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.

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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?

Data Channel : Managing SharePoint Databases

I was recently interviewed for the Data Channel about managing SharePoint databases on SQL Server.

In the interview with Nagaraj Venkatesan (SQL Server MVP from Singapore) I cover many of the common questions DBA’s have about SharePoint including:

  • Things that make SharePoint databases unique
  • Capacity Planning
  • Remote Blob Storage (RBS)
  • Backup / Recovery
  • SSRS Integration
  • Patching

You can download a copy of my presentation from #SQLsat614 which covers the basics for DBA’s and is also useful for SharePoint Admins.

Thanks to The SQL Saturday team for giving me the opportunity to present and Nagaraj for the interview.

 

 

SharePoint for DBA’s

Yesterday I presented at #SQLSat614 in Christchurch. SQL Saturday was a full day event with 20 experts talking on topics related to the Microsoft Data Platform. Since this wasn’t my normal audience, I thought I’d ask the twitter-sphere what questions DBA’s have when it comes to managing SharePoint and the responses helped formulate my talk.

I attended another session where the speaker raised culture as an important aspect of ‘getting things done’. He spoke about the disconnect between different groups within IT, Ops team vs Dev team vs Systems team etc and how communication is often lacking.

Over the years I’ve seen many instances where people using SharePoint do things that ‘upset’ either the Ops team, DBA or someone else in the team. The is often swiftly followed by finger pointing and limited understanding of each others needs only makes things worse.

The point I would make is that SharePoint is a platform. In many cases a group of people are responsible for different elements of the platform – server infrastructure, SQL servers, backups, administration of SharePoint, site builds, content migrations, governance etc. If we can clearly identify the needs of each team and get better understanding across the group, then things will run more smoothly, especially when a crisis occurs. We want the group to become a team.

This leads me to my presentation, Introduction to SharePoint for DBA’s. I made a deliberate decision not to dive in to deep or create a comprehensive guide covering every aspect of SharePoint that a DBA might need to understand, but just enough that they would see how different it is to other workloads and provide a few tips for doing things better.

I’ll leave you with a few simple rules to remember and a link below to download the presentation. Here are the rules:

  • Always use SQL Aliases when installing SharePoint
  • Pre-grow your databases for planned data migration or bulk loading
  • Create one Site Collections per Content Databases were possible
  • Understand your recovery options (see more here)
  • Have a regular catch up with your SharePoint admin
  • Never update SharePoint databases directly, use the SharePoint UI or API’s

Download Presentation

During the questions I was asked, what is the difference between a DBA and a SharePoint Admin? A difficult question for a guy who spends his days working with SharePoint to answer, when the room is full of DBA’s!

A big thank you to the Microsoft SQL community (#sqlfamily) for having me at their event.

Why is Office 365 going slow?

Is your Office 365 running slow at random times? Does it seem to happen at work but be fine from home (or some other location)? Here is a short check list to help diagnose the problem.

Where is your Office 365 Tenant located?

Make sure your tenant is hosted in a location that makes sense. For us New Zealanders, the nearest location is Australia. Check the Office 365 Datacenter map.

Are you behind a Firewall or Proxy Server?

All Office 365 services use SSL. Firewalls and Proxy server with SSL Packet Inspection enabled can be a source of latency, especially if they are under a heavy load. Does turning off packet inspection improve performance? Does the Firewall’s console show high memory or CPU usage? This article ‘Should you use SSL Inspection’ by Forinet is a good read and applies to other vendors too.

Check your international bandwidth

In New Zealand some ISP’s limit the amount of international bandwidth allocated to each customer. If you have a large number of users, this could be a bottleneck. Talk to your ISP about the bandwidth allocation. Some may also have Office 365 specific plans.

Express Route is another technology that can improve performance for Azure and Office 365. See Microsoft’s Express Route partners and peering locations document. Talk to your ISP about Express Route.

Are you connecting across a WAN to your company internet connection?

If you are working from a branch office, then your internet traffic may be passing over a WAN link before getting to the internet. How much bandwidth do you have and are you sharing it with other traffic? Are you slowing down when someone prints a big file?

Other things to check

  • Network switches on your local LAN. Look for packet loss, latency and retry errors
  • Wireless network. Is the issue related to your WiFi only?
  • Your PC (or Mac). Is the problem specific to one device?
  • Run a speed test on your internet connection.
  • Are you over your data cap?

For a details example of how to troubleshoot Office 365 performance, read this article from Microsoft Premier Support.

There are other reasons Office 365 might be running slow, but in my experience most issues relate to the environment users are in. Try to eliminate the easiest things first.

Surface Pro alternative keyboard

I was first in line to get a Surface Pro 3 when they first came out. It’s a great piece of hardware with good performance, a great screen, plenty battery capacity and will run all the applications I need day to day. Microsoft improved many of the earlier Surface devices weaknesses and it became a popular device.

BrydgeKeyboard

I spend a lot of time away from my desk and out of the office. I take my Surface with me everywhere. The form factor combined with kick stand is great for working on planes, in cafe’s or in my car, but it does have some short comings. Sometimes I want to work from a couch or chair without a nearby hard surface to put the Surface on. The standard keyboard lacks the rigidity needed to make that type of working, leaving you thinking I really do need a laptop at times.

After considerable use for the past couple of years my keyboard was starting to wear out and so starting looking at the alternatives. Do I get the Surface Pro 4 keyboard (compatible with the Surface Pro 3)? What alternatives are there?  I stumbled across Brydge Keyboards, who make alternative keyboards for all your favourite tablets.

The Brydge 12.3 (https://www.brydgekeyboards.com/products/brydge-12-3) is not only an alternative keyboard, it also removes the need to use the Surface’s Kick Stand. You can use your Surface like a normal laptop, but without splashing out for the more expensive Surface Book. Brydge also offers a version with storage expansion.

They keyboard is made from aluminium, weights in at 675grams, has a back light, connects with bluetooth and runs for 3 months between charges. This combined with great reviews on several major websites, means it is seriously worth investigating further!

The release date is May 2017. You can pre-order now.

Update: I’ve got one!

I’ve had the keyboard for just over a week and haven’t once wanted to switch back to the Type Cover. I’ve used it at my desk, onsite with clients, in a car, on two flights and at a conference.  The typing experience is considerably better than the Type Cover and I have found myself using the Surface Pro more as my primary device.

The track pad is smaller than I was expecting, but is usable and I think better than the SurfacePro3 track pad. It is entirely usable but I do find myself using an external mouse if I have a desk to work at.

Switching to flight mode on a plane and then remember to activate Bluetooth was a little trap. I was a little tired the first time (6am flight) it did take me a moment or two to realise why the keyboard wasn’t working.

Judging from the reaction I’ve had when showing the Brydge 12.3 to other Surface Pro users, I think it is a much welcomed alternative to the Type Cover options, primarily because it makes the Surface more laptop like and it improves the typing experience.

My only real gripe is the weight of the keyboard which adds 675grams to the total weight. You do however get a feeling of quality and after a few days this has become less of an issue than it was initially.

Overall rating is 8/10.

PowerShell:Bulk load files into SharePoints

Here is a script I wrote to bulk upload files and metadata into SharePoint. To make this work you need two things, a CSV file containing the names of the files to upload and the metadata associated with the item.

In this example, the CSV file has the following format:

  • filename,cust_number,document_type

The script reads the CSV file, creates a folder in the document library named with the value of the “cust_number” field, and then uploads the file “filename” and populates the “document_type” column.

The WebClient command is used to upload the file into the document library. The script also checks the item in (if required).

Write-Progress -Activity “Connecting to SharePoint Site,” -Status “Please wait …”
Add-PSSnapin Microsoft.SharePoint.PowerShell -ErrorAction SilentlyContinue

$CSVFile = “C:\FilesToImport\filelist.csv”

$SPWebURL = “http://sharepoint/site”
$SPListURL = “http://sharepoint/site/library/”
$BaseFolder = “C:\FilesToImport\Files”
$Credentials = [System.Net.CredentialCache]::DefaultCredentials

$SPWebObject = Get-SPWeb $SPWebURL
write-host $SPListURL
$SPListObject = $SPWebObject.GetListFromUrl(“library/Forms/AllItems.aspx”)
$WebClient = New-Object System.Net.WebClient
$WebClient.Credentials = $Credentials

Write-Progress -Activity “Importing CSV File,” -Status “Please wait …”

$CSVObject = Import-CSV $CSVFile
$Index = 0
$Max = $CSVObject.Count

ForEach($CSVItem in $CSVObject)
{
$Index++
Write-Progress -Activity “Updating Metadata” -Status “Processing Item $Index of $Max”

$FileName = $CSVItem.File_name + “.pdf”
$ID_Number = $CSVItem.Cust_Number
$DocumentType = $CSVItem.Document_Type

$FullFileName = $BaseFolder + “\” + $FileName
write-host $FullFileName
if (Test-Path ($FullFileName))
{
$UploadPath = $SPListUrl + “/” + $Cust_Number + “/” + $FileName
$WebClient.UploadFile($UploadPath, “PUT”, $FullFileName)$SPListItemsObject = $SPListObject.Items | where {$_[‘Name’] -eq $FileName}
ForEach($SPListItem in $SPListItemsObject)
{
$SPListItem[‘Document_Type’] = $DocumentType

$SPListItem.Update()
if ($SPListItem.file.CheckOutStatus -ne “None”)
{
$SPListItem.file.CheckIn(“”)
}
}
}
else
{
Add-Content ErrorLog.txt $FullFileName
}
}

I’ve used this script in a few scenarios. I hope you find it useful too.