Sunday, August 28, 2011

SharePoint 2010 and Branding


Some time ago, before SharePoint 2010 was popular, I write an article (http://nadirkamdar.blogspot.com/2010/07/please-dont-pimp-your-sharepoint-site.html) pleading with the world to please stop creating fancy looking SharePoint sites, because you are not using SharePoint the way it was intended, and you are creating a maintenance nightmare. 

Now, with SharePoint 2010 around, I think its time we re-visited this topic.



Lets me start off by saying that SharePoint has improved greatly when it comes to branding, but I still believe that strong branding should be limited to internet sites.

Intranet sites are more feature heavy, and those features has a default size, layout, structure and design that fits the default look provided by SharePoint, so I still see a lot of additional time spent on tweaking the features so it fits the new look, and then a lot of time will be needed to maintain these tweaked features.

So, when you want to apply a brand to a SharePoint site, use the publishing templates, these templates are designed to be a strong WCM (Web Content Management) type site, so the features are more limited to publishing content rather than collaboration and BI (Business Intelligence) type features but the overall look of the template is easier to adjust, tweak and re-design.

There are now some great tutorials out there to help you be a SharePoint Designer Guru; I like his article straight from the Microsoft MSDN site: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg430141.aspx, and if you prefer a video, here’s a great one from Technet: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-za/sharepoint/hh239611, it’s a series of WCM videos but Chapter 5 gives you a 40 minute video just on branding.

And, after all that training, if you need inspiration, check out Top SharePoint: http://www.topsharepoint.com/ for the biggest gallery of Branded SharePoint sites.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

3d printing - the next big thing - see it in action with Lego

The NXT STEP - LEGO® MINDSTORMS® NXT Blog: Amazing Mindstorms 3D printer: Brought to us by Arthur Sacek from Brazil's ZOOM Education for Life , this very well built and surprisingly precise 3D milling machine is tr...

Saturday, August 20, 2011

How to find a “Good” SharePoint consulting company?

Looks like every organisation wants SharePoint these days.

I mentioned before, there is a big shortage of SharePoint skills out there, so hiring a good SharePoint resource has become a rather difficult task, especially when you realise that a good SharePoint deployment requires a range of specialised skills meaning that you need a specialised SharePoint team for a successful deployment. Where does one begin in getting this team?

The answer is in Outsourcing, i.e. hiring a consultant company that specialise in SharePoint deployment. That seems simple, but perform a search for SharePoint consultant companies in your area, I bet you there is a lot more than you expected. That’s a problem, because you now have to select the “best” consultant company and pray you don’t make a mistake as this will greatly affect the success of your SharePoint deployment and you’re ROI (return on Investment).

So what do you look for when selecting a “good” consulting company?




Before I answer that question, let me lay down the sad truth. There are many SharePoint consultant companies out there that are not good at what they claim to do. They claim to be SharePoint consultant companies because they see a lot of money in SharePoint, they understand that SharePoint is Microsoft’s most profitable product and they want a piece of that pie, they are relying on the fact that they can "learn" SharePoint by securing one good client and figuring it out. The lack of training and experience will not stop them from deploying a solution, but it will not be deployed using best practices, making it a unstable deployment.

There are also SharePoint consultant companies out there that may have the necessary training and experience in deploying a certain part of SharePoint but has no clue on how to deploy another component (SharePoint is just so big) and again, they plan to figure it out by securing a client.

There are also situations where consultant companies will not do any custom work, even thou SharePoint were designed for customisation, or they do too much customisation, making it difficult to maintain or expand the solution (these are typical situations of not following best practices).

Some SharePoint consultant companies may not have specific skills like SharePoint Architects or SharePoint Designers making it difficult for them to deliver a strong solution.

Some SharePoint consultant companies may not have a good post-deployment support structure, and thus cannot support your solution after deployment.

So there are a lot of bad apples that one has to go through in order to find that right Consultant Company. Where does one begin?

You can start off by checking out there relationship with Microsoft. Microsoft wants to assist you in selling their product because it is there business to sell licenses and you need SharePoint licenses in order to use SharePoint (unless you plan to use the free version of SharePoint, in which case, I’m not sure how much support you will actually get from Microsoft). Good Consultant Companies tries to maintain a good relationship with Microsoft; in fact, they go the extra mile in building a strong partnership with Microsoft. Microsoft has high demands when they enter into a partnership; they expect their partners to be:
  • Product Centric with proven competency
  • High level of performance
  • Loyalty
  • Perseverance
  • Results
  • Customer Focused
  • Sufficient staff members are Microsoft Certified
  • Sufficient customer references are submitted, proving customer satisfaction
So when you are looking for a good consultancy company, check who has a good relationship with Microsoft, the easiest way to spot this is to look for the silver or gold partner logo (obviously, the gold partner logo is preferred). Like I said, the consultant companies need to go the extra mile to establish this partnership, so when they do qualify for the gold partnership (for example) they usually like to advertise that, on their website, email signatures, business cards, letterheads, etc. so it is usually not that difficult to figure out what type of partnership (if any) the consultancy company has with Microsoft.
 


While the Microsoft partnership logo may separate the Mickey Mouse companies from the more established ones, this is not enough in finding a good consultancy company.

Some Consultant companies may not be good on what they do, but they managed to secure one big client through clever marketing, or being in the right place at the right time, or through some inside information or good networking – and they managed to use this relationship to for fill the necessary requirements to obtain the high Microsoft partnership status, so don’t be too reliant on that component alone.

So now you need to look beyond the surface of the consultant companies. Essentially, you want to determine their capability maturity. This will provide some insight on the company’s behaviour, practices and processes which will assist you in determining their reliability in producing the required output.

For example, a company with a low capability maturity level typically have undocumented processes and approaches and are in a constant state of dynamic change, they are driven in an ad-hoc, uncontrolled and reactive manner that usually provides a chaotic or unstable environment for the processes.

When the processes are defined, measured and documented, with standards and governance that is adaptable to different situations and are subject to improvement over time, the company is more mature, stable and reliable.

Now, this may not be easy to determine, asking the consultancy company to fill in a questionnaire will more than likely lead to a less than truthful response, even interviewing them will lead to the same result. So there is no easy way to get this information, one approach that I believe is more effective than others is to conduct an interview, but interview the staff that focus on delivery, i.e. not there sales division or the company director but the people that actually deliver the work, as everyone else has an objective to secure the sale, the delivery team has to deliver on what the sales division promised, so you may get a more honest answer from them, but that is not guaranteed – still, I’ll trust them over anyone else.

While you are interviewing the delivery team, try to determine how they will handle your particular project, are they using out-of-the-box SharePoint features as much as possible? Are they applying customisation only when needed? Are they actually saying “no” to some of your requests and recommending a SharePoint best practice approach instead, are they considering maintainability and stability with their approaches?


Also, apart from the delivery component, do they offer any complementary services? Do they have a product support structure? Do they have processes that can assist with user adoption like a training programme or change management process? Many companies focus too much on delivery that they fail to provide a good range of complementary services which is essential for proper ROI.

So, in a nutshell, good consultant companies has a strong partnership with Microsoft which means proven competency to deliver high level performance, the company also has a high capability maturity level and offer a good range of complementary services.


That’s a good start, but I don’t think that’s enough, if you can provide any more points, let me know.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Only Certified AIIM Master in Africa

I have received confirmation that I am now a certified SharePoint Aiim Master, the first one (I can say only one, but I guess that depends on when you read this article) in Africa.



This is the highest certified SharePoint title available from Aiim, and this is a title I had to EARN, this isn’t a simple certificate of attendance.  After attending the four day course, I had to study and then write an online exam, pass with over 70%, and after that, I had to study a detailed case study and submit a 10 page report on it.

So yes, I worked hard for this title, made a few sacrifices, and, at the risk of sounding arrogant, deserve the right to blow my own trumpet for short while – thus this post.

So what’s so great about this title?  Well, it’s from Aiim (http://www.aiim.org), a non-profit organisation that specialise in providing education, research and best practices to organisations to help them find control and optimise their information.  Aiim has been working on Enterprise Content Management for over 60 years now so when it comes to deploying SharePoint the right way.  Aiim would know how.

The course focuses on Best Practices for managing and sharing information on the SharePoint platform, it’s a non-technical course that really explains SharePoint, what it’s designed to do and really how to use the core features of SharePoint correctly.  The course then looks at best practices approaches to the typical scenarios you will encounter when deploying/maintaining a SharePoint solution.  More details on the course can be found here: http://www.aiim.org/Training/SharePoint-Course

In my previous posts, I mentioned why we have a shortage of SharePoint skills, I mentioned common mistakes that occur during SharePoint deployment and I also focused on how we tend to use SharePoint incorrectly.  These posts highlight the fact that many people are deploying and using SharePoint incorrectly and there is a big need for this type of training.

As the only certified SharePoint Aiim Master in Africa, I am the only one qualified to provide this training in and around Africa (unless you are going to fly someone in from the UK or the USA).  So if you believe that this training can help you, contact me or our partner company (http://www.nokusaei.com/site/_SA/training.html).

UPDATE : On 5th August 2011, I have officially lost my title as the "only" SharePoint Master in SA, well done Marc Lenferna De La Motte of achieving this title as well.