Archive for the 'Training' Category

Importance of web page look ‘n’ feel

The look ‘n’ feel of your website is important. BUT, it is less important than the text-based content. In most commercial websites, the role of the traditional graphic designer is relatively minor. The role of the information architect is central

This article focuses on look and feel.

  • “To look good is to be good - that’s the primary test when people assess a Web site’s credibility” B.J. Fogg, Ph.D (Stanford University 2002) [link]
  • “Uniformity an inherit part of a usable web site design” – Sigma Infotech [link]
  • “Complex and beautiful may win awards, but ugly and simple might just win the marathon.” – Gerry McGovern [link]
  • “Consistency is one of the most powerful usability principles”, “users spend most of their time on other websites.” – Jacob Nielsen [link]

 Dilbert.com
Figure 1 – Scott Adams ‘Dilbert’ on web design (lifted from here)

Do:

  • Ensure page layout and content style is part of the design
  • Decide on tone, phrasing and naming conventions for all language used on the site  
  • Decide on the page flow and use the same flow for all pages
  • Template as much of the layout as possible (e.g. Master page)
  • Use cascading style sheets (CSS)
  • Create reusable page components (e.g. User Controls / Server Controls)
  • Seek the advice of an imagery expert when using graphics / icons

Don’t:

  • Design as you go
  • Implement each page with no regard to how other aspects of the application work
  • Recreate components that have already been written for other parts of the application
  • Use inline styles, unless there is a good reason
  • Confuse the user with poor use of language / symbols
  • Resize, stretch, crop or distort images when displaying them as part of your application (unless this is the purpose of the application)

There are several other key elements that shouldn’t be neglected in the design phase of a project.

  • Ensure consistent feedback is given to the user (in terms of error, success messages)
  • Adopt the keep it simple stupid (KISS) approach to design
  • Ask non developers to test your application – usable web pages don’t require a manual to operate them
  • If you need to use a picture, get it sized and formatted for web site usage

Further reading:
9 Essential Principles for Good Web Design

SC



What are managers/leaders?

toilet

Figure 1 – Toilet, shamelessly stolen from Tame the bear

Okay, so why are we looking at a picture of a toilet? Well, it is quite simple.

Think about your organisation.

How cost effective are toilets in your organisation?

The answer is – Extremely cost effective! Yes, there is legislations that ensures your employer provides such bathroom facilities, but imagine your office/building without toilets. You’d need to go home every few hours, or walk to a public facility… this certainly wont help productivity!

Toilets provide a valued service, although most of us, apart from those in the facilities management trade even think about it!

Turning our attentions back to Managers…

How cost effective are managers in your organisation?

It is not something you can easily measure as they don’t necessarily produce any tangible products. Do managers provide a service? Yes… they provide a service to their team.

It is important to realise that, the members of a team may appear on an organisational chart to work for the manager, however, it is more realistic to suggest that the manager works for the team.

The other important axis to management – Leadership.

Leadership is a skill that excellent managers possess. Leadership is not about counting beans, measuring performance and chairing meetings.

Leadership is about:

  • communication of a shared goal or vision to the team
  • motivating the team
  • ensuring the team has the resources to achieve it’s goal

Just a little taster of what I’ve been learning over the last few weeks.

SpittingCAML



Chartered IT Professional (CITP)

It was a great pleasure today, to receive my first formal qualification since I left University. I am now an official Chartered IT Professional.

CITP Medal

In order to maintain my CITP status I need to continually develop my skill set, which is good news for my blog… as I will continue to have lots of interesting things to write.

Find out about becoming a CITP yourself: here

I would highly recommend it, as it really helps you to understand what you may or may not have achieved so far in your career.

SpittingCAML BSc (hons) CITP MBCS MIET

I promise it’s the last time I EVER sign off like that!



Learn from Microsoft and K2 how Nissan drive more productivity from SAP

I thought I’d share with you an exciting seminar from Microsoft/K2/Nissan and Dynamyx on how to leverage your SAP system.

It will be run on the 10th December 2008, Time: 14:00 – 17:30   Venue: Radisson Edwardian Hampshire (Leicester Square, London WC2H 7LH)

Unfortunately due to other commitments I wont be able to attend this seminar, however I will certainly recommend this to my colleagues and to people involved with business process management and enterprise resource planning. If your organisation uses SharePoint, BizTalk and SAP then you already have the foundations for providing an integrated and flexible system for process and resource management.

SAP - a leading enterprise resource planning system provider

Microsoft and K2 would like to invite you to an afternoon session of presentations and networking to help you further your SAP investment. After refreshments and a welcome from your hosts you will gain an insight into how Microsoft works closely with SAP and their future strategy as partners.

Marco Manuello, (Enterprise Technical Specialist - Microsoft) talks about the Microsoft Strategy for SAP integration.

Nissan - market leading car manufacturer

Nissan enhanced their productivity with workflow and SAP linking to enable updates, amends and automatic postings with limited user intervention.

Dynamyx - a leading Workflow/Enterprise Management/BPM solutions provider.

This session will be hosted by the Dynamyx Business analyst (Meyer Prinsloo), who will explain the business drivers and processes involved, the project manager sharing experiences gained in delivering the solution across the region, and the systems architect who will present details on how to achieve scalability when linking workflow to SAP.

The event will end with networking and drinks to wish you all the best of the season with the backdrop of the night time city view.

For more information and/or to register to attend this event call 0870 166 6628 or click here to register online.

Please let me know how things go if you attend….

Enjoy

SpittingCAML



Networking at breakfast

It was only my second visit to Cardinal Place near Victoria Station, but I still managed to get lost by virtue of the six or seven exits from victoria tube/railway station! It’s a really amazing building, a glass sculpture! No Microsoft signs are to be seen until you get inside, which I suppose is a good thing, otherwise you’d have people walking in off the street to ask why Vista doesn’t work on their laptop :-D. Also, an excellent breakfast that would impress even the most cynical of IT professional ;-)

Thanks to all those who put together today’s breakfast seminar, whilst I’d seen most of what was presented before, it was nice to talk to lots of like minded developer/analyst types who are going through the same things as my organisation. I’m a strong believer that networking is what allows IT professionals to really consider the bigger picture, organisations the size of mine tend to suffer from ‘group think’… and being stuck in one particular industry taints your view of the world. I certainly enjoyed hearing the views of a ‘change manager’ from a well known publishing company, and talking to some people heavily involved in the world of ‘people security’. Great stuff :-)

I especially enjoyed discussing the gray area between what BizTalk Server can offer and what the K2 product set offers.

Harsha (SOA and Process Platform Technical Specialist) from Microsoft discussed the plans for the future in the realms of business process management, and amongst the overarching strategies of ‘cloud’ computing, there was a strong message of community involvement in making business process management something we will all be doing in our sleep in the not so distant future. K2 (and dynamyx) will continue to forge a strong partnership with Microsoft to leverage their technology stack, and to utilise existing infrastructure such as SAP, BizTalk, Microsoft Office, SharePoint and WSS.

Special thanks to Gabriel Malherbe (Dynamyx) who took the time to show me how BizTalk was being used in his demo workflow, and also to Ruan and Rye from K2 for taking the time to discuss our future  organisational requirements.

Gabriel is also involved in the writing of the first K2 book. I first blogged about it in March 2008, its been delayed till early next year due to wanting to include as many useful chapters as possible. It will certainly be on my amazon wish list. The number of authors has also grown since March, and I’m pleased to see that Sergio del Piccolo and Jason Apergis are also in the mix, as I’ve been reading their blogs since I first got a taste of K2 [blackpearl].

If you didn’t make it to this seminar, I’m sure there will be more opportunities in the future, but you missed out on the snazzy K2 USB Stick, which contained the slide deck from today… I will be presenting those to colleagues over the next week or so.. Very useful :-D

… also, for those who don’t know (and I was one of those people)… there are plans for the K2 User group in the UK. Hopefully I will find out more in due course… I wouldn’t mind getting involved in that!

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



Creating your SharePoint sites without having to use the rat*

*Rat - a term used by one of my university lecturers many years ago to refer to the ‘mouse’ peripheral. It made me laugh at the time, and it kinda stuck! The point I’m trying to make is that it seems to create a site with some customisation is an endless loop of point and click (In most cases where templates are not appropriate).

Hi there, it’s been a while since my last post, mainly due to the fact I seem to be working on so many different technologies, perhaps I am becoming a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’. Anyhow, I quite like the challenge of having to work with so many different technologies, and make them all work together!

So today I’ve been thinking about producing SharePoint sites through code. Its very easy to do this using K2 [blackpearl], but this project requires the bare minimum of custom install and set up.

farhanfaiz’s Weblog provided a good overview of how easy it is to create sites using C#. I’ve blogged on a previous occasion about site creation and maintenance in PowerShell, but as I need to do the creation inside a dot net application, I figured C# would be the best thing to use, since I know it better than PowerShell, and the rest of my team could perform maintenance on it in the future.

Here is a method you could use in your dot net applications

public static bool CreateSharePointSite(string parentURL,
                    string siteURLnode,
                    string siteTitle,
                    string siteTemplateName)
{
    bool successStatus= false
    using (SPSite siteCollection =
            new SPSite(parentURL))
    {
        SPWeb parentWeb =
            siteCollection.OpenWeb();
        SPWebTemplateCollection Templates =
            siteCollection.GetWebTemplates(1033);
        SPWebTemplate siteTemplate =
            Templates[siteTemplateName];
        parentWeb.Webs.Add(                    siteURLnode,
                    siteTitle, "", 1033,
                    siteTemplate, false, false);
        successStatus = true;
    }
    return successStatus;
}

In fact, if you are going to be using the SharePoint Object Model for a medium to large size project, I would really recommend you order the Mindsharp SharePoint 2007 poster pack. It’s written by many experts and MVP’s we know and love! You need to become a registered member of their site before you can order the posters. I’m UK based and it took a few weeks to arrive, but the office is now covered in useful material to aid the developers navigate their way through the object model, an example shown below in Figure 1. These posters are FREE if you live in the US or Canada!

ObjectModelThumbnail

Figure 1: an example Mindsharp poster

I think the good starting point is with Microsoft itself with it’s example ‘Creating a Custom User Site Provisioning Solution with Office SharePoint Server 2007′

Good luck with your development, and please let me know if you have any pointers or best practice for me, and the SharePoint community.

SpittingCAML



Need help with K2 [blackpearl]? Where do you turn?

Alas.. the answer is readily available. Visit the K2 Underground Definitive index of official help content.

SpittingCAML



K2 [blackpearl] and the people impact

There are a multitude of benefits to having K2 [blackpearl] in your organisation.

To name my favourite four:

  1. Rapid workflow prototyping and development
  2. Non IT work force and be involved in the workflow design
  3. System synergies with SAP, BizTalk, SharePoint and many others
  4. Workflow configuration management

But, before you get too excited… have you considered

  1. Developer training? - after all, who’s going to implement your new workflows and integrations?
  2. Administration training? - who’s going to maintain the workflows and databases when the developers should be concentrating on the next release of your business processes?
  3. User training? - will the new business processes involve different steps and stages? Who will define the best practice, and perform user acceptance?

Most people cover points 1 and 3…. but it’s important to cover point 2! Ensure the operations/maintenance team in your organisation know what to do when workflows go wrong and when the CEO is ringing to tell you that his document is stuck in the lost workflow dimension.

The very helpful people at K2 are putting together an administration and maintenance course for my organisation. I will try to report on its success in the next few weeks.

SpittingCAML




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