Product news for SharePoint devs and SharePoint pros

A SharePoint Farm-Wide View

The biggest issue with SharePoint, say Axceler’s director of marketing, Ken Allen, and product management director Gail Shlansky, is that there are so many components for admins to deal with. We talked about these challenges along with the recent release of Axceler ControlPoint 4.0. Common SharePoint challenges Axceler customers report include

•     the sheer complexity of SharePoint

•     the lack of a global view into the SharePoint environment (and the fact that admin tools offer site level but not farm level views)

•     the lack of visibility into permissions

•     the difficulty of branding and maintaining consistency across multiple sites

ControlPoint 4.0 lets administrators control what's going on in a SharePoint farm, say Allen and Shlansky. Admins can see all sites, lists, and items in SharePoint, see who is accessing what and whether people are even using SharePoint or not.

It provides tighter SharePoint security through permissions management and offers the chance of better governance and compliance and full control over deployment. Administrators can let site owners run reports or can create reports for them, and importantly, they can move things around and configure their SharePoint farm with more control than before.

Supporting both SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2007, ControlPoint is installed as a SharePoint web application and is integrated with SharePoint administration capabilities. In essence, ControlPoint becomes your "administrative console." It's scalable, and it utilizes a distributed administration model—farm admins are over site collection admins, who are over business users, who are over owners/managers.

On the main screen, which Allen and Shlansky stepped me through, you can see your farm hierarchy in a tree view and drill down by expanding the nodes. Immediately you get a consolidated view of SharePoint—members, users, lists, permissions, items and more—meaning there's a lot of info at your fingertips.

If you see a gear icon, this means you can perform a particular action across multiple sites all at once. They showed how in a few clicks you can get a view of site permissions, schedule reports, set parameters, and analyze results. We quickly drilled down to look at all users who had access and saw how they had access. ControlPoint is licensed by SharePoint farm. To learn more, see Axceler’s website.

Improving the SharePoint User Experience

Colligo Networks recently announced its Contributor for SharePoint 4.2, a product line of client applications designed to improve the SharePoint user experience and increase SharePoint adoption throughout the enterprise.  Contributer for SharePoint 4.2 product line includes Colligo Contributor Pro, client software that enables users to access, capture, and tag SharePoint content from popular desktop applications, Colligo Contributor Client, desktop software that increases SharePoint adoption by providing a seamless user experience online and offline, Colligo Contributor File Manager, a Windows Explorer extension that links folders on a users file system with SharePoint document libraries, and more.

This latest version provides Microsoft Office/Outlook 2010 compatibility along with support for new SharePoint 2010 enterprise content management (ECM) features, including keyword metadata, document sets, and in-place records management.

      Support for keyword metadata fields. This allows users to create folksonomies, which are accessible via the Colligo metadata editor. Users can set, edit, and modify terms from term stores on the server through a simple type-ahead interface from the Colligo Term selector.

      In-place records management. Restricts the use of items stored in SharePoint, without first moving them to a special storage location. Colligo Contributor 4.2 identifies in-place records using a special icon and respects the server restrictions on deleting and updating of declared records.

      Identification of document sets. Downloads existing document sets from the server and identifies them with a special icon. Document set items can be viewed, modified, added, or deleted from within Colligo Contributor 4.2.

      Performance optimization. Includes optimizations  to the processing and synchronization of content with the Contributor SQL Server database, to accelerate synchronization and increase overall performance.
To learn more, see Colligo’s website.

Helping SharePoint Tie Together the Product Development Process

Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) offers Windchill ProductPoint, a product data management solution for small and medium-sized businesses that extends the capabilities of SharePoint technologies, enabling product development teams to share CAD and other data. It offers support for AutoCAD as well as Mathcad, and its integration with other products in PTC’s lineup means organizations can perform CAD vaulting, sharing information and reusing data in ways that both ensure data integrity and enable concurrent engineering.

It can leverage tools such as toaster pop-up notifications, online presence detection, model wikis and collaboration spaces, enhance knowledge-sharing, data capture, and team collaboration to help organizations use their CAD data effectively in product development processes such as design creation and design outsourcing. It deploys on top of an existing or new SharePoint Server. See PTC’s website for more information.

A SharePoint Extranet Management Tool-Kit

SharePoint Solutions recently released SharePoint Extranet Collaboration Manager for SharePoint Server 2010 and SharePoint Foundation 2010. It’s a SharePoint add-in that provides the extranet collaboration and extranet administration that’s not offered in Microsoft’s out-of-the-box product. 

Built on the award-winning SharePoint Extranet Collaboration Manager for 2007, SharePoint Extranet Collaboration Manager for 2010 features enhanced functionality and new capabilities, all accessed from within SharePoint 2010 itself. The extranet toolkit includes the following features:

      Delegation of admin tasks. You can delegate users to perform routine administrative tasks like sending invitations, adding accounts, unlocking accounts, managing passwords, granting access, removing access, and more.

      Self-service for users. New extranet users can register for site access themselves or you can send them invitations , and approval of registrations can be automated.

      New security features. Admins can define security policies to govern site access and activity: at the site collection level, at the site level, or based on email domain.

      Total SharePoint integration.  Extranet management is possible from within SharePoint itself.
To learn more, see the SharePoint Solutions website.

Unit Testing Solution Replicates SharePoint Behavior

Typemock announced Isolator 2010, a unit testing tool that helps abstract dependencies from the tested code. It integrates into Visual Studio and TFS, and can change the behavior of any object methods, static methods, sealed classes, or private methods. The product supports Visual Studio 2010, .Net 4.0 and SharePoint 2010, while continuing to support earlier versions of .NET and Visual Studio.

Isolator 2010 can replicate the behavior of every Microsoft product including SharePoint, BizTalk, web services, and ASP.Net, which enables developers to unit test without needing to change their code. To learn more about Isolator 2010, see the Typemock website.

Create Data Mash-Ups in SharePoint

Stone Bond Technologies announced Enterprise Enabler, designed to let you create application data mash-ups in SharePoint in less than one day, compared to weeks or even months with any other ETL/EAI technology on the market. While other ETL/EAI technologies require thousands of lines of code, Stone Bond says Enterprise Enabler can accomplish this with zero code. This means you can gain orders of magnitude reduction in integration time and follow-on maintenance costs.

The company notes, “Enterprise Enabler fulfills the promise of SharePoint as a collaboration tool by bringing to life the Business Data Catalog (BDC) in SharePoint Server 2007 and the Business Connectivity Services (BCS) in SharePoint Server 2010….These capabilities, extended by Enterprise Enabler, provide any organization the ability to connect all of its mission-critical external data sources to the BDC or BCS.” Intrigued? See the StoneBond website.   

Mapping Components for SharePoint

ESRI's ArcGIS Mapping for SharePoint is now available. It’s a set of configurable mapping components that enables SharePoint administrators or contributors to embed an interactive map within SharePoint. Users of the site can quickly discover and exploit the geographic aspect of their data using an easy-to-understand map and a coordinated geolist. It supports SharePoint 2010 and is built on the ArcGIS API for Microsoft Silverlight/WPF.

ArcGIS Mapping for SharePoint applications can access global imagery and maps from ArcGIS Online or Bing Maps and operational layers such as SharePoint lists, ArcGIS Server services, and SQL Server 2008 data. Configuration is through a set of interactive dialog boxes. Learn more by visiting the ESRI website. 

Using SharePoint When You Have Undefined Processes

SharePoint lets you use workflows, but you can’t create a workflow unless you have a defined, structured process. What do you do with undefined processes?

ActionBase for Microsoft SharePoint is a task management solution that answers that question, letting you track and control dynamic human processes for a group within the SharePoint working environment. It provides the missing link between SharePoint and the ad hoc, unstructured processes that take place in email and documents, particularly processes that require follow-up and delegation and follow-through, processes that even with SharePoint workflows in place can fall through the cracks.

Eyal Maor of ActionBase explains more about unstructured processes: “Audits and investigations don’t always have a well-defined workflow, for example. There’s a lot of back and forth in process via email before findings and recommendations appear in Excel documents. Each review can end up with 10 to 20 findings to follow up,” that can total, he says, in the thousands.

ActionBase can work with Outlook and other applications and turn an email into a process. “When you send email, you don’t have a tracking mechanism unless they reply. You lose track or get in a chain reaction of emails. Once we assign an action for a process, we collect all emails, turn that into an “action mail” with defined due dates and targets. If I want to see what is happening, I can see email broken down into various correspondent items, I can track them, they can be consolidated into one message and one view, with all the related information and attachments.”

“In documents we do the same thing. Minutes or contracts for example, you can mark and start creating an action process that will be populated to others. People will be able to see documents in email if they need to see them or otherwise will just receive tasks to complete. You are allowed to see all processes below you and you know where processes above you came from. You get an action from executive management, you see where it came from, say a meeting, but you don’t see the document from the meeting, just that you were assigned an action and then you can see all the actions you do and the actions you assign. You can start a new action by yourself, too, if you don’t want upper management to see it, and assign and delegate tasks.” To explain how ActionBase could be used, Maor offered several scenarios:

  • Place an ActionBase Web Part at a MySite, so a group could create and assign and show and view items as well as collaborate and assign tasks based off of email messages.
  • A global decision-making site in SharePoint using Action Base, where a group of executives could view all actions on a website and get action-based reports that include email.
  • An audit tracking solution where one site is for audit management and has all the consolidated reports of audits and assigned actions and in the SharePoint site you can view all items and can prioritize items and actions. The SharePoint site could then reflect changes in realtime project status from emails. You could drill down and see all the updates and correspondence and related documents.
  • Convert an email Inbox to an action and route complaints to it and automatically transfer email to the proper recipients and run reports to ensure follow-up.

  • “It started as a project for Intel. We needed something to manage actions on projects. It developed and expanded to manage action items such as meetings and follow-ups to meetings,” Maor says. “There are many, many use cases. Microsoft told us, ‘You guys are managing the conversation.’” To learn more about ActionBase, visit their website.
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