Last Weekly Post

imageAfter 5 ½ years of sharing a weekly story, the regular nature of this blog has to come to end. It’s OK, you and I will both benefit from this change.

I could go on about the state of the industry (which I might be able to accurately describe for a moment in time) or the state of SharePoint (sigh) but neither of those issues is driving this decision. This decision is being driven by the state of me. I am neither doing, nor managing enough activity around the subject of this blog to generate meaningful content on a weekly basis. I am still working. I am very busy, but not busy enough in this area. I am returning somewhat to my roots (systems development) and managing a small department as we prepare for the future. My stories are more abstract, more personnel (not a typo) and more nuclear (not a typo). Those combine to build a pile of ideas that are either hard to share or which can’t be shared without permission.

Let’s look at the bright side: I benefit from not having to scurry to find something to say and you benefit by not having to read suspect quality material and my editor (wife) can relax a little on a few Saturdays.

I appreciate the time you have spent reading this blog. I hope that you will stay connected to it so you can swing by for the periodic updates that will be coming. The best compliment I ever received was when Marc D. Anderson said that “SharePoint Stories is a Saturday kind of read.” I will try to keep true to that concept.

I would be silly not to ask you to:

Follow me on Twitter – https://twitter.com/DAntion

Visit my other blog – http://noFacilities.com

This isn’t goodbye, it’s just a change. If we technology folks understand anything, we understand change.

How Do You SharePoint?

clip_image002Maybe I’m missing a verb in the title, or maybe “to SharePoint” has meaning, suggests action of a sort or at least makes a few of us shake our heads. I left out the verb, because I’m not sure what the right one is. How do you “use” SharePoint, “get rid of” SharePoint, “stop bad SharePoint sites from spreading like kudzu?” “get the most out of” SharePoint, “teach people how to use” SharePoint, and so on. Do you have answers for any of those questions? Do you live in New England? Can you spare some time on Wednesday, November 13th? There’s a lot of questions, but if you can answer a few of them, join some of your New England neighbors in Cambridge, MA on the 13th – share a snack, share some coffee and share your answers, or at least your reactions.

On November 13th, the New England Chapter of AIIM (AIIMNE) will hold our second educational event of the program year and, no surprise, it’s focused on SharePoint. In case you aren’t aware, AIIMNE is doing events differently this year – well sort of differently. AIIMNE events have always been fairly lively, with a healthy amount of audience participation. This year, we decided to tap that energy and add some value for our members in the process. Each event is organized to encourage that audience participation and we are then publishing a white paper from the event. To get an idea of how this works, check out the white paper from our first event, where we focused on handling secure and confidential information amid an always connected always sharing workforce. Go ahead, download that report, it’s free and we aren’t even asking for your email address.

For this next event, we arranged for Marc D. Anderson, Co-founder and president of Sympraxis Consulting, Derek Cash-Peterson from Blue Metal Architects and Russ Edleman, president of Corridor Company to join us to get things started. Between them, these guys have seen just about every kind of SharePoint or SharePointery there is (hey, if we’re making up words). Steve Weissman, President of the Holly Group will be on hand to facilitate the discussion, should that be necessary; our audiences have a tendency to fire at will. Not to worry, our speakers are adept at crowd control.

What’s the goal? Well, besides gathering fodder for our next Event Experience report (as we call them), I hope to learn something. I hope to hear about ways of using SharePoint that I haven’t considered. I hope to return to work on Wednesday afternoon with a head full of ideas that will keep me busy until the next SharePoint event. I’ve heard some of these guys speak before, so if I’m going to get a head full of new ideas, I need you to be in the room. I want to hear your SharePoint Story (ooh, there’s a catchy name).

If you’re planning to join us, we will be at the Microsoft building at 1 Cambridge Center. It’s the one in the picture up in the corner. It’s not the building at 1 Memorial Drive. It’s a great facility and the Chapter truly appreciates being able to use it. We will also be using Microsoft’s Internet connection so if you can’t be in Cambridge, consider joining us on-line as we stream the event live. We stream a mix of presentations and video and we do our best to submit the comments and questions from our remote audience into the discussion in the room. You can read or share this event with others at the Chapter website, and if you are ready to sign-up, you can do that over at Eventbrite. But wait, there’s more. If you register by November 1st, enter the discount code “sharepointstories” and save $5. Thanks for reading!

Brave New World of Capture

clip_image002Hopefully the salesmen who have tried to sell me Capture solutions over the years aren’t reading this blog; if any are, I’m sorry. I have been telling those guys for years that:

We don’t use forms and we really don’t have a need for hardware or software to scan into SharePoint.”

I lied. OK, I really didn’t lie, I just couldn’t properly imagine the truth – we do have a need for a scan-to-SharePoint. Well, actually we don’t but we will for a while.

Sorry for the confusing lead-up to this post, but it has been very confusing for us as well. Despite the fact that we are an insurance company, we really don’t use hardly any forms in our business process. What we do need a scanning solution for is backfilling some important document libraries. We could simply take the approach of having a network scanner, or even desktop scanners  (since we have so few insureds) but I don’t think that will work. What makes me say that? Well we’ve had desktop scanners and high-speed Multi-function copies on our network for the entire time that we’ve had SharePoint but very little content has been added to SharePoint via those devices. The reason for that result is something that Marc Anderson mentioned recently and Steve Weissman has been saying forever – simply having the technology scanners or SharePoint) in place is not enough.

If technology is not the answer, then why am I excited about the arrival of these MFC’s and the configuration of the scan-to-SharePoint options next week? The answer is technology is only part of the answer this time. This time, we are going to attempt to address the business process side of the equation and the human side of the business process.

The copiers that we just replaced were “capable” of scanning to SharePoint, but only if you gave the copier Full Control the SharePoint sites that you wanted to scan to. That meant that people could scan documents into libraries that they couldn’t actually reach from their desktop. We trust our employees, but that’s dumb. The dumbest part of that would occur when someone accidentally scanned a document to the wrong library – then they couldn’t even delete it. In addition, the copiers needed to be on the Internet so the vendor could access the copier for maintenance and meter readings. Call me silly, but that sounds like a potential security risk. With that feature never activated, we were left scanning to a network drive and getting documents in the form of “Scan_20080616121254.PDF” – very helpful. Of course, there were better capture options around when we bought those MFC’s but we didn’t need them; remember? We also couldn’t afford them – we still can’t.

What we can afford is the following combination of hardware, software, workflows, training and administrivia:

The MFC’s communicate with server-based software that can map user rights and privileges back to the menu system of the copier.

The MFC’s are capable of rendering the scanned documents as PDF or PDF/A into the desired library and they are capable of producing metadata from barcodes or other scanned artifacts.

We are capable of creating SharePoint Designer workflows to process the scanned documents upon arrival in the library. In some cases, we may have the scanner deliver documents to a staging library so that the workflow can perform other operations first. For example: our policies are what are known as “continuous form” policies, meaning that we renew by endorsement. In non-insurance speak, that means that each year, we have to add 10-12 pages to an existing document / PDF. These MFC’s in conjunction with software from HarePoint and Muhimbi can stitch the incoming PDFs onto the back or front of an existing PDF.

Once we can demonstrate these capabilities, we can ask department managers to accept the assignment, on behalf of their staff, to make backfilling a requirement during the lease-term of these copiers. If our Policy Management software can be made to print to PDF in those libraries, we can eliminate the need for the scan-to-SharePoint option with the next generation MFC’s (see, I didn’t lie).

By the way, just to prove that “we get it,” rather than make people login at the copier using an on-screen keyboard, we paid extra for a reader that can accept the proximity badges we use for our security system as input – how cool is that?

The copiers just arrived. The software has not been configured. The workflows haven’t been written and the people haven’t been trained. But we have engaged a training partner to help us get our coworkers up-to-speed and we are starting with “Content Management Fundamentals” – We are going to start at the beginning, cover all the bases and build solutions that will help us treat “Backfilling” like the important business process that it is in real life.

I Didn’t Know That

clip_image002Next up in my series of summer shorts is an interesting lesson learned while completing a “tiny” SharePoint Designer workflow. This started over on my AIIM blog where I was explaining how I was fixing a contact list that had been built backwards. Instead of setting all the contact and address components, people were simply entering a mailing address in complete form. That approach works well for preparing a label, but not so well for writing the letter, unless you like starting out by saying “Dear customer” or “Hey you.”

Fixing the contact list was supposed to be an easy task. A guy on my team wrote a small program to snag the address block and bust it into all the little address components. We pasted those into the contact list (after adding back in the missing component columns) and to keep the mailing label users happy, a short workflow would reassemble the multi-line column continent. In addition, I was demonstrating SharePoint and SharePoint Designer to a woman who will be a pinch-hitter on our team. Of course, this is SharePoint so everything didn’t go according to plan, but that’s a learning experience too. Below is a quick summary of the things we learned along the way:

Microsoft is in Washington – I used to live in Seattle, and there are people on the left coast who are surprised by the fact that Zip codes in the northeast begin with zero. When we parsed the composite addresses into components, we saved them as a CSV file. When I double-clicked to open that file, 06033, the Zip code string for our office turned into 6033, the number. Pasting that into SharePoint failed because the column was looking for text.

There’s an interesting twist to this. If you open Excel first, you can tweak the text settings and then import the CSV. That works well for the zip codes, but we discovered a different problem. The multi-line text fields export from SharePoint well, and import nicely if you double-click the CSV file. If you open the CSV file as an import target, expect a few problems with the multi-line fields. Fortunately, we don’t need the multi-line fields, but we are researching this for the day that we do, but I digress.

String Builder is a Tease – Building a composite string from component text variables is pretty easy in String Builder. For example, you can type:

     [City], [State] [Zip]

which will result in a single line, with comma and nicely spaced. You can also type:

     [Address line 1]
     [Address line 2]
     [Address line 3]
     [Address line 4]

which will also result in a (rather unreadable) single line string.

No problem, Google and all the wonderful members of the SharePoint community came to the rescue. There were a couple of solutions offered for adding line breaks to multi-line text but the one I liked was simply adding the html break <br/> at the end of the line. There’s an interesting and understandable twist to this too – this only works if the multi-line text column is configured for Rich Text. That compounds the earlier twist, because the import problem doesn’t affect plain-text multi-line columns, only rich text.

I Can’t Run This Workflow on Every Item in the List – Actually, I can but only after applying a little client-side script magic. If you want to learn how to do that, jump over to the king of how-to-make-SharePoint-do-the-hard-stuff blogs and read one of Marc Anderson’s SharePoint Services Stories (clever name) – actually, it’s the very first SharePoint Services Story. Marc’s blog is my go-to resource, and his solution is elegant and reliable, but I didn’t really need it today. As you may recall, I already had the composite columns. I just had to make sure that those fields would get created and updated when new entries are created and old entries are changed – I think that’s called testing.

In case you’re wondering, we wrapped each of those address line thingies in an If-statement so we didn’t end up with blank lines.

Have a great weekend!