I decided to give it a few days for people to digest the announcements made this week. Because really, if you follow anything SharePoint, you know there was an event happening May the 4th (yes, it was THAT day) and that there was all this hype about the new things that were coming. I am fortunate enough to work for this little company called Microsoft that sells SharePoint both online and on prem. I also happen to work for them specifically to support SharePoint and so of course I was waiting with bated breath for this event.
Now, because I work for Microsoft, we have internal training opportunities that happen a couple of times a year. I was at one of these events a couple of months ago and was given a little taste of some of the things that were being announced. The last couple of years have been a struggle. It seemed so much focus was going into Office 365 and SharePoint was just a seemingly small portion of that. Don’t be fooled, though, it may seem like it’s just a subset of the functionality, but in reality it’s HUGE. In that light, though, the last couple of years, my excitement about SharePoint had been waning. I was feeling like maybe we’ve reached maximum innovation in that arena, there seemed to be very little new happening. When I saw the sneak peaks of what was coming, though, I was blown away. I seriously walked out of the room after talking to the team responsible and said “I’m excited about SharePoint again!”
The full event was amazing to watch. If you weren’t one of the thousands of people to watch it live, there’s a lot of ways to get to see the announcements. You can go to the blog post here on the Future of SharePoint. Or you can still go to the event site and register, then click the link at the bottom left to log in and view the event as it was recorded. I highly recommend that you go watch or read the announcements. There’s so much cool stuff coming for SharePoint both on premises and online. I’m very excited by the innovation and forward thinking of the team on how people work.
As many of my fellow SharePoint Pros commented, there was just a quick blurb about the new things for developers, and there was no mention of the new things for IT Pros really, most of the excitement was about improvements that users want or need. Where we SharePoint pros fit in is in how we can help engineer the environments we support to ensure those new features are accessible to our users. Developers get a whole new “SharePoint Framework” and I won’t even try to describe what that is, I have no ability to add to the brilliant people who have already talked about it here. Regardless of the lack of announcements for us specifically, I’m still very excited about the new features that are coming and the speed at which they are planning to release them. I am renewed and refreshed in my excitement to support SharePoint and look forward to helping my customers make use of these new features soon!
With the growing popularity of cloud services, especially around infrastructure the last couple of years, a common question I’ve been asked is if SharePoint is supported on Azure. I have answered this question many ways, and usually it was prefaced with “well, what do you want to do with it?”
The following article was updated in February finally and indicates that finally I can say, “Yes, but let’s make sure that’s the right solution for what you need.” I am thrilled to see the changes to this article. Previously it only indicated some of the DR, Dev, and test architectures, while it depended on who you asked as to whether SharePoint was supported for any kind of production environment. Last June, it was quietly starting to happen more and more often that SharePoint was being supported for production in Azure. I was consistently afraid to just have a blanket, “Yes, it’s supported” statement because I couldn’t find really good documentation that stated that.
According to the article here: https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn635309.aspx?f=255&MSPPError=-2147217396. All indications are that yes, SharePoint in a production environment is supported in Azure. There are some good guidelines about whether or not this should be done for any and all environments as well. I highly recommend that you read through these, understand why the scenario might be better served another way, and be prepared to justify those trade-offs if needed.
This was very exciting for me to see supported more publicly. Thanks to all who worked on getting this out there.
Happy SharePointing (in Azure)!
So I have some wonderful fun things to share with you all, but let me start with a quick apology. It has been over a year since my last blog post. I’m so sorry. I keep promising myself I will do better, but then I get busy and forget. There’s no real excuse, just my lack of commitment. I can’t promise to do better, only that I will keep telling myself to do better. Hopefully that’s going to take effect some day!
On with the news….
First Let me say I’m very excited to announce that I’m speaking at The SharePoint Evolution Conference in London. This is always one of my favorite events of the year. It’s a smaller conference by scale, but it provides some of the deepest content and closest contact and intimacy with the speakers. I know as a speaker I love being able to talk and interact and share after sessions, before sessions, and at other times.
I will be presenting two sessions that build on each other. These sessions are:
Content Types, Managed Metadata, and You, Part 1
In order to keep your SharePoint environment from becoming used as "just another file share" there are things you can do to make it more valuable and usable. Understanding how content types work and implementing them in your environment helps you and your users to make sense of the content. Add in the benefit of working with Managed Metadata to create and standardize the terminology and your environment can be easily searched, understood, and utilized. This session will focus on understanding content types, implementing them, planning and using metadata term sets, and how you can help build a richer SharePoint environment.
Content Types, Managed Metadata, and You, Part 2
Even with the value that content types bring, your users are still comfortable working with folders and file shares. They are used to that type of structure. Working with Managed Metadata you can help your users to move into a different way of thinking and finding their data. In this session we will look at how we can use Managed Metadata navigation within content libraries to help sort, refine, and find data. Managed Metadata also gives us the capabilities to create a catalogue type environment, and we will look at how we can accomplish this. Working with search, we will see how this can be used as well to create solutions specific to your business needs. You will be able to show your users how they can get the experience they want, and still have an environment that is well organized and maintained.
The other thing I am so excited about for this year’s conference is that we are going to be able to have a Women in Tech panel! All of the women who are speaking have agreed to participate, to share, mentor, and inspire the other women who are in this field. There are so many organizations that are focusing on encouraging girls and women to consider STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) careers. This is an opportunity to share what inspires us to adopt these careers, how we stay motivated, and how we can motivate each other. Two fabulous organizations have partnered with the team at SharePoint Evolution Conference to make this possible: Women in Tech at IT Unity and Women in SharePoint.
This is exciting, but wait, there’s more! If you haven’t already registered for the SharePoint Evolution Conference, and you’re a woman, you can register now for 10% off. You need to hurry, though, because this is fast approaching and you don’t want to miss out.
Register Here and use the code: womenintechevo
And the good news just keeps on coming!
I have also been given the privilege of speaking at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Chicago this May. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, you probably know that Microsoft took many of its conferences, like the SharePoint Conference, TechEd, MEC and a few others and rolled them in some mystery mix of spices and popped them in the oven and out popped Ignite, which promises to be yummy goodness for all of the technology crowd.
I’ve got one session that I’m co-presenting with the fabulous Laura Rogers: Driving User Adoption from a Technical Standpoint for SharePoint, Exchange, and Office 365. Laura and I have been friends for a long time and coworkers for part of that time. We have seen a lot of the changes that have come, and worked from both the IT side and the business side to see the frustration that can come out of the change. We’ll try to help IT Pros learn about some of the small configuration changes you can make in your environment that will help you mitigate some of the chief complaints from your users. Everyone Wins!
Here’s a sneak peak video we made introducing ourselves and a little about our session.
If you haven’t registered for Ignite, the full conference passes are already all sold out. However, you might want to check and see if there are other options that may interest you, such as Exhibit Hall Passes. You don’t want to miss out, there’s going to be a TON of knowledge shared and a lot of networking opportunities. Oh, and I hear there’s going to be quite a bit of fun had after hours!
I look forward to seeing you at one or both of the conferences. Please feel free to find me and introduce yourself. I look forward to it!
When SharePoint 2010 came out, there was one thing that many people wanted that was no longer there out of the box: a Site Directory. I’ll be honest with you. I never much liked the Site Directory in the earlier versions of SharePoint. I felt it was clunky and it wasn’t permissions trimmed, it was based on a links list, so everyone saw everything and would click on those links and then get mad when they couldn’t get to it. For that reason, I rarely used it. I usually just recommended that people bookmark their sites so they could find what they needed quickly.
Since there was no Site Directory in SharePoint 2010, there were several solutions that people began using to keep a list of sites. One of my personal favorites was my friend Laura Rogers’ “Web Part: Sites that I have Access To.” I have used and recommended this for many of my customers and friends in the past few years as a great way to create a site directory that also only shows the user what they have the ability to access. It’s based on the Search Core Results Web Part and uses a fixed query for the sites and webs and therefore is permissions trimmed, which is awesome!
Not too long ago, I was building out a SharePoint 2013 environment and decided since I might have a lot of different site collections I’d implement the same basic solution on my main page. I dropped a web part on my page, the Search Results Web Part (slight name change) and opened up the web part edit pane and clicked “Change Query” to configure the web part. I saw pretty much what I expected, things are slightly different in 2013, but it was pretty easy to figure out. I selected to have the query text be contentclass:STS_Site contentclass:STS_Web. I clicked Test Query and saw pretty much what I expected. I knew the sites and site collections that I had already created in my farm. Cool beans. And since I was logged in as myself and I make myself the Site Collection Administrator for all my sites, I would see everything.
The problem started when I clicked “OK.” What I saw in the actual results did not match the preview or what I knew I should see on my page. The results were limited to only showing six of my eight sites. I thought, “Hmm. OK, why is it not showing me all the sites? is it paging or limited in some way?” I went through every tab for refiners and everything, and there was nothing being limited in any way. I wasn’t sure why this was happening, I wasn’t worried about the format, just the results at this point.
After scratching my head a moment, I decided to jump into my search center itself. I did searches based on the actual titles of the sites, and everything was searchable and showing me results, so I entered the same search query in search as I did in the web part. Guess what! I got the same results, only part of my sites were showing in the search center.
I remembered that we now had a new web part in SharePoint 2013, the Content Search Web Part. This web part took the Content Query Web Part (CQWP) and backed it with search so that you could easily roll up content not just within a site collection, but across web applications and even your entire farm. Very cool, right? So I decided I’d see if it would work for my purpose. I dropped the web part on the page and opened the web part panel and clicked “Change Query.” There were a few adjustments to make to this web part. By default it does not query across all web apps and site collections. I configured the settings for the web part as shown below, again using the same query.
Once I clicked out of the additional filters, it showed me a preview of my search results. It was exactly what I was looking for, again, but I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I applied everything to my page. Now, by default, the Content Search Web Part only shows 3 items in the results, so I went ahead and changed this to a number I knew I had less results than (15 I think was what I set it to) and I also changed the display (under the Item menu) to two lines so that I could see it well on my page. After that I clicked apply and held my breath to see what was going to happen. Lo and behold, ALL of my results showed up as expected!
Now I was really confused. I knew that all of my search results should be the same in all locations. I was using the exact same search query with the exact same account. I involved a few really great resources to help me research, and after setting the logs to verbose for search we found that the queryevaluation is the issue. I do not yet know what is causing it to have an issue from the search results web part or center, but I do know that I have tried this on all versions up through August 2013 CU with the same results.
So, if you want to use Laura’s idea for creating a Site Directory and you want to make sure all of the sites are included, you should use the Content Search Web Part. As for styling this and making it pretty, I’m quite certain there are tricks to that. If I see that there’s a patch that repairs this, or learn more, I will be sure and post an update.
This is just a quick post in case anyone else has this same issue. I’ve been there, I feel your frustration, I’m here to help. Last night at the Birmingham SharePoint User Group meeting, the incomparable Laura Rogers was doing a presentation and demo with Access Services. Now, I’ll save my soapbox on Access Services versus InfoPath for some other time, because believe me, it will just turn me all red in the face, and you don’t want me to venture down that ranting, raving rabbit hole.
Laura was demonstrating how to use Access Services to create a Help Desk app. What she was explaining before she started sounded kind of cool, so I thought I’d fire up my VM and follow along, playing with things and testing things out. She was cool with that, especially since she was using Office 365 and I was using a VM, which would mimic an on premises deployment. There were a couple of things she had noticed in her work with that version that she wondered if it was the same in both scenarios.
So I played along and logged into my VM, which I knew had been working because I had worked with Access Services before. I logged into the SharePoint site as a user… By the way, you can’t create an Access App while logged in as the System Account! I go to my site and click the Site Actions cog and then click Add an app. I select Access App and name it Help Desk (this is what Laura is demonstrating) and all seems to go well. The app creates, and I click to open it, and then click to customize it in the Access client.
Any guesses as to what happened next? I get this lovely (not) error that says “Sorry, this app is incompatible with your version of Access.” What? I’m pretty sure everything I have is up to date, right? So I run through and check, and of course, I remember there’ve been some updates recently that have come as security patches and still require you to run the SharePoint 2013 Products Configuration Wizard to apply the updates. I *may* not have remembered on this VM, so I run through the process and sure enough, I hadn’t. So I think this might fix the issue and I let it run while I’m watching Laura work. It didn’t fix the issue.
Now what? I’m checking office updates and I find that there have been a couple specific to Access 2013. Hmmm, wonder if that’s part of the issue? A little more research and I find that it’s highly likely that one of these patches is the culprit. KB2752093 has been installed on this machine, and I’ve heard rumblings that this has been known to cause a few issues. I uninstall the patch and try to edit my Access App again. It now works. So, if you run across this problem, check your machine for this patch and uninstall it. This is a client patch (Microsoft Office Update) so you may have to uninstall it from more than one machine.
- Open Control Panel
- In the Programs section, click Uninstall a program
- On the left, click View installed updates
- Locate the update in the list and click on it
- Click Uninstall in the menu bar above the list of updates
Hope this helps some of you!
I know it has been a while. I’ve been meaning to blog so many times, and honestly by the time I get around to it, my creativity has been sapped for the day. However, I felt this was one that needed to be put out there for reference. I’ve been working on this for the past few months, and I had a lot of questions about it at the last event where I spoke and presented on the topic.
Way back when I first started blogging, I wrote a couple of posts about using the User Profile Service in SharePoint 2007 (yes it was that long ago) to pre-populate fields within an InfoPath form with either the logged in user’s information or information for another user. This was used very often in InfoPath solutions in a lot of organizations, and it worked great and easily in both 2007 and again in 2010. However, when you move to upgrade to SharePoint 2013, you may experience some issues. It can still be done, but you will have to make some changes.
These steps can be used for both upgraded InfoPath solutions as well as new InfoPath solutions. I would caution you, though, to consider carefully any new InfoPath forms being created until the future of InfoPath is more clear. I know there is a lot of concern about the future of InfoPath out there, and a lot of rumors that it is deprecated or “going away”. However, until there is an official announcement of that, it is still a valid product and can still be used. My advice (and this is my personal advice) is to use it wisely and give consideration to alternatives as well since there is still some confusion. InfoPath 2013 has been released, and is a supported product, and while no “new” things have been added, nothing was taken away from the product either. There’s my $.02, you may want some change back!
Now on to the real reason for this post: How to make the User Profile Service web service work with SharePoint 2013 and InfoPath 2013.
The addition of claims (and the fact that the default configuration is claims) in SharePoint 2013 causes some different behavior when connecting to web services. If you ask a developer about this, they’ll probably run screaming in the other direction, because they’ve banged their head on the desk a few times trying to get everything to work and it isn’t easy. I know, I asked my friend Becky Isserman about it just to confirm what I was hearing in general, and she did! The problem is, that the web service can’t understand that ugly thing that passes for a username in claims. If you haven’t looked at it, it looks a little like this: i:0#.w|contoso\lori. Definitely not what we are used to working with. Don’t ask me what all those things mean, I know they mean something but I don’t have it memorized by any means. If you want to know, though this is a good place to start: http://yalla.itgroove.net/2012/11/claims-based-authentication-in-sharepoint-2010/.
So now we have to figure out how to make it work. Don’t worry, if you’ve already got a form that is connected, you can do this with those as well as new forms. I’m going to be starting from scratch, but if you are starting from a pre-existing form, just remember to start at step 3.
- I have created a very basic form just to demonstrate how to do this. The form contains some user information fields and a hidden field (shown on the bottom of the form, just to see what it looks like).
- We want to connect to the user profile service to populate the name and email address automatically. So create a new data connection to a SOAP web service and use the following web service URL: http://<yoursiteurl>/_vti_bin/userprofileservice.asmx. Configure it exactly like you did in previous versions (you can use the links above for reference if desired).
- Once you have that connection, you will have to convert it to a data connection file. Click on the data connection and click Convert to Connection File.
- Name and save your data connection file to your data connection library (you will have to create one if you do not have it already). You can leave this relative to your site collection.
- Now comes the fun part. You will have to work with your SharePoint administrator if you aren’t that person and have them create an application ID in the secure store. Once you have done this once, you may not need to do it again unless you plan to have different permissions and credentials for every form with this connection. If you have this created already, skip to step 10. To do this, go to the secure store in Central Administration (Manage Service Applications>Secure Store>. Click New in Manage Target Applications. Then name your application ID. For this example I’m calling it InfoPathID as both the Target Application ID and Display Name. Then enter an email. Change the Target Application Type to Group and then click Next.
- You can click next on the page identifying the fields in the ID, leave the defaults.
- Since this is a group application ID, you will have to set administrators and users. for the Administrator, I’m just using my farm account, but you may have a specific user or group that maintains your application ID, enter that information.
- For the Members, you will need to consider how this form (or other forms if you plan to reuse the same credentials on all form connections) will be used. If all users will have access to the form to use it, you will need to add Domain Users as the members. This will allow all users to be able to use the form and connect to the User Profile Service. Click OK when completed.
- Once you have the Application ID created, it is time to set the credentials. This should be an account that has the ability to read user profiles in your environment. It could be a service account that you reuse or a new service account especially for this purpose. For my example, I’m using the farm account, but that is NOT recommended for production environments. Click the down arrow by the application ID and click Set Credentials. Enter your information and then click OK.
- While working with your administrator for the credentials, you will also have to make a change to the InfoPath Forms Services configuration. Go to General Application Settings>Configure InfoPath Forms Services in Central Administration.
- Ensure that the checkbox next to “Allow user from templates to use authentication information contained in data connection files” is checked.
- Now we can go back to the data connection. When we created the data connection, it created an XML file in our data connection library. This file contains all of the information used to connect to the web service. You’ll notice there’s a line near the bottom that is commented out for Authentication information.
- To connect with our web service, we will have to pass the authentication information that we have created in our Application ID. Delete the comment dashes and exclamation points from the node in the XML and enter the app ID you have created and the credential type of NTLM. It should look like this:
- Once you have made the change, save this back to your data connection library. Now we can start working within the form to connect.
- While we can now connect successfully to the form, the credentials that are being passed to the service to query are the credentials that were entered in the Target Application ID in the Secure Store. Probably not the credentials we need to use. This is why I have added the User Name field in my InfoPath form. But if you looked closely, it is passing that ugly claims user name. That is NOT what we want. What we will have to do is trim this using a function to show only the username itself with the domain. In the control, create a default value and insert a function of substring-after. Configure it so that it uses the username as the string and only returns the substring after the “pipe”. It should look like this:
- This should return the following when used within the form:
- Now we can use this username to populate the query fields of our data connection and query to populate our form. The way you do this part may vary, I’m doing a very simple version of it, where it populates when they first open the form. First, in InfoPath, show the Manage Rules section and select the UserName field from your data fields in the right, then click New> Action.
- Under Run these actions, click Set a Field’s Value.
- Select the Fields button in the Rule details dialog and then change the data source drop-down to the secondary data connection for your User Profile Service connection.
- You will notice there are two sections, query fields and data fields. We will want to populate the query field with the username we have in the form. Expand the section for query fields and select the AccountName query field and then click OK.
- Set the value of the field by clicking the function button and inserting the current (Username) field then click OK. It should look like this in the rule details:
- Now click Add to add an action and select Query for Data. Set the Data Connection to query to your user profile data connection and then click OK.
- Now you can add additional actions to set the field values for the Name and email fields as you have in the past with the User Profile Service and by setting the filters appropriately.
- Test it out:
This is a little more complicated at times than creating the connection without claims. However, this could have been used in previous versions as well by creating the Target Application ID and you would have to make no changes for claims other than the substring changes to remove the odd characters from the username.
It is important if you are the InfoPath forms administrator in your organization that you work with the team who will be upgrading your environment to 2013. While everything may move correctly (good luck with that) you’ll also need to work on correcting your forms to use this method of connecting to the User Profile Service either before or immediately after upgrade to ensure that users have a smooth experience with the transition.
For the past few years, I've had the privilege of speaking at several SharePoint Saturday events each year. SharePoint Saturday Ozarks has a special place in my heart as the first SharePoint Saturday event where I first spoke. My friend Mark Rackley always puts on a fun event, and since he's one of my favorite SharePoint Developers, I always volunteer to go speak for him.
This year, he is shaking things up a bit. Instead of the event being held in Harrison, Arkansas, it will be held in nearby Branson, Missouri. This is going to be a fun event this year, it will be in a fabulous location, and there is so much to do in Branson. Two years ago, I went with Joel Oleson, Michael Noel, Cathy Dew, Sean McDonough, my husband Matt Gowin, and a few others to ride go-karts and play laser tag after the event. It was a blast. This year, we will be even closer to more adventures! If you haven’t already registered to go to this event, you should totally register.
I’m going to be presenting SharePoint Administration 101, and there are a lot of introductory sessions set aside just for those who maybe are wanting to learn or check out SharePoint. There are a lot of awesome speakers this year, and we also have the privilege of having our very own entertainment brought by Rob Foster and the band he is in: This Modern Station. I hope you come on out to the event. Be sure and find me, I’ll probably be dancing at the SharePint!
So I haven’t blogged in a while, to be honest, I’ve been busy trying to learn how to take small sips from a wide-open fire hose of information. It’s been a great first 6 weeks at Microsoft, and I’ve learned a lot and am looking forward to learning more! During this time, I’ve listened to a lot of people talk, some in a classroom, some in online teaching settings, some in video, and some one-on-one… I’ve always noticed how different people pronounce different words, and thought I’d post something about it. I know usually this is a technical blog, and I promise to get back to that. I’m just now finding time to really blog anything, so this is a light and easy one, be easy on me.
One of the “words” that I often listen to see how people pronounce is GUID. I use the term word loosely, because this is actually an acronym, but we so often use it as a word. GUID stands for Globally Unique IDentifier. According to Wikipedia, it can either be pronounced “gwid” or “goo-id”. So neither is right or wrong, and I’m not going to argue that one is. My personal preference is “gwid” but I don’t criticize anyone who pronounces it differently, just often wonder why.
So in my “spare” time I did a bit of research into words ending in –uid and how they were pronounced. Below should give you a good idea of my findings.
So it seems there’s not a true distinction between the two options. Some words use “wid” and some use “oo-id”… oh and one just uses “id”. I think the real distinction is in the letter in front of the –uid. It would be hard to pronounce “rwid” but not hard to pronounce “roo-id” right? So I’ve created a little survey, just for fun to see how people are pronouncing GUID. Thanks to my friend Todd Klindt for suggesting an alternate pronunciation!
When you look in a mirror, what you see is a reflection. This reflection can show you both what is behind you and what is before you. I’ve decided to take a look in the mirror. Some of you, are undoubtedly humming “I’m looking at the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways” aren’t you? It’s okay, so am I. So why am I looking in the mirror, well I’ve decided that a change is due, I’m looking at what is behind me as well as what lies ahead.
Today, Friday, May 11, 2012 is my last day with Summit 7 Systems. I have enjoyed my time here and learned so much. So I’m looking back at this time with fond memories and hopes for their future. I will greatly miss working with many of the people at Summit 7 on a daily basis, but do hope to continue to work with them in the community. It’s only because we have such a strong SharePoint community that I can know that I will see each of them again at events and be able to continue to foster those relationships.
I’m also looking forward! I’m very excited about what lies in front of me. I have taken a position as a Premier Field Engineer (PFE) with Microsoft. I will be working with new clients and customers, facing new challenges. The coming months are packed with learning and opportunities like none I’ve ever had before. I’m up for the challenge and look forward to meeting it head on.
I hope you will all take a moment to look in the mirror and see what has happened in the past, evaluated it and move forward to the new challenges lying in front of you. This doesn’t mean you have to change positions, but look at your experience and look at where that can lead you in your future!
I’ve often been asked by different people, “What is SharePoint?” Usually I’m asked this in response to: “What do you do?” and I’ve learned sometimes it’s best to just say something along the lines of “I work with computers.” However, sometimes I go further and tell people that I am a SharePoint administrator or consultant and then have to figure out how to answer their follow up question. When that happens, my answer usually is dependent on a few other things. Yes, I know, I just said “It depends” but really the product doesn’t change, but how I answer the question.
So the biggest thing that my answer depends on is the experience level of the person asking the question. I’m not talking SharePoint experience, but technical experience. Does the person understand the concept of desktops as clients and servers providing applications? Is the person a developer or current server admin? Is their only technical experience using a personal computer to surf the internet, not a business user? A good understanding of the audience helps to be able to answer their question in a way that they might understand it.
So let’s start with the easiest scenario. If the person asking the question has experience using a computer in an enterprise environment with desktops as clients and programs or data stored on servers asks the question, the answer goes something like this:
“SharePoint is a server product from Microsoft that provides the ability to collaborate at the enterprise level through a web-based interface. It also provides the capability to network socially within an organization as well as perform web and enterprise content management. It can also be used as a development platform for rich applications and business intelligence. Oh, and it provides a great search platform to begin to search not just within the sites that are created, but also across other sites, platforms, databases, and traditional shared folders. “
You can go deeper if you like, but this usually is a good opening explanation.
Let’s say the person is already a .NET developer or server admin. While this seems like it might be the easiest one to deal with, it often isn’t because of the technical experience and sometimes preconceived ideas that these people have. Sometimes it takes a little creativity to get them to understand what SharePoint is. I usually have to delve a bit to see what their ideas are before I can go into explaining SharePoint. However, usually for the hard core dev, you can tell them something along the lines of: “SharePoint is a platform that provides collaboration, content management, and other capabilities to the enterprise, but allows for custom development for specific needs that are not met by the platform.” I’ve found that the use of the word platform here is beneficial when talking to the hardcore, sometimes resistant dev. If the person is a pretty strong server admin, then I’ve explained that SharePoint is a server product providing the ability to efficiently collaborate, manage content, and provide capabilities that can be customized to meet the needs of a business. Sometimes I’ve gone further and explained the backend is SQL for those who may have been SQL DBAs.
The toughest scenario is when the person really only has experience using a computer in their home, for basic things like word processing, email, and moderate web surfing. Unfortunately, this probably is half of my family, who really have little concept of what I actually do on a regular basis. But they are the ones who want to know the most… if you’ve worked with SharePoint long and your family has an inkling that you have technical skills, you’ve probably become their personal help desk and the question about what you actually do inevitably comes up. Answering them in such a way that they can understand, and not feel like you think they are total morons is a challenge, because if you’ve worked with SharePoint for long, it comes pretty natural to you, but probably not so easy to explain or grasp the concept that someone doesn’t understand it. So here’s my go at it:
“SharePoint is a product that runs on a server or set of servers, that provides websites to the people within an organization or to the web, which is called external facing. These websites can be used like websites for companies that you have visited on the web if they are external facing. Internal websites are used for different things, such as places to store, share, and create documents, manage calendars and meetings, manage projects, assign and track tasks, process information or data through a specialized workflow, or even show charts and data from within their business so they can understand the status of the organization. It can do all of these things and more if desired.”
So I hope maybe whatever group you fall into, you may be able to relate to these answers, and maybe even some of them helped you understand it a little bit better. What I’ve really learned most is that explaining SharePoint to people is never easy, or brief, and usually can’t be summed up in just a few words or one or two sentences. To fully grasp and understand it, generally, you have to use it. And even then, you may only understand that small portion of what you are using it for. It is a large and complex product with many capabilities and options, and most people and organizations are barely scratching the surface of what it can do and provide. Don’t let that scare you, though, it is a powerful and sometimes fun technology to work with, and when you do have those “Aha” moments (I have them all the time, and I’ve been working with SharePoint for years!) you can be sure that you’ve found a benefit to you, and that there are plenty more of those moments to come!
If you are interested, here’s a video that I like to use to share sometimes with clients who are trying to figure out what it is and how it will fit in their organization: http://www.lynda.com/home/Player.aspx?lpk4=68886&playChapter=False.