix in a few places. One of the topics we discussed was whether or not we wanted to have a place for historic documents that were related to this project. At first, we thought that was a good idea, but after a short discussion, the consensus was “no!” Even though I’ve seen this done in the past, I now realize that it makes no sense. A history library would contain “the stuff we didn’t want to read when we started this project in 2012.” It’s not like there was an epoch changing event last week. Nuclear power has been around for about 55 years – in terms of our civilization, that’s not a long enough period of time to start carving it up into ‘before and after’ sections.

The second point – the discussion we had was based on Information and Content Management principles that I learned through AIIM. I plug that association a lot on this blog, but without the help of the programs and people in AIIM, our SharePoint implementation would be nothing more than a web-based K: drive.

Learning How to Drive SharePoint

imageEarlier this week, I met with a group of people in our company who are gearing up to build a very important site on SharePoint. This is one of those times when I can’t share a lot of specific details, but I can talk about general elements, concerns, goals and problems. Well, hopefully we won’t have any problems. This site will have two major sets of requirements: some dealing with the need to be transparent and some associated with the need to enforce broad aspects of governance. Two examples include: the need to have official documents, but not draft material be visible, and the desire to control what people do with sensitive documents.

Managing the visibility of drafts is easy in SharePoint, but it’s one of those pesky things where the end-user really has to understand how to make SharePoint work. Versioning is one of the most powerful features in SharePoint’s arsenal of document management tools, but in my experience, it is often viewed merely as a backup and recovery tool. Versioning gives document creators the ability to retain distinct drafts of documents, decide which version of a document is currently available for public consumption and control who can see the versions that are currently being written. The most we can do as administrators is to talk with the project manager up front and help him or her configure the library settings to match the level of control they want to establish – we can’t do the work for them. This is when information management is like driver training. You can talk about it forever, but sooner or later, you have to hand over the keys, put the person behind the wheel and hope they remember everything there is to know.

Before you even get to the point of establishing the versioning settings, you have to address a different aspect of governance; “who should have access to the library?” SharePoint includes robust and extremely granular permission capabilities, but to avoid having to drive as if you’re on a Formula-1 course, you really want to avoid regular use of some of them. For instance, document level permissions should only be used on an exception basis. If I need to see a document in a library where I do not have access, temporary access to that document can be granted. On the other hand, I would never use document level permissions to accommodate people who only have access to some of the documents in a library. That situation calls for two libraries, or at least a restricted folder. The reason is simple; people will forget what has to be done. If I grant you temporary access to a single document, I will either remember to revoke the permission later or little harm will be done when I forget. If you only have access to certain documents in a library, I may easily forget to block access as new documents are added, and that mistake could be harmful.

Regarding the second challenge, restricting the actions people can perform, I think might be dealing with one of those situations where even if SharePoint could do the job or be made to do the job, it might not be a good idea. I talked about the conflict between security and usability in my presentation at the AIIM Conference, as did many of the presenters in the sessions I attended. The idea that we can absolutely control behavior is a fleeting notion these days. Instead, I like the idea of making sure people understand the issues and then helping them to make good choices. For example, we discussed using conditional formatting to highlight documents that we don’t want people emailing off-site. I know there are add-ons for SharePoint that say they can prevent attaching a document to an email, but I also know that if someone is bound and determined to send a document, I’m hard pressed to really prevent them from doing just that. Similarly, they may not want people making copies of the documents in certain libraries. We can audit activity against that content, but I’m not sure I want to try to prevent the action. I think we can live with a model of “education, facilitation and monitoring – repeat as necessary” as opposed to lock it down and throw away the key. Transparency, from both the consumer and curator point of view seems like a better fit with something that is supposed to be a collaborative environment.

Three Themes – One Goal

clip_image002A few days ago, I returned from the AIIM Conference. Having extended my trip with a short vacation, I missed the ‘recap window’, but I can still say that it was a great event, and its success helps me segue into a point I wanted to make about conferences. AIIM’s new focus on Information Management fits so nicely with my job, and my department’s goals that it makes me think of woodworking joints like the ones shown to the right. AIIM has always helped me to reach my goals, but now they complement my work and add strength to my mission. AIIM’s emphasis on people might seem like a hard thing for me to cope with (given my track record) but it really isn’t. I have been waiting for over 35 years for people and technology to be discussed as if they belong together, as opposed to being at odds with each other. My hat’s off to the people at AIIM for deciding to push this notion forward.

Now that the AIIM Conference is over, I have to prepare for another presentation. This time, I will be pairing up again with my User Experience mentor Jill Hart as we talk about Usability at the 2012 SNEC-PMI conference.

A little further down the line, I will be part of a panel at Info360, talking about SharePoint adoption. AIIM and Info360 used to be one great conference, but beginning this year they are two great conferences. I love the fact that I am going to get a chance to be on stage at the Javits Center before someone tears it down and moves NY conferences to Queens. I used to live in Queens, and I don’t think that when people talk about visiting NY, they’re talking about Queens, unless they have relatives there.

Information Management, Usability, Adoption – three disparate topics, or components of the same stool? I’m going with the stool analogy, and I’m going to say that Information Management is the seat, the goal, the functional element we are trying to achieve. Usability, adoption and technology are the legs. Throughout my career, technology has gotten the lion’s share of my attention. Although I have seen one-legged stools, I’m not sure I want to build one or use one. Now, with the additional focus on those other legs, I get a sense that we are building stronger solutions. I also get the sense that the solutions we are building in SharePoint are going to be easier to market. Simply put, Information Management is an easier sell than Content Management, which is just one of the reasons I like the show name Info360.

Information is truly all around us; our 360° view includes an amazing array of information sources and an equally large number of consumers. This is the nature of business today, but that is a concept that we (information professionals) understand better than our counterparts in other areas of business. Technically, I’m not in the business of selling SharePoint; I’m trying to solve the real-life business problem of connecting the creators and consumers of information. When I consider that as my goal, I start to appreciate the need to attend conferences, follow blogs, to follow people on Twitter and other social media – in other words, the need to join the conversation. In many of the presentations I have given, I have included the following quote (Attributed to Albert Einstein):

The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them

We need new ideas, and the chances that we are going to stumble upon a lot of them, let alone the best ones by ourselves are pretty slim. I need help, and the best place to find the people that can help me are at events like this. These events are also a fantastic place to meet the people you already follow in order to match a face with an avatar.

In many of the sessions I attended at the AIIM Conference, people talked about the role that user experience has in driving the adoption of information management technology (see, three legs). I heard researchers tell us how people will ignore or find ways to work around technology that does not offer a good user experience. I heard practitioners talk about and demonstrate the ways that they achieve a good user experience. In addition, I heard prognosticators like John Mancini talk about how fast the trend toward social, mobile, and local solutions is moving. As much as I love SharePoint, selecting it as our information management platform didn’t exactly give us the pole position in the race for a good user experience. SharePoint, if I can extend yet another analogy, is a fantastic race track, but we have to build the winning car. My team (maybe I’ll start referring to them as my pit crew) and I are learning how to do that, but we know that we have to continue to learn and I expect that we will have to pick up the pace. I hope to see you at Info360 in NY, where the learning will continue.

Thank You

imageEarlier this week, I was honored to receive AIIM’s Distinguished Service Award at their Awards Dinner in San Francisco. I can’t begin to describe how great it felt to receive this award, especially since I truly believe that I receive so much more from AIIM than I give back. I have enjoyed and benefited from AIIM programs, AIIM NE Chapter events, AIIM Education and the friendship and support of some of the nicest, most professional people I have ever met. I am particularly grateful to several people, and I want to thank them here today:

Ed LoTurcoEd nominated me for this award. Ed is retired now, but when I met him, he was the president of the AIIM New England Chapter. Ed’s accomplishments in the industry are too numerous to mention, and to be honest, I don’t know them that well. I know more about his tireless work to keep Lexington, MA a great place to live, his contribution to the lives of many hundreds of young track and field athletes that he coached, and his conquest of the grueling Pan Mass Challenge every year for as long as I can remember (if you want to join me in support for Ed, his rider ID is: EL0032). Mostly, I remember Ed from the first time I attended an AIIM NE meeting. I knew almost nothing about content management back then; I knew less about AIIM, and I felt out of place. But I only felt out of place for about a minute; Ed made me feel welcome. He explained the event, the chapter; the association and he introduced me to people who have been mentors and who have become friends. After Ed nominated me, the following three people supported my nomination with recommendations:

Jill Hart – I met Jill totally by chance at iPhone/iPad DevCon last year in Boston. Jill was attending with one of her clients, and it quickly became clear that Jill was knowledgeable and passionate about User Experience in everything. After a 30+ career in IT/Systems Development, I was only warming up to the notion that Usability Matters. I capitalized that because it’s also the title of an AIIM NE event where Jill and I gave a joint presentation last November. My coworkers should also thank Jill; without her infectious spirit, I would not be nearly as concerned about their experience in SharePoint and in the other systems we build.

Christopher Luise – I have known Chris for over 20 years. Like Ed LoTuco, Chris’s accomplishments in business are too numerous to mention. His accomplishments in the community are also almost too numerous to mention. He is serious about and seriously talented at making technology work in ways that add value to companies and benefit people. He is serious about mentoring the young people in a variety of fields, including one young person who is very important to me and my wife. Chris is Executive VP at ADNET Technologies, a company that has been instrumental in the success of technology at ANI almost as long as I’ve been working there. Chris and I are not related, but he shows up in my contacts and social media listings under the heading of ‘family’.

Jane Zupan – I met Jane at an AIIM NE event shortly after she had transferred to New England. In an attempt to emulate Ed, I reached out to Jane to try to make her feel welcome to our Chapter. I was fascinated by her marketing work with Nuxeo, and she and I have been friends ever since. Last fall, I was asked to make a presentation at the University of Connecticut on the subject of content management. The UConn audience was considering SharePoint, but also wanted to know more about Open Source solutions. This wasn’t a sales opportunity, it was only an opportunity to educate people, but Jane drove down from Boston to join me in that presentation.

George Turner – I would be remiss if I didn’t include George, President & CEO of American Nuclear Insurers. George assigned the task of content management to me back in 2001 which sent me to AIIM and Ed, and the start of this journey. Given our disparate backgrounds and responsibilities, George once suggested that I probably don’t learn much from him. To the contrary, I learn by his example, every day about decision making, the importance of planning and doing the right thing. Most important, I have grown while working for George; I hope the people in my department can say that about me.

Notice the connections, the common threads, the way these people seem like a close knit group despite the fact that most of them don’t know each other? I am blessed to have these people in my life, and I sincerely appreciate their support and friendship.

Reaction – Comments – Request

clip_image001Last summer, there was a series of posts that were challenging the foundation and future of the SharePoint community. One of those posts was on this blog and, although I didn’t write it, it raised some serious questions. Last week, Bjorn Furuknap wrote an article that made me realize, if Bjorn is to be trusted, that the SharePoint community is still suffering from growing pains. If Bjorn is right, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, my reaction is “meh”.

From my point of view, the SharePoint community is the hundreds of thousands of people using SharePoint to solve business problems on a daily basis, not the few thousand trolling for work. I am part of that larger community, I’m not sure if I’m part of the community Bjorn wrote about. I’m not here for the money, the prestige or the booth babes (now I know that my wife, who proofreads this blog, will read Bjorn’s blog). SharePoint is the tool I recommended to my employer to satisfy a pressing requirement. OK, I guess I am here for the money after all.

Like most of the people in the community, when I need ‘how to’ answers, I turn to the people that I follow, re-tweet and trust. It may seem like I circle the wagons around the same small group of people, but so what – those people are providing the answers and advice I need. On the other hand, that observation really wouldn’t be accurate. When I get stuck on a SharePoint snipe-hunt, you know, trying to figure out how to do what Microsoft says we can do but which never works, I turn to the SharePoint community. I search my favorite sources first, and then I simply search. I almost always find the answer in someone’s blog or in a comment on someone’s blog. When I like what I read, I bookmark that blog, I start following that person. If I grow to really like what that person has to say, I add them to my “Daily” list in Twitter. Talk about recognition, less than 10% of the people I follow are on that list. I can honestly say that all (both) of the SharePoint consultants I’ve hired were on that list before I hired them.

That list is not becoming, as Bjorn might say, “an unmanageable mass of junk” – I keep it clean and useful. Since I can only read so many tweets in a day, I prune away those without value or with diminishing value. That’s why I don’t worry about the trend that Bjorn mentions. It might be true that some people are taking shortcuts, calling attention to themselves or their close circle of friends, but I think I can see through that. If that’s your approach, you won’t remain on my list very long. I might also point out that SharePoint practitioners make up less than 10% of my daily reading list. I follow woodworkers, scientists, Steeler fans, people whose opinions I value and people that make me laugh. So, if you want recognition but are losing your grasp of SharePoint, try one of those topics.

What about me, why do I bother writing this blog? I rarely have answers to questions about how to do things. In fact, I sometimes ask more questions than I answer, or at least I try to get you to ask questions. As trite as this sounds, I am trying to give something back to the community, but again, not just the SharePoint community. Not only do I consider myself to be part of the larger SharePoint community, I consider myself to be part of the enormous community of information professionals. If someone in that group is thinking about using SharePoint to solve a problem, I’d like to think they might find an answer in this blog. So, do I get recognition, high pay, a booth babe? (Proofreader strikes). Once again, the answer is “meh” – it doesn’t really matter. If you are trying to give something back, trying is enough; at least that’s how I feel. I can say without hesitation, that the highest praise I ever received for this blog was when Marc Anderson said that “it’s a Saturday kind of read” – as someone who tries to be an effective writer, it was gratifying to hear that.

Now, in keeping with one of the comments on Bjorn’s blog, I’ll mention someone else in my clique, AIIM. Oh wait, AIIM isn’t a person, it’s a community. Well, technically it’s an organization of information professionals, but why be technical. If you are looking for an opportunity to give back, I would urge you to consider joining AIIM. I’m not sure if it was in the early days of the SharePoint community, but in 2006 I listened as John Mancini stood on the stage in Philadelphia during his keynote address at the AIIM Conference and referred to SharePoint as “the elephant in the room” of the ECM community. I gave a presentation at that conference in which I briefly mentioned SharePoint, and John urged me to propose a presentation for the 2007 conference that focused entirely on SharePoint. AIIM doesn’t recommend any particular technology, but they work hard to cover all of them. They also provide tons of information of value to everyone involved with information management. If you want to see for yourself, come to the AIIM Conference in San Francisco in March where you can hear John, me, lots of bona-fide, and a few Certified Information Professionals (CIP) talk about the community in which SharePoint thrives. See, Bjorn was right; in the end, it is about me.

One last thing: as the title implies, I do have a request. Can you wonderful members of the SharePoint community who blog about solutions, please start tagging your blog entries with “SP2007”, “SP2010”, “SP2013” and the like? As someone who frequently searches for answers, it would be nice to be able to easily filter on version, particularly since some of the solutions that work in one version don’t end up working in future versions. Thanks!