Jared Matfess's Blog

Having fun with SharePoint, Office 365, and Microsoft Azure

Accelerating your O365 Adoption with SharePoint Communications Sites & Chatbots! — July 23, 2017

Accelerating your O365 Adoption with SharePoint Communications Sites & Chatbots!

My two big passions right now are SharePoint Communications Sites & the Microsoft Bot Framework. So it made a whole lot of sense for me to try and find a way to combine those two. I recorded a quick video (see below) walking through the idea of embedding a QnA Bot within your Office 365 Adoption site to help drive the frequently asked questions your users might have. In the good ol’ days of IT we would normally just create a FAQ’s page that nobody would bother reading. These days though with the rise of chatbots in our personal lives such as Siri, Alexa, etc. I believe it is vital for IT to consider offering this technology within Enterprise services.

There’s a lot of other videos & posts that talk about how to build a simple chatbot using the Microsoft QnA Maker service along with the Bot Framework, so I didn’t go into much detail with that. So instead I give a quick video preview of what my sample O365 Adoption site looks like, and then demonstrate asking my adoption chatbot a question about Microsoft Teams.

Hope it’s worth your time to give a watch:

In case you want to try out my chatbot – you can access it here:

Enjoy!

Setting SharePoint 2013 Workflow Permission at the Office 365 Tenant Level — July 18, 2017

Setting SharePoint 2013 Workflow Permission at the Office 365 Tenant Level

One of the amazing things about the SharePoint Community is how willing participants are to share and help each other. Craig White asked a great question for how you might be able to have a SharePoint Designer Workflow create a subsite in a different site collection than where the workflow was running.

He had posted this question to a blog post that I had published last year: https://jaredmatfess.com/2016/05/04/creating-subsites-using-rest-api-from-sharepoint-designer-workflow/.

I forget when the question came in, but a weekend was somewhere in between and I did not get to it right away. This morning I was making a few tweaks to my blog and I noticed that I still had not addressed it. The short answer was of course you could – a quick way would be to enable the Workflow access to the target site collection using the instructions found on MSDN.

A few minutes later, I received another comment from Craig..

Hi Jared,

I found an easier way;
Instead of setting the workflow permission on each destination SC (we have over 350, so this would be time consuming), we can edit the XML for the AppPermissionRequest in the SC that houses the workflow to auto-provision the sites.

Therefore, instead of applying:
AppPermissionRequest Scope=”http://sharepoint/content/sitecollection” Right=”FullControl” />

We can apply:
AppPermissionRequest Scope=”http://sharepoint/content/tenant” Right=”FullControl” />

This bypasses the need for adding the WF as trusted for each SC & therefore only need to do the AppPermissionRequest in 1 place.

Happy days 🙂

I had not thought about setting permissions at the Office 365 Tenant level – but Craig absolutely did. I am going to go back to my original post and link back to this tidbit.

Super kudos to @cdwhite_1981 for figuring this out and allowing me to post while he builds out his blog. Be sure to follow him as well!

The SharePoint Community is amazing!

SharePoint Communications Sites for your Office 365 Adoption Site — July 16, 2017

SharePoint Communications Sites for your Office 365 Adoption Site

For those of you who have been following my blog you will have noticed that the new SharePoint Communications Sites have been my new fixation. It seems that the rest of the SharePoint Community has certainly taken notice as well with webinars popping up comparing Communications Sites to Intranet in a Box solutions and some nice deep dive articles around the different webparts that come with these news sites.

I have been working on a new talk that helps navigate the challenge of when to use each of the O365 Services and in doing so I started to brainstorm what the “low hanging fruit” opportunity would be for the new SharePoint Communications Sites. Before I could take my first sip of coffee I had it – why not your Office 365 Adoption Portal! How simple right?

Excitedly I started pulling together what a nice Adoption Portal might look like.

First off – huge shout out to the WOCinTech site for providing access to beautiful stock photography.

Here’s what my portal started to look like:

O365-Adoption-Site.jpg

Notice that not every tile needs to have an image – kudos to Susan Hanley for her great article on getting started with Communications Site.

You’ll notice a few things ->

    1. I added a “Group Spotlight” story as the main tile in the Hero Webpart. Whenever I have been involved in building out an Adoption type portal I love to try and feature real stories of people making use the technology. Nothing helps to build up confidence than hearing how your co-workers are streamlining process, eliminating waste, and ultimately being more productive.

 

    1. Next to that tile, I went with a very simple “Request a collaboration solution.” I know the folks at Microsoft might shudder a bit, but a lot of enterprises still make users go through a request process to match them up with the right solution for their business need. So I had envisioned this either being a request form, or maybe an infographic if your organization allows you to provision sites/groups/teams/etc.

 

    1. Rounding out the top row is a “Collaboration Champions Network” which could of course link you anywhere, but I though a page which would have both an embedded Yammer feed for an “Adoption Group” in addition to highlighting some of the “Collaboration Champions” you might be able to reach out to with a specific question. I definitely understand some companies might not want to name people, but it’s a great way in the beginning to start onboarding people to Office 365.
      Collaboration Champions

 

    1. The last tile I marked as self-service training & resources. Again lots of options here, but if an organization is mature enough this could go to an O365 Stream Group where you can let users choose from pre-recorded videos. Alternatively, if you have created lots of handouts, PPT’s, etc. you could always have them navigate to a page with a listview webpart of a document library and then links to any additional resources.

 

    1. Below the fold I added the News Webpart featuring a few stories of how different Office 365 services are being consumed by colleagues. Always look for those engaging photos that will get people excited about reading your article!Adoption News

      Example article:Article.jpg

 

  • Rounding out the site, I included some events in you guessed it, the Events webpart! Again, when Office 365 starts to roll out it’s a great practice to have your Training Group host “Brown Bag” events where employees can attend remotely. Even better, you can record those videos and host them in the new O365 Stream Groups in an Adoption Channel!Events-Webpart

 

When pulling together this demo site I noticed just how easy it was to build a really nice looking site. The beautiful part of SharePoint Communications Sites is by simplifying the development/configuration experience you are able to focus more of your time on building the relevant content that you wish to communicate to your users vs worrying about going through lots of effort to design & develop the styling to make your site look different than the out of the box clunkiness of SharePoint Team & Publishing Sites.

Happy SharePointing!

Architecting News in Office 365 — July 8, 2017

Architecting News in Office 365

With weather in Connecticut hovering in the 80’s why wouldn’t I bust out a quick second post about SharePoint?

So in-between running a few errands, doing some yard work, and enjoying a Starbucks Nitro Cold Brew I managed to insert myself into a conversation about news and the new SharePoint Communications Sites.

Twitter-News

It’s amazing that folks like Jeff Teper & Andy Haon respond to folks with inquiries, let alone on a Saturday but that’s reflective of how Jeff runs the SharePoint Team and his passion for collaboration.

Working for a consulting firm, I spend a lot of time working with clients on building out their Intranets, redesigning, building taxonomies, and helping them to personalize content for their diverse user populations. In addition, I started my career many years ago as a Co-Op on a Corporate Communications Team responsible for managing our 30,000 person company’s Intranet. Over my career I’ve seen, worked on, upgraded, deployed, and redesigned so many Intranets.

The new SharePoint Communications Sites are a first step into providing organization’s with a way to build a landing page without the need for custom development skills. I’m going to pause and agree that they certainly are not a 1-size fits all, there are definitely some gaps when it comes to branding and applying themes. However, I absolutely have a few clients where I would consider recommending that they look at standing up a Communications Site as a landing page given their requirements and also knowing that Microsoft will continue to add functionality over time.

With that said – the theme of this Twitter thread was around News and what the roll-up options are for the Communications Sites. For those of you who are in Office 365 and are leveraging Team News, you might be aware that there’s a concept of news roll-up on SharePoint home. One of the points that I made in the thread is – from an enterprise perspective I’m not seeing organizations adoption SharePoint home as a starting point for their O365/Intranet experience. As it has been for many years, most corporations set a default homepage which is a splashy “Intranet” site serving up company news, links to common systems, and other widgets which are reflective of that organization’s brand.

Now to get to the Seb De Ron’s question and my response I definitely can see the challenge of architecting news in the new Communications Sites. There’s a News Webpart which is fantastic which allows you to quickly author responsive articles using the new modern publishing experience. Those articles are then surfaced up on via the webpart wherever you put it on your page. The one caveat is that the articles all live within that site, and there isn’t an option to add a second news webpart and point it at a different source.

Example of what we’ve built for other organizations:

News Roll-up

The way that we’ve built this experience for many of our clients is to leverage Content Search Webparts with custom display templates to serve up those additional news articles from wherever they exist within the tenant or farm. Therein lies a second problem that there isn’t a native Content Search Webpart yet for Modern Pages.

What I think adds to a bit of the dilemma is that “Team News” is rolled up in the SharePoint home. So you’ve got personalized news from the various Team Sites that you participate in, but it’s a bit of a disjointed experience. To get your corporate news it’s on the Intranet, but to get personalized news you have to leave the Intranet page and consume it from within the SharePoint Home.

To Jeff’s point – Communications Sites right now reflect the base functionality to get them working. It would appear that there is definitely additional features & functions that will be forthcoming. But for the time being (7/8/17) – O365/SharePoint Architects need to be aware of how the different technologies work when designing how News will work for their organization. And I’m hoping this post helps illustrate to any Product Team folks one of the scenarios I see quite frequently in organizations where there’s a mix of news types on an Intranet homepage.

My “Feature Wish List” for the new SharePoint Communications Site Hero Webpart —

My “Feature Wish List” for the new SharePoint Communications Site Hero Webpart

Earlier this week I did a quick video showing off the new SharePoint Communications sites, which includes a few new webparts including what Microsoft is calling the Hero Webpart.

For those of you who don’t have access to these new sites yet, here’s a quick snippet of what the Hero Webpart looks like:

Hero-Webpart

Basically it’s a tile-based webpart that allows you to choose between 1-5 tiles which can either be text or contain an image, along the ability to link to other content. I imagine over the next 6-8 months you will see hundreds of thousands of Communications sites with this webpart in all its glory. With any luck it will even more popular than the “collaboration people” of SharePoint 2010!

PeopleCollaborating

Now as cool as this webpart is, I have compiled a bit of a wish list for how to make this webpart “even greater”. Some of these are features that I would love personally for my own use, along with those that I believe would be quite popular with some of my clients.

Here they are for your reading pleasure:

  1. Let me pick the background color for tiles where there is no image. (Guessing this one is on the roadmap, but just in case..)
  2. I would love to be able to configure a tile to poll data and limit “how many items” are returned back
    1. Stock quotes
    2. Twitter feed
    3. RSS feed
    4. Or even just SharePoint List data
  3. I would like to be able to set the focus for the image within the tile, very similarly to how I would for modern pages. When you select an image it sometimes doesn’t format within the tile correctly. Some guidance around picture size would also be excellent.
  4. Be able to set the max height for the hero – sometimes it feels like it is dominating the page a bit too much.
  5. Carousel.. I’ve got clients that LOVE carousels. Stay with me on this one – what if there was the ability to pick 2-3 images for a single tile, and then allow them to be able to cycle through. I’m really thinking about tiles that will be used to promote employee engagement and event attendance. C’mon wouldn’t that be amazing!
  6. There’s a blue box which appears on the left hand side of the first tile. I’d like the ability to show/hide that in addition to changing it’s size & color. (Too much?) 🙂
  7. For tiles with just text, I would like the option to be able to center the text or leave it left justified. (Maybe you also need right justified for countries where words go right to left?)
Boston Code Camp 2017 Re-cap — March 27, 2017

Boston Code Camp 2017 Re-cap

I had a really great time presenting “Connecting Salesforce & Office 365 using Microsoft PowerApps & Flow”. For once the demo gods were kind to me as a I demonstrated creating leads from an Excel document, and generating Salesforce Tasks that get created in a SharePoint list, etc.

For those looking for slides – you can grab them here: Microsoft Flow O365 Salesforce

I also had a really great time joining some of my fellow Microsoft MVP’s on Betsy Weber’s panel for “How to become an MVP.” All in all a great event – kudos to the organizers, volunteers, speakers, and attendees that made it happen. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to present again next year.

Opting out of Microsoft Office 365 changes aka off by default — March 21, 2017

Opting out of Microsoft Office 365 changes aka off by default

I love Office 365. I want to put that right out there, because I mean it. The innovation that Microsoft keeps on pumping into the service continues to raise the bar for enabling collaboration. At my last company we were years away from moving to Office 365 and now that I’m at Slalom, we’re all in! It’s fantastic!

However, I do not like how new features & functions are being introduced to organizations – and by that I mean “on by default”. Case in point, there’s been a bit of noise on Twitter for the past two days about a change rolling in that will automatically provision an O365 Group for a manager and their direct reports: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Automatic-creation-of-Direct-Reports-groups-in-Outlook-f43455ed-81a6-4588-8299-08caa62abedd?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=UShttps://support.office.com/en-us/article/Automatic-creation-of-Direct-Reports-groups-in-Outlook-f43455ed-81a6-4588-8299-08caa62abedd?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US

Example of Twitter madness: (I blame Joanne Klein! LOL!)
2017-03-21_19-03-37

On the surface that might sound like a decent idea for some organizations – take my own team for instance. When my role changed and I became a supervisor I created a private Office 365 group for my team to collaborate. However, it was a conscience decision to meet a need that I had to collaborate with my team. I’m the only supervisor in our office that has their own Office 365 Group as the others aren’t quite ready to move there yet. I am picking on groups but there has been a lot of new features that are automatically added to tenants. I will concede that there certainly is the ability with a PowerShell command to disable that feature, but is that really the best user experience?

I’m a firm believer that the real value of Office 365 is realized with planning, communications, a bit of hand holding, and then some more communications. The “on by default” certainly presents opportunities where one could get “slipped by the goalie” and then there’s the apologizing as you have to back out that change and communicate to your customers that it’s just Microsoft being Microsoft and rolling stuff out. It’s not a good user experience, it’s uncomfortable to roll back changes that organizations are not prepared to support, and it leaves a bad impression of how Microsoft is managing the service. The reality too is what’s a good idea and right timing for an organization might not be applicable to another.

I think the counter-argument to rolling in new features as off by default is that there are some corporations that will “never” turn on the new stuff. The reality is, those could very well be the same organizations that immediately turn off the new functionality already. I would also say that shame on the admin that doesn’t enable Teams in their tenant, or whatever new service gets developed over the next 6 months.

My compromise would be this – why not set your preference at the tenant level?

I did a nice little mock-up to help show where that setting might go.

features

Again, I’m not knocking this particular change but I do believe it’s not a one size fits all.

I think enabling administrators to set their environment in a way that best meets the needs of their organization is the best approach for introducing new change. Happy collaborating!

UPDATE:

I submitted a user voice based on this blog post to help get the right attention:

https://office365.uservoice.com/forums/273493-office-365-admin/suggestions/18730039-allow-tenant-admins-to-control-new-features-being

Just say yes to InfoPath! (with caveats) — February 19, 2017

Just say yes to InfoPath! (with caveats)

It feels like every week I see a thread with someone relatively new to SharePoint asking about the viability of InfoPath for business forms development. The responses to these questions commonly fall into these buckets:

  1. InfoPath is the devil
  2. InfoPath is currently deprecated, end of life in 2026
  3. PowerApps is the future
  4. Just buy a 3rd party product like K2, Nintex, etc. etc. etc.

While there is merit to all of these responses, I feel for the folks engaging in these conversations because many times the answers that they are provided do not really help to address the core issue of what to do now.

I want to break down each of these common responses and provide some of my commentary.

1. InfoPath is the devil
This is perhaps my favorite response as it provides little advisement other than that the person providing feedback is not enamored with the technology. When you look at an organization’s investment in both Microsoft Office and SharePoint technologies, business forms have been a part of the equation. One of the major selling points for SharePoint 2007 and beyond has been the ability to help automate and standardize business processes using the built-in workflow engine. While compared to today’s technical standards, InfoPath is certainly not in alignment – I’m not sure this is a proper response to a user requesting help. At it’s core InfoPath helps to develop user friendly forms which it has been doing quite nicely for a long time now.

2. InfoPath is currently deprecated
I absolutely agree with this statement that the product team has confirmed that there is an end of life date for the technology. InfoPath is no different than most products in that there is a date where it will eventually be replaced by newer technology (in this case most likely PowerApps as I will get to next). So at the core this statement is cautionary towards the individual considering investing in creating forms that in ~9 years the technology will no longer be supported.

3. PowerApps is the future
When I first saw PowerApps, I knew Microsoft was positioning it to be the InfoPath form replacement. However, I would say that as of today (2/18/2017) there is not complete feature parity nor is PowerApps as user-friendly as InfoPath. I am in no way saying do not consider PowerApps – if the features & functionality made available are in alignment with your business need then go for it. However, if you are on-premises without an O365 Hybrid implementation, then PowerApps will not work for you.

4. Just buy a 3rd Party Product
Having come from a large organization, I feel the pain of trying to advise senior management to purchase software especially after making a large investment like SharePoint. If your organization is flush with cash then maybe this isn’t such a big deal, but I would imagine that this isn’t always the case. It is not always as simple as “Jane recommends buying K2, let’s just do that.”

What should you do now?
Having provided some commentary on the typical options here are my recommendations for addressing the need for business forms technology & using InfoPath assuming that the four options from above are not helpful.

  1. Build your form using InfoPath – I’ll wait a second for the tomatoes to hit me in the face. But honestly, waiting for the perfect alignment of technology capabilities & what you have available is foolish. As an employee of your company you have an obligation to help drive business forward. Streamlining processes and removing error-prone tasks is how you help demonstrate real value to your organization. If you are trying to decide between doing nothing/waiting or building your business form in InfoPath – you should absolutely build that form!
  2. Document your solution – Addressing the issue that InfoPath is not going to be around forever, you need to be mindful and document any of the business rules in your form. At some point your form will be migrate to a different platform/technology and having your business rules documented will be essential for ensuring the success of that migration. In addition, should you move on from your current role it helps to enable the person will inherit your solution to be able to make updates/changes as appropriate.
  3. Inventory your InfoPath forms – Speaking to the future road map of the product at some point your organization will move those forms to a different technology. Inventorying your forms is a great idea for a couple of reasons:
    • You’re starting to get your arms around the value your business is realizing from process automation. Senior leadership tends to understand technology in terms of business impact & return on investment so having this information is valuable.
    • You will be able to report on the quantity of forms in your environment which combined with the previous bullet will help either support an investment in a 3rd Party product or some other replacement technology.
  4. Schedule quarterly reviews with appropriate stakeholders – Once you have built that inventory of forms/business solutions it is a really great idea to review them with a body of stakeholders. I suggest quarterly but it could vary based on your organization. The point is to spread awareness of the technology adoption in addition to helping build the business case to support the ongoing maintenance & support of these solutions. This doesn’t include just helping to build a justification to purchase a 3rd party but it might also mean allocating the appropriate amount of headcount to help manage these business solutions. More often than not I have encountered small SharePoint teams inundated with support requests but no way of providing any sort of metrics around the environment beyond site collection counts & data storage. Understanding the business applications within your environment is essential to communicating the business value and justifying additional investment.

So essentially if you boil down everything I have written my TLDR is go forward and build InfoPath forms, but be mindful of the Product road map as you build your own internal business process automation road map.

Presenting at Boston Code Camp 2017 — February 14, 2017

Presenting at Boston Code Camp 2017

I’m very excited to be speaking at my very first Code Camp on March 25th at the Microsoft Sales & Technology Center in Burlington. My session is titled: Connecting Salesforce.com & Office 365 using Microsoft Flow & PowerApps which hopefully is pretty straightforward for what I plan on covering. I am a huge fan of Microsoft Flow and am very excited to have the opportunity to “spread the gospel” of some of the amazing possibilities with this service.

I have always been a little hesitant to speak at Code Camp since I self-identify as being somewhere between a no-code developer and an actual developer. Most of the presenters are hardcore developers and I would be afraid of putting my audience off by not spending my session in Visual Studio. However, I am hoping my topic will resonate with attendees as I’m starting to see lots of organizations move towards Office 365 and there’s a mix of Salesforce.com & Dynamics 365 from a CRM perspective. I am also seeing a surge in data orchestration tools such as IFTT, Microsoft Flow, Zapier, etc. which is a good conversation to have especially when it comes to integrating with custom LOB applications which will require RESTFUL interfaces to enable these tools.

So here’s to an awesome event, and check out the website for more details!
https://www.bostoncodecamp.com/CC27

Is Microsoft Flow the replacement for SharePoint Workflows? — February 12, 2017

Is Microsoft Flow the replacement for SharePoint Workflows?

I recently had the privilege to co-present a session on Microsoft Flow & PowerApps at the Microsoft Beyond US Roadshow in Hartford. I am a huge fan of Microsoft Flow and have done several sessions on showing how you can orchestrate data across Dropbox, OneDrive, SharePoint & Salesforce with clicks & not code. One of the attendees in my session asked a very common question that I thought would make a good short blog post: “Is Flow the replacement for SharePoint Workflows?”.

Over the past few years I have built dozens of business applications leveraging the SharePoint platform to route requests through approval processes, provided metrics for turnaround time on requests, and automated non-value added steps. These solutions undoubtedly would leverage the SharePoint workflow engine for sending e-mails, assigning tasks, etc. Since Microsoft introduced the Workflow Manager in SharePoint 2013, there has not been any additional enhancements to their workflow engine. Compounded with the fact that SharePoint 2016 did not include an updated version of SharePoint 2016 it would make sense to assume that Flow is the replacement for SharePoint Workflows.

However, I would argue that Microsoft Flow is really positioned as the next generation of business process management applications vs an outright replacement to SharePoint Workflows. From a feature parity perspective not all of the SharePoint Workflow actions are available in Flow (yet they seem to be added all the time). At the time of this blog there aren’t the basic string manipulation actions, or copy items (also not available in 2013 but are in 2010), content approval/publishing, check-in/check-out, and wait for field changes in list items. There is also the caveat that in order to access on-premises data that you would need to setup a Gateway in order to make it accessible to Microsoft’s cloud.

Microsoft Flow provides much more capability than SharePoint does which might initially frighten some Enterprise customers. While there is a lot of value in being able to orchestrate data across both line of business & public clouds there definitely needs to be some up front planning to ensure that you do not jeopardize the integrity of your company’s data. For example it is absolutely possible to develop a Flow to copy files from your OneDrive for Business to your personal DropBox.

Finally, from a licensing perspective Microsoft Flow is a pay by the drink kind of service (technically pay by the Flow run). There’s a bit of  math but essentially you are allocated an allotment of Flow runs per user in your Office 365 tenant based on your plan. Be sure to check out Microsoft’s Flow Pricing page for up to the minute guidance. Whereas with SharePoint Workflows it’s essentially as many workflow runs as what your infrastructure can support.

So getting back to the original question – is Microsoft Flow the direct replacement for SharePoint Workflows? In my opinion – No. Microsoft Flow is the evolution of business process management allowing you to build elegant solutions which have the ability to orchestrate data across various line of business applications leveraging “clicks” and not code. Combined with PowerApps as your mobile/responsive front-end the barrier to creating enterprise applications has absolutely been lowered to where you no longer need a team of developers to create basic applications.

Hope this helps & happy Flow-ing.