Adoption Vs Best Practices


The Proof of the Pudding is in the eating

Any platform is only good if it is used and delivers results. One of the key steps to ensuring good adoption of a platform is to engage users and keep their interest going. Bad implementations loose users and so do long implementation cycles.

While you should always follow Best Practices, what would you do if there is an immediate business need for a feature but the Best Practices don’t meet the time and budget constraints?

When you have users waiting for a system and you don’t have the time and money to do it right, at times it may be in the interest of the long term goals to implement “Something that Works” though it may not be the “Best Practice”. Something that Works would keep the users engaged and provide them many of the benefits they need. This would drive adoption and provide the expected ROI. The returns from the system can then be invested in doing it the way it should be.

“Best Practice”, a phrase I hear quite often in my world. Customers ask me if something is a best practice, I have heard developers say they have implemented the best practice and there are some others that  say a particular implementation is not as per Best Practices.

Over the years I have noticed there are 2 kinds of items that are usually clubbed under the banner of Best Practices –

1. The practices that usually come out of product design/ limitations or Anti Patterns. These are like the Law – Not following these can cause serious damage. For example, in the SharePoint world, the likes of disposing unmanaged objects.

2. The practices which are the recommended way based on various factors including the experiences other customers. These are actually Guidelines or Recommendations. Not following them on most occasions of course is costly, usually through maintenance overheads, scalability issues or performance bottlenecks. But then there are rare occasions where they may not be the most suitable for the situation.

Most decisions in the business our world are based on a Risk-Reward profile. As long as there are clear benefits and in some cases, a plan to fix it, I would advise taking the option that is the fastest to get you off the ground and provide returns, even if it means not following some of the Recommendations. This is akin to managing debt in the Agile development world to keep the right velocity. You would avoid debt but most often you have it and it is ok.

Keep away from fire but not if you are lighting a candle in the dark!

As one of the experts rightly put it when answering my question on the topic at a #SUGUK meet in London – “You should always evaluate the risk and decide if it is worth taking the risk”.

Implementing an FOI solution on SharePoint


Freedom of Information is recognized as a human right by may countries in the world. It has been implemented in various forms, the Right to information (RTI) in India, The Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act) in UK and USA being examples.
All these have a basic tenets of asking for and being able to receive information about public bodies and organizations working in the public domain. Freedom of Information also considers another basic human right, the right to privacy.
SharePoint can be leveraged to build a request-response system that has the features below
1. Allows users to search for information
2. Has a request system where users can raise a query.
3. Routes the query to the right department / responsible person in the organization.
4. Allows the department / responsible people to create a document with the response or required information.
5. Provide ability to have reviews on the document
6. Publish the document with notification to the requestor.
7. Manage security on documents where access needs to be restricted due to Data Protection regulations.
8. Track requests and manage them within SLAs

Need help with FOI, RTI, other compliance requirements or information management in general? Acuvate Software can help.

Using SharePoint for Safeguarding Children


Every Child Matters

In 2003 the Blair government came up with a green paper with this title following the Lord Laming inquiry. The paper proposed a series of steps nationally, regionally and locally within communities for making the lives of the children better. A lot has been said and done since and every county, every borough and every parish in the country has taken steps towards safeguarding children. However, there is still a scope for improvement and it is still a priority for all of us.

In its new approach to safeguarding our children, the government decided to put Supporting Parents and Carers at the heart.

Key challenges:

  • Integration with the many parents and carers
  • Ensuring they have the right information available at the right time.

One  of the key areas that were highlighted by the Lord Laming enquiry was weak accountability and poor integration among the various departments and groups that work for Safeguarding children.  The answer – Director of Children’s Services, a single authority for safeguarding children and improving their lives in each council area and a Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). The LSCBs have been doing good work at educating people on how to identify children at risk and caring for them. They have been conducting various activities and coordinating with various departments. In her report Professor Munro highlighted the crucial role of LSCBs in fostering multi agency partnership.

Key challenges:

  • Once again, integration of the various professionals and organisations
  • Ensuring they all have the right information available at the right time.

The government also decided to improve the workforce.

We should ensure we enable these dedicated and passionate people with the right tools and technology. At the same time in todays time of austerity, we should ensure we make the most of our existing investments in technology.

Public sites like www.safenetwork.org.uk (interestingly built on SharePoint) provide information and resources including trainings for parents, carers and other people involved in the LSCBs

SharePoint is not new to the local bodies. There are numerous councils at the county and borough levels that use SharePoint already.  SharePoint is quite popular with the council websites and I hear with their intranets too.

SharePoint is a powerful platform for collaboration. The different agencies in the council area, the police the self help community groups, the charities and the local authority itself can all come together on a common platform that is available to all of them securely from every where.  It can also be the one place for the LSCBs to collate and coordinate their efforts towards safeguarding children.

  1. Effective 15 April 2013, there is a revised safeguarding statutory guidance for  working together. The Working Together guidance is now less prescriptive and allows LSCBs to be more flexible. It also mandates that documents on lessons learnt and other knowledge be made suitable for public consumption. The new process of the SCRs, managing knowledge and working together can happen better with SharePoint.
  2. Councils can build Extranet sites for agencies working on safeguarding children to collaborate. These portals can bring data from various systems using Business Connectivity Services, webservices, other integration options to create a single profile for each child .
  3. Often children at risk are identified as a result of multiple observations. SharePoint can be used a single platform for keeping these observations. The platform can also be used to log and track cases of concern and take remedial measures.
  4. The information collected can be used for analyzing trends. Metrics gathered from the system can be used to focus on areas that need the most help.
  5. Joint initiatives (projects) can be managed using the Project Management features of SharePoint. These features have significantly improved in the current version as explained here

SharePoint is a robust collaboration platform that can be leveraged in multiple ways to empower the people working to safeguard our children. It is a platform that many councils have already invested in. Using SharePoint for Safeguarding Children can benefit us in more ways than one.

Moving a list template from MOSS 2007 to SharePoint 2010


In SharePoint 2010 site templates are all .wsp files. They are solutions that need to be activated.So, you can’t migrate a site template (.stp) from MOSS 2007 to SharePoint2010 directly. The list templates however are still .stp files in SharePoint 2010. Given that, you should be able to use the templates that were saved in MOSS 2007 right? When you actually try to do it, you get the error "Microsoft SharePoint Foundation Version 3 templates are not supported in this version of the Product."
The work around:
.stp files are essentially CAB files. A list template (stp) contains a manifest.xml file and a few more files with numeric names which are your list pages. It is the manifest.xml file that contains the <ProductVersion> tag which specifies the version of the product.In order to get the stp working on SharePoint 2010, I followed the steps below.
1. Rename the .stp as .cab
2. Extract the contents of the .cab (I use 7zip for this)
3. Open manifest.xml in an editor.
4. Change the value of <ProductVersion> tag from 3 to 4 and save the file.
5. Repackage the files into a CAB. Now wait there! How do we repackage it? You can write a DDF, run makecab.exe. I would rather use the CAB project of Visual Studio. Its simple – Open a new cab project, add the file and build you are done.
6. Rename the file to .stp and you are ready to go!

MOSS Resources on CodePlex


CodePlex has some cool projects for SharePoint. There a few well known projects like the WSP Builder, Community Kit for SharePoint, SmartPart and STSDEV  that have been used extensively by the fraternity but there are also a lot more that make lives of the MOSS guys easier.
 
One of them is the SharePoint 2007 Features project has a nice collection of features that can enhance your MOSS environment. The features here help make little improvements that people always want on MOSS. Especially the features like Log Viewer, Print List, Share Point Events Manager and Unique Column Policy help add a new dimension to MOSS quickly. Another project that can be pretty handy in intranet implementations is Active Directory Tools for SharePoint.
 
 

The monkey and the grasshopper


I have been reading about the Monkey for some time now. Though its been more than an year, I had never actually dwelt deep into it . Just a few days ago I happened to chance upon Mainsoft and thats when my interest in the Monkey resurfaced. The reason for this revival of interest and this seriousness in effort is the other character of this story the GrassHopper. 
 
Grasshopper is a mainsoft product and quite an interesting one too. Grasshopper can help compile .NET code written in visual studio to run with java enabled systems!
Grasshopper is available as a free download from the Mainsoft website. It comes nicely packaged in an MSI and installing it is just clicking next, next and finish. The installer also adds Tomcat on the machine to help make sure that the web apps too really run on Java.
 
Grasshopper adds new project types to Visual Studio. Before using the project types we will need to activate Grasshopper. Once activated, using Grasshopper to create the first java application is simple. Just select one of the project types for Java EE and creating applications for the Java platform is just like creating any other .NET application.
 
Ok! the Grasshopper is great but where did the Monkey  come from? The Mono Project (spanish: mono = monkey) is an open source project. The Mono project which has Novel’s support right now aims at creating a ECMA standard compliant CLI that will help run .NET on different platforms like Linux, Mac, Solaris & windows. Though it is not as feature rich as the Microsoft implementation, it gives a lot of power in the hands of developers.
 

Nuked!


Nuked!  That has been the status message on my IMs for some time now. Call it fate or call it luck, we at Acuvate came across a portal framework called Dotnetnuke (DNN) and my status changed to Nuked!.

 

Written in VB.NET, DNN is an open source CMS licensed under a standard BSD open source license agreement. Though it has been around for some time, it only seems to have been catching up on the innumerable other open source CMS mostly written in Java and PHP in the recent times. Other than the fact that it is the all so familiar .NET, what lead us to trying it out, using it and even recommending it to our customers is the active user community. It is one of the top 10 projects in terms of traffic on Sourceforge now!

 

There are also dozens of modules that are available which can be used to build a solution with the least of coding! The regular features like User login, management, simple surveys, forums are all out of the box. It even comes packed with Localization and supports multiple sites on a single installation. Add to that the hundreds of commercially and community created modules and you have almost everything you need without a single line of code. If you really have such a unique requirement that warrants custom development DNN has something for you too. DNN has a good architecture and allows you to build and add new modules as needed. What makes it more interesting is the power of .NET I’m not restricted to VB.NET for my needs.

 

For me DNN is a nice tool that I can use to quickly create a website that is actually useable and also extend it as I need. I’m indeed Nuked!

The One Web !


In recent times there has been a lot of consolidation in the web world. A lot of work has been and is being done on collaboration and interoperability. Connected applications and social computing are the buzz words. The new Web or Web 2.0 as its being called is truly moving toward becomming one gigantic single Web.
MySpace and Facebook have done a lot in connecting people, Facebook API took it a step forward and it didn’t stop at that. The facebook tool kit for .NET developers added one more strand to the web and with OpenSocial the unification will be profound. A lot of new and innovative things are bringing the Web together.
 
Here is a small list I have come accross in recent times that have, or will change the face of the Web.
 
  • AJAX
    This beautiful cocktail of technologies has made user experience rich and a lot better.
  • Facebook API & .NET toolkit
    This has opened a whole new dimension to the facebook app development just because its so easy to use! With the vast developer base that .NET has and the new capabilities comming in, this will transform the already popular facebook experience.
  • Windows Live
    Its from Microsoft! Need I say more on how popular its going to be?  Its also brought in a lot of live gadgets and people on the spaces.
  • Google API
    From docs and spreadsheets to search and maps, google has it all.
  • Google gadgets
    Clocks are my favourite but there is a lot more to google gadgets
  • The OpenSocial API
    With MySpace & orkut on the band, this is gonna create waves.
  • Microsoft Popfly
    Mashups and much more to give a unique experience.
  • Mono
    Helped the cause of developers by bridging the Operating system divide.
  • Grasshopper
    The bug has made Java and Microsoft technologies more interoperable.
  • IIS 7.0
    With its support for PHP applications IIS 7.0 will go a long way in unifying the Web.

Brand New Day.. Brand New Year..


"Brand New Day  Brand New Year ..
Things do come and go from here.
There is hope and so is fear..
and lots of things that we hold dear.
Dreams are far yet so near..
and Life goes on without a tear."
 
Believe me the lines may not be great but the effort I put in to write that was real. It is really hard to concentrate on writing when every thing around is in a party mood.
The nice loud music, the bright fire works, the half moon in the bright night sky, people screaming and dancing wild. An year has come to an end and a new one has begun. People are partying hard, celebratiing in a million different ways, each wishing the others A happy new year.
What is this celebration for ? Why this hysteria? Is this because something bad has ended? Definetely not! We had the same frenzy last year too.
Is it because something good is gonna happen? Can’t say that either. Its just another day, another brand new day. A brand new day filled with the eternal hope that something better is in store, the hope that our dreams will come true, the hope to find happiness. Hey wait! lets move back a little .. yes right there – the hope to find happiness – thats it! Thats exactly what the people are doing! finding happiness!! Happiness in singing, dancing and being with their loved ones, happiness in the bright lights and the music, happiness in the world around them! 
 
But alas what is it that I see? The search for happiness in the loud bursts of crackers, the search for happiness in the large pegs of drink and the subsequent racing through the roads. The search for happiness in the wild screaming and the drunken brawls. Is this really the happiness we are searching for?
Is it really worth the trouble for just another reason, just another day?  Question are many and the reasons just as many.
End of it all there is a  Brand New Day,  Brand New Year  and like the Linkin Park song goes "and in the end, it doesn’t even matter!!"
 
Happy New Year !!