Inside Microsoft Flow Approvals

 

Microsoft Flow is a workflow solution that works across Office 365 and beyond. In the Modern SharePoint Online world, Flow replaces SharePoint Designer Workflows (for most things, you can still use SPD Workflows for the moment if you really must).

Flow Approvals allow a user to submit an item for approval and then carry out an action once approved. It includes actionable email notifications and is supported on mobile devices via the Flow App.

This video walks through the out of the box Flow Approval follow and explains how the various steps work. Once you are familiar with Flow, you can easily update and extend this Flow to carry out additional actions or multi-stage approvals.

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Live Events in Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Live Events is now Generally Available. Live Events are a way of creating an online broadcast using Microsoft Stream directly or from within Microsoft Teams or Yammer. Live Events can be watched in Microsoft Teams, in Yammer or using the Stream Web or Mobile App. In this blog I will focus on Teams.

Live Events is available in Office 365 E1, E3 and E5 as well as A3 and A5 Plans. I am surprised it doesn’t include the Front Line Worker ‘F’ Plans currently as users on these plans that are excluded from Live Events.

Creating a Live Event in Microsoft Teams

In Teams, go to the Meetings area in the left hand navigation

  •  Click ‘Schedule a Meeting’
  •  Select the drop down at the top of the meeting and select ‘New Live Meeting’
  • Fill in the some details and invite additional presenters (you can also do this later)

LiveEventP1

Set the permission for the Live Event, Organisation wide or specific people or groups

LiveEventP2

Click ‘Get attendee link’ (you can get this later)

Click Join – at this point you are joined as a Presenter but the meeting doesn’t start

LiveEventP3

Check your webcam and microphone

Clicking from the content panel at the bottom adds your content to the queue

Click Send Live and start the meeting when ready. This means you can organise the meeting well in advance, check everything is ready and then start on time.

LiveEventP4

Back in Teams you can update the meeting details, get access to the Live Event link and add resources for people attending during or after the meeting and because it’s Teams you can chat.

LiveEventP5.PNG

Finally, you can also create a Live Event directly from Stream and access recordings of previous Live Events here too.

LiveEventP6

Live Events are great for engaging with people especially across geographic locations and timezones.

Documentation for Live Events

Going Paperless

Back in 1975 Business Week published an article predicting the rise of the paperless office. Automation would replace manual tasks and jobs like book keepers and record keepers would disappear. This prediction was made at the very beginning of the personal computer revolution with companies like Microsoft and Apple in their infancy. The spreadsheet was yet to be invented and Microsoft Word 1.0 was still a decade away. Business computing meant mainframes only large corporations and governments could afford.

Since that time, the idea of the paperless office has a nirvana many people have attempted to reach but few have truly achieved. The rise of digital technologies in the workplace has helped move us in that direction, but for many the technology, processes and work culture barriers can seem like mountains. In some cases moving to a digital workplace has increase the use of paper!

I recall a photocopier sales person visiting our office unannounced several years ago armed with an offer we couldn’t refuse on a new photocopier lease. He had obviously excelled in the training on how to position the product and had rehearsed answers to any question I could throw at him. All this however didn’t prepare him for what I said next. “We don’t have a photocopier”. He was stunned for a moment and then the training kicked in. “Can we schedule a demo for you sometime in the next couple of weeks?”

That was possibly the first time I had really thought hard about trying to minimise the paper usage in our business. Before then we had been largely paper free, more through luck than a conscious decisions. We still had some paper-based processes, a paper filing system in and a regular monthly printer paper purchase.

Creating a paperless office requires several things:

  • Technology
  • Paperless business processes
  • Paperless team culture

Technology

Technology is required end to end, the person filling in a form, capturing field data, getting order details etc all the way through to the person completing the various actions that happen once the “submit” button is clicked. Depending on who the initiator of the process is, this could be a web site, mobile app, another computer system or an external trigger of some sort e.g. an environmental sensor.

I’ve been a Microsoft Surface user for many years and in my experience it is a great enabler of paperless with good touch and pen technology. Teaming up this hardware with OneNote and other Office 365 applications and services works very well for me.

Paperless Business Process

A true paperless business process allows the initiation and all actions in the process to be carried out without paper. This includes the collection of signatures electronically. You don’t want a “do it online” process that relies on a printer. How many times have you needed to do an “online” process, that requires you to download a PDF form, complete and return a signed copy?

Paperless Culture

Perhaps the most important part of creating a paperless office is culture. We can only achieve a paperless Throw the challenge to our teams, try running paperless meetings, turn printers off, contact suppliers and request that they send electronic invoices, sales orders etc. Tell people you are going paperless and ask them to help you achieve the goal.

I spent part of my career working in local government and to this day I am still astounded by how much paper they generated. Committee meetings bring joy to anyone who makes a living from photocopier or printer sales.

Eating our own dog food

As consultants helping clients implement digital workplace technologies, it’s important that we follow our own advice. What does this look like at Stratos and what is the impact?

Choosing the right technologies is has been very important for us. The applications we use to manage jobs, capture time, run sales processes, collaborate on documents, financial systems and the integration between systems are key to enabling paperless processes.

Our business processes are almost entirely paperless. Everything from work planning, timesheet approval, leave requests, accounts receivable and payables, payroll, contract management, quotes and tender responses are done entirely electronically.

We have built a company culture that means we are very light on paper usage. We have one HP Laserjet printer and replace toner cartridges only once a year. We use printers so little, that when I upgraded my laptop ten months ago the only printer driver I have installed allows PDF file printouts only. The last time I printed something on paper was April 2018 as part of a year-end process.

NoPrinters.PNG

One of the biggest benefits I find from having a paperless workplace, is the ability to work from anywhere. I can get my hands on any document related to any client in our system from my laptop or phone. I can approve leave requests instantly using the Microsoft Flow Approvals app, I can see our project pipeline, view the backlog of jobs on a client project, check our current financial position and almost any other task where ever I am.

As we near our eight year in business, Stratos still doesn’t own or lease a photocopier. I think that’s a win!

Where to next?

Office 365 provides us with a great set of tools to build a paperless workplace. Starting simple perhaps automating document templates and using SharePoint’s out of the box features. As your abilities grow, use PowerApps and Flow to help automate more complex processes.

Paperless doesn’t end with your office productivity tools however. You need to also look at interactions between systems; both internal and external. Think about what you receive and send to people in hard copy. Create an inventory of paper in your business and record everything you receive from invoices to consignment notes, approvals, receipts, reports and everything in between.

Once you have a list create a plan for switching to a paperless alternative. A fun way to do this is think about which printers and photocopiers you would no longer need. Track your paper and toner usage as an indicator of progress but remember the biggest benefits are process visibility, reliability and efficiency.

Some things are surprisingly simple to do but others may be much more difficult. Do a cost benefit analysis to help stay focused on the areas where the greatest gains can be made. The pareto principle is useful here.

My personal challenge to you

Uninstall the printer drivers on your work computer. How long can you go without printing? Asking someone else to print something for you is cheating!

SharePoint Online Mega Menu

Microsoft have added Mega Menu functionality to SharePoint Online making a significant improvement to the out of the box navigation functionality.

The Mega Menu is only available on Communication sites at this stage, however if you have a Modern Team Site connected to a Hub Site (using the Communication Site template), the navigation does appear.  Navigation is configured on the Hub Site and then inherits to all sites connected to the Hub, making it easy to maintain the navigation.

MegaMenu

Mega Menu’s are a great way to surface content from across your Intranet or even link to external URL’s. Nielson Norman Group have a good article on using Mega Menu’s here.

A few things I’d like to see added in the future:

  • Audience targetted links e.g. show the menu item for a specific audience
  • Ability to add icons or images in the menu
  • Team Sites support without needing a Hub Site
  • Term Set navigation option so that navigation can be configured centrally across multiple Hub Sites and sites not connected to a Hub Site.

My first impression of the Mega Menu is good. The functionality is fairly basic at this stage but it is a big improvement over the classic SharePoint navigation. Well done Microsoft, keep up the good work!

To learn more about the Mega Menu, watch this short video where I walk through the features and functionality.

5 SharePoint Document Migration Tips

I am doing a lot of work with clients looking to migrate from File Servers to SharePoint Online. These creaky old servers are often full of surprises that are the legacy of years or even decades filing without any significant tidy up.

Moving to SharePoint is a one off opportunity to tidy up, rethink how documents are stored and managed and to create a good foundation for the collaborative future your users are dreaming of!

Before you turn SharePoint on and start dragging files, have a read of these 5 tips.

  1. Focus your effort where the value is. Your time is limited and tidying up files can take an enormous amount of time. Look for the high value content such as contracts, policies and procedures. Don’t waste your effort on low value content.
  2.  Allow time for linked spreadsheets. Chances are these will need to be relinked when you move them to SharePoint. Warn the owners and budget some of their time for relinking.
  3. Don’t store everything in one Document Library. Libraries can have different metadata, views, Flows, templates, permissions, versioning and can be sync’d offline. Create multiple libraries and take the features above into consideration when designing your site structure.
  4. Avoid individual file permissions. The less granular your permissions, the easier they are to maintain. Complex permissions should be used only when absolutely neccessary and even then you should think twice!
  5. Don’t do it all at once. As you and your users get to know SharePoint you will start to understand what you like and don’t like. Take small steps so to avoid costly / labour intensive mistakes. Better to learn a lesson on a small area of content rather than the entire site!

Now for the bonus tip. Use the Pareto Principle! You will often find guides, read whitepapers or get advice on migrating that could be great in the ideal world, where time and budget are unlimited. Unfortunately for most of us, that isn’t where we live and the 80/20 rule will help you get a result. Remember that last 20% is often more costly than the first 80% (in both time and money), and ask yourself if the final 20% is worth the investment. Flipping this around the other way, high value content (see tip #1) will most likely be less than 20% of your content, but it might be the place you should focus more of your effort because it contains 80% of the value.

There are numerous lessons to be learnt when migrating to SharePoint and this list only scratches the surface. Take your time, plan each move and write down what success looks like and don’t be afraid to adjust your plan as you go and learn more about how your users want to work and how they don’t.

Microsoft’s SharePoint Migration Tool helps with migrating content to SharePoint from local disk, file servers and SharePoint 2010/2013.

 

Install SharePoint 2013 on Windows 2012 R2

Last week I did something I thought I’d never do again, install SharePoint 2013 Server. It had been a while and to make things a little more interesting the server was in a data centre with no internet access and no easy way of transferring files across. Here are a few things I learnt that I’m sure will be helpful if you find yourself in the same situation.

Environment:

  • Windows Server 2012 R2
  • SharePoint Server 2013

Problem 1: How do you get the pre-reqs onto the server?

Download the pre-requisite files here and copy them into your install source “Prerequesite” folder (look inside your install source folder structure for this).

Download the prerequisite files for SharePoint 2013 Server

Problem 2: AppFabric install issue

AppFabric wouldn’t install via the prerequisite installer giving error 1603. Lots of digging around suggested the issue was due to .NET but I found the solution was to run the pre-req installer at the command line using the full path:

C:\SP\prerequisiteinstaller.exe /AppFabric:C:\SP\prerequisiteinstallerfiles\WindowsServerAppFabricSetup_x64.exe”

If you get error 1603 you should also check the Local Groups in Computer Management and remove the “AS_Observers” and “AS_Administrators” groups if they exist.

Problem 3: The Prerequisite installer says .NET 4.5 is missing

This is because the SharePoint installer doesn’t recognise the later versions of .NET installed with Windows Server 2012 R2 includes .NET 4.5. Microsoft provides and update for this that replaces a file in the root directory of your install source files.

Download the fix for the .NET 4.5 error

Let me know if you have any other tips that might help someone else who finds themselves installing older versions of SharePoint on newer Windows versions.

Modern SharePoint Branding Resources

One of the big changes between classic SharePoint and Modern SharePoint’s is the approach and method used to brand sites.  There are two levels of branding, one easy approach for basic branding and a more advanced feature currently needing developer skills.

This wireframe shows the areas that can be customised in red. In this example I have included a mix of layouts, the top section has two column web-part zones (66%/33%) and the lower row is using 3 columns.

SP-Branding-Wireframe

Change the Look

In SharePoint Online Modern Sites, click the Cog and choose ‘Change the Look’. From here you can choose from a list of predefined themes. The colour pallet can be adjusted and you have the ability to set the background colour of the title elements.

Logo and Title

Clicking the Cog icon and choosing “Site Information” allows you to change the logo and title of a site.

It should also be noted that if the SharePoint Site is a Hub Site, the theme from Change the Look and the Logo and Title will be inherited to any connected sites.

Web-parts

Many SharePoint web-parts include layout options to future refine your designs. For example:

Hero web-part layout options

Hero-webpart

News web-part layout optionsNews-webpart

Banner images

SharePoint pages including site pages, news and events include an optional banner image. SharePoint expects these images to be 16:9 to ensure the best auto scaling. This is important when rolling up content e.g. a news post image will auto scale when displayed in a rollup web part such as the news or highlighted content web-parts.

banner

SPFx Application Customizer

Microsoft provides the ability to customise the header and footer areas of Modern SharePoint using the SharePoint Framework (SPFx). This approach also allows for custom CSS files that can over-ride the out of the box style sheet to do things like changing the web-part title styles.

The SharePoint Starter Kit provides examples of how to do this.

Inspiration

If you’re looking for design ideas, take a look at the Microsoft Ignite 2018 Modern SharePoint Look Book full of banding and layout examples.

Before you settle on a design, play with the web-parts and layouts. Microsoft provides a range of web-part and layout options that make it easy to create a visually appealing site. They also make it more difficult to create truly one off designs. Don’t try to fight it!