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.

Using Document Sets instead of Folders

Folders have issues in SharePoint.  Not only do they require clicks to drill down, but they make migration to new versions of SharePoint difficult and expensive in hours required to migrate them.  Plus they make Administration & reporting ​more difficult.  Not only do you have to extend your reach in admin or for reports, search into those lower subfolders by specifically naming them or aiming at them, but you have to make sure they are somehow accommodated to identify them and the source.

Far better is to use Document Sets and make those folders into metadata that can be used to categorize and organize your data.  Keeping it in flat files makes administration far easier too.  And then there is the migration of that list or library.  Too many times I have spent many extra billable hours migrating subfolders or creating reports on those subfolders that would have been unnecessary in a Document Set.

So what is a Document Set?  It is a method of relating files together, making them appear as a set even if they are coming from different libraries.  They share metadata, can be edited and managed in one screen.  They even appear similar to folders but without the folder icon.

It is at least as easy to create a document set as it is a folder.  Merely click on New item and the drop down menu includes Document Set as an option (see apps as additional options below). If you need sub folders though, you may be forced to use the dreaded folders anyway and just pay a consultant the extra hours to migrate them or create reports around them.

Unfortunately, you cannot create document sets inside a document set.  But with planning and organization you can keep everything in document sets.  You just have to figure out the name of the set and add metadata (column names) instead of folder names.  Then use Group By to categorize it.  Of course you can then have sub groups, so it would appear as names with plus signs next to them to open them. With Group By, you can have multiple levels of sub groups.  This is built in the view.

Document Sets are easy to use and very easy to administrer.  They are not that different formf olders so their is not a great paradyme shift to confuse users. The fact that they can span libraries is immensely useful.

Opening a new document in Excel or PowerPoint instead of Word

Have you noted when you click on Add new document, you get a Word doc?  What if you want Excel, or PowerPoint or something else?  They can be added with a couple steps.

To make the app available w/a blank file, go to Site Settings and click on Site Content Types.  See if the app is already listed under Custom Content Types or Document Sets. If not, click on Create New Content Type.  Give it a name (something original like “Excel” for Excel). Check that the parent type is set to Document Content Types.  Change Parent Content Type to Document. Check that Existing group is set to Custom Content Type.  Go to Advanced Settings. Upload new document template.  Click on Choose File button on the right side (read only and update all should be selected).

Go to the targeted library that needs the content type. Go into Library – Library Settings on the ribbon. Make sure Content Management is allowed (turn on in Advanced Settings).  Under Content Types, click on Add from existing site content types.  Select from the list and click on Add.  Click Ok to create the content type.  It should now appear in the Files – New Document pull down. Do this for each app like Excel & PowerPoint.

For Document sets, merely add it under Document Set Content Types – Document Sets in Site Content Types and it will automatically appear in all Document Sets as an option to create a new document..

Make it visible on the New Document button: Go to the library where you need the different app type and go into Library Settings.  Under the Content Type section (make this available in Advanced Settings, set to Yes).  Select Add from existing content types.  Select the Content Type and click Ok.

You should now see the new apps in the pull down when you click “Create new document”. No need to add them to each library or document set.

Voila!  No need for stinking folders!  Of course, if you require sub-folders, well, bite the bullet and add a folder by drag & drop or “Create Folder”.  Sometimes life is just full of lemons.  Some things are just unavoidable and folders still have their uses. Hope there is lots of sugar for that lemonade.

SharePoint Admin and adding External Users

SharePoint and Office 365 is anything but easy to use. To add more complexity I have found clients who were sold their Office 365 by another consulting firm.  These firms often buy the site collection getting the admin in their name or some name they  neglect to make very clear to the client (manuals! put them in a library, duh).  So when it comes time to perform some global administrative configuration changes, no one can tell you the global admin credentials.

The client looks at you like you’re speaking in an alien tongue and fearing they’ve been somehow shorted by the previous consultant.  This can be remedied by contacting the previous consultant or working with Microsoft to get the credentials, but it usually requires the purchaser of the site (and who is currently receiving the monthly billing statement) to receive the credentials and pass them on.  Whoever is receiving the billing statement is a great clue, even if they do not know they are the global admin!  This happens with Finance department who only worry about the finances and not IT admin.

In 2010 external access used to be handled in Business Connectivity Services (BCS).  In Office 365, it is in the Global Administration or Site Administration where you set up email, user licenses, and Lync.

Office 365 Global Admin has all kinds of neat things to configure (see notes for federating your on-premise Lync server below).  These include the usual configuration of adding\reducing licenses, changing users, and domain settings.  You’ll find external users and Lync configuration in the “Service Settings”. In order for a user who is not a currently licensed member of your site collection to access a file or library, you have to turn on external access.

Go to the Global Admin menu clicking on the top menu bar as shown.

Global Admin Menu


The Admin menu has many cool things to configure as shown in the following image.


Let’s activate external access first (see image below).

Enable external sharing for SharePoint Online

By default, SharePoint Online does not allow external users. To enable the potential for external users to be invited to any of the site collections in your environment, do the following steps.

  1. Sign in to the SharePoint Online Administration Center.
  1. On the home page, click Manage Site Collections.
  2. On the Site Collections page, click Settings and then click Manage External Users.
  3. In the External Users dialog box, click Allow.
  4. Click Save.

After you’ve set the SharePoint environment to allow external users, site collection administrators can activate the External user invitations feature for their individual site collections to enable invitations to be sent to external users. After the feature is enabled for a site collection, anyone in the SharePoint site Owners group or anyone with site collection administration permissions can send invitations to users. See the image.

Activate external sharing for a site collection

After the SharePoint Online environment has been set to allow external sharing, site collection administrators can choose whether or not to allow external users to be invited to sites in their site collections. Use these procedures to allow external sharing for a site collection.

  1. Sign in to the site collection for which you want to enable external users.
  2. On the site collection home page, click Site Actions, then click Site Settings, and then under Site Collection Administration, click Site collection features.
  3. In the Site Collection Administration Features page, under the list of features, for External user invitations, click Activate.

After you’ve activated external user invitations for the site collection, anyone in the SharePoint Owners group or anyone who has site collection administrator permissions can send email messages to invite external users and then assign them appropriate permissions to access sites. 

You can activate Lync and set it to work with (or federate with) external users.


Meetings_Configuration Note the other options available – Email, Calendar, Contacts, Site & document sharing, mobile access, passwords and O365 Community.

Clicking on them changes the menu on the right.  Here I have set up external communication and turned recording ability on.

Setting External access for sharing and Lync will allow you to work with non members of your site.  This is especially useful with Lync for meetings, calls (with or without video), chats, desktop sharing, and other collaboration efforts.

Now that Microsoft owns Skype, you can expect to to see these services integrate in the near future.  Some integration is already possible, but it is a little clunky and does not show presence.  As always, a Microsoft account is required.  This can be as a member of an Office 365 site collection, Microsoft messaging, email Outlook and other Microsoft products  Needless to say, I am still a little confused, but isn’t that typical with Microsoft users?

On premises SharePoint (server(s) onsite) requires a little different setup effort.

Here is an article on how to configure Lync 2013 and Skype federation.

Here is a rather thorough article on configuring your Lync server for external federation.

Basically it takes looking at the server settings and your firewall.  Plus the person you are trying to connect with must also be setup to allow external federation.  This is pretty simple with an Office 365 site, more difficult with an on premises server or farm. Suffice to say there are many things to research to understand how to make a simple connection in Lync.  But with Skype and Office 365, it is becoming a little easier!

Thanks for reading  my ramblings.  I hope this helps!


10 End-of-Year Things to do on Your SharePoint Sites

Thanks to Veronique Palmer for these tips!

With one week left before most people go on leave, chances are most people are working all that hard anymore. We’re all too tired and ready for a break. If you don’t really feel like doing your day job, why not do some annual maintenance on your team sites?

1. Go to All Site Content and check what’s dormant. If something hasn’t been touched in months or years, delete it. At the same time, check if all the descriptions are in the lists and libraries that are left, and if not, put them in.

2. Check all the Announcements on each site; add a thoughtful Christmas message and your leave dates if you’re the primary site administrator. Make sure old announcements have expiry dates on them.

3. Check all your how-to’s and user manuals, are they up to date? Make a list of what to update in January, or do it now if you have the time.

4. Add “last updated” date to the top of each Site Page (for SharePoint 2010 users). It’s a very handy way to see instantly when content is getting old and needs a review.

5. Check your permissions – are the people that should have access still there, or have a bunch of passer-by’s crept in.

6. Evaluate the navigation – is everything still structured for optimal navigation? Or could your site do with some streamlining? Consolidate links and don’t duplicate them.

7. Check that you don’t have any documents checked out to you. Check them back in unless you’re planning on working on them over the holidays. Let people know if you are going to do that.

8. Update your My Site profile. Are all the details still correct? Add any new skills you acquired. While you’re at it, go update all your social profiles.

9. Check the List Templates under Site Settings. If you’ve got a ton of custom lists and libraries that have been saved throughout the year, delete the ones no longer needed.

10. Do a final site stats – extract annual stats to see what the activity has been like. If the uptake it really good, tell someone. Well done you. Make a note of trends and do more of that next year

Why Companies Make Wrong Decisions

I recently read an article that stated something like 80% of all hiring decisions are misguided.  The same stat holds true for hiring contractors.  In fact, this fact has been consistent for many years in study after study.  Such studies are usually conducted by psychology types and they make some very good points.  Most companies have to adjust the position’s responsibilities to fit the new hire’s skills and even then the retention factor of new hires is alarmingly low.

So why does it happen with such scary frequency?  I suppose it is human nature, given how frequently I see or hear of ill-advised decisions by most human beings.   Is it a human quirk to make poor decisions?  Is there a common factor that ties all these poor decisions together?  Perhaps.  Humans have a knack for viewing everything through their own prejudiced filters, whether they admit them or not.  Very few can avoid making a gut decision upon first laying eyes on a person (that’s when 50% of your  judgement is made). A good book I recently read (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell) states that we should rely on our first gut instinct and where people go wrong is they insist on looking deeper, investigating further and that is where they go wrong. Unfortunately, most hiring is done on gut feel rather then a true evaluation of skills, character and accomplishments.  I’m not saying that is wrong, but then we try to justify that impression.  Granted, it is very hard to judge how a person will fit into your team, but I wonder if you really should rely more on that first few minutes of meeting the prospect to make your decision.

For example, as a consultant, I am judged by big past accomplishments, by my resume and how much experience I have rather then the reputation for my smaller, often  highly praised successes.  The fact that I’ve been developing SharePoint sites for 5 years , albeit shallow and no code, is far more relevant then my highly touted successes as a Project Manager, Architect and trainer because I’ve only done a half dozen of those adding up to mere months in some cases.  The fact that past clients absolutely rave about “McGyver like” solutions, amazing “Reagan like” people management skills, and other soft skills, they’d rather look at how big the past sites were, how long did they last (is a long, slow project “better” then a fast, well managed job?).

Also the fact that I’ve been sidelined by a few surgeries in past years makes me appear unreliable.  Yet my greatest successes came while recuperating, in pain/discomfort and pressing hard to get it done even though I was obviously not feeling well.   I  suppose, in some eyes, that can be seen as working well under great pressure.  I know I do well in emergencies.  I don’t like them, but I do well.  I am also gruffer, more direct, less tactful, more pragmatic.  Basically I get things done when under pressure.  It is when things are going along at a well-planned pace that I cannot seem to think clearly or operate at the top of my game.   Hmmm, perhaps I should be an ambulance attendant or a similar role in IT.  Not sure I want that because it is hard on my ulcers.

It sure gives me something to think about though.  I know that I have far better days being productive when I am busy dealing with challenges then when I have little or, worse yet, nothing to do. I have trained several people in SharePoint and all of them out earn me now.   Yet they come to me when the wheels come off and I, being the nice guy that I am, help them fix it, usually as an unpaid, behind the scenes adviser.  They look good and get the promotion/raise.  I get a nice pat on the back.

I really do have to stand up more for myself. Unlike most companies my hires usually go on to success.  I guess, unlike most companies, I judge correctly somehow.  I know I promote, encourage and foster good work.  Too bad it’s almost always under the radar.  Maybe one of my hires will reach CIO/CEO before I hit retirement age and I will see a payoff.  I hope so.  I need to fund that retirement somehow.