SharePoint Library Management Basics

by Rob Moses, SharePoint Consultant, Caladan Consulting, Inc

SharePoint libraries often become a place to dump documents, graphics, articles, spreadsheets, etc without much management.  Your first thought might be to create folders t organize the library. After all, that is how it’s always been done, right?  SharePoint provides many ways to manage library content. You have the following options:

  • Workflows to alert the Library Manager/other interested parties. Can be based on column value
  • Workflows to archive item to another, less used library based on age
  • Create a view based on member of a group, dept, etc (still can see it by changing their view, to all for example)
  • Restrict access/view to certain target groups (Cannot see it without changing permissions via the admin)
  • Block folders
  • Send items to specific library based on content type
  • Allow display/editing in Document sets

There are a few more as well.  But the point of this blog is to create a simple view based on group/dept or permissions.

To maintain a neat, clean library, an admin should be assigned with proper permissions to manage content and access.  The admin should be the Approver and as such should receive an email notifying them of additions or changes to the library via a workflow.  New items cannot be published (i.e. seen) by users until it is approved  This is done in Library Settings.

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Folders are old tech that needs to be replaced

Originally published on LinkedIn Feb 12, 2017

​Too many users treat SharePoint and Office 365 as if it is merely a file cabinet. This degrades this powerful app into a mere filing system that fails to utilize 90% of it’s features. This post focuses on folders.

Folders and subfolders seem intuitive, but they cause costly problems for administration and migrations. There are several very important reasons why folders should be avoided, at least for the top two levels.

First is the cost of administering and migrating folder based lists & libraries. Each folder must be migrated\administered separately. You cannot do a “drag & drop” or mass changes/moves as folders are treated as sub libraries by Microsoft. I have seen just 4-5 levels of subfolders triple the cost of a migration or site cleanup.

Secondly, the “Group by” feature is too easy to use to make excuses about complexity. Granted, SharePoint can be tediously complex, but views and group by are just too easy to dismiss.

Group by, like views, allows items to be grouped into “categories” like folder headers. They are displayed with a plus sign which is easily clicked on to open (vs opening a folder). This allows you to view several categories “folders if you must) simultaneously. Easy-peasy! and it adds incredible flexibility and power to your reviewing of records.

Views are another tool. You can set filters to view only one year (if you have a column for year), or after a certain date, or grouped by clients (salesperson, etc.) or sorted a certain way. All kinds of options are available for viewing. Including a spreadsheet like view called Datasheet that allows bulk editing (say updating a field for bulk records via copy & paste).

Caution: Turn off any Required fields in List\library settings for bulk editing as it will require each record be updated instead of bulk paste.

There are more powerful ways to filter records, such as by permissions, owner\modified by, group (Dept\team), etc. These require a little more SharePoint savvy, but a good developer can do it for you very quickly (see me for a developer).

Group by and filtered views are easy once you know how. To get a good ROI and more utilization form your CMS (Office 365, SharePoint, WordPress, etc.) Learn to USE THE FEATURES!

Rant done! 😉

Robots and Displaced Workers – a suggested solution

Friday, January 27, 2017
​I have been reading an increasing number of stories about the advances in robotics. From service jobs at McDonalds to assembly line work to chatbots. While some believe that new jobs will be created I cannot see enough jobs for all the workers who will be displaced. At first glance it appears to be a dead end proposition. Robots displace workers and these former workers lose their income making them unable to purchase the products robots produce. Instead of a circle of production – pay – purchasing – more production, etc., it sounds like a dead end path when the economy grinds to a halt when one gear in the circle can no longer purchase the products produced.

Those jobs created by the robotics industry include manufacturing, programming, maintenance, and administration. But another article right below it suggested that robots make better managers and administrators. And why can’t robots handle their own manufacturing and maintenance? Programming too is ripe for robotic takeover and is already happening with self-writing code generators.

Of course there are other larger concerns like what are people going to do with all that free time now that they are no longer spending about half their lives in a job? Then there is the mental health issue as many people define their self worth through their work. It keeps many people out of trouble by keeping them busy.

But for the narrow scope of the displaced worker issue, I have a suggestion. Since many articles talk about robots lowering costs & increasing profitability by 100% or more (working 18-24 hours a day), why not give the worker who is displaced an interest in the robot that replaced him/her? The increased profits should allow some income to the displaced worker. The worker could be active to some degree in the robot’s maintenance, upgrades and replacement. And most important, the displaced worker gets to continue to participate in the economy paying their bills and purchasing the robotically produced goods.

Just a thought I am working on developing in my “spare” time. Expect more later as I get feedback and more time to ponder robots and displaced workers.

Just a thought I am working on developing in my “spare” time. Expect more later as I get feedback and more time to ponder robots and displaced workers.

Six Hidden Costs of Offshoring

The hidden costs of IT offshoring are prompting many IT leaders to bring software development of core applications back home. This white paper offers advice to justify agile onshore development to overcome:

1. Communication gaps that compromise agile development and inhibit collaboration

Foreign developers, like some US based technical types, do not like to expose their struggles. Communication is also often lacking among foreigners even more than US developers as they strive to hide their struggles and mistakes when transparency would establish trust.

2. Lengthy and costly ramp up times due to communication gaps and getting the offshore worker to understand needs.

Besides the language barrier, there are some perceptions and ways of doing business that are different with foreigners. Many Indians are very driven and seem determined to run roughshod over your control. They often dictate the process, methodology and even the results in a rapid-fire pace that seems to steamroll you and your desires. Many developers have their own ideas of what looks and works best and they almost dictate it to the client. A sign of experience and maturity is the ability to LISTEN to the client and value their needs and desires. One other thing – foreigners often ant to work time & materials allowing them to pile up hours, even if it is while they are learning how to solve a challenge. Most refuse to work for a set price.

3. High rates of development “rework” back onshore due to misunderstood needs and\or developer building their way, often not the way the client wanted it.

Again, the perceptions and misunderstandings due to language and developer arrogance cause results to not meet expectations. Yet most developers refuse to fix their work without additional pay (the time & materials method is more important than customer satisfaction). Foreigners often seem to lack an understanding of the concept of “customer comes first.” And redoing work at no charge is part of doing business, especially if they misunderstood the client in the first place.

4. 40% turnover rates among offshore teams.

Foreign companies often have a high turnover rate. Most employers brag of rates as low as $11\hour, but it is at the cost of their employee’s loyalty. It is difficult for some foreigners to understand that low cost does not always get priority over quality. In fact, they often seem oblivious to quality as just getting it done is all that matters.

5. Inability to keep pace with the rapid demands of an agile business (foreigners often work at a slower pace and are slow to respond.

American businesses, like some Asian firms, move at a rapid pace. Many other cultures move at a much slower, more deliberate pace. One of the great qualities of Indian professionals is their attention to detail, often taking time to ponder issues (and expecting to get paid for that time spent thinking about it).

6. No Liability Insurance.

Most foreign firms do not carry liability insurance and the concept of being held responsible for a dissatisfied client is often abhorrent to them as they do not want to be vulnerable to a client whose expectations were not met. Deliverables are sometimes open to perception.

This is not to say foreign resources cannot provide value. There are MANY good foreign companies and consulting resources out there who strive to do a good job and assure satisfaction with their work. But I have found the best practice is to closely monitor and interact with offshore resources. Daily SCRUM meetings where transparency is encouraged without immediate repercussions. It is important to emphasize that getting the job done with the highest quality possible AND assure client buy-in, is of the upmost importance in any project.

I wish you luck in your projects. If I can help in you in finding\evaluating resources and how to engage them, let me know. I have 6 years’ experience with good and not-so-good resources in my own company where we do most development work remotely. I currently use 3 resources who have proven themselves mostly reliable as long as we clearly document expectations. They have become close friends and learned how much I value frequent, transparent communication. They have become assets and friends. You can find the same long term resources through persistence ….or you could just hire us! 🙂

Rob Moses owns and operates a consulting firm based in Virginia where he and his remote resources design and build CMS solutions in SharePoint, Office 365 and WordPress. They also provide remote administration, often at lower cost than keeping FTE on staff. You can contact him at: rob@caladanconsulting.com.

Planning Your Library Reaps Immense Benefits

I recently had yet another client who had used SharePoint like a filing cabinet.  They wanted me to migrate everything to their new Office 365 site.  The mess I found was disheartening.  Almost 100 subsites were created as the client created one for each little thing, client site, department, project, library, etc.  There were also over 150 libraries!  Needless to say, the migration and cleanup would be significant.  The resulting cost, of course, was dismaying to the client.

I cannot imagine administering a site like this as the plethora of libraries, redundant metadata (46 columns to change for office locations!), navigation challenges, etc. was mind boggling.  Nowhere was a single site column used, nor any hint of Enterprise metadata. No Document sets, no views, no grouping, not even sorting was being employed!  No wonder the staff was intimidated by the site! It was a maze that no one wanted to enter!

I cannot stress the importance of investing the time and effort in planning your site.  A site hierarchy map (even a simple bullet list of sites, subsites and content (libraries, web parts, etc), can be immensely helpful to an architect and make building the site much easier for all involved.  With proper identification of metadata in each library, site columns and Enterprise metadata can be set up to consolidate changes in multiple libraries to a single task.  Lists and Libraries are among the most powerful tools SharePoint offers in a collaborative environment making sharing and administration light years easier for all involved.

SharePoint and Office 365 are not create and forget tools.  Just like any system, it requires constant administration.  In an ideal world, each subsite and list\library would have an administrator assigned to them.  Unfortunately, one person usually gets assigned the entire kit & kaboodle as site admin.  This can be a lot of work in a large site.

When creating a library or list, please understand the following concepts in your design (and PLEASE minimize folders!):

  1. Use Site Columns for commonly used metadata like Office Locations
  2. Use Enterprise keywords where people use multiple related terms for an item
  3. Use Grouping and filtering instead of folders to present items of a certain category or date range or by people or department
  4. Use Views in other ways to present your data instead of a myriad of folders.
  5. Use Document Sets to present related items from different libraries as if they are one library (do not duplicate items in multiple libraries!)
  6. Administer your library and it’s workflows

These few steps can save you all kinds of headaches down the road, especially when you hire a consultant to migrate to a newer site.  It will save you money and the consultant a lot of time.

How Democracies Collapse

How Democracies Collapse

While Donald Trump is a good example of American voter dissatisfaction with the political system, his brand of authoritarianism is a dangerous direction for this country.  We are heading in the direction of authoritarian leadership similar to that experienced in Latin American democracies and even here in America in the 1860s when President Lincoln firmly shut down his opposition and steered this country through and beyond a distructive civil war. Or when Teddy Roosevelt tried to suppress opposition by machine gunning coal miners and jailing journalists and opposition politicians.

William Falk said it well when he wrote the following opinion piece in The Week on Facebook:

Juan Linz told us this might happen. The late Yale political scientist spent his life studying political systems around the world, and in a celebrated 1990 essay warned that presidential democracies like ours are inherently unstable and prone to paralysis and collapse. In parliamentary systems, Linz explained in “The Perils of Presidentialism,” the legislature and the prime minister, are of the same party and govern jointly. If they lose popular support, they can be ousted in early elections. But in presidential systems, the president and the legislature (Congress) are elected separately; when they’re controlled by opposing parties with acute differences, Linz said, both branches insist they represent the will of the people, and “there is no democratic principle on the basis of which [the power struggle] can be resolved.” Presidents then often abuse their powers. The legislature responds with abuses of its own. A coup or civil war can ensue, with democracy giving way to Latin American authoritarianism.

We are not yet Argentina or Chile (or America in 1860), but our democracy is headed toward a dangerous place. Linz always said the U.S. presidential system had been an exception to his rule only because of its “moderate consensus” — a middle ground on which both major parties met in civil compromise. That middle ground is gone. As Jonathan Chait points out this week in New York magazine, the “social norms” that once kept a divided government functioning are disintegrating; for the first time in history, the Senate is refusing to consider anyone the president might nominate to fill a vacant Supreme Court seat. Elections sometimes end stalemates like this one — but after November, the crisis could get much worse. Just imagine what a President Trump might do if “total losers” in Congress block his appointments, or try to stop him from deporting millions of people or bombing the hell out of a nation that has insulted him. Do cry for us, Argentina.

Cloud Storage options

Due to the frequent issues I keep hearing about and experiencing with Microsoft’s OneDrive, I am recommending Dropbox or Soonr as cloud alternatives.  This is great for keeping files synced to your desktop where the files appear in a folder called DropBox or Soonr.  When you update a file in your local folder, it syncs with the cloud version and updates the file to reflect the changes.  Dropbox does not keep previous versions though Soonr can be configured to keep past versions of files.

Dropbox is free if all you need is a meager 3GB.  $99\year (or $9.99 per month) for 1TB. Soonr is $9.95 per user or $19.99 per user (Enterprise version) depending on the features you need. Soonr has far more powerful features than Dropbox including more secure file management including for mobile access, policies, projects, and more. Whereas Dropbox is just a storage facility that appears just like Windows Explorer (including on your desktop local version of the synced files), Soonr is more like SharePoint in configuring groups, users and even devices permission levels. Soonr also integrates with your Active Directory for user access control.  Soonr has Detailed Reports and Audit Trails on Users, Groups, Devices, Projects, and Files.  You can also markup documents with notes and annotations.

So why do I use Dropbox?  Partly because it is just one charge for all users, $99\year.  Whereas I have to buy licenses for each user for Soonr.  And why do I need to replicate SharePoint’s governance if all I am doing is linking to a cloud storage device?  Besides, it’s what I started with and all my clients and employees know how to use it.  Dropbox fits the KISS goal.  Also, there is something to be said for avoiding another change. Remember the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  Seems very apropos for my users.

For about the same cost as Microsoft’s Office 365 Enterprise, Soonr offers more reliable cloud shared file storage.  Granted SharePoint is the way to go if you need anything more than simple file sharing (like project management, forms management, sales\project tracking, workflows, etc.), but if all you want to do is share files between distant locations or field personnel, Soonr is worth a look. You don’t get Office (Word, Excel, etc.) for your $10 or $20 per month like you do with the higher levels of Microsoft’s Office 365, but you do get solid, reliable file sharing right on your desktop.   Microsoft has a ways to go with that technology before they are termed reliable.  There are tools that do specific parts of SharePoint\Office 365 better, but for an all-in-one collaboration system, the Microsoft offerings are hard to beat. And love ’em or hate ’em, everyone knows Microsoft products.  So familiarity and shot ramp-up time is a plus with their products.

If you find OneDrive is driving you or your users crazy with sync failures, give Dropbox and Soonr a try. Yes, it adds another cost, but headache-free productivity is worth it, right?

Your thoughts?