• SharePoint Designer 101

    SharePoint Desiger is the best tool for user-experience customization of SharePoint sites, at least for those who aren't fluent in code. This software is available for free on the Microsoft website and comes pre-packed with most SharePoint deployments. This article walks you through the basics of using that software.


    During the installation process of SharePoint Designer, the default settings (for the installation, maintenance, Microsoft updates, and so on) are typically preferable. Do not choose non-default options unless you're confident about what those changes will mean. If you have any problems with locating, downloading, or installing SharePoint Designer, the best way to troubleshoot is to refer to the Microsft site. Once you have Designer installed, you're ready to move forward with this article.

    Setting Up a Base Template

    To ready a template for your SharePoint sites, you will go to File → New → Web Site. While there are multiple options available here, the best path is to choose "SharePoint Templates" and select one of the blank basic sites you see on this page. While they lack dynamic content and web parts, those pieces can be added later without difficulty as the templates are pre-built in the ASP.NET framework that allows for such dynamic elements. Unless you have strong reasons for doing so, importing a site at this stage is not recommended.

    Connecting to Your Hosted SharePoint

    To synchronize with your hosted SharePoint, simply enter the URL of your SharePoint into the "site location" box and click "OK." From here, you will be asked to input your SharePoint credentials (i.e., username and password). Once you have done so, Designer will automatically make the necessary synchronizations.

    Using the Interface

    The SharePoint Designer interface is designed to be intuitive for users, especially those familiar with the Microsoft Office suite. While a great deal of good comes from simple experimentation, there are dedicated guides to navigating Designer, with the most prominent coming from Microsoft itself.

  • Conversations for SharePoint Governance Planning

    Setting up an effective SharePoint governance plan is challenging, but it becomes impossible without appropriate communication. After all, without a real understanding of what drives those who live within the framework of that governance, it's entirely possible that your approach will do more harm than good. This entry gives tips on what conversations to have as you work to establish the right governance plan for your company.

    What Are Your Core Company Goals?

    Your governance plan must always be centered around your crucial business outcomes, but it's easy to assume that everyone is starting on the same page when it comes to what those goals are. In reality, employees at different levels of the company, and even different company leaders, may have distinct visions of where the company is headed.

    Establishing and communicating about goals is an effective business strategy in any context, but it serves as a foundation for any governance plans. If that foundation is cracked, everything else is bound to crumble.

    What Roles and Responsibilities Do Employees Have?

    Job responsibilities for various projects should be considered in setting up the framework of SharePoint, but it must also be accounted for when thinking about governance.

    While having these conversations is crucial, it's important to understand that strictly defined roles aren't necessary for every company. Some companies prefer to keep a fluid set of roles, with each mutli-skilled employee blurring the lines between traditional roles as they move the project forward. It's entirely acceptable to define roles in this way. For governance, what matters isn't the exact roles but the boundaries and permissions they require.

    On-Premise and Off-Premise Enforcement

    While the policies of your governance plan will be highly tuned to your business goals, company culture, and the industry you work in, those policies will need an enforcement plan to have any weight.

    Most companies have a policy in place for on-premise work, which is the first step to take. In today's mobile world, however, it's also important to have a policy for off-premise access of sensitive files, emails, and client details. Once these policies are in place, the most important step must still be completed: You must ensure that the enforcement policy is communicated effectively and non-threateningly to your staff.

    Your company may have specific needs or objectives that require other conversations before you can effectively make a SharePoint governance policy. In any industry, however, the conversation topics listed above should provide a solid start.

  • Bill Clinton at SharePoint Conference 2014

    One of the surprising, and surprisingly last-minute, updates ot the SharePoint Conference 2014 roster was the announcement of Bill Clinton's keynote address. As a former president with a strong track record on economic policies, Clinton's address spoke to the value of enterprise content management in a troubled job market. His address didn't stop there, however.

    Clinton was speaking on behalf of the Clinton Foundation, a charitable organization that works to support economic growth, environmental sustainability, and other business ethics pursuits around the world. The value of economic growth was a major point of his keynote, and he noted that one fifth of the economic growth during his administration was due to technological advances. He also went beyond pure economics, however, emphasizing that technology had a vital role to play in making a better world—so long as we use that technology appropriately.

    "Technology is liberating people, empowering them, but how they use it, and how you use it, depends in no small measure on identity," said Clinton. "And whether what we have in common is more important than our interesting differences."

    Clinton then went on to discuss ways that technology like SharePoint could make the world better. Among other examples Clinton provided was the earthquake in Haiti (2010), and the ways that technology allowed for more rapid and effective disaster response.

    Clinton asked some hard questions. "As we look at the 21st century world," he asked, "what do you think is wrong with it, and how do you want it to come out? How do you think about what you'd like the world to look like when you have children your age?" He warned of the risk of trying to push past the cutting edge, and the ways that technology can be used blindly and without regard for its more unsettling consequences.

    He further discussed how technology like SharePoint could help move the 21st century toward the sort of world he values. "Not one in which we erase our interesting differences, but one in which we recognize that our community humanity matters more," he stated. "And unless we act as if it matters more, we will never be able to preserve many of those differences."

  •  announcements at SharePoint Conference 2014

    SharePoint Conference 2014 has come to a close, and the event was full of new announcements, high-powered workshops, and a set of minor shifts that indicated major trends. If you didn't manage to make it to the conference, there are always future meet-ups to look forward to—and we'll help you get up to speed by covering the major points from the 2014 conference in this article.

    A Focus on Social with Yammer

    SharePoint social has been growing exponentially with each new release of the platform. Now, as SharePoint Online takes center stage, Microsft's partnership with Yammer is bearing fruit. Yammer is replacing, upgrading, or streamlining many of the core offerings of SharePoint Social.

    Multiple keynote addresses and panel sessions focused on the use of Yammer and its potential utility within the platform. Of note, Yammer will also be branded as Yammer rather than being folded into SharePoint Social, which sets a precedent for future Microsoft acquisitions and integrations. This may also serve as a way to bring loyal Yammer users into the SharePoint fold.

    Using Azure for Security and Testing

    Windows Azure was a major focus of presentations and workshops. Lessons of note were based on the ability to use Azure to create test deployments of SharePoint farms, to enhance customization, and to troubleshoot issues.

    Storage Limit Increases

    Microsoft project lead Jeff Teper made an exciting announcement for those using SharePoint Online for secure cloud storage. The previous storage limit is being multiplied, with the new cap on storage being set to 1TB of site data stored on OneDrive. Even better, the tenant storage is having all limits removed, leading to an infinite tenant storage scale.

    Messages Written in the Cloud

    With the focus on virtual, cloud-based systems like Windows Azure, an expansion of cloud storage space, and a focus on the social features of SharePoint Online, it's clear that Microsoft is bringing all its forces to bear on the battle of cloud-based enterprise services.

    While that shift seems to be the predominant battle plan for the company, it's important to note that there has already been an official response to concerns about Microsoft abandoning on-site deployments of SharePoint. Microsoft has promised to keep on-site services up to snuff, and have indicated that at least one more on-site release is in the works.

  • Writing SharePoint Conference Abstracts

    Are you a SharePoint expert? Do you have some other area of business expertise worth sharing with enterprise-scale companies? If so, you may have already realized that presenting your own session at SharePoint Conference 2014 would be a great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field while networking with those who share your interests and ambitions. Unfortunately, the time to submit to the 2014 conference is already past.

    The good news is that this will not be the last major SharePoint Conference, and you're in a prime position to start working on ideas for future conventions n this field. The process for doing so usually begins with an abstract of the paper, workshopping topic, or panel discussion you would like to have at the center of your session. This article walks you through how you can effectively write an abstract for future SharePoint conferences.

    Keep It Brief

    The requirements for an abstract will vary depending on the conference, year, and sometimes even the topic. Typically, abstracts will be anywhere from 200 to 500 words in length. Additionally, a summary of the abstract will also be required. These summaries will typically be 50 words or fewer.

    If you have a topic that's too broad or complex to present on, the abstract and summary will help you realize that fact. Within the summary, you should be able to communicate the subject matter and benefit of your presentation.

    Submit Early and Often

    Many conferences have multiple rounds of submissions. By submitting during the first round, you give yourself an opportunity to refine and revise your abstract for re-submission during future rounds.

    Additionally, you can always submit to other SharePoint conferences using the same materials. Do note, however, that different groups have more or less restrictive policies when it comes to re-using papers or materials that have already been published elsewhere.

    Be Active and Direct

    Don't just talk about what you're going to talk about in a nebulous way (e.g., "This paper will discuss the importance of business intelligence and ways that business intelligence can benefit companies"). Rather, talk about what will be said about the topic (e.g., "Embedded business intelligence web parts can improve efficiency, performance, and profitability of the workforce").

    Here's one thing to remember that may help you shape your abstract's structure. The abstract is often used word-for-word in the conference program. In other words, your description should make people understand your point and want to hear more about it.

    Alongside the need for direct discussion of your major ideas, be sure you use an "active voice" in the abstract. Don't know what an active voice is? A sentence written in passive voice has a subject indirectly enacting a verb (e.g., "He was starting to run") while a sentence written in active voice has a subject directly enacting a verb (e.g., "She ran"). The active sentence structure makes your words more lively and, more importantly, helps conserve valuable space in the abstract itself.

    Past SharePoint conference programs and abstracts are available for your perusal, so here's one final tip: Take a look at the abstracts that have gone before you! After all, any abstract that made it to the program also successfully made it through the submission process.

  • The Bystander Effect in Business

    SharePoint is a valuable and versatile tool used by the majority of Fortune 500 companies, along with other successful companies worldwide. However, powerful tools must be used correctly to be effective. Here are five ways your company can get more out of SharePoint.

    1: Dive into Social

    If you're a veteran of SharePoint usage, you may not be accustomed to the new social features. It's time that changed. The release of powerful social features in SharePoint 2013, along with Microsoft's acquisition of Yammer (the largest "enterprise social" company on the web), opened countless doors.

    2: Dig into Customization

    While SharePoint 2010 and earlier versions had a great many customization options, the newest release gives users an added incentive to create effective web parts and customizations. Just as important, users are more empowered than ever to create such custom components. Many of these HTML 5–based web parts are available for a low cost (or even free), and a savvy user on your team can complete highly tuned customization for your company's needs.

    3: Launch into Integration

    The ability to synchronize and even directly integrate SharePoint with other platforms has been a priority for Microsoft for several years. As a result, there are dozens of enterprise solutions that connect directly with SharePoint. This includes Office 365, along with many non-Microsoft products.

    4: Training

    Even if your SharePoint deployment is set up perfectly, your employees may not be aware of or familiar with all of the resources available to them. When other projects are underway, it's easy to set training aside. However, a simply weekly session to empower your staff will have a significant impact on y our bottom line.

    5: Bringing in Experts

    While there's a great deal you can do on your own, there are some opportunities and shortcomings you may be unable to see for yourself. Having an outside party help you evaluate the big picture issues, and connect you with solutions for concrete solutions, can accelerate your company in a small window of time. To get a free consultation from SharePoint Engine on how we can help your company thrive, visit our contact page today.

  • The Bystander Effect in Business

    The unconscious mind is a fascinating thing, and while it's needed for healthy functioning, it also comes with risks. The business environment makes workers prone to several well-known biases and unconsciously selected behaviors, including the infamous "bystander effect." This article examines the bystander effect in the workplace and shows how you can manage effectively and take advantage of SharePoint features to prevent the bystander effect from damaging your business.

    What is the bystander effect?

    The most famous instances of the bystander effect revolve around violent crime. In these cases, brutally violent acts were committed in front of a large crowd, but no one in that crowd intervened—or even called the police. The most famous of these examples is the Belle Isle Bridge, where dozens of onlookers did nothing to intervene as a woman was beaten to death.

    Why did this happen? The larger the group of people who are present to witness an act, the more each individual assumes that someone else has already done something to help, that someone else is better equipped to help, or that there is a good reason—that the individual is not aware of—for not intervening. After all, if there are dozens of other people behaving in a specific way, it is easy to unconsciously assume that this behavior is correct.

    Hopefully violent crime is never something your workplace or its denizens have to worry about—but there are lesser forms of the bystander effect that influence your team. One workplace experiment took place in an elevator. Actors were hired to drop pencils or coins in an elevator after the door had closed. The goal was to see how many people responded, how quickly, and what factors seemed to play into the likelihood that they would help.

    When only one person was present in the elevator besides the actor, it was 40% likely that they would help pick up the dropped objects. As more people were present in the elevator, however, it was less likely that anyone would help. With seven people in the elevator, there was only a 14% likelihood that anyone would help the clumsy stranger.

    Large Group Work and Avoiding Bystanders

    With large groups and task teams, it's easy to fall prey to the bystander effect without even realizing it. When something goes wrong or a client is concerned, there's a general sense that it's probably someone else's responsibility—or problem.

    How can you avoid this? The first and most important thing to do is ensure that each employee has specifically designated domains. This will give them a greater sense of autonomy and responsibility in facing tasks. Further, by using SharePoint's social features to list the responsibilities of various team members, you are both validating the individual's role and making it clear who other team members can talk to about the type of issue in question.

    SharePoint's communication systems are excellent for many purposes, but be sure that you avoid triggering the bystander effect with large-group missives. When you send group messages, make sure each individual knows how they are expected to respond and who they are to report to.

    Making use of SharePoint document and page creation tools will help even further, as it helps individual employees feel empowered to help create the learning resources for your company. As knowledge, expertise, and low-level authority spread out in your company, the likelihood of rapid and effective response also increases.

    And last, be aware that the bystander effect is broken as soon as one individual is seen breaking through the inaction. When individuals act in ways you want all employees to act, use SharePoint's communication tools to draw attention to that behavior—not just to reward the employee in question but to help establish a "new normal" for the rest of your workforce.

  • Why Attend SharePoint Conference 2014?

    We've given no shortage of attention to SharePoint Conference 2014—and with good reason! The conference is a hub of learning for those who use Microsoft products to improve their business, but that's just the start. Here are the best reasons why you should attend SharePoint Conference 2014.

    Sessions Galore

    There are more than 200 sessions at the conference designed specifically for people in your line of work. We don't simply mean "people who work with SharePoint," either. Microsoft has multiple conference tracks, with sessions designed for developers, professionals, and executives.

    The Biggest Event of Its Kind

    There has never been a convention in this field that rivals the size of SharePoint Conference 2014. With the combination of SharePoint, Office 365, and the newly acquired Yammer, the event is set to be the most significant networking event for SharePoint professionals. Microsoft has also promised that those who haven't integrated Office 365 solutions will be given "best practices and practical guidance on how to set up, manage and support your Office 365 environment."

    The Most Prominent Experts in the Field

    You're not just hearing from the usual suspects (as outstanding as those suspects may be). This conference puts you in touch with the minds and talent behind all the major enterprise-focused Microsoft offerings. These great minds will be giving you their insights on how you can make the most out of SharePoint.

    The Launch-Point

    While Microsoft hasn't made (and never does make) any promises of this nature, the conference is likely to be the launching point for the next generation of enterprise solutions. Exactly what that will look like, and how it will shape SharePoint and other Microsoft offerings, has yet to be seen. To be one of the first people to see that future emerge, and to give your company a competitive edge, participation in the conference is a must.

    As you prepare for this major event, be sure to take a look at our articles on networking, planning, and otherwise making the most out of your conference experience (found in the archives of this blog). We hope to see you at SharePoint Conference 2014!

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