MySite Provisioning Methods

A number of times over the past few years I have stumbled into discussions (in person or online) about how to automate the creation of MySites for all users in the organization.  Creating the sites programmatically is actually pretty simple, but the real question is “Why do you want to do that?”  There are advantages and disadvantages to automating the process, but for me it almost always comes down to two big things; Governance and Business Reason. 

MySite Governance

MySites present an interesting challenge with regards to governance.  While most of the topics are outside the scope of this article there are a few important topics that relate to the number of MySites within an organization.

Storage Considerations – Even with quotas in place it is easy to see exponential growth for the storage requirements.  In larger environments with 1,000s of users serious planning needs to take place to build out a SQL environment to support the site collections.  Planning should also be done to manage the number of sites per content database to ensure long term maintainability. 

When you provision all of the sites at once all of the planning has to be done up front, where conversely if you provision the sites slowly over time you spend a little time planning out the long term assumptions and then tweak the strategy over time as the sites and their usage evolves.  It is much easier to make corrections with the slow approach.

User Support and Training – A MySite is very different than an email account which is something nearly all computer users are familiar with at this point.  The average SharePoint user has never received any formal training and has little understanding of the capabilities of a site collection.  Without proper training it is unlikely that user will be able to take advantage of any of the real benefits of the MySite leaving them to just use it as a replacement for a personal network share (see Storage Considerations above). 

In my experience site owners or administrators for traditional collaboration or department sites are much more likely to have success and less likely to need extra support.  That narrower group of people is a much better starting point, and they are also sophisticated enough to initiate the automatic provisioning process themselves.

Business Reason

Each organization should develop a user story for what the purpose of a MySite is within their organization.  Like any site collection, it can be used for many different purposes such as; Landing Page, Dashboard, Personal Site, etc.  The user story may help establish how the MySite will be used, who is expected to use it, and ultimately if customization is needed to provide the functionality and content.  The answers to those questions should help guide the decision about how to provision the sites. 

Closing

While I tend to like the go slow and make adjustments path, there are valid reasons for needing to auto-provision sites for large groups of users.  Hopefully the guidance here will help to guide the team through proper planning so that the implementation can be successful.

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Finding the Sweet Spot with Process Improvement

Today while visiting a grocery (super-)store I witnessed a strange event in the parking lot where a couple of guys were “pushing” carts.  This is something I did in high school so it is a task I understand very well.  They had a 60’ plus train of carts along with a motorized device at the end that helped to push which is what grabbed my attention.  My assumption is that since they had the motorized device (technology innovation) they could take on more work (process efficiency).  What I witnessed was something completely different.  I watched them for well over five minutes.  In that time the train grew and grew and became very difficult to manage.  You can also imagine that a 60’ train of carts in a busy parking lot blocks quite a few cars, including my own.  From my time of pushing carts I knew what a manageable load was and that it was often more efficient to manage smaller subset of work.  In the time I watched them in this farce, the two individuals without the aid of any motorized cart should have been able to collect and return twice what they ended up collecting without unconvincing any of the customers by blocking them in.

This story is a great example of what happens when you overuse technology in an attempt to increase business efficiency.  It is important to look for the sweet spot, adding just enough value without overbuilding or you will see diminished returns. 

I’m sure everyone that has worked with workflow or Business Process Management (BPM) for any period of time will have lived through projects that went passed the sweet spot.  It is not always as clear as the shopping cart story above.  In my experience it typically comes from either trying to automate too much in a previously manual process or from trying to handle too many process exceptions.  One of my favorite things about process improvement is that it is not a one cycle process.  You go through iterations of improvement and continue to tighten up the process.  With this iterative approach it affords the team some time to automate the manual processes and helps the process mature a bit before you try and handle all of the potential exceptions. 

In one project where clearly things had been taken too far, the team had spent a pretty substantial amount of time working through all of the different types of process exceptions.  I think there were eight possible paths at one point.  After the process went live we ended up finding that a few of the paths were never followed, and a few others were followed fewer than 3% of the time.  Clearly mistakes had been made and the process was overbuilt.  Working in a few steps that were a bit more generic and only partially automated would have been a better alternative.  By planning smaller, more focused iterations you will show value quicker and make it a lot easier to plan the next improvement cycle. 

Riding the 2010 Wave

The blog has been a bit quiet the past few months.  Like many of my fellow SharePoint professionals I’ve been spending much of my free time getting up to speed on the next wave of tools between Office, SharePoint, and Visual Studio.  It is an incredible amount of information to digest so even though I have a few hundred hours on it there always seems to be more to dig into.  I feel like I got into it a bit late due to some other project commitments last fall.  Since then most of my free time has been devoted to it as I prepare for new projects along with some presentations I have lined up on 2010 topics.

Now that we are inching a little closer to the release I expect to see more companies start to organize efforts to take a look at it.  This means people will be able to work with it on company time and computers which was a real barrier for most people.  I thought I would put together a few suggestions on what to look at based on a few different roles.

Areas of Interest

Start by getting familiar with the functionality and features that are most relevant to your environment.  Here are a few commonly discussed areas.

Service Applications – Get familiar with the Service Application framework and the new services that are available.  Also, get familiar with how the services are distributed across the farm topology.  The new model is much more robust and potentially more complicated in large environments.  Doing the proper planning ahead of time for services and server topology will increase the likelihood for success.

Distributed Deployments – In addition to the distribution of services across servers within a farm, there is now support for connecting or sharing services between farms.  Many larger organizations will see better management, data accuracy, and less redundancy if they can get this right.

Business Connectivity Services (BCS) – The BCS represents a very strong integration point by supporting read and write connectivity to external databases, web services, assemblies and custom data sources. 

Workflow Improvements – If you currently use workflows you will be happy to see the improvements in this area.  Workflows can be designed in Visio, Imported/Exported with Designer, and also imported into Visual Studio allowing you to formalize or enhance a process originally prototyped in SharePoint Designer. 

Visual Studio – In previous versions it seemed like the developer story was an afterthought, but a number of improvements have been made to Visual Studio to make building and deploying features much easier.

Plan the Transition

Chances are you are currently working with a 2007 farm.  Business and project cycles are almost never aligned with a vendor’s product release cycle so its safe to say that the majority of the SharePoint 2007 (MOSS/WSS 3) deployments will not have completed their upgrades this summer.  By understanding the new platform and capabilities you can better architect and develop solutions that can make the transition smoothly. 

Anyone that has Service Pack 2 with the Oct 09 Cumulative Updates also has the ability to test the upgradability of their solution.  This should absolutely be done before any new solutions or applications are deployed to the SharePoint environment.  It is always easier to make changes before the release than it is to update it as part of a future release.

Have Fun With It

While it can be a lot of information, take your time and have fun with it.  By trying to focus on a few things at a time it will be much easier to adapt to the new way of doing things and the new capabilities.

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Office and SharePoint 2010 Launch Info

The official launch date for the Office and SharePoint 2010 versions has finally been set.  To kick off the festivities Stephen Elop, President of Microsoft’s Business Division will be delivering a keynote speech on Wednesday, May 12th at 11am EST.

Additional details, resources, and a link to add the event to your outlook calendar are available on the official site.

MSDN – SharePoint MVP Chat

On Monday March 15th MSDN is hosting a SharePoint MVP chat to answer questions on all topics related to SharePoint.  I am incredibly honored to be participating in the event and hope that it is the first of many in the months to come.

March 15, 2010
12:00 PM EST (9:00 AM Pacific)

Do you have tough technical questions regarding SharePoint for which you’re seeking answers? Do you want to tap into the deep knowledge of the talented Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals? The SharePoint MVPs are the same people you see in the technical community as authors, speakers, user group leaders and answerers in the MSDN forums. This is the first time we have brought these experts together as a collective group to answer your questions live. So please join us and bring on the questions! This chat will cover WSS, MOSS and the SharePoint 2010 beta. Topics include setup and administration, design, development, and general questions

More info and add to Outlook calendar
http://www.microsoft.com/communities/chats/default.mspx

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