Success stories

3 easy ways to improve your flexible working strategy in 2021

2020 marked a rapid shift for organisations as they were forced to undergo complex digital transformations in a matter of weeks and months. For many companies, that meant getting workers up and running remotely in the quickest way possible – with short-term fixes rather than long-term strategies.

As we enter a new year, it’s becoming clear that make-shift remote set-ups need to be replaced with more permanent and definite options. Organisations are looking to regain lost productivity, and that means building a long-term remote and flexible working strategy that aligns with their business values. For many, developing a strong strategy means investment in two key areas: cloud infrastructure and security. More importantly, though, businesses should be focusing on 3 key actions:

Flexible working strategy: key actions

1. Cultivate company culture

All strategic decisions should be made with employee happiness in mind. Creating an environment in which workers feel valued and content is key to long-term effectiveness and success. Using Microsoft Teams integrations or more bespoke AI solutions, enterprises can keep track of employee engagement and ask for feedback when problems are noted.

They can also dive into Azure Application Insights or Microsoft 365 usage analytics to determine whether employees are overworking. This analytics-based approach should be combined with empathetic and open-minded action to ensure employees feel supported, rather than spied on.

2. Accelerate with automation

Repetitive administrative tasks are dull in any workplace, but they can create more conflict when employees are working from home without a support network. Fortunately, in many cases, these tasks can be fully or partially automated.

Microsoft Power Automate is one solution that can be used to automate processes and tasks. A business can design a process from start to finish using intuitive flow diagrams and deep integrations. With if-this-then-that thinking, they’re able to receive notifications, sync files and collect data when a certain action occurs. A library of templates lets an employee easily and automatically save Outlook email attachments to OneDrive or post in Teams when a new Planner task is created.

3. Create virtual collaboration opportunities

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, organisations should enable their employees to collaborate and communicate seamlessly regardless of location. Whether they’re in the office or at home, provisions should be made so that inclusivity is felt by all employees.

Microsoft Teams is has taken the remote working world by storm, with daily active users jumping from 20 million in November 2019 to 115 million in October 2020. For the first time, many companies are realising its power to unlock company-wide collaboration using a single, communicative hub.

In addition to Teams’ popularity, the features of Microsoft 365 as a whole offer huge value for flexible working. Users worldwide are clocking up to 30 billion minutes using the software in a single day. A SharePoint deployment is one area where companies can really provide value to their employees, enabling real-time collaboration, sharing, and editing across all documents in the Office suite.

Covid-19 regulations have helped businesses realise that flexible working can provide value even in industries where it has previously been thought impossible. To truly capitalise on the productivity improvements flexible working offers, however, you need more than just a remote desktop; companies should be focusing on developing a strong company culture and leveraging automation wherever possible. It’s also imperative that employees are offered the right virtual collaboration methods to enable them to connect quickly and easily; as they would in the office.

Infographic: 3 easy ways to improve your flexible working strategy

Here’s a visual summary of the key actions that will support your organisation’s flexible working strategy:

Click here for a PDF of this infographic >

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SharePoint 2010 workflows are retiring imminently…

The announcement from Microsoft on 6th July 2020 that SharePoint 2010 workflows were to be retired in M365 tenants from 1st November 2020 means that creating and running 2010 workflows should now no longer be possible. The support article from Microsoft also states that the ability to even view SharePoint 2010 workflow logic via SharePoint designer would be restricted and we would be resigned to view the information as raw XML files only.

During the lead up to this date we’ve worked to convert or rebuild business processes using Power Automate. During planning, we’ve considered alternative workflow solutions but the all-inclusive nature of Power Automate as part of Microsoft 365 is attractive and has meant customers naturally lean towards this option first.

A month on from the SharePoint workflow retirement date (one customer described it as workflow Armageddon) how are things fairing for those that haven’t converted everything in time?

Well, it’s a mixed state to be honest and not entirely unexpected. As we know in the M365 SaaS world, feature deployments rarely happen instantly and the deployment across the multi-tenant architecture means the task to switch off SharePoint 2010 workflows across all tenants in one go is not instant. I also expect Microsoft took note of the current demand on IT teams across the world and decided to unofficially delay the retirement without any PR noise. Either way, it wasn’t until the beginning of December that we started to see workflows begin to stop working and they’ve still been visible using SharePoint Designer, making it easier to translate the logic to a Power Automate solution.

If or when SharePoint 2010 workflows cannot be viewed via SharePoint Designer, one option is to deploy a SharePoint 2019 server farm in Azure and import the workflows. You’ll then be able to view the logic. We recommend 2019 over 2013/16 as the import process is easier and you can be up and running far more quickly. Azure Compute Cost for a trial SharePoint farm 2019 would be roughly £700 if you ran it for 730 hours. That equates to around £0.96 per hour that the machine is running. You could also schedule the machine to shut down automatically at the end of each day and the weekends to ensure costs are minimised.

Planning SharePoint workflow conversions

To plan the workflow conversion effectively, it’s important to run the SharePoint modernisation scanner from Microsoft. Deploy it as an Azure AD app if you can and use the detailed report to export all the details of workflows.

Once you have this report, we found the following info should be gathered through hands-on investigation and communication with SharePoint site owners/members:

  • Business process owner
  • Complexity (use the workflow action as an indicator)
  • Usage (week)
  • Running instances
  • List item count
  • Similarity to other workflows

All the information above can help you estimate the effort required to convert the workflows and also streamline that process. We typically found a small number of people were responsible for the large majority of the workflows created. This meant there were similar workflows and methods used to build the business logic. The teams converting the workflows each performed hands-on discovery and would then report back to each other to identify similarities, plan for Power Automate equivalents and group workflows together that were related to the same business process.

Converting SharePoint workflows to Power Automate

In the creation of the Power Automate flows use the try, catch and finally approach. This is well documented by others such as Tomasz Poszytek, Business Applications MVP and is a great way to build in resiliency to your new workflows.

When converting the workflows to Power Automate, we used a development/UAT SharePoint site. Lists /libraries related to the workflows were saved as a template and then moved to this site, the workflows created in Power Automate and then business owners were able to test and report back. The benefit of this method also meant that InfoPath forms were copied over to the dev/UAT site.

To move the workflows over to the production site, the copy flow feature was used alongside careful planning to disable existing workflows (if they hadn’t been retired yet), or initiate the Power Automate flows to pick up where the old workflows left them (this was typically managed using status column referenced in the workflow logic).

Our recommendations

  • Check with the business to see if the workflow process is being used, despite all the reporting data this can sometimes be misleading
  • Standardise the structure of your Power Automate flows
  • Create a workflow history list and write workflow actions from all workflows in that site (flow history is only stored for 30 days)
  • In a list or library associated with a workflow, create a hyperlink column linking to the workflow history list. This link can be structured to filter the workflow history based on the list and current item
  • Use a dedicated service account to create the flows with a suitable name/email address
  • Ensure your spam filter doesn’t block Power Automate emails from reaching users
  • Alert staff that emails from Power Automate will come from either the account used to create the Power Automate or in the case of approvals the email address of the sending account will be maccount@microsoft.com
  • SharePoint 2013 workflows will continue to work for the time being, but you may wish to convert these to Power Automate as part of this work
  • InfoPath is supported until 2023 this could be a good time to convert to using the modern SharePoint forms or a Power Apps created form

If you would like assistance in converting your SharePoint workflows to Power Automate the Cloud Business team can help with:

  • Installing and running the Modernization Scanner
  • Analysing workflow complexity and business impact
  • Rebuild or redesign of SharePoint workflows in Power Automate
  • Power Automate training and best practices
  • Ongoing support for Power Platform products

Get in touch or book a discovery call below to discuss how we can help.

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What is SharePoint? A introduction to its most useful features

If you’re wondering “what is SharePoint?” you’ve come to the right place!

SharePoint is a server environment from Microsoft which makes collaborating on and sharing documents within an organisation much easier. This makes it an incredibly resourceful application when working on projects in groups.

You can customise its appearance so it reflects your company’s branding, or use an intranet-in-a-box that transforms the SharePoint experience with more bespoke templates and functionality for your business.

As an online document management and storage system, Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PowerPoint presentations and more can be uploaded to and stored in SharePoint. It is usually deployed as an intranet site within a company’s network. Like with other websites, you access a SharePoint site by using a URL that’s unique to your company.

What types of SharePoint are there?

There are a few different types of SharePoint available. It’s worth taking a look at the options and seeing which one is most suitable for you. 

SharePoint Foundation

SharePoint Foundation was at the core of all SharePoint sites, and you can deploy it for free. You can use it to create sites and collaborate on files. However, it is not available as part of the latest Office Suite update – Office 2016.

SharePoint Server

If you want to use SharePoint as an application on your desktop, then SharePoint Server is the option you should go with. You can set it up and manage it from your workplace. It has a couple of additional interesting features on top of the Foundation version, including a newsfeed and an enterprise search capability.

SharePoint Online

Instead of deploying SharePoint as an application on your desktop, you can subscribe to Office 365 and access SharePoint Online through the cloud. Alternatively, you subscribe to SharePoint Online on its own.

Here’s a guide to a typical SharePoint intranet project.

SharePoint Designer 2013

This is another SharePoint add-on which you can deploy for free. You can use it to to develop lists and sites, and customise page layouts. Designer 2013 was the latest version released, but you can use it with SharePoint 2016.

OneDrive for Business Sync

This is a desktop program which you can use to sync documents from a team site to your desktop. You can then edit these files whilst you’re offline. Any changes you make to documents offline will automatically appear online the next time you log in.

Check out our 5 minute cheat-sheet on the Next OneDrive for Business Sync Client for more information.

What are the Popular SharePoint Features?

There’s a lot you can do with SharePoint. Here are some of the most popular things that companies do with it. 

Permission and Restriction

You can give people access to certain areas of a SharePoint, and restrict them from accessing other areas. This is handy for when you’re in charge of several teams and you don’t want anyone to get hold of the wrong files by mistake.

Similarly, you can set limits on how people access files. You can give permission to view a document whilst preventing editing and deletion, which is useful in cases of sharing important company news.

Learn about removing external users from SharePoint Online.

Restoration and Recovery

Let’s say you make changes to a document and want to see its previous version, or somebody else accidentally makes a change to a document that wasn’t authorised. SharePoint automatically keeps a record of all iterations of your files, so you can easily restore previous versions.

The great thing about this feature is that it removes the need to send emails back and forth with amended versions of one document. You can grant people within your company permission to access previous versions too, and you can find old versions of documents at any time.

If you delete a file from SharePoint, or somebody else does and you need it back, you can get it. There’s a Recycle Bin in SharePoint where you can recover deleted files.

Updates and Notifications

When you’re working in a group, it’s a good thing to keep track of who’s doing what, and when. Luckily, you can set up alerts in SharePoint so you and you peers will be notified whenever somebody changes, uploads or removes a document.

When given the right permission, individuals within your organisation can set up their own alert preferences. This is great, as they can keep track of all the things that they’re involved in.

Accessibility and Customisation

SharePoint is designed to be managed by the people who’re using it. You don’t get as much creative freedom on a SharePoint site as you would with a normal website. However, there are lots of things you can customise. This includes colours, fonts and images. You can also create lists and sites within your main site. These are know as sub-sites.

Read our blog on displaying SharePoint Online lists to parent or sub-sites.

What are the benefits of SharePoint?

With so many popular features, it’s no wonder there are some great SharePoint benefits out there. Here’s some of the best. 

Easy to Use

You don’t need lots of developer or design experience in order to use SharePoint. It comes equipped with the tools you need for building and customising your own environment.

Secure

Since you can set permissions and restrictions, SharePoint helps to prevent files from being accessed by the wrong people. And as SharePoint Online is an Office 365 programme, it will automatically update itself and always be safe from the latest cyber threats.

Increased Collaboration

With the right permissions set, anyone in your organisation can view and edit documents at any time. Everyone can be notified of and comment on the changes made to files.

It’s no longer a case of one person having the master copy of a document and sending back-and-forth emails. SharePoint makes it easier for everyone to have a say.

SharePoint – an integral part of digital transformation

SharePoint is one the leading Office 365 applications in driving digital transformation – the transition from using paper documents and spending all day in the office to cloud computing and remote working.

Technology should enable people to do their best work, and the services and applications that make digital transformation should be easy to use on any device.

Find out how you can transform your organisation into a digital workplace booking a free consultation with one of our SharePoint experts. Book a discovery call below: 

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SharePoint intranet

Guide to a typical SharePoint intranet project

So, you have just signed up to Office 365 and have started using Mail, OneDrive for Business and your users are loving Teams. However, you notice this little icon named SharePoint. You have heard of SharePoint intranet capabilities, an enterprise tool to boost productivity and facilitate collaboration, but…

You click the icon and immediately are disappointed with what you find. Which I’m sure is why you have ended up here! SharePoint by default is a “blank canvas” that can be customised into almost anything your business needs. Fortunately, there are plenty of vendors (like ourselves) that have years of cumulative experience delivering bespoke SharePoint Intranets on the Office 365 platform. We thought we would put this blog together to outline a typical SharePoint intranet project, rough estimates of costs/timeline and a rough idea of what to look for in a vendor.

Boost, our intranet-in-a-box is powered by SharePoint. To learn more, download the product brochure here >

A typical SharePoint intranet project

For the sake of simplicity, we will be looking at branding and developing custom widgets rather than Information Architecture around documents or migration (we will delve into this in later posts). This blog will go over the potential thought processes of a CIO/Manager/CTO going through a typical SharePoint project experience.

Stakeholder buy-in

You may think this is a good idea but before any investment it is likely that you will need to get buy-in by at least your manager before you can begin looking for a development partner.

Running POC

After doing some research, you may find that a typical project can take between 6-18 months with development cost (internal and external) and start at least £30,000. Like any responsible CIO/Manager/CTO, you would not invest a large amount before at least proving the project is viable; so you would look to run a POC with a small department or subset of users. So, you engage with a development partner:

  • Scope/price up the whole project
  • Decide on a subset of functionality for the POC

A small POC will not require the training, support, documentation and you could likely get away with light-touch project management.

Project Outline (timeframes, cost deliverables)

You have found a development partner, you have a buy-in from your management and the project has been “proven”. Finally convincing your senior management team that SharePoint is a good investment. Your development partner will take the reins from now until deployment but you would expect the typical project plan to look like this:

  • Design Phases
  • Development Phase
  • Testing & Remediation
  • Deployment
  • Training & Handover
  • Early life support
  • Ongoing support (proposal)
  • Project Management

A typical business would get involved in the testing phase and would have to organise timeout for the training and handover. You should expect regular updates of risks and issues from the project manager. You could also expect that the above process could be run in small sprints with each team in a more agile way; larger enterprises typically have tended to run their intranet deployments using waterfall approach (which we all know has high failure rate).

Training and Governance

A good SharePoint implementation should be backed up with a good training and governance plan. If your users do not know how to use SharePoint then they won’t use it. Without a good governance plan they will use it in all ways imaginable and your SharePoint will be a mess. A good development partner should have consultants and trainers available to tell you to let you know what the best approach is for your business.

Summary

At this stage, you are probably right in thinking that SharePoint may not be for your company? Especially if you are struggling to build a cost model of how the increase in productivity can offset the cost. This is one of the biggest challenges for SME’s and SharePoint’s return on investment varies so across industries and businesses.

This issue has meant that several Intranet products have become available to the market, allowing you to get an intranet up and running for less than the typical cost of a ‘Proof of Concept’ plus an ongoing monthly fee. These are typically known in the Intranet world as “Intranet-in-a-box” solutions. A set of SharePoint templates sold with a small package of consultant days so that you can get setup in under a couple of weeks (or even a couple of days for smaller businesses). 

We will discuss the pros and cons to a ‘turnkey intranet solution’ in a later post as the purpose here was to describe how a typical SharePoint Intranet Project (or any bespoke work) looks like in practice.

If you would like to see how easy it is to set up your own intranet in a box, book a demo of our Boost intranet-in-a-box solution

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What is an ‘intranet-in-a-box’ ?

You have heard of SharePoint and its capabilities as an enterprise tool to boost productivity and facilitate collaboration. An intranet-in-a-box is a set of templates and functionality that transforms the out-of-the box SharePoint experience. The new intranet-in-a-box revolution is set to bring corporate intranet technology within the grasp of SMBs. Many of these intranet solutions have sophisticated features such as a news publishing process, social media capabilities, Business Intelligence (BI) reporting functionality and come designed for enhanced mobile collaboration.

James Robertson, one of the world’s most renowned intranet experts commented in early 2016, “Within 1-2 years, the SharePoint intranet marketplace will shift from 90% custom-coded solutions, to 80-90% out-of-the-box intranet products running on SharePoint as a platform.”

Get an in-depth guide to our ready-to-go intranet-in-a-box solution, download a copy of our Boost brochure here >

Here are some common characteristics found across all intranet-in-a-box products:

  1. Rapid deployment – The great thing about these modern ‘intranet-in-a-box’ solutions is that they are quick deploy – you can be up and running in days not months (a typical SharePoint project can take 6-18 months to go live).
  2. Future proofed – Using an out-of-the-box intranet solution means that your intranet should never become out of date. Development on these products is continuous and users will benefit from these frequent updates. Also, they have been built to cope with the increasing mobile use. This is in stark contrast to traditional intranets which are normally in place for several years.
  3. They leverage extensive intranet expertise – There is a growing list of providers of ‘intranet-in-a-box’ technology such as Unily, Bonzai, Wizdom, as well as our own solution Boost.These products have all been created by SharePoint consultancies who have used their extensive experience and expertise to create ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions packed with an array of functionality, comparable to bespoke corporate intranets.
  4. Social collaboration tool – Modern intranets have also been built to become hubs of employee collaboration and communication. The types of social interaction range from leadership videos on the home page to the incorporation of social media tools such as Yammer.
  5. Cloud based with Office 365 compatibility – This new generation of intranets is cloud based not on a server. They also are powered by Office 365 which means it is supported and have guaranteed up-time (compared with running your own services). Also, having an Intranet build on-top of your existing Office 365 subscriptions means your users do not have to remember another set of login details

So to conclude, an intranet-in-a-box empowers business owners to use enterprise grade technology for a fraction of the risk than ever before. Leveraging the best features of SharePoint and transforming the way their company operates both commercially and functionally.

If you would like to see how easy it is to set up your own intranet in a box, book a demo of our Boost intranet-in-a-box solution. 

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Removing external users from SharePoint Online

SharePoint has many different variations. Along with the others, SharePoint online makes it extremely easy to share sites, lists, libraries or documents with external parties.When you want to share something you can use the sharing feature on SharePoint, enter an email address and a custom message and click send.

When it comes to removing the external user from the site collection, and not just their access but all reference to that user so that they don’t appear in the suggested contacts, this requires a few steps.

Pre-requisites

First you will need to download the SharePoint Online Management Shell.

http://www.microsoft.com/en-gb/download/details.aspx?id=35588

Remove a user from the SharePoint Site Collection and SP User Profile list

  1. Go to the site where the user is a member.

  2. Site Settings > People & Groups

  3. Edit the URL and change the “MembershipGroupId=<nn>” to “MembershipGroupId=0

  4. Select the radio box next to a user and click Actions > Delete Users from Site Collection

  5. Remove the user profile from the SharePoint Admin Center.

  6. Start the SharePoint Online management shell.

  7. Run: Connect-SpoService https://domain-admin.sharepoint.com

  8. Sign-in with a global administrator account.

  9. Check the user account you want to remove by running: Get-SPOExternalUser -Filter <emailaddress>

  10. Run: $user = Get-SPOExternalUser -Filter <emailaddress>

  11. Run: Remove-SPOExternalUser -UniqueIDs @($user.UniqueId)

These steps will remove all reference to the user account.

Additional Cmdlets

  • To view a list of users on the first page, run: Get-SPOExternalUser -position 0  -PageSize 5
  • To view a list of users on the second page, run: Get-SPOExternalUser -position 1  -PageSize 50

 Resources

https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj730438.aspx
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj730437(v=office.15).aspx

Have a look at our related Sharepoint blogs here:

Displaying Sharepoint online lists to parent or sub-sites 

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SharePoint Online

Displaying SharePoint Online lists to parent or sub-sites

Displaying a list web part from a parent site to a sub-site, or a sub-site to a parent site is a common requirement. SharePoint Online 2013 allows you to do this by publishing the list to the ‘site gallery’, at which point it is made available to add as a web part on parent or sub-sites within the same site collection.

7 steps to display SharePoint Online lists

The steps to do this are as follows:

1. Open the list in SharePoint Designer 2013.
2. Open one of the views in detailed view by clicking the view hyperlink.

 

3. Click into the detailed view between the “<WebPartPages:XsltListViewWebPart…” class as shown in the image below.

4. Click the ‘Insert’ tab.
5. Click ‘Data View’ and select the list you wish to publish from the drop down.

6. Click the ‘Web Part’ tab and choose Save Web Part ‘To Site Gallery’.

7. When SharePoint Designer displays the following message:
“Do you want this Web Part to always show list data from the current web site…”
Click ‘Yes’.

8. Go to the site where you need to display the list, edit the page, click the ‘Insert’ tab and then browse to the ‘Miscellaneous’ folder. You will find your list available to be added to the page.

Hope that helps. If you need further support with your Microsoft deployments, please get in touch.

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