SharePoint and the Workflow Conundrum

SharePoint and the Workflow Conundrum

When utilising a collaboration tool the key productivity rationale is to automate processes through the content stored within that collaboration tool. SharePoint has a number of platform flavours (on-premise, hybrid, online) and has integration points which is only limited by creativity it seems (not simply confined to Microsoft products). Therefore, it is crucial that when thinking of what workflow tool should be used to automated business process that you understand also the options, strengths, weaknesses of the various workflow options that can be utilised with SharePoint.

Having had a lot of fun trying to fathom, making mistakes along the way of course, I got together all my notes, including querying lots of knowledgeable people (thanks to you all) – and put together an article; published on Tech Net blogs and also on DOCS!

The article is quite large therefore I had it split into four parts (great idea from Charlotte C at Microsoft – thanks)

Sections in Part 1 are:
1: Introduction to the business process automated
2: What does a workflow system need to accomplish
3: Mind set of developing workflow
4: Types of workflow
5: What does the full article cover in terms of product, scope


Sections in Part 2 are:
1: Options for workflow with on-premise SharePoint
2: Options for developing custom workflows using SharePoint Designer / Microsoft Visual Studio


Sections in Part 3 are:
1: Options for workflow in SharePoint Online through Office365
2: Options for workflow in hybrid situations
3: The ‘workflow manager’
4: Publishing workflows to Azure
5: Workflow options available through third parties
6: Strengths and weaknesses of covering all options


Part four completes the article by summarising the key take-away – what tasks should be carried out concerning an approach to choosing the workflow solution that suits you and the customer


Happy reading!

SharePoint and the Internet of Things

SharePoint and the Internet of Things

Bold statement time. The Internet is a collection of machines – and there is more data generated by machines than humans. IOT (Internet Of Things) is connected devices providing data which will simplify, enhance, and enrich our lives. Already connected devices are beginning to revolutionise our lives; but to understand the nature, challenges and opportunities we need to understand how we can take informed decisions concerning this technology and trends.

Things like how the data our devices upload and download is shared, used, managed, controlled with clear data integrity. What should be our focus, what and who can help us understand this technology. IOT has implications for those working within the SharePoint sphere. As SharePoint workers, we will need to roadmap and further refine data provided  (from internally or externally provided systems harvesting sensor data) to define an IOT strategy.

We will need to learn how to promote use of devices used within organisations, so they become smarter devices thus turning our companies, and ourselves, into smarter people. The article I have written for TechNet, aims to describe, simplistically, the nature of IOT, some of the key opportunities realised by Microsoft and others, the challenges we may face in control, management, security, privacy. The article suggests some take-aways in what we may need to address to support the infrastructure and manage the data.

Sometime ago, I also wrote about the skill-sets coming into the fold of data analysis (the Data Scientist). We are already seeing the emergence of the CDO (Chief Data Officer) whose skillset will become more and more entrenched in helping people make decisions on data coming from sensor feeds and the management of IOT in organisations.

Even my kids know about IOT and sensor technology. My eldest daughter, an ardent follower of fashion, running her own shop, mentioned to me that she was really into reading up and working on opportunities concerning nano-technology in clothes, as she thought it definitely the future. I thought that nano-technology in clothes was a myth; that it simply didn’t exist (showing my age I suspect) – but I was astonished to find on IET an article talking about just that, even to the point where engineers were busy creating clothes and being designers! Imagine, nano-technology in clothes; that would be able to determine the colour and provide better waterproofing in clothes – wow…. Surely then, we can’t be far away from having our clothes change colour based on the time of year, or maybe even inform how many washing cycles clothes can take before needing repair / replacement? So that means sensor technology in clothes must be a reality…

Anyway, I just had to do more digging. I am sure there are implications from a systems analysis, and service delivery perspective, particularly for data management.  I found myself absolutely fascinated by the impact of IOT. From discussing with other techies in this field and more, I was able to put together an article which I’ve had posted to TechNet. Please go read the article here.

Embarking on Third Party Tool Articles – oh Gosh…

Embarking on Third Party Tool Articles – oh Gosh…

Hi Folks, As promised in last weeks’ article, a quick warn that I will be drawing attention to a number of third party products which I have used with SharePoint in particular articles going forward. Before embarking on what can only be described as a wonderful adventure, I’d like to clarify why I am doing this, given that this site is devoted to SharePoint service delivery. This clarification is important, because, for a long time, I have been “externally SharePoint technology agnostic”, and instead, user focused in terms of the actual process of service delivery (implementation, support, capability etc). That will not end of course!

So why the third party tool mentions Geoff? Well, as a SharePoint solutions architect, I have always maintained that whilst a lot of things can be achieved using SharePoint in-built features and components, that there will be times where a third party tool, used to augment SharePoint, or to meet a specific requirement, carries more value add. There will be instances when it is either bringing in the third party tool, or instead, having to either (a) redesign the wheel (b) attempt to hack around SharePoint (c) bring in developers to code (d) inform the customer in a Star Trek Scottie style ‘It cannae be doon, capn’, or a combination of those.

Indeed, I can think of many instances where a third party product, sanctioned by the SharePoint sponsor, meets key requirements much quicker, smoother and can bring long term enhanced user adoption and therefore a greater ROI.

Note however, that in adopting third party tools is not without its pitfalls, for example, having to ensure that there is a strong relationship with the third party development team. Support must be manageable, that the third party tool must be scalable (or its limitations understood fully), and that the tool sits within the organizational SharePoint strategy. This is the essence of commoditization of course, the ability for SharePoint to evolve and morph into exactly what the customer requires (if the process of doing so is defined and managed). And, given that as a SharePoint community the app model of the cloud (Office 365) brings a lightning bolt of third party components means SharePoint becomes even more commoditized. Already, Microsoft Office is fully tuned into SharePoint – with the news that the Access App is now available in SharePoint online it is now even more important that we, as SharePoint workers are aware of third party tools also. This is particularly since, as these tools gather pace, they will increase their own customer base to the point that new skillsets evolve in the marketplace that become commoditized. For example, a number of third party tool providers produce their own training courses, which become a commodity due to the size of the customer base for that tool.

Anyway, I will for now list the tools (in alphabetical order) which I will give special mentions to as they relate to areas of SharePoint service delivery. There are many others I have absolutely no doubt, but these are the ones which I particularly have experience in and therefore can write about with a little more authority:

Tool Provider Purpose
Cardiolog Intlock Web Analytics
Cosign ARX Digital Signatures
ControlPoint Metalogix (was Axceler) Administration (governance)
Nintex Workflow Nintex Workflow Process automation
PDFShareForms PDF Share Forms LLC PDF Forms Design
Quick Apps for SharePoint Quest Rapid application development

A gentle reminder that where the tools are discussed that I will not describe what is good or what is bad about the tool. I am not a sales person for any of the tools. Do not expect me to go into details of installation or configuration either. The key is to identify where I have used the tool, why, and how – including the process of how I went about provisioning the tool from a business perspective……

SharePoint and the Workflow Conundrum

Planning Worksheets for SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013

The following downloads are worksheets designed to help plan aspects of a SharePoint 2010 or a SharePoint 2013 implementation, and at the same time ensure that decisions in the design are captured.So, you should use these in conjunction with the development of the following documents:

1: SharePoint User Requirements – these define SharePoint collaborative environments for the users based on their requirements, and provides a fundamental understanding of interconnected tools and applications the organization uses in conjunction with the platform. SharePoint User Requirements also identify where content should be consolidated, reduce and improve data management; reduce duplication and boost productivity as defined by the clients’ vision of SharePoint.

2: SharePoint System Specification (also known as SharePoint Solution Specification) – expands the User Requirements, Planning and Decisions concerning SharePoint as technical requirements. The system specification is a clear, complete and unambiguous set of documentation, describing the SharePoint for the organization in terms of its function, performance, interfaces and design constraints.

The below is divided as follows:

  • Area – Specific SharePoint area
  • Link – where the document can be downloaded from
  • Type – the kind of information captured and which document is more associated with its output. UR = User Requirements, SS = System Specifications

Where it helps – describes the context and areas of SharePoint design gathering these documents can be used. Note that I have also indicated whether the worksheet is for SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint 2013.

Area Link Plan Type Where it helps
Backup and Recovery Planning SS SharePoint 2010. Help you plan strategies for backup and recovery.
Content deployment Content Deployment SS SharePoint 2010 / 2013. .Plan the export and import servers in the   farms in your content deployment topology, and to plan the content deployment   paths and jobs.
Document management Stakeholders UR SharePoint 2010 / 2013. .Identify document management planning   stakeholders and record document management practices.
Document management Usage UR SharePoint 2010 / 2013. Record information gathered when analyzing   document usage.
Document management Document Libraries UR SharePoint 2010 / 2013. Plan libraries based on sites and on document   types.
Document management Policy UR SharePoint 2010 / 2013. Plan information management policies for   content types.
Managed metadata Term Sets UR SharePoint 2010 / 2013. Determine basic taxonomy, including term,   usage, owner, and group.
Managed metadata Term Sets UR SharePoint 2010 / 2013. .Determine taxonomy including detailed   identifying characteristics such as measurements.
Managed metadata Managed Metadata Service UR / SS SharePoint 2010 / 2013. .Plan to share metadata information using   managed metadata services and connections.
Metadata-based routing and storage planning Content Organizer Settings SS SharePoint 2010 / 2013. .Determine and record how the content   organizer settings in your site can be an effective part of your   metadata-based content routing and storage solution.
Metadata-based routing and storage planning Content Organizer Rule SS SharePoint 2010 / 2013. .Plan rules that will be an effective part of   your metadata-based routing and storage solution.
Prepare for upgrade Upgrade SS SharePoint 2010.Record information about your environment while you   prepare for upgrade.
Records management In Place Records UR SharePoint 2010.Identify record types and content types to be stored   in normal document libraries.
Sites and site collections, Navigation, Themes Site UR / SS SharePoint 2010.Plan top level site collections and sites, and record   decisions about site themes and navigation.
Backup and Recovery Planning SS SharePoint 2013. Help you plan strategies for backup and recovery.
Service   Deployment Planning SS SharePoint 2013: Plan for an indicate the services that will run on   farm servers
Prepare for upgrade Upgrade SS SharePoint 2010.Record information about your environment while you   prepare for upgrade.
e-Discovery Usage: UR SharePoint 2013: Record the decisions that you make as you plan to implement eDiscovery in your SharePoint environment, including decisions about eDiscovery Centers and permissions
Email Planning:SS SharePoint 2013: Plan for incoming email for your   SharePoint farm

I’m going to add some more documents to aid gathering of information relevant to other areas of SharePoint user requirements and system specification. You should also take a look at my user requirements article – that can help you determine the format of those documents and how the above can link.

SharePoint Archive Planning Guide

SharePoint Archive Planning Guide

History has a way of repeating itself. Thankfully, when we learn from the mistakes of the past, we are able to address new challenges more quickly and in smarter ways. In the early 1990s, email emerged as a collaboration mechanism, speeding up communications between multiple parties.