Tag: Enterprise

Mobile Devices in the Enterprise

In my talks with end users about application features and solution they are interested in, I often hear people mention mobile device access. Two years ago the request surprised me because the mobile devices made browsing cumbersome and offered limited features. In the time since both the devices, and the software running them, have advanced quite a bit to the point where there is a solid offering.

Many of companies are lagging behind though and are not yet offering services to those devices. Even in many blackberry environments there is little application usage outside of email. In those same environments there is soften little or no access for any other devices.

Now that some of the top tier devices are supporting Wi-Fi it would be great if organizations would extend secure access to the wireless devices over Wi-Fi without the need for VPN software. As technologies continue to develop, connectivity is going to become that much more important.

Does your organization support mobile devices? If so I would like to hear your feedback on how well users embrace it and any other lessons learned. You can leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter @next_connect.

Managing SharePoint Solutions and Extensions

One of the great things about SharePoint today is the incredible traction that the platform has gained. The depth and range of solutions now offered by vendors along with open source solutions offered by the community really is amazing. It was a different place when I first installed SharePoint Portal Server 2001 back in early 2002.

Browsing the CodePlex I often feel like a kid in a candy store. So many great solutions, I cannot wait to install them all! Well not so fast, it might be a good idea to take a step back and consider the consequences.

Deciding What to Install
One key to maintaining a well run environment is to have a process in place to review, approve, and manage customizations. This should be part of your formal governance plan, but if you do not have one do not let that stop you from looking at this particular topic and working out some plans.

Special care should be given to non-commercial solutions. They should always be tested in a non-production environment before being deployed to your production environment. When downloading community code, be sure to take notice of who is contributing it and what the official release is. CodePlex for example does a great job of showing build info and release notes. If an item is marked as Alpha or Beta it probably has not been put through rigorous testing yet. If you want to use it then make sure you are comfortable with the risks and test it in your environment.

Testing Environment
Your test environment should be as similar to your production environment as possible. You do not necessarily have to put it on the same quality of hardware, but the configuration should be similar. It is critical that the patch levels are the same. On this note, you should be testing any KB Patches, MS Cumulative Updates, or Service Packs anyway.

Make sure that the test environment also includes the full catalog of Solutions, Web Parts, and other customizations. This is important because it is possible that one might conflict with another. Unit Testing is not enough, you will want to see how it will react and interact with your environment.

Potential Problems or Conflicts
Depending on what functionality the solution provides, the problems or conflicts can range quite a bit. Knowing what is installed is a good start.

While there is a chance that something could break independently, most of the issues I have seen came from trying to migrate, patch, or upgrade a site.

Site Migration – When migrating a site from one environment to another, it can be a pain to find out half way through that you need to install additional site templates or web parts on the target server.

Patch – When completing the installation of a Patch, Cumulative Update, or Service Pack you normally have to finish the upgrade by running either the Configuration Wizard or the PSConfig command line app. This can be a pretty stressful exercise, and no fun comes from seeing it fail along the way. I have had customizations cause problems here, particularly when changes were made directly to the web.config file as some solutions require. Having your documentation on hand will help you get through the mess and cut down on the time it takes to complete the upgrade.

Future Versions – You also need to consider the likelihood that the solution will be maintained going forward. When I made the jump from WSS 2.0 and SPS 2003 to the current version WSS 3.0 and MOSS many of the solutions I had been using did not make the jump. Some of it was because of the code base changing from .NET version 1.1 to 2.0 and some of it was because Microsoft added parts of the functionality to the platform so vendor no longer wanted to support the products. End users are not necessarily going to care why they do what they used to do, they will only care that they cannot do it. Mitigate the risk by communicating to the stakeholders the potential problems.

It has already been noted that Service Pack 2 will include an upgrade readiness check to help identify any potential problems upgrade to the next version. I would recommend taking the time to go through this check after SP2 is installed, and then checking it again after you install any new solutions before making the jump to the new release.

Summary
By putting together a plan to review, test, and approve add-on solutions you will decrease the likelihood of problems in your environment and decrease the time it will take to respond to issues when they do come up.

Finding Success with SharePoint Deployments

Finding success with SharePoint or any other collaboration software can be a difficult thing. It has less to do with the technology than it does the people and the way its implemented. Its not that people have bad ideas, they may just underestimate the amount of effort it takes to reach the promised land. There is no silver bullet or application that you deploy and it just magically solves all of the organization’s problems. In many cases the software is deployed as part of an formal or informal effort to breakdown longstanding silos within the organization. Breaking down those silos is difficult and that road is filled with hazards.

A good first step is to clear identify and validate the goals of the implementation and get an understanding of what the expected level of effort is to reach those goals.

Easy Win or Easy Implementation?
The best way to get an easy win or have an easy implementation is to install SharePoint as a workgroup solution. Its very easy to do, and if based on Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) it can be done with existing equipment. Each department or workgroup can then do whatever they want and get as little or as much localized value out of it as they want. The people may seem to be happy with that, but there is a real limit to the amount of success and productivity. Also, it does nothing to promote sharing and collaboration throughout the entire organization. In fact it further reinforces those silos.

Enterprise Needs Governance
If you talk to any long time SharePoint architect or evangelist one of the primary topics is Governance. Its not just a buzzword, it is the single most important determining factor for success in a large organization. It is the glue that holds everything together and gives you the ability to manage the environment without it breaking down into petty fiefdoms. Getting agreement is never as easy as making an independent decision and then acting.

In an enterprise deployment it should support localized management in support of global standards. Just because Governance is in place does not mean that everything must be managed centrally.

Here are some suggestions
– Get executive sponsorship. Organizational change cannot happen without executive sponsorship. State the case with realistic benefits and get buy in.

– Involve as many stakeholders as possible. Like any change people are more likely to adopt it when they have a say in what is done. Not everyone will like every decision, but hopefully they will feel good enough about their involvement that they will participate.

– Address Governance from the start. You cannot easily retrofit these ideas or policies into an established system. The change would be costly and the need to retrain everyone pretty severe.

Benefits to Enterprise versus Workgroup Solutions?
Enterprise deployments benefit organizations by supporting cross-functional collaboration. It also provides a platform for some of the social enterprise capabilities such as central profiles fed with data from sources like Active Directory, HRIS Employee Data, and other data sources particular to the organization. These tools can help make people more productive, but also help to find internal resources and subject matter experts.

Another benefit is that you are more likely to see funding for integration efforts into other enterprise systems such as Business Intelligence (BI), Enterprise Content Management (ECM) or Business Process Management (BPM) solutions. Being able to leverage these other integrations should more than make up for the lack of control the individual organizations’ are asked to give up.

Advantages of BPM/Workflow and Selection Criteria

Advantages of Business Process Management or Workflow
There are countless advantages to using BPM / Workflow, but here is a list of the most immediate advantages:

* Reduce Cycle Times
* Better Process Visibility
* Increased Accountability
* Smoother task orchestration and hand offs
* Process Standardization
* SOX Compliance


What processes should be selected?

There are many ways to select a process improvement project. First and foremost you need to select a process that is clearly defined and repeatable. If you have to build support for ambiguity and exceptions you will be left with a process that is difficult to use and maintain which will likely lead to a failed adoption. Another consideration is to select a process that uses people to rout and keep track of where a process is at. That orchestration can be difficult to maintain manually and normally does not give the other participants visibility in the current state of an individual request.

I then look for processes that are regulated such as purchase requests, common financial transactions, or IT account provisioning.

You can measure it using traditional Return on Investment (ROI) models, or you can take a more holistic approach and select your projects based on a broad range of criteria including Business Objectives, User Adaptability, and Technology Capabilities. While ROI is very important I think it can be misleading with BPM projects because it fails to include many of the soft return values for things like Process Visibility, Accountability, and less human bottlenecks in the process orchestration.

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