Office 365

SharePoint News from Ignite 2017

The Future of SharePoint, 2017 Edition

This year’s Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando Florida, was the place to be for anyone interested in SharePoint and Office 365. An enormous number of announcements were made covering almost every aspect of the Office and Office Servers.

Microsoft continued the 3 year release cycle for SharePoint, announcing SharePoint 2019 will be released mid-2018. That’s right, a new server release of SharePoint for On-premises users. Microsoft Exchange 2019 server was also announced, which is good news for those businesses who prefer to say on-premises.

Office 365 had more news than it is humanly possible to keep up with. Here are some of the big items to look forward to:

SharePoint

  • News sites – mobile notifications, save for later, news digests, publish to Teams
  • Hub sites – global activity rollups, global search scopes and more
  • Communication sites – custom layouts and Yammer integration
  • Web-parts – lots of new web-parts for Modern sites including Forms and PowerApps!
  • LinkedIn integration – better profiles and expert search
  • Dynamic Record identification and management
  • Better photo and image search – indexing written content in images
  • Multi-geo support – one tenant across multiple geographic locations
  • Improved mobile experiences
  • Conditional formatting of lists
  • New Admin console
  • SharePoint 2019 Server for on-premises users

PowerApps and Flow

  • Did I mention PowerApps web-parts for SharePoint?
  • A clear announcement that PowerApps will replace InfoPath
  • Document Approval for SharePoint and OneDrive for Business
  • PowerApps web-parts for SharePoint

OneDrive for Business

  • One place to see all your files – OneDrive, SharePoint and Groups!
  • Multi-geo support – one tenant across multiple geographic locations
  • OneDrive Client for Mac
  • End user file restore (30 day backup)
  • External Sharing without needing a Microsoft Account with one time use codes
  • Files on-demand

Teams

  • Add SharePoint pages to Teams
  • Push news from SharePoint to Teams
  • Connect Office Groups to Teams
  • Link existing SharePoint Team sites to Teams!

Security and Compliance

  • Site level conditional access policies
  • Service level encryption where the user (tenant owner) has the keys
  • End-user mass content restore – great if you need to bulk recover documents

There have been a huge number of announcements and chances are I have missed a few. It’s a really exciting time for us SharePoint and Office 365 people!

 

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Upgrading to SharePoint 2016 : 101

How do we upgrade to SharePoint 2016? This is a question I’ve been asked a lot lately.

Before I answer the question, I usually start by asking one of my own. Have you considered moving to SharePoint Online? Some people have a very good reason for choosing to stay on-premises but many don’t. Let’s consider both scenarios.

Scenario 1: Staying on-premises

The simplest option is a Content Database migration. This is the same tried and tested method used to upgrade from older versions of SharePoint e.g. SP2010 to SP2013. If you are moving from SP2010, you will need to do an interim upgrade to SP2013 first, just for the content database upgrades.

Steps:

  1. Install a new SharePoint 2016 Farm. If you need high-availability or want to take advantage of mini-roles to reduce downtime during patching, you’ll need a minimum of 4 SharePoint servers. If that isn’t needed then a single server farm is possible, but do your homework before going down this path.
  2. You may also need to upgrade your SQL Server depending on the version.
  3. Once installed, create a new Web Application
  4. Restore the Content Database(s) from the SP2013 farm to the new SQL Server
  5. Install any third-party solutions. Mega Menus, Workflow tools, Custom web parts etc
  6. In Central Admin, attach the new database to your new SP2016 web application. SharePoint will automatically upgrade the database schema during this process, which can take time, especially if the database is big.
  7. IISRESET
  8. Test everything

You may decide that an in-place upgrade isn’t practical or possible. In this case, you can setup a new farm and then use a migration tool (DocAve, MetaLogix, ShareGate etc) to move the content across. This can be a time consuming process but is worth consideration if you need to restructure content or if you have a lot of customisation that you don’t want to bring across as part of the upgrade.

Scenario 2: Moving to SharePoint Online

Moving to SharePoint Online often requires more planning upfront. There are some things you can do in SharePoint server, that can’t be done online or require a rethink. Here’s a short list of common differences, but there are others that may apply too:

–          Server side solutions cannot be deployed to the cloud

–          Site Collections can’t use explicit paths (URL’s to sites may change)

–          You cannot change the URL from https://mytenantname.sharepoint.com

–          User Profile Sync back to Active Directory is not supported

–          SQL Server Reporting Services integration is not supported

–          Email enabled document libraries are not supported

–          Many third-party mega menus aren’t supported (yet)

–          Integration with other systems may need to be updated

This is by no-means a full list, but it does give you an idea of where pain could start.

You will need to develop a strategy for migrating content across.

–          What content are you migrating?

–          How much content is there?

–          What tool are you going to use?

I highly recommend using a migration tool such as Metalogix, ShareGate or DocAve. Unless you have a trivial amount of content, these tools will save you time. They can map metadata from your old site to the new one or copy entire sites and site collections across. All of these tools handle version history and system metadata such as created date and created by.

Steps:

  1. Identify what you will be migrating and determine if it includes features that may not be supported. Workarounds or alternative solutions may be needed to address those issues.
  2. Ensure Azure AD Connect is setup and syncing users and groups
  3. I recommend that you move Exchange across before SharePoint if possible. There are some things in the Delve profiles which work better
  4. Setup you SharePoint Online tenant
  5. Create site collections
  6. Use a migration tool to copy over the sites, lists and libraries from on-premises.
  7. Setup navigation
  8. Check site security

You can do this process in stages e.g. pre-copy the bulk of the content and then migrate over the changes before you ‘go live’.

I should stress that in many cases you will have other challenges to address as you migrate sites across. Give yourself time to test and find solutions for those things that don’t migrate nicely.

Moving to SharePoint Online will give you many advantages over the long term and reduce the amount of infrastructure needed for your SharePoint farm. For many of us the chances are you will move to the cloud eventually anyway, so why delay?

If you have any good tips, please share in the comments below.

Intro to PowerApps and Flow

I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to speak at the Digital Workplace Conference 2017 in Auckland on the topic of PowerApps and Flow.

The Digital Workplace Conference covers a full range of topics related to Office 365 and still has a strong emphasis on SharePoint. Topics cover a good mix of technical, thought leadership and customer case studies. I highly recommend this conference for anyone in the intranet, knowledge management, collaboration and SharePoint space.

Microsoft are supporting InfoPath and SharePoint Designer through to 2026, but aren’t adding new features to these tools. The future isn’t a like for like replacement, so it is important to pay attention to what is happening with the new tools.

Here a simple example using a SharePoint list as the starting point to build a basic PowerApp.

Presentation Agenda:

  • Overview of Flow
  • Security and Policies
  • Flow Demo
  • Overview of PowerApps
  • PowerApps Demo
  • Advanced features
  • Coming soon

The demo covered a number of simple but useful scenarios for using Flow and PowerApps and covered off some of the challenges and limitations. Both services are developing rapidly, so keep an eye on the roadmap.

Download Presentation

Thank you to everyone who attended my talk.

Do we still need Structure in SharePoint?

I love Delve, it’s a great way of quickly accessing documents I’ve been working on recently and is particularly useful in when collaborating with people across our business. It is particularly useful when someone moves on and you need to find that document they were recently working on.

I’ve had conversations with a wide range of people over the past few days about the use of Delve and where you still need to structure content to find it in traditional ways. In my opinion structure is still very important for several reasons:

  1. Compliance – documents that must be keep for compliance reasons benefit from structured storage. It allows content to be easily identified, grouped and makes it easier to apply policies.
  2. Archive (High value) –  where you have high value content, the ability to classify the documents, track the approval history and ensure you know which version is authoritative can be important.
  3. Security – structure makes security easier to apply, maintain and audit.
  4. Third-party integration.

You may also have documents that don’t have these requirements. It is still important to think about the life-cycle, particularly what happens if the owner of the documents leaves the organisation and how do I find documents that have been cold for a longer time period but still have value.

Why don’t I just store everything in OneDrive for Business? For all the reason listed above and because we want to ensure the documents are retained over the long term.

Is traditional Site Structure and Search dead? Delve improves user experience and making content more discoverable but it doesn’t suit every use case. Delve also helps address issues such as content stored in Office 365 Groups, OneDrive for Business and other services that work with Office Graph.

What are your thoughts on Delve and SharePoint Structure?

SSIS, InfoPath and SharePoint Lists

Have you ever needed  a low cost solution for capturing data in a form on mobile device and then pull the data back into an in house SQL database. In this solution data is entered into an InfoPath form on a tablet (Windows, iOS or Android), submitted to a SharePoint Online form library and then pulled into a SQLserver database using SQL Integration Services (SSIS).

screen-shot-2017-01-21-at-10-17-01-am

This solution will also work with standard SharePoint lists and can be used with SharePoint Online, SharePoint 2013 or SharePoint 2016.

The things you need to know:

  • InfoPath forms can be hosted in a SharePoint Online forms library
  • InfoPath can ‘promote’ fields from the form into metadata fields in the SharePoint Online forms library e.g. each form will be saved and selected fields will appear as columns on the form library.
  • SharePoint Online form libraries can be queried using an oData connection
  • SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) can use oData as a data source and push or pull data to and from the data source
  • SSIS can be scheduled

Note: SQL Server Standard Edition (or better) includes SSIS

InfoPath steps:

  1. Using InfoPath Designer, create a form and publish the form to a SharePoint Form library. The easiest option is to do this from InfoPath and let it create the Form library for you.
  2. In Form Options, select the fields that you want to ‘promote’ to SharePoint.
  3. Publish the form
  4. In SharePoint verify that the promoted fields are showing as columns in the Forms library

SQL Server and SSIS steps:

In this step we setup a database and SSIS package. The connection is initiated from the server running SSIS and so this server must be able to make an outbound connection to Office 365.

SSIS packages are created using SQL Server Data Tools

  1. Create a table in your database with fields to store the data from the form
  2. Using Visual Studio create an SSIS package
    • Create the  SQLserver data connection for SQL table created in step 1
    • Create the oData connection to the SharePoint Online list. You will need:
      • The URL for the Form library (the site URL)
      • Office 365 credentials with permission to read the list. These credentials will be saved in the SSIS package
      • See the authentication note below
    • Map the fields from the oData Connection to the SQLserver Connection fields
    • Save
  3. Once you have tested the process (see steps below), you can schedule the SSIS package to run on as frequently as you need.

Testing:

  1. Create a new InfoPath form and submit the form to the library
  2. In SharePoint, check to see that the promoted fields are populated
  3. In Visual Studio run the SSIS package (you may need to ‘Run as Administrator’ when you start Visual Studio for this to work
  4. Check the table in SQLserver to see if any new data has arrived

Authentication issue:

When creating the oData connection to Office 365, you must manually change the setting for ‘Microsoft Online Services Authentication’ to true. This is in the oData Connection Manager settings, under Connection in the Security section. More details here.

Resources:

How to promote fields from InfoPath to SharePoint

How to create an SSIS package with SQL Server Data Tools

MSDN: SSIS oData tutorials

Microsoft MVP award

On the 1st of January 2017 I was awarded the Microsoft MVP award for Office Servers and Services (Yes, I am a SharePoint nut). I feel honoured to be a recipient of this award because it recognises something which I personally think is very important, contributing to the IT community.

screen-shot-2017-01-17-at-8-16-46-pm

I encourage everyone to find a community of interest and participate regardless of whether it is technology based or something completely different. Being part of a community is rewarding in many ways. You’ll meet new people, make great friends, learn new things and get enormous satisfaction from helping others who share you interest.

My involvement in the IT community was sparked by a need to learn about things that weren’t written in books or covered by professional training courses. I quickly discovered that putting myself forward to talk on a topic was a great motivator for learning (I was worried about embarrassing myself). I also discovered that embarrassment doesn’t really happen, people are supportive, audiences are kind and many people will take a moment to say a quiet thank you.

I never set out to get an award, that is something that came from giving time, sharing experience and talking about what goes wrong in the real world. Thank you very much to the people who support me, participated in the events I have organised, turned up to my presentations, watched my YouTube video and read my blog. I feel very thankful and motivated to keep it up!

Thank you! Now go and sign yourself up to your local user group!

 

 

SharePoint Online Provisioning PnP

At this weeks New Zealand Digital Workplace Conference I attended a session introducing the Provisioning PnP (Patterns and Practice) resources. This is a fantastic resource for SharePoint Online administrators and consultants.

It provides a set of PowerShell commands that allow administrators to build a template of a SharePoint Online site (or features within a site e.g just a library or list) and then redeploy the template to another site.

Three big features:

  • It isn’t tenant specific, so you can make a template from one tenant and deploy to another. Great for Dev to UAT to Production.
  • The templates can be updated and redeployed to update existing sites built from the template!
  • The templates are XML files that can be manually updated.

The Provisioning PnP also includes commands that can help audit sites, lists and libraries for specific settings. For example, you can find a list of sites with a specific feature enabled or web-part installed.

The Provisioning PnP is free and is part of a larger PnP resource which is receiving monthly updates.

Resources:

This is a fantastic addition to the tool kit but wait there’s more. The PnP website is full of useful resources, created by experts for the community.

Thank you to Paul Culmsee for sharing his experiences with us at #DWCNZ.