Envision IT consultants Peter Carson and Mark Campbell attended Microsoft Ignite last September where a massive amount of content and new features in Office 365 were released by Microsoft. Since then we've been disseminating that ad-hoc to our clients, and Peter has been speaking at a number of conferences this past fall. Both Mark and Peter are continuing to present, and we wanted to take this opportunity to share a wide breadth of topics. We are also happy to arrange private sessions as consulting engagements, whether you are a current client or an interested party. These can be as short as an hour or full day sessions, either lecture / discussion style, or full hands on interactive.
If you are interested, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further and make the arrangements. Suggested topics are:
As organizations consider moving to the Microsoft cloud, security inevitably becomes part of the conversation. Many organizations feel, typically incorrectly, that their data is more secure on their own on premise servers. Given the level of security precautions taken by Microsoft in comparison to what most organizations have in place on premise, security is likely better in the cloud for most.
During this session we go through a number of areas to consider, and draw heavily from the Office 365 Trust Centre. These areas include:
- Physical security (often the most overlooked)
- Data encryption
- Search and seizure
Extranets in SharePoint On Premises and Office 365
SharePoint is a great tool for collaborating, whether you use the on premise versions or Office 365. In most organizations, collaboration includes not only internal users, but external ones as well. An Extranet is an ideal way to facilitate this. In this session we'll go over what an Extranet is and why you would want one, and then discuss the various options for delivering one.
Traditionally many people rely on email for document collaboration externally. This can quickly become unmanageable, particularly as the number of participants and documents grow. Really, anything more than two people collaborating breaks down over email. Next steps for many are to fire up shadow IT such as DropBox, or leverage OneDrive for Business. While both help the problem, they don't provide good governance and can get out control in organizations.
Extranets help solve this problem. They can take many forms. The idea of a single version of the truth is core to collaboration in general, and SharePoint is a great way to provide this. Whether it is an on premises installation of SharePoint 2016, 2013, or 2010, or in the cloud in SharePoint Online / Office 365, a rich collaboration environment can be created.
In the on premises scenarios, there are many choices to be answered. How is SharePoint going to be exposed externally? Is there a DMZ in place already that can be used to secure it, a reverse proxy to publish the internal farm, or aa hybrid approach such as Azure Application Proxy to provide connectivity through the cloud to on premises. Then there is the access question. Will user accounts be created in the on premises AD (not recommended), a DMZ AD, or another repository like SQL? How will users get their passwords, sign in, and reset forgotten passwords? Should federation be used with partners?
From an infrastructure perspective, building an Extranet in the cloud is much easier. SharePoint Online supports external users in a number of ways. External sharing can be done directly through SharePoint, or the new preview Azure B2B service can be used to federate to partners. From a governance perspective how is this managed? Who invites users, or can they self-register, and if so who approves their accounts? What customization is desired over the whole experience? Can the new beta REST invitation in Azure B2B be used to better control this? Is a third-party tool such as Extranet User Manager required?
Come learn not only the designs and patterns for delivering an Extranet, but see examples of many different Extranet implementations, both in the cloud and on premises, as part of this talk.
Branding in SharePoint Online and On Premises
Branding of SharePoint is an important topic for most organizations. While we recognize Microsoft's goal of having organizations do minimal branding in order to maintain compatibility with the ever changing world of Office 365, we need to balance that with an organizations desire to have their brand present in their Intranet and collaboration portals.
We'll start the session with an overview of the approaches to branding in Office 365, and explains the pros and cons of each. We'll also discuss mobile requirements, which should be part of any implementation. The context for these will be both classic and modern pages in Office 365, but the concepts apply to on premise versions as well.
- Office 365 themes
- SharePoint themes
- Alternate CSS
- Custom master pages
- SharePoint Framework
One of the key part of the branding of an Intranet site is the global navigation. Having a consistent navigation throughout the Intranet is an important feature, but something not always easy to do in SharePoint. We'll open the covers on our open source navigation components that makes this much easier, as well as supporting an easy distribution mechanism for the branding elements as a whole throughout a large set of site collections common to most implementations.
The last part of the talk will focus on how to manage the development lifecycle not only of branding projects, but SharePoint development in general. Leveraging patterns from SharePoint Framework with Gulp and spsave, we show how you can keep a local repository in sync with your source control system (TFS or GitHub for example), and have those changes instantly sync up to your SharePoint dev sites for immediate testing. From there we show how to package and deploy those artifacts through PowerShell to your test and production environments in a repeatable manner.
Electronic Forms and Alternative SharePoint App Approaches
Building fully interactive electronic forms and apps can be a complex undertaking. Power user tools such as Nintex Forms or Microsoft InfoPath can be great for non-developers, but often do not take you all the way there, or can't be customized exactly the way that is desired. Using the SharePoint Apps model is a potential solution, but it can be much more complex than the solution needs to be. In this session we'll look at alternatives to these approaches, with techniques that can be leveraged both with today's script editor web part and the still in preview SharePoint Framework (SPFx).
We'll start by looking at how we can build rich, interactive HTML forms using common open-source techniques. Bootstrap is one that allows us to build fully responsive forms that adapt to a changing browser size on tablets and phones as well as desktops, and provides an ideal experience on all devices. We'll also touch on HTML engines such as Handlebars or Knockout that allow us to generate the HTML quickly and dynamically. Lastly, we'll cover how to save that form information. Whether it is going directly into SharePoint, or updating other line of business systems, REST APIs are our approach here. Don't worry if you're not a coder, we're going to stay at the conceptual level. The key is that REST is a very standard way of communicating between systems. We can use the built-in REST methods provided by Microsoft in SharePoint (whether On Premise or in Office 365), or we can build our own if we need to run with elevated permissions (important in a lot of electronic forms) or access other systems. Security and single sign-on is an important aspect of this, and we achieve this without all the complexity of traditional SharePoint apps.
Some of the examples that we'll show during the session are:
- Vacation request form (both simple and a more complex SAP integrated example)
- Pension portal with address and banking change forms, and a pension calculator
- An anonymous library resource booking form for a secondary school
- A Bootstrap compatible responsive global navigation control driven from the SharePoint term store
The examples will be for both Office 365 and on premises SharePoint 2013 / 2016.
While the previous topic touches on SharePoint Framework (SPFx), it is such an important topic that it deserves its own full topic. Still in preview, we expect to see it go to general availability sometime in 2017, and come on premises for SharePoint 2016 sometime after that.
Running Effective Projects in Office 365
Many organizations create project site templates to manage their projects in SharePoint, either online or on premises. However, SharePoint is only part of the equation when it comes to collaborating effectively on projects. The new consolidation of Office 365 Groups, SharePoint Team Sites, Planner, and Yammer brings both choice and flexibility, which can present their own challenges.
This session will cover the following:
- Conversational confusion. What is appropriate for different scenarios – Outlook conversations, Yammer threads, Teams persistent chats, or some combination?
- Review of a project site template we've created in Office 365 using SharePoint Online, Office 365 Groups, Planner, and Teams
- Sharing your project site externally – SharePoint external sharing or Azure B2B?
- Customizing the UI to bring in project information from other systems
- Build a site creation workflow process to automate the creation of sites and groups in Office 365, external B2B groups, and configure all the permissions
- Inviting external users into the project site with Extranet User Manager
- How to maintain private internal content and project content shared with the external group
- Single sign-on to other project tools outside of Office 365
- Leverage Office 365 Groups, Team Sites, Planner, and Teams all together
- Provide effective governance around creating and using project sites
- Include people from outside your organization in your collaborative project sites
Modern Team Sites and Lists
Team sites date back to the beginnings of SharePoint in 2001. The place for ad-hoc and structured collaboration, they are where many people first experience SharePoint. Sites can be simple or complex, out of the box or built from custom templates or site provisioning processes.
Microsoft recognizes the power of team sites, and is looking to make them much easier for end users to work with. This started with the new modern lists and libraries first announced early in 2016, to the modern team sites that are still evolving. The common theme is a simplified user experience, making it as quick and simple as possible to perform common tasks, from creating a new site to adding metadata columns to populating them.
For many of our clients, a decision on whether to use the new modern interfaces yet needs to be made. For many the decision is not yet, as there are still some key features around navigation, branding, and customization that are missing. Regardless of that decision, it is important to understand what the future holds, as it will be here soon. SharePoint Framework will continue to evolve and fill in many of the missing pieces, and the direction will switch strongly to modern.
PowerApps and Flow
InfoPath has been the power user forms tool of choice for many years, but despite rumours of its demise being exaggerated, it hasn’t had any engineering investment since Office 2010. PowerApps seems to be its heir apparent providing the ability to quickly create applications that not only connect to SharePoint, but to a wide variety of SaaS applications, Microsoft and otherwise. Even custom on premises applications can have connectors built for them.
PowerApps does demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to a mobile first strategy as it is first and foremost a platform for building mobile smartphone and tablet applications. While not responsive today, they can also be used on desktop browsers, and may become properly responsive for different form factors in the future.
Flow is a great companion to PowerApps, but also stands on its own. Most forms applications typically need a workflow behind them, which is what Flow provides. Built on Azure’s Logic Apps (which Flows can be promoted to), they provide a rich workflow experience that, like PowerApps, can connect to a myriad of systems beyond SharePoint.
Microsoft Stream and Office 365 Video
Currently two separate products, Microsoft Stream and Office 365 Video will eventually converge into a single Stream product. Stream is currently for organizations that don’t have Office 365. Both leverage the Azure Media Services platform used to host broadcasting services such as NBC Sports and Olympic coverage.
Video is becoming an evermore popular method to communicate and train in organizations, but the post-production and distribution of video is still a challenge for many. YouTube exists for public content, but something with similar simplicity is needed for private organizational content. Stream and Office 365 provide that simplicity. Content authors upload produced content in any number of different formats, where it is transcoded (converted to a web-friendly format) in a number of quality levels. Azure Media Services then securely streams this content out to desktop and mobile devices, in a format and quality level that matches each users device and Internet connection. A global content delivery network distributes the content out to endpoints near to users around the world.
Gone are the days when Microsoft only built apps for their platforms. Today iOS and Android apps from Microsoft for many of their products come to market ahead of the Microsoft targeted versions. From the familiar Office suite of Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Skype for Business, and OneNote to the ever widening array of SharePoint and collaboration tools, the list is getting long. OneDrive for Business and SharePoint have their own apps, as does Yammer, Delve, Teams, Flow, Office 365 Video, PowerApps. There's also a new SharePoint News app. Other apps from Microsoft to consider include Office Lens, Office 365 Admin, Microsoft Authenticator, and Sway.
Change Management and Adoption
As the pace of change has vastly increased with the move to the cloud for many organizations, the need for effectively managing this change has also vastly increased. With Microsoft product release cycles having gone from every three years to weeks in some cases, not managing this change can be perilous for most organizations. Yes you can opt to be later in the release cycle, but the change will still come, so planning is needed.
The first place to help manage this change is the Office 365 Roadmap. Microsoft details features fully rolled out, those still in preview or rollout, and those still in the planning phases. Every organization needs to be aware of these changes, understand how they affect how they use Office 365, and how to properly communicate these changes to their organization.
The same considerations need to be applied to the rollout of internal updates as well. Moving the Intranet to Office 365 or launching collaborative sites or Office 365 Groups are major changes to an organization. These changes need to be communicated effectively, and coupled with training and resources to ensure their success. Ignoring this risks the whole project, while doing a good job of this can be a major contributor to a project's success.