SharePoint Tips & Tricks 2 – Content Rollup

In a SharePoint Intranet with multiple sites and document libraries, sometimes it is required to display a list of documents from multiple libraries based on some query, As an example you may want to display all the documents that were added to the Intranet within the last 30 days. Or you may want to display all the documents added or modified by a a particular user. There are 2 web parts that you can use to cater such “content aggregation” or “content roll up” requirements.

1. Content Query Web Part  (CQWP)

The Content Query Web Part displays a dynamic set of items based on a query that you build by using a Web browser. You use the query to specify which items are displayed, and you can set presentation options to determine how those items are displayed on the finished page.

Here are 2 articles with more details on CQWP

2. Content Search Web Part (CSWP)

The Content Search Web Part is very similar to Content Query Web Part. The major difference between these two web parts is that CQWP queries the content database directly whereas CSWP queries the search index. As a result CQWP will always return the latest files. (The results of CSWP may not be always up to date based on the crawl schedule). 
For more details on CSWP pl. refer to;

Here is an excellent article that highlights the differences between these 2 options.

When to use the Content Query Web Part or the Content Search Web Part in SharePoint

SharePoint Adoption – What are the issues?

To improve SharePoint adoption, first lets try to identify the issues faced by the users.

One of the great difficulties with regard to adopting SharePoint is that, SharePoint can be very difficult to describe to users because it encompasses so many applications, uses, and functions. (SharePoint 2010 Adoption Best Practices Whitepaper by Microsoft).

Users often have many alternative ways to achieve the same outcomes as they do with SharePoint. For an example, there are several options users can choose for sharing a new document – posting it to a SharePoint site is one possibility, but so are emailing as an attachment and saving to a file share. So unless a user finds some real value, they will go for the most convenient option.

As we discussed SharePoint comes with a lot of different features. Of course these features give greater benefits to power users. But they make it a complicated environment for an average user who will not be using majority of these features. A good example is Microsoft Office. As we know Microsoft Office comes with lot of different features. But how many of these features are being used in our day to day work?

Another issue is that most of the SharePoint projects are driven by IT so there is less buy-in from business users. According to an AIIM survey, in 49% of organizations, the current driving force is the IT Department. One of the respondents comment was

“Biggest challenge at my organization is that our SharePoint plan is an IT driven initiative. Not much buy-in from other department, because they don’t know enough about what is going on and what you can do with SharePoint.”

Another issue in SharePoint deployments is the frequent upgrades. One of the respondents comment was

“Microsoft is pushing new versions of SharePoint too quickly. We can hardly get used to one before the next version is out.”

This clearly shows that business users need more time to learn and really adopt a platform rather than what the IT expects. This will be even more challenging for SharePoint online users as Microsoft keeps on pushing new features every 3 months.

Some users may face compatibility issues when using SharePoint. Obviously SharePoint is optimized for Internet Explorer, but it provides almost similar experience with other browsers as well. But you need to have the relevant browser version based on the SharePoint version deployed. Sometimes this could be a challenge for an organization with different OS and browser versions being used. As an example SharePoint 2013 supports Internet Explorer 8 and above however SharePoint online in Office 365 supports only Internet Explorer 9 and above. This becomes even worse for organizations having multiple SharePoint farms in different versions.

Another issue that most of the today’s mobile workers are facing, is the lack of a mobile app for SharePoint. Although there are many 3rd party apps, there is no SharePoint app from Microsoft.

SharePoint for ECM

SharePoint is the collaboration platform of Microsoft. And it is very important to distinguish a platform from a product. SharePoint provides lot of different features and functionality in many areas so it is not a single product. According to Microsoft

“SharePoint is the place to share ideas, content and the vision of your company. It’s scalable enough to organize and manage all your information assets but it’s also designed to organize and store documents to enable personal productivity, keep teams’ in sync, and projects on track. It’s where you go to discover experts, share knowledge and uncover connections to information and people. It’s a hub for developers to build and deploy modern apps and for designers to build eye-catching websites.“

So basically you can think of SharePoint as the Swiss army knife for information management.

At a higher level we can group SharePoint features and functionality in to few main areas. And it is important to understand each of these, in order to clearly define what SharePoint is.

  1. Portals – SharePoint is a portal solution capable of creation and management of web sites in forms of Intranets, Extranets or Internet Sites.
  2. ECM – SharePoint provides a rich set of content management tools.
  3. Search – SharePoint comes with enterprise search capabilities.
  4. Enterprise Social – SharePoint can be used as an Enterprise Social networking platform.
  5. BI – SharePoint in combination with tools like Excel, provides Business Intelligence capabilities .
  6. BPM – SharePoint workflow platform allows us to create workflows and applications that can be integrated with other systems.

Depending on the functionality being used, SharePoint can be perceived in different ways by different users. One of the comments from a recent AIIM industry watch survey was “SharePoint is seen within our organization as a jack of all trades but master of none.”

So what does this mean? It means that SharePoint is not a ECM product. SharePoint is a platform that also provides ECM functionality among its other uses.

SharePoint Tips & Tricks 1 – List and Library templates

Very frequently we use custom site and list templates to have a uniform structure throughout the site. That is when we create a doc library with custom columns, views etc… we can use that as a template to create similar libraries so that we do not have to do the required customization again and again.

For those who don’t know you can create custom templates;

  1. Create a document library and do the required customization. This includes doc library settings, custom views, columns etc….
  2. Once the customization is completed go to document library settings and click “save document library as template” under “permissions and management”
  3. Specify a file name and a template name. (Give a meaningful name to template name since it will be used later to create new libraries. I use the same name for both). To make things more clear include a brief description also.
  4. Select “enable content”. This will ensure that the folder hierarchy you created inside the library will be included in the template. (This increases the template site. By default there is a size limitation of 10Mb per template. If required this can be increased up to 500 Mb. This post written by Vinoj, explains how to increase the template size limit.
  5. Click ok. Once it is saved it will show a hyperlink to the list template gallery where all the templates will be saved.

A collection of Yammer resources

Here is a collection of Yammer resources I have been using up to now. I will try to keep this updated as much as possible as Microsoft keeps on adding more resources frequently. Please add your comments if I have missed anything.

What is Enterprise Information Management

To understand what Enterprise Information Management is and why we need it, first let’s see where a typical business user saves his content.

There are several commonly used tools that a typical business user will use to save his content.

1. My Documents – This is probably the first option that an average user will use to save his content. Even if they are supposed to use a file share, there is a high probability that they will save a copy in their “My documents” folder.

2. Desktop – Many of the users will first save their content in the desktop with the aim of moving them to another folder later, which may or may not happen.

3.Attachments – Most of the files we receive as well as sent on email, will be kept as attachments throughout their lifecycle. This is why most of us first search through our emails when we need to find such a file rather than searching in the file share or the ECM system.

4. Cloud storage – With so many options to choose from, cloud storage services are becoming more and more popular. Most users now tend to save their files in a cloud storage service such as DropBox, as they support anywhere access with mobile devices.

5. USB drives – Also many users will have some of their files stored in a pen drive or external hard drives.

6. File Share – Any organization when trying to bring some discipline in to how their files are stored, will start with a file share, arranged according to their departments / team structure.

7.ECM systems – Apart from all these options, there are many ECM systems also being used.

As the next step of identifying why we need Enterprise Information Management systems, lets look at how a user will share their content with others.

1. Email – The first and most preferred option to share a file with others (with internal colleagues as well as external parties) is to send them on email. Sharing files as email attachments continues to grow, and it is becoming even more popular with ever increasing mail box sizes and attachment sizes.

2. Pen Drives – The second most popular file exchanging method is to use a pen-drive. Nowadays pen drive has become an essential tool for business users.

3. File Share – File servers are the next option. A user can save a file in the relevant folder, or most probably in a common shared folder so that others can get a copy of the file. If a user knows how to copy the file path, they will share that with the intended recipient on email. Otherwise they will have to call the other party and guide them on how to find that file.

4. Cloud – Due to the popularity of cloud storage services in the recent times, users tend to share their files directly from cloud. Especially when the file size is bigger and is not possible to send on email. Since these cloud storage services are easily accessible from any device using apps, this option is becoming more and more popular.

5. ECM systems – Matured organizations use ECM systems to encourage collaboration and information sharing. However due to the complexity and the information overload, in most of the cases it is not possible to manage all organizational content using a singe ECM system.

Having several such options to save and share files with others, now lets look at what happens when we do not use a proper information management system.

One of the main issues that many organizations as well as individuals are facing today is information overload. Even with the ever-growing technological advances, still we find it difficult to access the relevant information when we need it. If the users store their files in a personal storage location such as the desktop or my documents folder then other users will not be able to access these as and when they need. So finding and accessing information has become a costly exercise. A typical knowledge worker spends a significant amount of his time looking for the required information rather than actually processing it.

Irrespective of the way we share our files with others, there is a high probability that we end up in having multiple copies of the same file. Especially when multiple users are working on the same file, it becomes difficult to track and manage all changes. This obviously makes it difficult to find the latest file or the original file. This is why we need to have a proper file versioning mechanism irrespective of the ECM system being used.

Another disadvantage of not having a proper information management system is poor knowledge sharing. For obvious reasons organizations encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing. Unfortunately In an environment where there is no controlled information management practice, a significant amount of its knowledge is not being shared. Think of a situation where a knowledge worker is leaving an organization. There is a high probability that a part of the organizational knowledge also leaves with that individual.

Lack of a proper ECM system will also result in other issues such as information theft, legal and compliance issues etc… These have increasingly become concerns for CIOs around the world.