Why I support a GOP Floor Fight

As Donald Trump begins to show cracks in his arrogant march to the GOP nomination, I am becoming hopeful that we can have a truly good nominee to face the Democrats in November. I am very reluctant to vote for a loudmouthed, insecure braggart whose way of dealing with anyone who disagrees with him is to call them “idiots”.  Neither do I want to vote for Ted Cruz who will continue the foolish Republican strategy of lessening the tax burden on the rich in the vain hope that they will use those savings to create jobs instead of socking it away in Panama or Switzerland.

Damon Linker described Trump well when he described him as  “… manifestly, indisputably unqualified to be president. Yes, as nearly everyone recognizes, he’s a demagogue, which should be bad enough. But he’s also wildly inconsistent, petulant, and vindictive, and he obviously delights in encouraging (and in the case of his campaign manager’s alleged behavior, rewarding) violence.”  Ted Cruz’s tax proposals are are unworkable as described by Brian Faler in this article. While he would push Republican values, he would alienate allies both domestic and foreign almost as much as Trump.

There are better choices within the party and I do not mean the fairly moderate boor, John Kasich.  Moderates might be a threatened species, but they do exist.  I am very impressed with two Republicans that I thinks would do well in the White House. Rick Perry, governor of Texas is a strong Christian with moderate views and a large following. Here is a good article on Mr. Perry.

The other is Nikki Haley, governor of South Carolina.  Ms. Haley has served as the 116th Governor of South Carolina since 2011.  She has shown a remarkable degree of level-headed moderate thinking instead of the rabid, half-baked hot air spouted by the rabble-rousers, Trump and Cruz.  Plus I believe this country is more than ready for a female president to demonstrate that women are every bit as capable as men at trying to run this country (a few have run it with popularity, but none have been all that successful without help from a war).  Here is a good article about her.

I encourage you to look these two up and see if you agree that their fairly moderate views are worth consideration in Cleveland this July. And pray they are not believers in lowering taxes for the wealthy who only sock it away in offshore accounts.  “Trickle-down” economics have been as much a disaster as Democratic love of big government (despite the well prove inefficiencies\incompetence of anything run by the government).  Witness Louisiana and Kansas as recent examples.

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.

The Danger of Trump

Donald Trump represents the anger of the American lower and middle classes at politics as usual. Enough is enough we are saying. The establishment represented by Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton are have been causing a growing anger among average Americans and the top is blowing off in the form of the bombastic, dangerously uninformed Donald Trump.

But the violence seen in Trumps camp against protesters should evoke concern about the path to fascism that Trump represents. Violence is NEVER acceptable. Where are the other candidates outrage at the Trump camp violence. Tactics similar to Nazi jackboots, Italian secret police, Chavez’ fascistic supporters in Venezuela should cause alarm. South American history is full of the same tactics being demonstrated by the Trump campaign where brutality over ruled true Democratic efforts.

This country appears headed for it’s darkest turn yet by diving into a civil war of sorts through brutal rebellion against the establishment personified by the bombastic , verbally vicious Donald Trump. I would never condone a turn to the tarnished likes of Hillary Clnton or the unworkable socialism of Bernie Sanders. And the other candidates in the Republican mess do not give me hope of progress either. But Donald Trump represents a dark turn in America toward brutality and possibly world war.

Be very careful, America, what you ask for in kicking out the mealy-mouthed establishment politicians. For 4 or 8 years down the road you might be like Germany, hanging your head in shame over what you wrought in a fit of anger.

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?

Remote teams cheaper than FT employees

Are you searching for a SharePoint expert for your team?  again?  Do you find this a never-ending cycle of hire someone only to have them leave for greener pastures at some point down the road?  Do they demand 6 weeks vacation like the Europeans have?   Do you wonder if there is a better way to fill your need for SharePoint maintenance and growth?  I am here to say there is indeed!

The average FT employee costs 30% over and above their salary AND they take vacations plus they frequently leave for “greener pastures”.  Rates are high, from 70\hour in the south and midwest to 175 in large cities for developers, designers, administrators and architects.  To try to get a wide scope of ALL the skills sets often means compromising one skillset for another.  Why not hire a remote service who has much closer to the ideal set os skills you need rather than one or two  people who are limited in their availability and can and often do leave for greener pastures.

A reliable remote service has a stable of resources available to respond immediately to issues, new build requests, changes and administration of your site. Plus they have a wider scope of skills compared to a single FT individual as they are a stable of resources. While using offshore resources can be tricky, there are many with US based firms including Project Managers (PMs)who handle the client and the technical resources providing an English speaking knowledgeable point of contact for the client to deal with.

Often response time is less than 30 minutes (1/2 business hour) and often the PM him\herself can provide troubleshooting guidance or resolve the issue without bringing in offshore resources. I have found our reputation for response time and a low-priced solution draws rave reviews from clients who return frequently with questions and more work. An east coast based team like mine is available from 7am to 7pm EST. West coast based PMs provide the same availability. Offshore resources are often available from 7am to 3 or 5pm (3:30am in India) for emergency crash repairs, or that immediate change requirement.

Have you thought there must be a better, cheaper way to maintain a high level of service without worrying about the availability of your internal IT Resource? Find a good service and give them a tryout. You might be very pleasantly surprised!

SharePoint for Everyone

SharePoint for Everyone

SharePoint for Everyone! Yes, Even for Your Family!

I have been working with Microsoft (MSFT) SharePoint for 6 years and have become a strong evangelist for it’s use. I have seen many other website platforms like Joomla and 1&1 and found them weak compared to SharePoint.  They run $40-60 per month and are limited in capability and clunky to use.  For SharePoint online, I have found the E1 level (Enterprise 1) to be the most cost effective for the power and capabilities it brings. In this “article”, I’m going to cover a lot of ground and be kind of  abrupt plus I am not a great writer. So hang on and try to keep up😉.

Yes, I build sites for businesses.  Still, I see so much potential for SharePoint.  Whether you call it Office 365, SharePoint Online, or just SharePoint, it is a powerful collaboration tool.  It gets you a public (and\or private) website to share your thoughts (blogs like this one), documents, forms, pictures (slideshows), videos, favorite links, etc.  It also has social capabilities like discussion boards, likes, etc. It is like having your own Facebook for your family\organization\group.  For those of you familiar with My Yahoo and Google+, you can also create your own news feed page(s).  Imagine being free of the whims of My Yahoo, etc. who change offerings and layouts forcing you to change.

So what is SharePoint?  It is a “collaboration website”.  That means you can share content – documents, pictures, videos, etc. and assign who can see\edit\download that content by assigning rights (even to groups).  There is a lot to SharePoint and I won’t attempt it here.  I suggest you Google SharePoint and learn more.  But consider getting yourself a site for $8 per month, get the Plain & Simple SharePoint book at Amazon to learn about it.  I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

Let’s go over the plans MSFT offers. There are around 9 offerings from Microsoft (it changes often) and like everything they do, it is a complicated and tangled mess to sort through.  Prices and plans change and are charged per user, per month. You can compare them in detail here, but here is an overview:

  • Kiosk 1 & 2 are for viewing information or ordering products, say in a mall.
  • Plans 1 & 2 offer cheap collaboration sites but limited multimedia.
  • P site, a “Personal” site with limited capabilities but a good basic collaboration site that includes email. This level may no longer be offered and is kind of hard to find.
  • E1-E4 – supposedly for “Enterprises”. These offer everything, including multimedia, online meetings, email, office apps, strong customization and more. E3-4 offer other server tools like SQL and Exchange.

As I mentioned, I build sites, mostly using my offshore developers but sometimes just me (when no .Net is involved). But you really do not need me if you are patient, adventurous and willing to do a little research.  With SharePoint online, you can build a basic site using WYSIWYG menus (though a knowledge of HTML helps).  You get a nice public (and/or private) webpage. You can control who sees what, who can download, contribute, edit content.  You can get really complicated with customization with JQuery, .Net, SQL, and other really complicated components. But it is not necessary.

If you need help, someone like me can add branding (think logos and custom design) and other custom components for anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars, depending on your need.  There are also a ton of third party apps out there, many free.  Most sites do not need such complexity.  We also offer training for less than $250.  The best place to start is a book I recommend: SharePoint Plain and Simple (see it at Amazon, $20 paperback, $11 Kindle)

Here are most of the feature highlights:

  • Slideshows
  • Document sharing
  • Videos
  • Links to external sites
  • Social features
  • Powerful custom pages
  • Blogs (like this one)
  • Alerts (when something changes)
  • Email
  • and much more!

If you share a license among groups, you can have a powerful yet low cost site.  Here is an example E1 site I built for our church:

  • 4 licenses for total $32\month (plus your annual domain cost, about $20)
  • Admin (me) controls everything
  • Pastors can access everything and have a private library
  • Elders\Officers can share everything the members see AND sensitive documents like financial spreadsheet\database, documents, reports, etc.
  • Members can share church documents like the member directory plus they can collaborate and meet among themselves like Facebook & Skype combined.
  • Visitors (general public) can view limited documents and videos (sermons, messages, etc). submit queries, request prayer, contact me request.
  • Online video meetings, IM, shared docs (see Skydrive), share desktops, post sermons, shared discussion board, announcements, email lists, and much, much more!

I have just barely skimmed the surface of Office 365 (also called SharePoint online).  It is not just for businesses or organizations.  I can see families using it to share family information, photos and videos, kind of like their own family Facebook.

I hope Microsoft does not ruin this with price increases or major changes.  This is a gold mine waiting to be discovered!  You can try it free for 30 days.

Everyone I’ve talked to that has had a support issue and was on an Enterprise Office 365 plan had nothing but rave reviews for the Microsoft support staff. They were able to pick up the phone and get their issues resolved immediately. While there are cheaper plans, the E1 plan is only $8 a month (per licensed user. You don’t need to license all your users!). Not too mention you also get full blown Office 365 including Exchange and Lync. You do get a TON more for a few more dollars a month.  

Just think, a family site to share albums, chats, files, video meetings, etc.  Or perhaps a site for you programmers to test your code.  How about a site for your church, club, other organization?  Do you have a small business that you would like available on the web?  Consider trying out SharePoint online (Office 365).  I will bet you will be pleasantly surprised.