Office 365

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).

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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.

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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.

Surface Pro 3 and Office 365

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella has set out a clear strategy to transform Microsoft into a Services and Devices company. This transformation has been in the works for a few years now with the team in Redmond reinventing themselves and the way they do things. So what does this mean for us?

Rather than explain the technical and business in’s and out’s, I thought I would illustrate the new way of working by telling you about my day. For those of you who don’t know me, I am a business owner and IT Consultant.

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The “cloud” is at the core of our business. Office 365 for email, calendars, collaboration and document management, Xero for financials, JIRA for managing software projects and Dynamics CRM to support sales and marketing. We eat our own dog food using the tools we recommend to our clients.

This choice has allowed us to build a business that can operate from almost anywhere. In our first few weeks, it was from a kitchen table. These days it is from our offices, home, client sites, café’s, airports and even the car parked on the side of the road! All we need is an Internet connection and we’re ready for action.

Productivity to us, means being able to “sell” our time efficiently. This means being able to work from anywhere. That’s where the cloud helps us.

SharePoint

SharePoint provides our team with document management and collaboration capabilities. It’s the place we go for templates, contracts, statements of work, project and client documentation. No matter where we are, we can access our documents. Office Web Apps ensure we can edit documents and spreadsheets if we are accessing SharePoint from a device without Microsoft Office installed.

We also provide some of our clients with portal access for sharing documents, ensuring we are all working on the right version. Our clients love it and so does our Project Manager.

OneNote

OneNote might just be my new favourite application. It allows us to create and share “notebooks” with each other and our clients. Multiple people can contribute to the same notebook at the same time, making it a very useful tool for all sorts of tasks.

Notebooks are synchronised to SharePoint on Office 365 meaning they are accessible from anywhere that has an internet connection. The notebook can be updated from a web browser, laptop and even my iPhone.

Surface Pro 3

The Surface Pro 3 is Microsoft’s latest tablet / laptop device. The Surface Pro 3 has a larger screen, faster processor, better battery life and better keyboard than it’s predecessors. Unlike other tablets, it runs a fully functional version of Windows 8.1 Professional allowing it to run anything your Windows PC can run. I have a full version of Office 2013, various Windows VPN clients, Citrix, Vmware View, SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio. Did I mention, it weights in at just 800 grams?

The touch screen combined with Microsoft smart stylus (pen) and OneNote, makes the Surface a brilliant note taking tool. I can sketch up screen layouts and scribble down notes without paper. Now I have my notes with me anywhere I go rather than in a serious of paper note books and scraps of paper on my desk.

I should point out that I have used older Surface devices. The “3” is a major improvement and resolves any of the short comings of older devices. Better screen, keyboard and kick stand make this device a pleasure to use. Having said that, it still isn’t the perfect device for everyone, so try it before you buy it.

Conclusion

Combining “cloud” services with a versatile mobile device makes it possible to work from almost anywhere, with everything you need at your finger tips.

These tools combine to improve productivity by reducing downtime between jobs and ensuring we have the information we need when we need it. They make it easier to work from anywhere and keep us in touch with our team and customers.

That sums it all up for me. I’d be interested in hearing your experiences too.

Can I use Office 365 on a Mac?

I’ve been watching a little revolution taking place over the past few months. I’ve noticed a few people in my wider circle (human, not Google+) becoming a little bit “Mac-curious”. They’re starting to ask questions like, should I buy a Mac or a PC?

The answer is of course depends on what you want to use the computer for…A few years ago, if the answer was “work” then for 95% of people a PC was the right choice. My own recent experiences seem to make that line a blurry.

Word Online with Safari

In my day to day job, I am a company Director and an IT Consultant working largely with Microsoft Technologies with a major focus on SharePoint and Office 365. Here’s a few things I’d like to share about my experience of working with Office 365 from a Mac.

Using nothing more than a Mac Book Pro (13 inch retina display) and an internet connection at the office, paired to my phone and a variety of Wifi locations including home, airports and cafes, I can get my work done. No hassles, it just works!

I have Office 2011 for Mac installed locally, but actually I hardly need it. The Office Web Apps are great, far better than Google Apps (yep I’ve use them daily too). I love the Excel and Word Web Apps. Pair these two work horses with Outlook Web App and SharePoint and I can do almost everything I need for my day to day work. The experience is the same as if I was on a PC.

I can drag files from my local machine to a SharePoint document library. I can sync files locally using the Mac One Drive client. I can edit without compatibility issues. I can print without wonky formatting. It just works.

Office for Mac includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Lync. It has some limitations so do your homework, particularly if you need VBA or third-party add-on support.

I still have a few little things that work better on a PC, particularly connectivity into a few of my clients, however the Microsoft now providing a great RDS Client for Mac, I hardly ever need to boot into Windows.

I would like to congratulate the folks at Redmond for providing great Mac OSX support. I see this as a real positive for Microsoft as many of their services are now accessible to people using other platforms including iOS and soon Android support for Office. Nice one!