Archive for the 'SharePoint' Category

SharePoint Service Packs explained

Steven Van de Craen has blogged a nice easy to understand quick guide to what all the updates are, and the installation order required for a successful install :-D

SpittingCAML



Case Management: the K2 roadmap for accelerated business process management

An organisation’s information system is made up from the mental concepts and frameworks of the participants in the organisation, the data passed to and between the participants (processed along the road), and the resulting individual perceptions and understandings of the situations leading to individual actions. These actions are expected to lead to the fulfillment of shared goals.

Actions are geared towards goals using:

  • common understanding
  • good communication
  • common culture, languages and conventions
  • compatible frames of reference
  • common data and metadata

ogdenstriang
Figure 1: Ogden’s Triangle (1956) shows the relationship between data, information and what is going on in the real world.

Figure 1 highlights the obvious.. but it helps us to think about the way we store ‘data’ in our organisation. It is in the ability to ’symbolise’ information from raw data that affects the performance of the organisation to properly understand the real world.

Okay, so that’s the theory! How do we put that into our organisation? K2 have come up with a possible solution. It will ensure good communication, a common framework, and consistent metadata.

K2 refer to their solution as ‘Case Management’. To paraphrase the K2 literature in front of me:

Case management refers to a pattern of working for knowledge centric processes where skilled workers assess large amounts of related information typically a mixture of content (e.g. Documents, Images, physical evidence, records and data) which is used to make a series of discretionary decisions about next steps and associated outcomes. Such case processing typically involves interaction between individuals and organisations and can take place over days, weeks or even years.

Does it sound like your organisation fits that description? K2 suggest that 50% of the activity in most organisations is ‘case’ based. The word case could easily be replaced by the word ‘project’, ‘job’, ‘task’, ‘assignment’ or ‘issue’ to name a few.

vertical-filing-cabinet-1
Figure 2: Your organisation (a metaphor)

You store your information in a consistent way, whether it be in paper form in a filing cabinet, or electronically in a SharePoint document library or a record management tool.

longstoragefilecabinet
Figure 3: ‘Cases’, ‘Projects’ etc. in your organisation (another metaphor)

People in your organisation separate their thoughts and work processes into ‘Cases’ or ‘Projects’ etc. Progress is measured by tracking each ‘case’ or ‘project’ in the organisation. Metrics are kept to help predict future cases or projects. Governance means that their are strict rules on how information is stored. The CEO needs an overview of everything going on so he can keep the shareholders happy.

Okay, enough of the theory! What does this mean in technical terms? The K2 Case Management suite gives you:

  • A pre-configured portal (SharePoint),
  • A business process engine (K2 [blackpearl]),
  • Records management, by providing seamless communication with Record Centre, HP Trim, Meridio and many others
  • A supporting framework delivering:
    • A collaborative environment to access, implement, coordinate, monitor, report and evaluate end to end business processes, their instances, supporting documentation and records

So What? That sounds like SharePoint and K2 [BlackPearl] with a records management tool thrown in for good measure! Why can’t I just build that myself?!

Yes, that’s true… but there are a few good reasons why you should go for the K2 Case Management suite rather than building your own out of the building blocks.

K2 will be offering ‘accelerators’ to allow organisations to rapidly build their business process with a reduced need to bespoke the out of the box toolset. A capability to provide a ’single-point-of-truth’ for each ‘case’ in your system, even allowing you to surface data from LOB applications such as SAP and BizTalk.

image
Figure 4: A preview of how the the K2 case management suite will look 

These ‘accelerators’ will be available from K2 very soon. My organisation is intending to be one of the first businesses in the UK to utilise it. We hope to be participating in the beta programme. If you are interested in being a part of this, please contact your K2 sales representative, or raise a support ticket through the K2 support system.

References/Materials

A. Hitchcock, S. Leisegang. (2008). Solutions Portfolio Presentation. K2 (www.k2.com).

B. Sundgren, P. Martensson, M. Mahring & K. Nilsson (Eds.). (2003). Exploring Patterns in Information Management, Stockholm School of Economics.

J. Flanagan, T. Huang, P. Jones & S. Kasif. (1997). Human-Centered Systems: Information, Interactivity, and Intelligence, National Science Foundation.

Update: I’m now featured on ebizq.. how great is that :-D… Thanks Dennis Byron for the link back! See what he wrote here

I don’t work for K2, but I do use their technologies… but I guess I can be considered a microsoft junkie!… :-D



Customising SharePoint/WSS Navigation through code

I had an inspiration this afternoon, a colleague of mine is in the process of looking at this, and I was sure I’d read about it in the past.

It turns out the post I had read, had been wiped out in a server crash, but the poster has kindly re-written it for the community. Thanks :-)

Here is the link: Todd Baginski’s Navigation Post

SpittingCAML



Microsoft based Business Process Management - Free Breakfast Seminar - Thursday 30th October 2008

I’m going to be attending this free breakfast seminar this week. I’d love to meet other people involved with Business Process Management and discuss about how you are/or may be using K2 tools and Microsoft WSS 3.0/MOSS 2007 to achieve this. Comment on this post if you are going to be there :-)

This is what the morning is all about: Discover the benefits of embracing Business Process Management using Microsoft based technologies. We will be presenting Microsoft BizTalk Server and K2 blackpearl focused around business-process automation and application-to-application integration.

K2 in Partnership with Microsoft invites you to join us for a breakfast seminar in Microsoft Cardinal Place, London Victoria, London, UK. Breakfast will be available from 8:30.

seminar

Arrival
(8:00 - 8:30)
Light Breakfast
(8:30 - 9:00)
Welcome from Microsoft
Mr Harsha Karunaratne, SOA and Process Platform Technical Specialist
microsoftlogo

(9:00 - 9:30)
Business Benefits of BPM
Mr Ruan Scott, K2 VP EMEA
k2logo

(9:30 - 10:00)
Scenario Demonstration
Mr Gabriel Malherbe, Dynamyx Technical Director
dynamix

(10:00 - 10:45)
Q&A
(10:45 - 11:00)
A technical workshop will be held from 11:00 to 12:00.

There is still time to register, simply visit the dynamic register to attend page.

I hope to see lots of you there :-)

See you on Thursday morning.

SpittingCAML



K2 [blackpoint] - the early verdict

Well, what can I say. I’m very impressed! It feels much cleaner, and much more stable than K2 [blackpearl]… perhaps underlying the inadequacies in the Visual Studio 2005 plugins, and the brilliance of the new Microsoft Office 2007 Style K2 Studio (Shown in Figure 1 below).

blackpoint_nicetutorial
Figure 1: K2 Studio, new with K2 [blackpoint]

As you can see, there are a number of ’steps’ along the top which take you through setting up your MOSS 2007 or WSS 3 portal correctly. It is much more simple this way, and ensures you activate the K2 features and webparts correctly.

Clicking on the ‘K2′ logo in the top left, much like in Office 2007 brings up a familiar ‘new’ dialogue where you can start to create a new  project/K2 process (Shown in Figure 2).

blackpoint_niceprojectcreation
Figure 2: New project dialogue

Creating your workflow is as easy as in K2 [blackpearl], and you draw the lines between each process using right mouse button, dragging a line between the items you wish to join. There are familiar options, in fact all the options you would get in K2 [blackpearl], without the option of viewing code or editing the WF objects. I created a simple workflow that sends an email when a new contact is added to the portal site (Shown below in Figure 3)

 blackpoint_workflowdevelopmentpanel
Figure 3: Example workflow

I then deployed the project using the big ‘deploy’ button shown in Figure 3, and it deployed successfully after asking which server I wish to deploy to (Development, Staging or Live etc.) and what to call the version that I am deploying, pretty straight forward, it does all that in K2 [blackpearl]. You then need to create the site that will be hosting your workflow data. Its pretty easy, and you are taken through what to do in easy step by step instructions. Once you’ve created that, you should have a SharePoint web site looking like Figure 4.

blackpoint_workflowsite0
Figure 4: Deployed Workflow SharePoint site 

This is something new, and I really like this idea, as it takes away the having to learn the K2 Workspace supplied with K2 [blackpearl] and gives you the courage to delegate workflow administration to your power users/business analysts.

Okay, enough of that… lets start the workflow by creating a couple of contacts - which should generate two instances of my workflow, and send an email to me.

 blackpoint_contactlist
Figure 5: Two contacts created, with an added ‘workflow column’ that shows a status 

Due to my workflow integrating with the contacts list, K2 [blackpoint] added a nice column to tell me the status of it. This changed from ‘In Progress’ to ‘Completed’… and no email arrived… I wonder what went wrong then?

I returned to the Workflow web site, and clicked to see the instances I just created. The excellent view flow feature from K2 [blackpearl] is available. It shows me that the error is in the email sending section (Figure 6).

blackpoint_viewflow
Figure 6: The view flow, from the workflow web site

I investigated, and used the Management Console that is available in the SharePoint administration site. This is yet another feature that has been integrated (shown in Figure 7). Excellent :-). No errors here, so I checked the event log on the machine. It would seem the runtime services hadn’t been installed correctly. The application pool had an invalid identity, so I fixed that, and tried again.

 blackpoint_managementconsole
Figure 7: Management Console integrated into SharePoint administration

I went back into the Workflow web site and clicked ‘retry’ on the instances that failed… sure enough, email arrived as expected! (shown in Figure 8) I cancelled a few that I had created trying to diagnose the faults, using the ‘cancel’ option.

 blackpoint_itworked
Figure 8 - the email arrives 

Brilliant, my workflow appeared to work. Looking around at what I can do, I think the export to excel reports are really cool. (shown in Figure 9)

blackpoint_nicereports
Figure 9: Excel reports 

Interesting, however, is it correct? I cancelled two, but where are the ones that completed? Do I need to have a terminate event on my workflow? I’ll do a little more playing around. If you know, please comment on this blog post.

I think this could be a very useful tool for our organisation, and best of all, the training required is greatly reduced since it’s all SharePoint based now, and our staff already know SharePoint.

SpittingCAML



K2 [blackpoint] - the trial begins

Last week it was proposed that my development team should have a look at K2 [blackpoint]. Management’s motivation seems to be more money related rather than feature related since K2 [blackpoint] is cheaper per user than K2 [blackpearl]. My organisation already have a number of K2 [blackpearl] workflows in use, and I really like it… so I was a little unsure about what K2 [blackpoint] could offer us.

Its billed as SharePoint workflows, more features, no code… should us developers all quit now while we can and leave all the development to our business analysts?

We’ve had a number of disastrous attempts at getting our power user and business analyst users involved in developing their own stuff without interacting with the developers… should we trust them with more power? and allow them to build their own WSS or MOSS workflow? The jury is out! :-D

Things to point out:

  • It is currently only available in beta version (version 4.8130.0.0)
  • There is an upgrade path to K2 [blackpearl] - great :-)
  • Business analysts and users of the K2 toolkits are secure in the knowledge that the tools are familiar, as they look very similar to the Office 2007 suite.

Installation footprint (Hardware):

  1. Minimum: Server with processor speed of 2.5 gigahertz (GHz)  or higher
    Recommended: Dual processor, 3 GHz or higher
  2. Minimum: 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM
    Recommended: 2 GB recommended
  3. 3 GB of available hard disk

Installation footprint (software)

One of the following operating systems (for the server)

  • Windows 2003 Server with SP2 (Standard or Enterprise)
  • Windows 2003 Server R2 with SP2 (Standard or Enterprise)

For use of email notifications (one of the following three):

  • Internet Simple Mail Transfer Protocol/Post Office Protocol 3 (SMTP/POP3)
  • Internet Message Access Protocol 4 (IMAP4)
  • MAPI-compliant messaging software

The following windows components:

  • Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0
  • Distributed Transaction Coordinator (DTC)
  • Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ)

The following .Net components:

Browser:

  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 or higher (IE 7 is recommended)

Additional applications:

Database technologies:

  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 with SP2 (Standard or Enterprise)
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services

Take note of all the required Service Packs, as K2 will only be able to support your installation if it was installed with the correct prerequisites. Windows 2003 Server MUST have all the latest security patches. SQL Server 2005 will work in pre SP2 mode, but wont be supported. Report Viewer must be SP1. These are all things to investigate if your beta install fails to work or install before calling for help.

More detail on the installation prerequisites can be found in the K2 [blackpoint] Release notes, where much of this information is from!

I’ll be reporting back on how my organisation gets on with K2 [BlackPoint].. good luck to everyone else who’s embarking on the same journey.

SpittingCAML



Another reason to ditch vanilla MOSS Workflow and create your own!

Its been a while since I can sit down and go through my blog subscriptions. One of note was also raised by Jason Apergis in his excellent MOSS Workflow history best practice article.

The 60 day automatic purge of workflow history! This has quite a big impact in lots of my organisations workflows. Perhaps we were a being naive in assuming that we could use the out of box or ‘vanilla’ behaviour of SharePoint history keeping.

Have a read of Dave Wollerman’s Blog, and his post entitled: Huge MOSS Workflow Issue… What is Microsoft Thinking!!!!

It seems this information has been common knowledge since last year, but its the first I have read of it!

Luckily, with K2 [blackpearl] and K2 [blackpoint] it is relatively easy to store your own historic information, with not too much of an overhead, either using SmartObjects or by storing it in a Custom List. The possibilities are endless.

SpittingCAML



Workflow Foundation… and delays

If you have tried to delay your WF workflow process, for example, when you want to wait until an InfoPath form is saved and available for read, you should take a look at Jason Apergis’s excellent posting on it.

DelayActivity Not Working and Creating Simple Escalation

SpittingCAML



Why do SharePoint projects fail?

I can’t believe I only just found the time to read the ‘CleverWorkarounds’ guide to why SharePoint projects fail.

I suggest all you budding Project Managers take a close look, because between the many lines, there’s some key points. It’s nice to know that you aren’t the only person in the world doubting the complexity of a SharePoint solution.

Find the whole series of 8 parts, here… and many more interesting articles.

My favourite image from ‘CleverWorkarounds’ SharePoint project meltdown part 4!

docmngmntsp2007

Enjoy,

SpittingCAML



SPLookupField…. setting this in code

Many of you may have encountered the same challenge as me today… when you attempt to set the value of a lookup field in SharePoint through some C# or VB.NET code.

Matt Rantlett has written a great little helper function that will save the day!

Find it here: SPLookupField Helper function

SpittingCAML




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