Observations from AIIM SharePoint Summit

I just returned from the recent AIIM Expo show in Philadelphia. I haven’t been to AIIM since 2002 when we were building out our imaging product. I had a couple of reasons to go this time. I’ll keep the first one to myself for now, but the other was because Microsoft was making a big splash with the SharePoint Summit. I was very interested in what there messaging would be like to the “hard core” ECM market. All of the sessions that I attended were in the SharePoint Summit track.

The keynote was delivered by Eric Swift, the new GM of the division, and by Ryan Duguid, the “ECM guy” at Microsoft. Eric gave a very good talk, and I was extremely impressed by Ryan, who spoke at several sessions throughout the show.

Usability

A couple of great quotes from Ryan – ”ECM works when its invisible to the end user”. I couldn’t agree more. People will use a system when they can see a value for themselves, and when it won’t cause them much disruption. Far too often systems are “imposed” upon end users, and one thing that’s certainly true about information workers is that if they can find away around a difficult system, they’ll take it.

Ryan also said “If you can’t show users their personal payback, they’ll never adopt your system” which is likely why, according to Doculabs,50% of all ECM projects fail. According to Doculabs,this is due to the exclusive focus on one specific area of functionality required by one specific area of the business without taking into account the needs of the wider user community. All of which is saying the same thing.

The final keynote session was presented by Ryan and Bert Sandie from Electronic Arts. Their talk was on how to provide an excellent user experience, partly by using gaming principles. On the surface, that sounds odd, but it makes a ton of sense. If you makes tasks more interesting, people will be more likely to perform them.

As an example, Ryan demonstrated Ribbon Hero, which is an add-in to the Office suite. It installs a button in the ribbon, and presents you with a set of challenges. These challenges are application related tasks and it helps you to varying degrees as you perform them, and you gain skill points by doing so. It allows you to compete with others, increasing your motivation. If you really want to drive use, hand out weekly rewards for “top scores”. A perfect example of applying the gaming concept.

Another concept that came out of this session that I’ve been preaching for years is that you should always include and understand the end users in any application design.Look at what people do, don’t tell them that it’s wrong – adapt it into your solution, and ideally improve it. If you don’t provide users a means of doing what they need to do inside the organization, users will find a way to do it outside.

Bert presented an interesting case study in usability. If you are familiar with the default search page in SharePoint, you’ll know that it is even simpler than Google’s. It’s essentially a white page with a search box and a go button. EA took that page and decorated it to look almost exactly like Google’s. Of course it said Electronic Arts instead of Google, but the letters were even alternately coloured. What was interesting is that by doing that one little thing, usage of the search engine increased 30%.

Bert also demonstrated that he could show that the creation of a single document paid for their entire system, and made a final point that the right user experience combines functionality, usability and aesthetics.

I really liked this focus on usability and community, which seemed to be a theme throughout the SharePoint summit, and was really refreshing to see at an AIIM show. I think that it’s safe to say that the large ECM players have not historically been particularly interested in usability.

Records Management

Microsoft waded into the records management area with the Records Center in 2007. It didn’t exactly meet with glowing reviews, but they’re really hit it out of the park in 2010. Through the new records center it supports all of the traditional records management requirements with file plans etc, but at the same time, it brings RM to the end user through in place records management. Users no longer need to go through many steps and secret rituals to get documents under management, a document (and any other piece of content!) can be declared a record through a simple click of a button. Document routing makes sure that if necessary the content moves to the record center while leaving behind a stub.

Ryan Duguid showed a slide which indicated that if left unchecked, an organization that currently manages 2 TB of data will be managing 45 TB of data in 5 years time. However, if disposition policies were put in place that disposed of 10, 20 and 30% of content annually, that future growth number would shrink to 25, 10 and 4 TB respectively. The RM features in SharePoint 2010 can help bring this reality about

Interestingly, the next day Cyrus Mistry gave a talk on the way that Google manages their content. In essence, they don’t. The mantra is to keep absolutely everything forever, open it up to everyone and rely on search to find it. I actually agree with the opening up concept, but I think it’s impractical, not to mention legally dangerous to leave stuff lying around forever.

Cyrus also pointed out a couple of policies that I might consider implementing. One is that every Google employee writes a small blurb (very short) on their past week’s activities, and what their plans for the next week are. That is visible to everyone. I sort of like it from a few angles. Another is that users can contribute ideas to a central “idea pool”. Ideas are then voted upon, and if an idea gets enough votes, it becomes a project.

CMIS Connector Announced

At the show, it was announced that Microsoft will be shipping a connector for the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) standard. This will allow SharePoint to act as a “front end” for external content management systems, and vice versa. This will allow for easy integration with legacy document management systems, and give the users of these systems a better experience without sacrificing capability.

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Changing the name of the Title Field in SharePoint

2011-01-24 12:17:38

Don’t. Really, don’t.

The Title field is the only exposed site column in the Item content type. Pretty much every single list item across the board inherits from this content type. Therefore, when you change the name of the title field, you’re changing it for all lists in the site collection.

The problem is, that there’s no warning that that’s about to happen, and if you start from a list, you may be under the impression that you’re only changing it in that list.

Pretty much not cool.

So let’s say that you do change it. You can just change it back, right? Wrong. The Word “Title” is a reserved name in SharePoint and you can’t use it in a field name. There’s no way in the UI to change it back.

However, you can do it through the object model (API) by writing code, or using a Powershell script (get used to Power Shell everybody…). Thanks to the From the Field Blog for this highly useful Powershell script:

[System.Reflection.Assembly]::LoadWithPartialName(“Microsoft.SharePoint”)?
$site=[Microsoft.Sharepoint.SPSite](“http://“)?
$web=$site.openWeb()?
$fld = $web.Fields.getFieldByInternalName(“Title”)?
$fld.Title = “Title”?
$fld.PushChangesToLists = $true?
$fld.Update()

And yes, I’ve had to use it!

Installing SharePoint 2007 on Windows 2008 R2

If you’re like me, you try to keep your SharePoint servers relatively up to date, certainly with respect to the major service packs. Just about all of my servers are at service pack 2. In the past, my procedure has always been to install the slipstreamed Office with SP1, and then apply both the WSS and MOSS Service Pack 2 patches. The reason for this is that there is (inexplicably) no slipstreamed version for SP2, and I’ve been far too lazy to build my own.

Now versions prior to Service Pack 2 are incompatible with Windows Server 2008 R2. The problem is that the installer is very aware of this incompatibility, and it actually blocks any attempt to install the SP1 install with a message that looks like this:

screencap

This referenced KB article isn’t terribly helpful, as it describes a different scenario. When upgrading from a previous version to 2008 R2, you get a warning message that you can safely ignore if you already have SP2 applied (mentioned in an earlier post). Unfortunately in this case, when installing on a fresh 2008 R2 Server, there’s no button for “Yes, I understand there’s a problem and I promise to install SP2 as soon as I’m done”.

Time to build that Slipstream for R2.

It’s actually really easy. I’ll describe the procedure for MOSS,but it’s just fewer steps for WSS.

1. Extract your media to somewhere on your file system (Folder1). If your media is an ISO image,you can use WinRAR to extract it, if it’s a physical disc, just copy it, and if it’s an EXE you can use the extract switch as in “OfficeServerwithSP1.exe /extract:C:Folder1”

2. Download the WSS SP2 and the MOSS SP2 packs for your architecture, or both architectures (if you want a “master” slipstream).

3. Extract the WSS and the MOSS packs to their own folders, Folder2 and Folder3 respectively, using the extract switch described in step 1

4. The “Folder1” folder will have an x64 and an x86 folder for both architectures. Navigate to the relevant architecture and locate the Updates folder. Then copy the contents of Folder2 and Folder3 into the updates folder, allowing overwrites.

That’s it. You can now run setup and install MOSS.