Category: Office 365

Webparts360 AppStudio – a SharePoint Solution Killer

Product analysis by Thuan Nguyen in ThuanSoldier.NET requested by CRN Solutions, but these thoughts are my own.

What is Webparts360?

Webparts360 extends the configurability and feature set of SharePoint to simplify the development of custom solutions that easily combines SharePoint content with line-of-business data. Its low code development approach makes it suitable for empowering non-programmers use it as a rapid application development platform for moving business workflows and collaborative solutions to SharePoint.

This HR system can be built by WebPart 365 within a few hours.

Unlike other SP workflow add-ins such as AgilePoint, Nintex or K2, Webparts360 takes a more holistic view to application development cycle by providing the following features and functionalities:

  • Solution Designer – provides a web based solution designer that manages all the resources within the solution including SP contents such as groups, custom lists, documents libraries and external databases
  • Business web parts – fills in gaps user interface components (i.e. input, process and output) for data entry forms, dashboards, reporting and navigation with granular permission control options. These web parts can consume both SP contents and back-end databases.
  • Solutions Manager – allows you to package a completed solution from one sub-site to another. During deployment, it will update all the links with the solution and map roles based on groups to the actual ones on the production server.

Due to its popularity with Lotus Notes developers, it is not uncommon to see hundreds of solutions within a single SP farm. Therefore, they have added some features that can greatly increase solutions governance and manageability, including:

  • Solutions Gallery – a centralized repository of published solutions that make it easy for site administrator to deploy a solution unto a new sub site.
  • Solution Viewer – a visual tool to show all the components/resources within a solution, including database model, entity relationships diagrams, solution pages and workflow diagrams
  • Web parts management – Adding to solution pages, web part check-in/check-out feature for team development, and web parts versioning control.

Webparts360 is well suited for developing business solutions such as procurement, employee self-service, supply chain management, customer service and business process automation projects that delivers a single view of work.

Using Webparts360

Using Webparts360 is easier because it provide a single design console that contains all the elements that make up the solution.

 

  • Solution: This section allows you to define the solution properties and storage for the system interfaces, e.g. pages and icon images.
  • Security: The security section controls the people who can manage the solution (developers) and those who can use it (user roles)
  • Data: The data section provides the data connectivity access to external database and to leverage on SQL to manage data retrieval.
  • Lists & Libraries: Custom lists and libraries are the main data that make up this solution and you can see how they are used in the relationships diagrams.
  • Webparts: Web parts contains all custom widgets (user interfaces) for data input and workflow (transactions), output (reports) and menu (navigation) elements for this solution.

The transactions web part essentially extends a custom list or document library feature to support multiple states where you can control which columns can be updated or viewed. The reports web part provides a combination of different data presentation views that also allows you to add context sensitive menu options. Here are a list of some of the interesting features and functionalities of Webparts360 that makes it possible to build bigger and better solutions, including the ability to:

  • Use SP custom lists and document libraries as relational database
  • Create user groups based on data in SQL instead of adding to SP groups chaos
  • Create multiple data entry forms based on user roles or transaction processing states
  • Add context sensitive menu options on table or data grids
  • Create charts using SP custom lists or SQL database with drill-down capability
  • Provide context sensitive filters to show related data
  • Package and deploy solution from one sub site to another
  • Upgrade SP solutions across versions, e.g. 2007 > 2010 > 2013 > 2016
  • View your solution from a single design console

Summary

Webparts360 is flexible and powerful applications development tool for SharePoint that empower users to build total solutions easily and quickly. If you have a lot of business workloads to build, this is a good tool that will help you to get more done while increasing your control and ROI of SharePoint.

Please find more information about WebPart360 here http://www.webparts360.com/

Free SharePoint 2013 course for beginner from Udemy

Udemy – the biggest online training marketplace has offered me a free SharePoint 2013 course for beginner. This course is absolutely dedicated for those who want to get started with SharePoint 2013 platform.

The course is accessible from https://www.udemy.com/learn-microsoft-sharepoint-2013. What you need to do is sign up then use my coupon code: TheSoldierofFortune

 

This coupon code is limited to only 50 people so go ahead to enroll this course as soon as you can.

Practice makes perfect so if you don’t have a SharePoint 2013 environment for evaluation, just go to register a free SharePoint hosting offered by Apps4Rent at https://www.cloudappsportal.com

What’s new in SharePoint 2016 Preview User Profile Service Application

I have kept wondering over nights what changes Microsoft makes in User Profile Service Application since Bill Baer shared some things about SharePoint 2016 at Microsoft Ignite. A 6-year-old service application having made a lot of people cry when setting up. “stuck at starting”  is one of the most notorious buzzwords in SharePoint historically.

To crack off my curiosity about User Profile Service Application in SharePoint 2016, I have taken a quick look and have realized a few easy-to-see changes. This article is going to share my findings in the preview version of SharePoint 2016 platform.

Unable to name synchronization database

Previously when creating a new User Profile service application, you have chance to name the synchronization database which stores configuration and staging data for use when profile data is being synchronized with directory services such as Active Directory. However in SharePoint 2016 Preview, you are unable to name this database. It basically means Microsoft doesn’t want User Profile service application to be responsible for bearing a set of complicated configuration structure in synchronization.

If you do the comparison between the SharePoint 2013 sync database with the one in SharePoint 2016, you will realize that the new sync database doesn’t have tables related to SharePoint.

Active Directory Import is the only built-in synchronization type

When creating a new synchronization connection, Active Directory Import is the only synchronization connection type available. Previously in SharePoint 2013, Microsoft supports several types allowing you to connect to different directory services, such as IBM Tivoli, Novell eDirectory. Forefront Identity Manager (FIM) is the core synchronization engine which has not been talked too much these days. The announcement during Microsoft Ignite about the discontinuation of traditional SharePoint profile synchronization makes clear to all of us. SharePoint 2016 no longer uses Forefront Identity Manager client to synchronization between Active Directory and SharePoint. Instead, Microsoft is in the progress of developing Microsoft Identity Manager 2016 which can be used an external FIM service to synchronization between directory services and SharePoint.

If you are to configure synchronization option, you will only see two options: SharePoint Active Directory Import and External Identity Manager. Without traditional SharePoint profile synchronization, User Profile Synchronization Service is also removed. You won’t have to worry about “stuck at starting” which is truly a nightmare to every SharePoint administrator.

Earlier versions of SharePoint used Forefront Identity Manager client (FIM) to synchronize between Active Directory and SharePoint. SharePoint Server 2016 IT Preview no longer uses FIM as the synchronization client. The default process is Active Directory Import. You can also use any synchronization tool such as Microsoft Identity Manager 2016, or any third-party tool. We’ll soon release tools to help you deploy and configure Microsoft Identity Manager 2016 to work with SharePoint Server 2016 IT Preview for identity synchronization. More information: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/mt346112(v=office.16).aspx

New default user property

Compared with SharePoint 2013, User Profile Service application in SharePoint 2016 offers more user properties by default. Microsoft has not fully introduced changes and replacements yet. Some new noticeable properties include UserProfile_GUID, SPS-OWAUrl, SPS-LastColleguageAdded…etc. It looks like the new platform is going to offer more for the implementation of social network.

There may be more changes in User Profile Service Application that I haven’t noticed enough. I will try to keep this article up to date and share links related to User Profile Service Application in SharePoint 2016. Bookmark this article if you want to be on track.

Customer Lockbox opens a door for government moving to cloud

I often ask myself about the future of Office 365 for government or organizations that don’t really trust in cloud computing. When data comes to cloud provider, it is undeniably accessible to cloud provider’s engineers as well as there is no warranty in data leakage. Although Microsoft has claimed a number of different international security compliances applied to its cloud infrastructure, and security features in Office 365 (e.g. Data Loss Prevention, Information Right Management), the pessimistic view of the data in the cloud still exists.

Today, the announcement of the new feature named Customer Lockbox in Office 365 gets my question off for a while. What Customer Lockbox does is provide customer the key that they can decide to give Microsoft cloud engineers to open the door or not. Normally when a tenant’s Office 365 box has problem, Microsoft cloud engineer team has full control to access to the box for investigation. The security becomes breached with this kind of work. The customer who owns the tenant has no choice in this case. To maximize data security and privacy, Microsoft has vastly put its effort into Customer Lockbox feature. The selling point made by Microsoft is as follows

Use of the Customer Lockbox feature ensures that Microsoft engineer does not get access to the customer’s content without customer’s explicit approval. When the customer gets the request for access, they can scrutinize the request and either approve or reject it. Until the request is approved, the Microsoft engineer will not be granted access

According to Microsoft, Customer Lockbox will be available for Exchange Online by the end of 2015, and for SharePoint Online by the first quarter of 2016.

Will Customer Lockbox fill up the trust?

Yes of course! At least Office 365 customers are able to control access to their data in a tenant-level perimeter. However, to me there has been still a missing point here that Microsoft might be under its development roadmap. Imagine if Microsoft engineer team is allowed to have access to your data, they will definitively see all. The data should have been classified and controlled at the highest level. For example, even I give a Microsoft engineer the key to access my room, he still can’t open the cabinet where my valuable stuffs are within. Similarly, with secret classified information, nobody has access until allowed. That’s the ultimate objective!

Conclusion

Government agencies are going to considerably think towards cloud, specifically Office 365. With Customer Lockbox, Office 365 will become much more competitive with other SaaS cloud providers.

To me, I’m going to have this question back: What is the actual future of SharePoint on-premises from now on?

For more information about Customer Lockbox: http://blogs.office.com/2015/04/21/announcing-customer-lockbox-for-office-365/

Building Timesheet Management Solution in Office 365 Without Code

Many companies are very well utilizing Office 365 for project collaboration. They, however, still have spent much effort for building solution without considering using out-of-the-box features. Building timesheet management that helps them accurately track and pay hours for whether internal employees or freelancers is one of the most common cases that give a headache. To maximize utilizing Office 365 for project management, this article guides you on how to build an effective timesheet management on Office 365 without having to write code.

Create Timesheet Content Type and Site Column

To facilitate and help manage timesheet effectively, creating timesheet site content type is always a recommended best practice. It’s because site content type is managed in a centralized location and it can be flexibly reused across sites in Office 365.

Using site column is also recommended. With this, you don’t have to recreate settings each time you want to reuse for another lists, document libraries or sites. It provides a consistency for information management as well.

First, define your new content type as follows (Open Site Settings > Site Content Types > Create)

After creating the timesheet content type, you need to create site columns for this content type. Define site columns as described as follows (open Site Settings > Site Columns > Create)

All of these columns are stored in a new group named Timesheet Columns. Each setting of each column depends on your specific requirement. For example, in the column Hours, the min value should be 0 and the max value must be less/equal to 24. It’s because obviously a day can’t contain over 24 hours. The value at the setting “Number of decimal places” can be 2 or 0 if you want to round up number.

With the site column Timesheet Month and Timesheet Year, you can use the following formula for each.

  • Timesheet Month: =TEXT([Date], “MMMM”) (Date is the site column you’ve created)
  • Timesheet Year: =TEXT([Date], “YYYY”) (Date is the site column you’ve created)

Note: Do not copy the syntax from my blog. Type it by your hands manually

After creating site columns, you need to add it to the timesheet site content type and set status for them (Hidden, Required, Optional).  For example, if only you are to manage and see how much your team spent, value in the column Resource should be hidden.

Open Site Settings > Site Content types > Timesheet. In the Site Content Type page, click Add from existing site columns and then add all columns you have created for the timesheet content type.

Below is the structure of the timesheet site content type you have completely created.

Add timesheet content type to a custom list and create view

After you create the timesheet site content type and add all necessary site columns to it, you need to create a new custom list and add the timesheet content type to this list.

Open List Settings of the new timesheet list named Timesheet Report and click Advanced settings (under General Settings). Set Yes under Allow management of content types?

Another note, in the Item-level Permission setting, check Read items that were created by the user and Create items and edit items that were created by the user. This configuration is to prevent your employee from seeing effort of another.

To make timesheet more visual, you need to create custom view or modify the existing view for timesheet list. In the ribbon, click Modify View. Check the columns you want it to be visible to your employees.

In the Sort setting, under First sort by the column, select Timesheet Year column and Show items in descending order. You then may need to sort by month, just select Timesheet Month under Then sort by the column, and don’t remember selecting Show items in descending order.

If you want to group items by both month and year, you need to create a new calculation column and set the following formula:

  • =YEAR([Date])&”/”&MONTH([Date])

In the Group By setting, under First group by the column select Timesheet Year-Month. Select Project Code column if you want to group by this column after Timesheet Year-Month.

The last thing you may like see is the sum of all hours your employees spent. In the Totals setting, select Sum at the Hours column.

content-type-sp8

Finally, you can export the list to Excel in order to report your client if necessary.

Conclusion

This article gives you a very quick solution to build an effective timesheet management. You can even build an automatic calculator for billing against the timesheet using Office 365 out-of-the-box feature.

Update 30/07/2017: a few people reported to me that this article has some issues with the new modern UI in SharePoint Online. Acknowledged this fact, modern UI experience is not mature yet, and people are still preferring the classic experience. I’d say this article is applicable to classic experience only.

Announcing the launch of Office365 Vietnam Online Community

As you may know SharePointVN.NET is one of my spiritual children I have taken care of for the last few years. For those who may not know, SharePointVN.NET is a free publisher that provides people in Vietnam over 500 online articles related to the Microsoft SharePoint platform. One of the most outstanding contributions to the community was the release of SharePoint e-magazine that was made by many senior SharePoint experts working in Vietnam, including specialists from Microsoft Vietnam. The team who built SharePointVN.NET also cooperated with some community leaders to successfully run the first Vietnam SharePoint User Group event last year, and a series of SharePoint Saturday Vietnam. All of things along with goodwill are sent to the community without profit. That’s all of my interest for the community so far.

You may know Office 365 has recently been out to be purchased officially in Vietnam so lots of people are seriously paying attention to it thanks to the price that looks quite reasonable for the Vietnam market. I have been asked by folks if there is an extremely helpful website like SharePointVN.NET for Microsoft Office 365. This question apparently catches my attention to having a website that provides Vietnamese articles related to Office 365. I called some geeks who with me built a few successful communities such as SharePointVN.NET, ICT24H.NET, Microsoft ITPros to start building Office 365 community. We all finally have made the decision on the name of the website: office365vn.net.

Office365vn-net-ipad

Our ultimate goal is to provide people who want to learn about Microsoft Office 365 step-by-step articles, news, and series including SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, Lync Online and general administrative tasks in Office 365. Readers will definitively have full access to all content in Office365vn.net without fee.

Our future expectation is to organize Office 365 events like the ones we have done such as ICT24H Workshop, SharePoint Saturday Vietnam, Vietnam SharePoint User Group. At the end of the day, things are being planned. I will keep you updated.

In terms of the website’s UI, we are in the process of adding some more features to provide a better navigation and search. If you would like to contribute for Office365vn.net, please feel free to contact me at thuan[at]outlook.com

Some notes on Office 365 synchronization error

One of my customers I have recently deployed Active Directory synchronization and single sign-on on Office 365 urgently called me he got message from the Microsoft Office 365 team that Windows Azure Active Directory did not register a synchronization attempt from the Directory Sync tool in the last 24 hours. I shortly suspected that the synchronization server might be down or its Internet connection got disconnected but this didn’t really make sense because a delta synchronization occurs every three hours.

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