Category Archives: Collaboration

Challenges Securing SharePoint Against Privileged Insiders

 

Editor’s note: Contributor Mike Fleck is Co-founder of CipherPoint Software, Inc. Follow him @mfleckca

2013-08-27-SharePointSecurityImpact-01.pngIt is well documented at this point that some leaked Wikileaks data came from SharePoint sites. Details have emerged regarding how the data relating to the PRISM breach was obtained, and this breach, like Wikileaks, also involved SharePoint.

To provide some structure for this discussion, we’ll break the discussion into three types of collaboration platforms: legacy file servers, on-premises SharePoint sites, and cloud collaboration platforms such as Office 365 and SharePoint Online.

Legacy file servers

Insider security threats in legacy file server environments include classic systems administrator issues (excessive permissions, inability to enforce need to know, lack of separation of duties). Third party products exist that can help add a layer of security control to these environments. These products enforce need to know by using an independent access control and encryption capability, which is usually managed by IT security or by the business manager (data owner).

On-premises SharePoint

Purpose-built collaboration platforms such as SharePoint bring a multitude of security issues, many of which depend on the use case, and the deployment model.

For example, SharePoint when deployed as an intranet collaboration system presents a different set of potential security threats versus SharePoint as an extranet collaboration platform. Regardless, however, it’s hard to argue that the SharePoint platform, out of the box, has sufficient security controls to prevent insiders from accessing sensitive information that they have no valid “need to know” of.

Even if you implement background checks and other process-based controls to mitigate insider threats, consider that administrator credentials are among the most prized targets by external attackers. Given the porous nature of perimeter-only security defenses today, implementing technical security controls that limit the damage that can be done from compromised system administrator accounts is just smart security (and part of a defense in depth strategy). It’s also worth acknowledging that systems administrators frequently take the path of least resistance, by combining service accounts and privileges. This can easily lead to a situation where the sysadmin’s credentials are literally the “keys to the kingdom.”

Locking down premise SharePoint sites requires an additional layer of access control and encryption.

Cloud Collaboration (Office 365, SharePoint Online)

Cloud collaboration systems bring a different set of security issues. Whether SaaS or IaaS, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that in external cloud services, outsiders (in the form of cloud service provider system administrators) are your new insiders (and insider threat).

Here’s an article that describes the havoc that can be brought by a rogue cloud service provider system administrator.

As with premise file servers and SharePoint sites, applying encryption and access control to data stored in cloud collaboration systems is the only way (from a technical control standpoint) to protect access to sensitive data. There are a number of different technical approaches to securing cloud data. Future articles will explore the various ways to do this.

SharePoint Workflow Solutions to Drive Workforce Productivity


You may also be interested in: O’Reilly - SharePoint 2010 at Work


 

Editor’s note: Contributor Himanshu Sharma works at Trigent Software Inc.

2013-07-23-SharePointWorkflow-01.pngToday many organizations still rely on obsolete practices to manage their day to day operations. These approaches have an adverse impact on workforce productivity in terms of wasted man-hours required to perform a simple task. With the rise in competition and service industrialization, top enterprises are seeking ways to become more efficient in optimizing time for production of goods or services that conform to quality norms. These enterprises strive to develop automated workflows with state of the art automation technologies to achieve better output.

While process automation has been around for some time now, there are not many takers for it as companies still prefer to carry on with the legacy approaches for managing day to day operational activities to save a few dollars.

How workflow automation helps?

Managing workflows require effective collaboration among workflow participants. Consider a simple example of an approval process for updating a set of content on a website, where an employee’s content suggestions are reviewed first by his manager and then by the team head followed by the technical head. The employee, the manager, the head, the technical team are participants in the content approval workflow. They communicate via emails, phone calls or by manually following up with each other. Besides, there are a lot of reminder events that consume a lot of time. This is a simple process which requires effective coordination between departments and internal teams. To expedite the process one needs to scale up the process and automate it so that once each workflow participant performs its task, the next participant gets an automatic update instantly. A unified communication platform can go a long way in easing the process. In this example, once the content has been approved by the manager, an alert will be sent to the head for the next round of review followed by the technical head’s review. Similarly, there are thousands of processes that run across organizations and communicating through emails and phone calls becomes tedious and time consuming.

SharePoint workflows to support your business operations

SharePoint workflow solutions help organizations by automating manual processes and help workflow participants become more efficient and productive when working with documents, forms and libraries in SharePoint. Using SharePoint, an employee can start a workflow on a document and easily accomplish his task. SharePoint facilitates automated workflows across various operational scenarios. Some of these scenarios are collecting feedback, collecting digital signatures, document translations and group approval processes. These workflow solutions can help organisations save man-hours and effectively utilize their resources.

SharePoint: No more meeting minutes!


You may also be interested in: ViewPoint for SharePoint


 

Editor’s note: Contributor Ellen van Aken is an experienced intranet adoption manager. Follow her @EllenvanAken

When I visit “collaborative” sites, e.g. for a team, a department or a project, I often find a document library called ”Meetings”, or even worse, several document libraries, each for one particular meeting date. These generally contain documents for prereading, presentations from the meeting, agenda and minutes. And sometimes they have an action or decision list as well.

2013-03-18-MeetingMinutes-01.png

The good thing is that these meeting documens are now in one clear online location, and that (hopefully) sending documents via email and printing are reduced.

But now think again. It is 2013.

  • Do you still store everything in document format, while there are ways to do things directly online?
  • Do you have to open multiple Meeting Minutes or Decision List documents when you are looking for that one decision from early 2012, but forgot the exact date?
  • Is there still someone responsible for writing down “refer to next meeting” for several agenda items in the Meeting Minutes, and then remembering to add them to the next meeting agenda?
  • Are you still emailing various draft agenda’s to your team?
  • Does someone in your team have to collect the progress of the action list and recreate the new Action list?
  • Do you have to chase everyone for approval of the meeting minutes?

A different approach.

It may be time to move to a simpler process. Of course, there is the Meeting Workspace but sometimes you prefer to have everything in one site. The MW will also no longer be supported in SP2013. An alternative is the Meeting-Agenda-and-Minutes List, combining agenda, meeting minutes and decisions in one list. Our team started this in about 2002 and we have happily used it for our weekly team meeting for years.

The concept is as follows:

  1. Everything you discuss is first, an agenda item. The owner of the item creates and manages it themselves.
  2. All items not marked as “completed” are visible.
  3. The meeting owner adjusts the order of the agenda items just before the meeting.
  4. During the meeting, the item is discussed. We always had online meetings, so we viewed items on-screen. The item owner can adjust the item while discussing, and show the updates to the team.
  5. After discussing the item, the decision and date are added to the item and the status is set to “completed”.
  6. All completed discussions are stored in one or more “completed” views, sorted and grouped as needed.

Example

Does it sound complicated? Let me show you the (Custom) list that I have worked with.

This is an item on the agenda:

2013-03-18-MeetingMinutes-02.png
This is the item to discuss.By default, status is “New”.

This is the agenda, sorted on “Order” and filtered by “Status is not equal to completed”.

2013-03-18-MeetingMinutes-03.png
This is the agenda for the upcoming meeting.

During the discussion, the relevant info and decision are captured in the bottom fields of the item.

2013-03-18-MeetingMinutes-04.png
During discussion, the relevant information can be added.

This is the view that shows all items that have been discussed. You can easily filter for specific topics, regardless of meeting date. Of course you can also group on other metadata, but this view clearly shows the increased transparancy compared to Meeting Minutes in document format.

2013-03-18-MeetingMinutes-05.png
All decisions from earlier meetings, grouped by discussion date.

Of course you can simplify or extend the list to fit your own meeting style and goals.

What are the advantages?

  • No need to send agendas via email; if everyone sets a notification you wil get a message when a new item has been added or changed.
  • The meeting owner can easily adjust the order of items
  • During the meeting, the item is open and any next steps can be added straight away
  • When something is not discussed or no decision has taken place, it simply stays on the list. You do not have to specifically state that it is “moved to the next meeting”.
  • One archive of individual decisions means you do not have to look through documents by date. Now that you have one “online database” it is much easier to find any decisions relating to your topic, since they can be found by date AND by creator AND by tag if you have used those.
  • Everyone has seen the decision so there is no need to circulate any meeting minutes for approval.

Will this work for all meetings?

Of course this needs change management. If your organization is relying heavily on documents, not used to PC’s and projectors in the meeting room, or has been pampered by people sending things to them, this will be a big change that will need discussion, training and an extensive trial period.

It may be wise to measure time involved in the current meeting setup beforehand and to compare that to the new setup. This informaton will also help you to convince others.

For some meeting types this setup may not be appropriate. There may be legal requirements to have documents, perhaps even printed, with handwritten signatures, or some external participants may not have access to your SharePoint environment.

But for your average team, department or project group meeting, this may save lots of time!

Have you used something similar? Please share!

External Collaboration in SharePoint Online 2013


You may also be interested in: Critical Path Training


 

Editor’s note: Contributor Jasper Oosterveld is a SharePoint Consultant at Wortell. Follow him @SharePTJasper

I have seen the future and it’s SharePoint Online 2013. I am not totally biased because I love Office 365. A lot has changed since the BPOS days. SharePoint Online 2007 was a start for Microsoft in the Enterprise Cloud business. The platform was descent and many customers were able to create Intranet portals. There were some issues such as no search over multiple site collections and no My Sites. The next step was Office 365 and SharePoint Online 2010. The gap with the big on premise brother became even smaller. A couple years later we get another update: SharePoint Online 2013 and the gap is almost gone. The new online version comes with a set of features that enables external collaboration with customers or partners.

Project Site

The project site is a new template within SharePoint 2013 and comes with an amazing set of new collaboration features:

  • Newsfeed
  • Timeline
  • OneNote Notebook
  • Site mailbox

Newsfeed

The newsfeed can be used for private messaging between internal and external users. The posts are only accessible for users with at least read permissions. Through the integration with the My Site, the internal users are always up-to-date. The posts appear in the central My Site newsfeed and users are able to post and respond from the My Site to the sites newsfeed.

Timeline

Every project task can be presented in a clear overview through the timeline feature. The internal users can view assigned tasks from Outlook, SharePoint and Project Server in the My Site.

OneNote Notebook

OneNote is a popular application for creating notes. The project site delivers an empty Notebook that is perfect for creating notes about the project. The users can connect the Notebook with the local OneNote application or edit in the browser with the Office Web Apps. The external users don’t require a local installation.

Site mailbox

The site mailbox provides a dedicated e-mail address and inbox for the project site. You can centrally archive all related project e-mails. Users are also able to send e-mail messages to any recipient.

Office Web Apps

Office Web Apps were introduced with SharePoint 2010. They allowed you to open and edit Office documents in the browser. This is a helpful feature for users without a local version of Office because now they’re able to view and edit Office documents! The 2010 Office Web Apps even made it possible to co-author OneNote and Word documents in the browser with multiple users.

Easily integrated in SharePoint Online 2013, 2013 Office Web Apps are a major improvement. Apart from editing and co-authoring all Office documents in the browser, there’s a document preview available. Just click on the three dots and a preview appears. By double clicking the preview, you can zoom in and out. You can quickly decide if this is a document you are looking for. This will save you a lot of time because you don’t need to download the document first.

There are more options:

  1. Download a copy (right click)
  2. Print to PDF
  3. Document Embedding
  4. Share
  5. Follow

The third option provides an iFrame code. This code can be used to display a preview of the document at another location.

Invite and Share

Inviting internal and external users has never been easier. How does external sharing work? There’s not much difference from internal sharing; only now just enter an e-mail address. Please be aware of the following: a contact with a different e-mail then a Live ID or Hotmail has to register with Microsoft. Please use the following URL:
http://tinyurl.com/bnd294v

The registration is one time only and after this the external users can login to SharePoint Online 2013 with any e-mail address. This is a huge improvement because the previous version only supported Live ID and Hotmail addresses. Inviting external requires no additional licenses!

Do you have a project proposal that has to be read by external project members but you don’t want to provide access to the project site? No problem at all. SharePoint Online 2013 provides the ability to create an anonymous link. The link can be removed at any time.

Requesting Access

An external project member requires access to the project document library. Normally an e-mail would be sent to the owner of the site. SharePoint Online 2013 comes with a new model for handling access requests. Through a dialog box, the external project member can send a message and the owner can respond. A dialogue starts and at any moment the owner can approve or deny access.

Conclusion

Collaborating with external users has never been easier. SharePoint Online 2013 provides out-of-the-box features to get you up and running as soon as possible. The project site template comes with a set of components that prove to be very useful in project scenarios.

“So, Mark Miller, what do you do?”

 

I try not to roll my eyes in frustration because I really can’t say what I do in a way that will make sense to someone who hasn’t ever heard of SharePoint, who hasn’t really thought about the idea of online collaboration, and is really just interested in making sure that Jimmy Junior doesn’t do a face plant running to second base on the concrete jungle where an aggressive game of kickball is being played.

Trying to come up with a description of my daily “job” is so hard, even my wife doesn’t know what to tell her friends. “Oh, he travels around the world talking about something. I’m not really sure what it is.”

At least my ten year old son and seven year old daughter have a better shot at it since they’ve come on some of my trips and have actually spoken on stage with me. Yes, there was the time when Orion told a packed house that SharePoint is for storing your gaming cheat hints for your friends, “… and that’s why my Dad invented SharePoint”, but we’ll save that for another story.

I’ve been struggling and think I’ve found a solution. I’m going to take my own advice that I include in every one of my talks and apply it to myself: Let’s stop talking about SharePoint! That’s right. I’m going to stop putting the word “SharePoint” in my little introduction when I meet people.

“So, Mark. What do you do?”

I calmly, and with much confidence reply, “I help companies gain global exposure for their products through the use of social media tools, online community building and relationship development.

It’s just like we’ve been talking about for years. If you take SharePoint out of the equation and talk about the solutions you provide your client, you can really give a much clearer picture of what you do and what your expertise is. I like that.

So when you see me at SPC12 at the SharePoint Community Hub, you’ll know why I’m there. I’m building “community”. I’m looking for the “social"” in community. I’m building "relationships" so that when people need what I’ve got, they at least know what I do.

On that note, I’ve got to checkout my daily “community” efforts with my chosen set of “social” media tools while building stronger “relationships”. See how easy that worked?

I’m looking forward to seeing you in Vegas in a couple weeks where you can help me refine my description while making a SharePoint Survival Bracelet. See you there. – Mark

Building Relationships and Communities in East Africa

Photo by Michael Noel

Why you shouldn’t use Team Sites in SharePoint 2010


You may also be interested in: SharePoint Video Training at TRAINSIGNAL


 

Editor’s note: Contributor Michal Pisarek is a SharePoint MVP and the founder of Dynamic Owl Consulting. Follow him @michalpisarek

The good old Team Site is a staple of any SharePoint implementation. Whether on SharePoint 2010, 2007 or 2003 the Team Site is commonly used as a catch all site to encourage ‘collaboration’.

Therein lies the problem. For the normal user the word ‘collaboration’ has as much meaning as the word ‘Team Site’. Collaboration, as pointed out by luminaries such as Paul Culmsee, is a means to an end. You don’t collaborate for the sake of collaboration, you collaborate to solve a business process, issue or provide some tangible outcome.

The same applies for Team Sites. I am sure that Microsoft didn’t think that customers would be having these types of conversations:

End User: So what site template should I use if I want to run my project, answer a RFP, communicate information to people, have a like-minded group of users exchange ideas, process an invoice, create a new procedure or …

SharePoint Guy: Oh yeah that’s easy just use a Team Site.

End User: Team Site? But a team of what? Sports team? A teamsters union? And when I create one there is just generic stuff that doesn’t apply to me. It contains a tasks list but is this a tasks list that relates to tasks I assign to people in the RFP process or tasks that I assign to others in my department?

Why don’t team sites work that well?

The answer is context. Team Sites provide no working context to users in much the same way as you handing me a document and telling me ‘This is a document’. I *know* it’s a document, but what the hell should I do with it?

Let me give you another example. Let say that I work in a large organization and I use a file share:

This simple folder structure provides a very simple information architecture to our users that at least gives them a guideline to how they should start working. If I was looking for an Invoice chances are I would start browsing in the ‘Invoices’ folder. The same goes for RFP Proposals. One thing that you don’t see in fileshares are folders called ‘Stuff’ or god forbid ‘Shared Documents’.

So why do we provide our users with out of the box Team Sites that contain a bunch of senseless containers for information that offer no guidance as to what they should be doing with these things (Shared Documents, Discussions, Tasks, Announcements and so on)? A SharePoint Site is simply a medium with which to accomplish a business goal, outcome or process. You need to provide your users with clear guidance around what function the site will serve. Simply telling them to use a Team Site is not going to provide clear context to users working within.

Further exacerbating this is that now not only do users not have any idea where to store things, they now have little idea about how to store them. With the new capabilities that SharePoint offers beyond that of a simple fileshare users are further confused about what is the best medium for their content. So should be they putting a team meeting in the shared calendar, or should it go in the announcements list or maybe they should email out to everyone and store it in a document library?

The Fix?

The fix is to inject the context that users need into the sites that you create. To accomplish that you need liberal doses of Information Architecture, an understanding of user requirements, an appreciation of the processes they are using all combined with the SharePoint configuration options that leverage this (metadata, content types, document and list naming, navigation and so on).

Now let me ask you to imagine a world without the Team Site template! Before I get hate mails and you spit out your coffee on your keyboard stay with me on this. If you deleted the Team Site template in SharePoint what would you replace it with? Well it would be a set of templates that are specific to a set of outcomes. In our example above we would have the following:

  1. RFP Proposal Site
  2. Project Site
  3. Invoice Payment Site
  4. Community of Practice
  5. Engineering Proposals

So let’s take a look at a standard SharePoint 2010 Team Site template:

Now what if we simply took the Team Site template and did 15 minutes of tweaking and provide additional context to a RFP Proposal Site:

Do you see what I have done here?

What I have done is kept the same elements that a Team Site has (Calendar, Tasks, Documents and Discussions) but now have provided some context to users so they know exactly that this document library isn’t for random documents, it’s for RFP working documents, the calendar isn’t a random calendar it’s a calendar to store events and milestones specific to the RFP process. I also removed that horrible photo (I think that they should get the models at the next SharePoint conference) and changed the title of the homepage. Simple steps but all of a sudden you can easily tell where information should be stored and how it should be stored.

How about we go one step further, another 15 minutes and add some other pertinent information that already comes with this base template:

Now all of this with 20 minutes of out of the box configuration. However I assure you that if you navigated to this site, or worked within it, you would instantly be aware of the purpose of the site, where content should be located and what business process, goal or objective this site is meant to facilitate.

Although this seems like a trivial example it provides tremendous value to users on a number of levels:

  1. You provide context to the site. No longer is this just a site, it’s a site for specific purpose, goal or objective.
  2. It allows you to use the nomenclature of your organization ensuring greater adoption and easier training
  3. It gives the site added purpose. There is a clear definition of what the site is supposed to do, users do not have to hunt around and determine what they are looking at or what they are supposed to do.
  4. As the site templates are specific to the business, end users are under the impression that a custom solution has been built to their needs. It has, but it’s so simple to do!

The truth is that by providing your users with generic Team Sites it means that you do not understand the business issue that they are trying to solve. Not only that, you assume that users will determine on their own accord of the best way to use the site. You can create specific Site Templates for business problems as suggested above or you can use the Team Site template as a base and then configure it to users needs. What you should never do however is provide an out of the box Team Site and hope that it will be sufficient to the many business problems your users will face.

So my friends take the challenge and throw off the shackles of Team Sites. Seek to understand the business problems your uses are trying to solve and then craft a solution to their needs. You will see great adoption, better business results and a solution that provides real value.

Working with SharePoint Document Sets


You may also be interested in: SharePoint Video Training at TRAINSIGNAL


 

Editor’s note: Contributor Benjamin Niaulin is a SharePoint Specialist at Groupe GSoft Inc. Follow him @bniaulin

Today I will show you how to manage your document sets in SharePoint 2010.

What is a Document Set? A Document Set is kind of a Folder on steroids, it allows you to group documents from different content types together, have it’s own metadata, versioning of all documents as 1 entity, workflows of all documents managed as 1, and best of all…  it has it’s own page per instance of Document Set created!

Huh? In SharePoint, Page means Web Parts! Video Web Parts, Images Web Parts, Content Query Web Parts, etc..

Here is the end Result of a Project Document Set:

First we need to create the Content Type from Site Settings – > Site Content Types –> Create Content Type

Then let’s create some columns:

In the Content Type Information Page click on Document Set Settings, this will bring you to a page where you will be able to share the document set’s columns with documents inside as well as choose which columns will appear on the Page as properties.

You may also click on Customize the Welcome Page to add any customizations to the page

Once you are done with your changes, click ok.

Go to the document library where you wish to add your Document Set “Project” and in the Library Settings under Advanced Settings set Allow management of content types to Yes

Still in the library settings you should now be able to see your current content types, usually Document, and add yours

Now create your content:

Here is the result with out of box design:

Edit the page to add your personal touch:

Hope this helped

The Softer Side of SharePoint - What’s Your SharePoint Business Model?

 

When you look at utilizing SharePoint within an organization, there needs to be shared understanding around four questions, which will enable you to steer the usage of SharePoint to support the business and help drive value.

  • What is the future state you want to achieve and what does it look like?
  • Why did you choose that specific future state, as opposed to other options?
  • Who will do what to get you to that state?
  • How will you get to that state?

Running a SharePoint Deployment is Complicated

SharePoint provides unique challenges because the application can morph into something completely different than you originally planned. The application’s greatest strength – flexibility – is also its greatest challenge. The following is taken from Lynn Warneke’s article on nothingbutsharepoint.com…

See the Big Picture

To stay ahead of the future challenges you will face in running a SharePoint deployment, you need to constantly see and communicate the “Big Picture” of how SharePoint adds value to your company, as well as how SharePoint is run on a day-to-day basis.

I believe the Business Model Canvas (pictured below), a free tool available from businessmodelgeneration.com, provides tremendous value to anyone tasked with leading an internal SharePoint organization, as well as anyone involved within the SharePoint organization.

In my opinion, you should view your SharePoint deployment as a business. Your job is to continuously find better ways in which SharePoint can help your company generate value. In order to do this, you need an understanding of business models. A business model describes the rationale of how an organization creates, delivers, and captures value. You also need a way to clearly articulate your SharePoint business model to executives and employees. The Business Model Canvas is perfect on both fronts.

The Business Model Canvas is a free tool for describing, analyzing, and designing business models. It provides a visual representation of your business model, which helps:

  • Easily explain your SharePoint deployment from a holistic view to executives and employees
  • Align key staff in order to determine goals and priorities
  • Easily depict cause-and-effect relationships
  • Show the links between day-to-day work and the services your offer
  • Easily explain what areas need improvement

Speak in Your Executive’s Language

Executives understand business models. With the Business Model Canvas, you will be able to easily speak their language. In addition, with this tool you will be able to prototype several different models to see potential issues ahead of time. You will be able to uncover areas where you could provide new value to the organization – and translate the new value into internal operations.

In the embedded PowerPoint presentation, I walk through the Business Model Canvas by constructing a sample SharePoint business model. The presentation is meant to give you a starting point to think through your organization’s utilization of SharePoint and how changes in the way you want to utilize SharePoint can affect your SharePoint business model.

What’s Your SharePoint Business Model?

Additional Resources

Additional Consideration

After viewing the presentation above, give some serious thought to the key resources you need to effectively run SharePoint on a day-to-day basis to help your company generate value. Looking through the Web, you’ll see several blog articles from SharePoint consultants, with combined hundreds of implementations under their belt, discussing a common need – business focused resources that know SharePoint out of the box features really well. This is critical for the usage of SharePoint to become operationalized in your organization, which is a key component to driving enterprise-wide value with improved collaboration.

Below are a couple of articles for you:

SharePoint Simple CMS Template - 2010 Update

​We’ve been working with Jose Morales for a while now, helping spread the world on the CMS template he created for SharePoint 2007. There have been thousands of downloads, but one of the most frequent requests was for him to update the template for SharePoint 2010. Well, he’s done it!

You can download the template and see what all the hollering is about. Jose and his team have done a remarkable job, giving you a basic framework for a simple CMS solution. To help you get started, there are video tutorials, as well as an entire site setup to help you use the template.

So let’s get started. Download the template and use the comments section below to ask questions, tell us how you are going to use the template, or just to say "Thank you" to Jose. I’ll start the ball rolling now with, "Thanks Jose. Remarkable job." — Mark

 

 

Does SharePoint Workspace Belong in ECM?

 

One of the things I love most about interacting with the SharePoint community is the broad and deep pool of skills that we all have access to on a regular basis. At a recent SharePoint Saturday event, I was talking with SB Chatterjee, an independent consultant and SharePoint Workspace MVP, about the role of Workspace in the wave of customers who have quite mature Enterprise Content Management (ECM) deployments, but who are now moving onto SharePoint. With so many new features strengthening SharePoint’s position in the ECM space, I thought it would be interesting to pull Chris Riley into the conversation. Chris is a Senior Architect and ECM expert with ShareSquared, and provided some great insights and perspective.

Where does Workspace fit into the ECM paradigm? The following interaction is our exploration of that question:

[Christian] When I think of SharePoint Workspaces, I think of ad hoc or team collaboration: unstructured, with limited scope, such as a short-term project or task that may be a short cycle within a broader initiative. In my thinking, it has a limited lifespan, after which its artifacts are exported/rolled into the broader initiative. For example, planning a launch party activity around a new software product. The need for a separate project space is clear, with participants who may not need to have access to the larger software product components and data. Deliverables from the launch party may eventually be archived in the product site, but the workspace itself has a limited shelf life. In this example, a Workspace does not fit with the structured, defined Enterprise Content Management (ECM) model.

[Chris] I would have to agree with Christian. Although there are many ways to get Workspaces to work in a limited scope in an ECM environment, the risk is it will become a crutch for users to continue bad habits. For example the inability to declare a record inside of Workspace gives the user an excuse not to do it, which could ultimately put a company out of compliance and impact for example retention periods. In many ways, I believe Workspaces make it TOO easy for the users to do the wrong thing. For that reason, I have a hard time finding it fitting in an ECM scenario. Where I do see value is for users that are content contributors ONLY, and in such a scenario I would like to see content uploaded to isolated locations such as a “Drop-off Library” where the proper rules are configured to get the content in the right place, in the right manner.

[Christian] I agree with your assessment, Chris. It reminds me of a past company, E2open, where I helped in the creation of a SharePoint-like hosted platform called Collaboration Manager that was integrated into our supply chain platform. The goal, simply put, was to offer a much needed solution to our high-tech manufacturing customers and their end users as a way to inject ad hoc collaboration into an otherwise locked-down design-to-manufacturing process and tools. These massive companies had spent tens of millions of dollars on these huge Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) platforms that are integrally tied to their Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) and other supply chain systems, tied together through the product Bill of Materials (BoM). These systems are not flexible, and certainly not ad hoc. The idea was to allow customers to break out of the gargantuan tools, collaborate with design partners on specific design artifacts, and then inject these modifications back into the process. Long story short – I view SharePoint Workspaces in a similar way. They provided an opportunity for ad hoc collaboration outside of a more formal process, but not displacing it. They have an important role, but most people don’t properly utilize them.

[Chris] And it is the “people” that concern me most. Don’t get me wrong: I see value in Workspaces technologically, but from a governance perspective it’s tricky. One thing that IT departments can do with Workspaces is end up using it as a crutch when users complain too much about doing the right thing. What could be easier than having a folder just like “My Documents” to populate content? But in the end, IT is jeopardizing the longevity of ECM and ultimately duplicating the same problem of shared drives, which is uncontrolled ingestion of content. The end result is a slightly better, slightly more modern version of shared drives. It means that version next they will be forced to once again take a hard look at what bad habits they foster in their users and hopefully then correct it. This viscous cycle should not be blamed on the technology, vendors make available great tools but IT needs to take a hard look if they want to use them, and if they do, in what scope. The biggest story I see for workspaces is offline content. I would expect an organization, if they must use workspaces in an ECM environment, to have a regular audit process of the content, and to be very limited in users. On the flip side, Workspaces could be seen as a benefit/motivation to enlist help from your Super Users, who you can trust more.

[Christian] So what scenarios are we missing? I agree that Workspaces – much like sites created under a MySite profile – could create silos of information, which can make ECM difficult to manage. Are there other scenarios for Workspaces that we have not captured here that may make it relevant for ECM?

[SB] Workspaces (formerly Groove) are primarily for ad-hoc collaboration, but it may also be used for structured applications. SharePoint Workspace Form apps were used for data gathering in adverse situations (during the Katrina crisis) in an off-line manner and then synced back to the ‘hub’ when connected. There’s a good description of this approach in this link (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/2006.10.grooveandsharepoint.aspx). InfoPath can now be used to develop similar custom applications. A Groove client can be ‘managed/administered’ via the Enterprise Management Server (EMS - http://support.microsoft.com/ph/10366). The Groove Data Bridge (GDB) can integrate between the Workspaces and external applications (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb735434(v=office.12).aspx). The GDB product is being phased out, but the SPW Services software development kit (SDK) can provide similar functions via custom developed applications.

[Christian] Much like other third-party solutions, such as document scanning and imaging solutions that help automate the ECM process and organize content and metadata within SharePoint, Workspaces can extend the capability of ECM features to help organizations better match SharePoint to their unique business needs. One of the big selling points for SharePoint is its extensibility, and yet many companies struggle with building out solutions and customizations that will meet business requirements, but also can be supported (and that can be later migrated or upgraded as the platform grows). While there is always risk in buying a third-party solution (stability of company, dedication to the SharePoint platform, end of life of a product), Workspaces are part of the extended SharePoint platform and so are a less volatile path for this kind of functionality.

[Chris] Christian, I like the onboarding example, but unlike document imaging, which is fairly controlled, and features are designed to merry with ECM, workspaces neglects many of these features, thus driving more rapid data gathering, but in a non-structured way. My best example is a workspace library that requires a managed meta-data term to be applied to every document uploaded. Because Workspaces do not support managed meta-data columns, this is a roundabout way to avoid that policy. As SB indicates, Workspaces are primarily for collaboration and portals. Without other cross checking systems like only syncing with content organizer libraries that handle the ECM heavy lifting, Workspaces negates the structured nature of ECM.

[SB] In summary, SharePoint Workspace offers a great platform for ad-hoc collaboration that is of a shorter duration. This platform can be expanded upon using the SPW SDK/API including other development tools like InfoPath and Silverlight to build richer collaboration applications that are similar to SalesForce’s Chatter (on the iPad). This platform gives the 3rd-party ecology the opportunity to extend and leverage the SharePoint universe to greater heights.