New Year’s Resolutions for Application Owners & Managers

Rob Wilson[Business Unit Director – Application Solutions]

2016 Goals

Just in case you were having a hard time coming up with your goals and objectives for 2016, we wanted to pitch in and help. We asked some of our application developers, architects, and owners to contribute New Year’s resolutions for software application professionals. If you are responsible for owning or supporting an application at your organization, this list is for you.

Check your logs

Make it a goal to monitor your application logs proactively. It could be that errors are occurring behind the scenes that do not surface on the display. Proactively monitoring your application logs may help you identify smaller issues before they become large ones.

Upgrade your solution

Are you at the current release in your packaged software? Do you have a custom written app that was developed for an older version of .NET, Java, or another platform? If so, you may be missing out on some of the latest features or making yourself vulnerable to security risks that have been addressed in future releases. Make it a goal to get your packages and platforms up to date.

Archive and purge old data

If you have data that is old and irrelevant to your existing applications, it may be taking up needed space and causing performance degradation on your servers. Resolve to archive and purge that data in 2016 and maybe you will get a performance boost in your data intensive applications.

Give some needed attention to your mission critical applications

Have you developed mission critical applications in Access, Excel, or another platform that they have outgrown? Bite the bullet in 2016 and rewrite those applications on a more robust, multiuser platform such as .NET, Java, or SharePoint. The advantages will be immediately recognizable.

Make your web site mobile friendly

If you did not get the message in 2015 that Google will not include non-mobile sites in its mobile index, then you need to get motivated right away. Mobile devices are prominent. Google has said that more searches are performed now from mobile devices than from desktops in some regions. If the Google threat alone does not motivate you, focus on the improved user experience you will be providing to your employees, customers, and prospects.

Get a handle on your source code

Is the latest source code for all of your custom applications checked in to a central repository? Is it backed up regularly? If one-off applications do not make it into the repository, or if developers do not check in their latest revisions at the appropriate times, then you may put yourself in a precarious situation if those developers are unavailable or their workstations are compromised. Make 2016 the year you get a handle on the source code situation.

Have a security assessment performed

Do you have sensitive information in a database? Do you integrate with Active Directory or another directory service every place that you should? For every high profile data breach that hit the news in 2015, there were more data breaches that went unreported and possibly undetected.  Learn from the mistakes of others and have a security assessment performed by an experienced, quality partner.

Learn something new

There are plenty of free online resources that you can use to keep your skills relevant and up to date.  Try GitHub (https://github.com/vhf/free-programming-books), YouTube (https://www.youtube.com), or the free Pluralsight (https://www.pluralsight.com) subscription that comes with a MSDN license.  Spend a few hours to make sure your next project takes advantage of the latest software tools and runs as efficiently as possible.

If you need assistance accomplishing any of your Applications New Year’s Resolutions, contact your Keller Schroeder Account Team. We are here to help!

 


My Top 5 SharePoint 2016 Features

Matt Mulherin – Applications Consultant

Sharepoint Roll-over

 

SharePoint 2016 is scheduled to be released in the second quarter of 2016 with many new features for both cloud and on-premises (on-prem) deployments.  Of the 26 new SharePoint 2016 features listed on Microsoft’s TechNet site, I will highlight my favorite five.  The big focus with SharePoint 2016 seems to be helping organizations to bridge the gap between their on-prem SharePoint data with their Office 365 data, which Microsoft refers to as Hybrid.  Many organizations still choose to use the on-prem SharePoint product and do not want to fully commit to the cloud (SharePoint Online via Office 365).  Some organizations may choose to invest in some of the Office 365 offerings such as email, Office web applications, and OneDrive.  I understand the hesitation of some organizations to fully commit to the cloud, and based on the SharePoint 2016 features, it appears Microsoft also understands this.

Here are my five favorite features:

  1. New Hybrid in SharePoint 2016
  2. Sharing Improvements
  3. File Size and Name Limits Improved
  4. Mobile Touch Friendly Interface
  5. Protect the Organization’s Sensitive Data

 

New Hybrid Support

Is there confusion around your organization’s strategy regarding where to store documents?  Some organizations have two OneDrive deployments, one on-prem and one in Office 365.  If so, SharePoint 2016 can remedy this by redirecting the on-prem OneDrive to the Office 365 OneDrive.

Does your organization have sites on-prem and in Office 365?  If so, you can help your users by allowing them to “pin” a site, which will add the site to a combined list of sites that can reside on-prem and in Office 365.

Do your users complain they can’t find information because some of it is on-prem and some in the cloud?  One of the most highly anticipated hybrid features allows users to search both on-prem and Office 365 content in one place.

 

Sharing Improvements

Collaboration and the sharing of information between your employees is key to the success of any company.  SharePoint 2016 boasts some new and improved sharing features.  Users will be able to do the following:

  • Create and share folders
  • View sharing hints
  • Quickly see who the folder is shared with currently
  • Share with other members
  • Take advantage of improved invitation email
  • Approve or deny a request for access with one click

 

File Size and Name Limits Improved

SharePoint has historically blocked files larger than 2GB and files with certain characters in the name.  In SharePoint 2016 users can upload files up to 10GB in size and the names of the files can contain special characters like &, ~, {}, leading dots, and the name can be longer than 128 characters.

 

Mobile Touch Friendly Interface

People are increasingly accessing the internet through mobile devices.  With SharePoint 2016, users can utilize their mobile devices to interact with SharePoint using a newly designed touch enabled interface.  Here is a screen shot of what it looks like in the Preview version of SharePoint 2016.

sharepoint-2016-collaboration-experience

 

 

Protect the Organization’s Sensitive Data

Responsible organizations today use a variety of controls and policies to keep their data safe and secure.  Sometimes users will unknowingly upload documents into SharePoint with private information in them (e.g. Social Security Numbers, Credit Card Numbers, etc…).  SharePoint 2016 has a way to help find this sensitive data and assist in the process of removing it.  SharePoint Administrators can run reports that find sensitive data residing in SharePoint and OneDrive documents.  The exportable reports identify offending documents so the document owners can properly protect this sensitive data.

 

More to Come

As we think about the next version of SharePoint, it appears Microsoft is focused on delivering value to customers as part of their on-prem deployments, while at the same time making it easier to take advantage of cloud innovation thru hybrid deployments of SharePoint.  New features are being developed and we know they be will categorized as improved user experiences, cloud-inspired infrastructure, and compliance and reporting.  Keller Schroeder is committed to our clients utilizing SharePoint and we plan to publish more insights about the exciting new features of SharePoint 2016 in the future.  Stay tuned!

 

SharePoint-Server-2016-Update-1

 

Courtesy of the Microsoft SharePoint Team

Measuring Adoption

Rob Wilson, Business Unit Director – Application Solutions

Tape measure 2We all know it is important to measure return on investment (ROI) when implementing a new solution. Solution ‘x’ saved ‘y’ dollars by requiring ‘z’ fewer hours from employees ‘a’ and ‘b.’ But what about those projects where the cost savings are less quantifiable? How do you measure the success of a project, for example, whose sole purpose is to streamline communication? Or what about a project aimed at improving customer satisfaction? When there is not a direct impact on the bottom line, how will you know if your project succeeded? You measure the outcomes.

Before you can measure the outcomes, you need to identify them, and determine the appropriate metrics to measure. A recent software adoption course I attended suggested using a format such as this to position your initiatives:

Business Scenario: Flexible Payment Options

Use case:

As a…

I want to…

So that…

That means I need…

Associated Business Value:

Ability to pay online

Business Owner

Provide a way for my customers to pay their bills online

My customers experience the convenience of conducting business with us

To provide a secure payment page

– Customer satisfaction

– Improved cash flow

– Fewer delinquent payments

While I appreciate the spirit of this exercise, it would be better if it were more objective. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, suggests an approach that is based more on the scientific method. According to sciencebuddies.org, the steps of the scientific method are:

  • Ask a question
  • Do background research
  • Construct a hypothesis
  • Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment
  • Analyze your data and draw a conclusion
  • Communicate your results

A simpler, more scientific way of articulating your objectives and measuring their adoption may go like this:

We believe that our customers would appreciate a more convenient way to pay their bills.
We will test this by creating an online form for customers to pay their bills on our web site.
We will know we have succeeded if 25% or more of our customers have paid 3 bills online within a year of launching the feature.

How you come up with that final statement is a topic for another day. You will get better at analytics with experience. I will say that measuring adoption over time is key, so do not get too disappointed if early adoption is slow, or too elated if your early numbers are through the roof. Your metrics should have some factor of time involved when measuring adoption. This brings me to the next point: how do you present your findings? You should not need a degree in reading log files to measure adoption. A better approach would be to build your objectives and outcomes right into the application itself, and display them on an administrative dashboard. In this case, a chart showing the trending in online payments – particularly by repeat customers – would be most effective.

Let us consider another example. Suppose your objective is to improve communication of your company policies with your employees. Emailing a policy to your staff would be difficult to track. Emailing a link to a policy on your intranet would be a step up – if you do not mind parsing log files. Ideally, however, you would email a link to your policy where it sits on SharePoint or some other platform, and with a little custom code, SharePoint can log a list of everyone who has read each policy (even a particular version of a policy). Creating some quick views would allow you to view metrics and provide the tools you need to nudge holdouts on key policies.

Policy-Example

In summary, if you want to measure the success of a software initiative, you should determine the desired outcome, decide how you will measure it, and agree upon which results will show you have succeeded. Restate your value hypothesis on a scorecard on an admin dashboard, and track the results over time. I trust you will find that a focus on adoption such as this will greatly improve your decision-making over time – including knowing what features are important to your audience and justifying what projects should be implemented. If you would like help getting started, contact us for a consultation on software adoption strategies.

Contact your Account Manager at Keller Schroeder for more information about our Applications Solutions Group  and how it might benefit your organization.


KS is now a Nintex Partner

Nintex IconRob Wilson, Business Unit Director


We are pleased to announce a new partnership at Keller Schroeder intended to help us better serve our SharePoint customers. Nintex has a solid reputation as a forms and workflow development solution for SharePoint, which has become increasingly important because of the recent changes to the SharePoint workflow engine and uncertainty about the InfoPath forms solution. We have had a serendipitous relationship with Nintex for some time now, having assisted clients with installation, configuration, and development projects. Now, Keller Schroeder has entered into a formal partnership with Nintex as a Value Added Reseller, so we can assist in the full solution delivery lifecycle, including: evaluation, sales quotations, procurement, implementation, and renewals. Our partnership gives us direct access to Nintex resources, including high quality technical training designed for partners to add to the real world experience our team already has with the product.


Having partnered with K2 already, we did not quickly jump into this partnership. There is some overlap between the products – especially when it comes to SharePoint. This is nothing new to us, however, as we have partnered with competing solutions in the past. For example, Keller Schroeder is a Value Added Reseller for both NetApp and Nimble Storage Area Networks. Why would we do that? The answer is simple: to better serve you. K2, a full-featured BPM solution with SharePoint connectors, will be a better fit for some organizations and Nintex, strictly a SharePoint add-on, will be a better fit for others. Keller Schroeder can help you decide the best fit for your organization and assist in implementing either solution.


ninitex-form


Some of the criteria to consider when choosing a solution are:

  • How many users will access forms and workflows?
  • Who will develop the forms and workflows?
  • Will my workflows access information stored outside of SharePoint?
  • What infrastructure is available to me?
  • Which ongoing support model best fits my organization?
  • What are my team’s existing skills?
  • Is our SharePoint site hosted in the cloud or on-premise?


    One message we have consistently shared from the beginning is that to develop more than one workflow for SharePoint, you should definitely consider one of these products. Keller Schroeder is pleased to have had success with both products as well as good partner experiences with both. We are excited to add Nintex as a trusted partner and look forward to sharing more about the product with you. Please contact us for more information about how Nintex could add value to your ongoing SharePoint forms automation projects.


  • InfoPath is Dead, Now What?

    Carrie Rudolph, Systems Consultant


    microsoft-infopathIn January 2014, Microsoft announced the retirement of InfoPath forms and the 2013 version will be the last release. Although Microsoft will continue to support InfoPath until 2023 and they still recommend continuing to build forms with this tool, Keller Schroeder does not recommend building any forms with longevity or complexity in InfoPath. Microsoft has not laid out any migration plans, but they have promised more information on this topic in Q4 2014. The message we have received up to this point is that it is not likely there will be a smooth, automated migration path off of InfoPath, but it is probable that forms will need to be rebuilt in the new tool or technology of your choice. If your form is part of a long-term solution in your organization, there would be very little value in building it in InfoPath now and using a new tool later. Connecting to line of business systems or adding custom code in InfoPath forms requires a significant amount of knowledge and time. The investment to gain this proprietary knowledge will likely not be transferable to the other forms tools.


    Microsoft’s announcement stated “Industry trends and feedback from our customers and partners make it clear that today’s businesses demand an intelligent, integrated forms experience that spans devices.” InfoPath does not fit this need, which is one of the reasons for its retirement. The following are features we feel are important considerations when evaluating modern form solutions:

    • Easily integrates with line of business systems in order to bring together data and empower users
    • Is accessible across multiple device types without cumbersome customization
    • Has the ability to support on-premises and cloud-based solutions
    • Produces browser-based forms with HTML 5 and modern browser support
    • Is available to Information Workers in order to empower them to build forms and collect data in a timely and efficient manner


    So what are the options for replacing InfoPath? Microsoft is working on a few new tool sets, but admitted at the 2014 SharePoint User Conference they do not have a clear road map of what the solutions will be. One of the new technologies being developed is called FoSL (Forms on top of SharePoint List). The target release date for FoSL is mid to late 2014 and a full list of features to be included has not been defined. FoSL is intended to be a no code forms solution that you configure within the SharePoint browser experience. However, based on communications from Microsoft on this topic, we do not get the feeling they are working toward a robust form solution, as Microsoft is also recommending third party tools to meet users’ form needs.


    The front runners in the third party SharePoint forms arena have had form solutions that surpass InfoPath for some time now.


    K2logoNEW


    K2 Forms is a no code forms solution that supports easy to configure integration with line of business systems as well as modern browser support, making these forms accessible across multiple devices. It also integrates with K2’s workflow engine to complete the full K2 business application platform. K2 does integrate seamlessly with SharePoint but can also be utilized independently from SharePoint making it an enterprise-level solution.


    Nintex Forms for SharePoint is a web-based designer that allows you to configure SharePoint forms from the browser. It integrates seamlessly with Nintex workflow for building robust automated business process solutions within SharePoint. Nintex is limited to SharePoint and cannot be used independently. Nintex does support both cloud and on-premises solutions as well as multiple device accessibility.


    Formotus Forms is a cloud-based service for creating and managing your own custom mobile form-based business applications. This solution allows for offline interaction and submission of forms. It has SharePoint connectivity as well as integration with other line of business systems via web services. This is a subscription-based service that can be integrated with on-premises, cloud, or hybrid installations.


    For more information on any of these options, please contact us.


    Keller Schroeder is a K2 partner. For more details regarding K2 Forms, please attend Keller Schroeder’s upcoming webinar on Wednesday, June 11 at 10 AM CST, titled No InfoPath, No Problem with K2 and Keller Schroeder. Don’t wait! Register today!


    infopathevent


    Jiffy PopCorn and I Don’t Know

    Rob Wilson, Business Unit Director


    My wife got one of those newfangled microwaves. It has more buttons than you can shake a stick at. I did not let it change me. When I want to settle down with a bowl of microwave popcorn for the big game, I open up the package, read the instructions and start hitting buttons. “Time Cook. 2-3-0-0. Shoot! Not twenty-three minutes. Clear. Time Cook. Dang it, wrong button. Clear. Clear again, just to be sure. Time Cook. 2-3-0. Start. Finally!” My wife and daughters yell from the other room “Just use the ‘Popcorn’ button. That’s what it’s there for!”


    Wouldn’t it be nice if your business had a popcorn button? Maybe it does, but you just don’t use it. Maybe you have that newfangled SharePoint installed, but you are only using it for basic document management and collaboration functions – many companies are. It is good at those things, but it is capable of much more.


    Consider the scenario I described above. I turned what my family called a no-brainer into a popcorn making marathon that raised my blood pressure by 10 points. Do you have business processes like that? What are the things that you do on a regular basis that make you think “there has got to be a better way?” And what information do you have to dig for, pulling from multiple sources, to report on your business unit’s health? SharePoint has the features to streamline your business processes and to bring the business data you need to the surface, to quickly to make good decisions. These are not just words. Recent feedback from one local firm said that one such process saved them hundreds of hours on a large engineering project.


    No one knows your business better than you. We can partner with you to identify bottlenecks, and help you leverage SharePoint to reduce them. Our veteran SharePoint and .NET experts have the skills needed to integrate with your line of business systems. Keller Schroeder is one of the 77 Global Microsoft partners chosen to participate on a task force known as BCSP (Business Critical SharePoint) Partners. Read more about it at http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/bcsp. Let us show you how to get the most out of SharePoint and contact your Keller Schroeder Sr. Account Manager for more information.


    Business Process Automation with SharePoint

    – Rob Wilson, Business Unit Director


    Since 2005, a few of us at Keller Schroeder have focused a great deal on SharePoint-related projects. No doubt it is a great product – better now even than in 2005. Maybe you have SharePoint installed and are using it for document management or collaboration, but are you using SharePoint to its full potential? One additional area where there is an opportunity to get a return on your investment with SharePoint is business process automation. More local companies are catching the wave for sure, but many, it seems, are not. If this is you, what is holding you back?


    One thing that seems to be an obstacle for many is that they view SharePoint as a turnkey solution rather than a platform. There is nothing more frustrating than getting 80, 90, or even 95 percent of a solution completed using SharePoint and its out-of-the-box tools, only to find that there is no simple solution to the final step(s). Then you are faced with the dilemma: do I change my business process or do I find another solution? Sometimes, the best answer is “neither.”


    Let us consider the employee on-boarding process for example. With SharePoint, we can create InfoPath forms to gather pertinent information and develop some rudimentary workflows quickly to assign tasks and route the form for approvals. But what if you want to automate the actual tasks themselves? What if you want to create an Active Directory user account for the new employee, rather than assigning that task to the security officer? What if then perhaps you want to create an Exchange mailbox? Maybe you want to allow workflow participants to approve or reject requests from their mobile devices. The out-of-the-box SharePoint tools do not have these features, but with .NET programming or third party products, you can add these features.


    I am a firm believer you should never change your business process to accommodate a tool – you change the tool. At Keller Schroeder, we consider ourselves a technology company in the performance improvement business. That is one of the reasons we promote SharePoint, because it provides an opportunity to complement your business processes. If SharePoint is not the right tool for the job, we are the first to let you know. However, sometimes with the help of a little custom code or a third party solution, SharePoint is just what the doctor ordered.


    Contact your Keller Schroeder Account Manager for more information or a demonstration of Sharepoint and how you, together with Keller Schroeder, can benefit your environment.


    Off the Beaten InfoPath

    – Rob Wilson, Business Unit Director
    It happens all the time! You get one of those pesky emails with a PDF attachment that you are supposed to fill out, scan, and email back to the recipient. You think to yourself “If only I were a programmer, I could show these people how to create this form better as a web page.” But while you’re extraordinary at what you do, and understand your business processes better than any other person in the whole world, you could never develop a digital solution to streamline a process, right? Wrong!

    It turns out that you may have had the solution at your fingertips all along, but just did not realize it. If you have Microsoft Office Professional Plus, then you have at your disposal the premier electronic forms solution – InfoPath. If you open it up, you will find that InfoPath is as easy to use as Microsoft Word. In addition, you can put text boxes, date pickers, list boxes, and numerous other controls onto a form. You can even add an attachment field so people can attach images, documents, or other artifacts to the form. Yes, YOU can do this! When the form is completed by the recipient, it can be printed, emailed, saved as a PDF, or saved into a database. In addition, InfoPath has a big brother that separates it from the other electronic forms solutions you may have checked out – SharePoint.

    When you add SharePoint to the mix, InfoPath goes from “awesome” to “awesomer!” Eh, we mean “more awesome.” SharePoint provides you with a place to centrally manage, serve, and secure your forms. Forms can be routed with SharePoint workflows. Form data can be extracted from the form to a SharePoint list where you can slice it, dice it, filter it, sort it, group it, even export to Excel. Suffice it to say you can do a lot of stuff. If you have SharePoint Enterprise, the form can be published as a web page so that the user does not have to have InfoPath installed on their desktop to fill the form out.

    If you are a small business who does not have SharePoint 2010 Enterprise at your disposal, there is an InfoPath 2010 forms solution in some of the new Office365 cloud offerings. Your Keller Schroeder Sr. Account Manager can help you determine which solution would be best for you.

    How to know if you could really use InfoPath and SharePoint:
    – Do I have paper forms that my employees, customers, patients or partners do or could fill out electronically?
    – Do I have cumbersome business processes that could be streamlined?
    – Do I have good visibility to a form in an approval process or whose inbox the request is currently in?
    – Do I have infrequently business processes that could be better structured to keep them from falling between the cracks?
    – Do I need a way to easily slice and dice the data gathered from recipients filling out my form?

    Just one “yes” to any of the above questions makes InfoPath worth a look. Common use cases we’ve witnessed include new or terminated employee forms, expense reimbursement forms, material requisition forms, time sheets, etc. Keep an eye on our SharePoint blog http://sharepointblog.kellerschroeder.com for an upcoming series on InfoPath, and contact us for more information.


    Microsoft Partner: Customer Satisfaction Survey Results

    As part of an annual qualification process, Microsoft Gold Competency partners participate in a customer satisfaction survey completed anonymously by active clients.  Over the years Keller Schroeder has consistently exceeded partner averages in every category, and that trend continues.  This year, Keller Schroeder also scored a perfect 100 on overall performance while the average of all Microsoft Partners dropped to 65.

    Area Keller Schroeder Partner Averages
    Overall 100% 65%
    Ease of doing business 100 71
    Quality of communication 92 68
    Value received 100 62
    Likely to recommend 100 91
    Likely to repurchase 100 88
    Ability to meet your needs 100 69

    Some firms specialize in infrastructure (such as server and database software), and others specialize in applications (such as SharePoint and .Net development), but Keller Schroeder’s deep expertise includes both.  This adds strength to Keller Schroeder’s Microsoft practice, and is evidenced by the 100% score for “ability to meet your needs”.

    “I want to thank our clients for their trust and confidence, as well as their continued business partnership!” says Keller Schroeder President Larry May.