How to Make or Break a SharePoint Collaboration Implementation

At Tango, we’re sometimes (too often) reminded of the costs of getting a SharePoint implementation wrong. It goes beyond the cost of the technology investment. When an intranet or collaboration project goes awry, there are a more damaging costs to corporate culture and productivity. And yet, it is not difficult to avoid. But it does require planning, and an effective bridge between IT and the business.

In the end, it’s about the users. Because if you build it, they might not use it. If you try to force a new technology or tool onto users, they may use it incompletely (deliberately), or badly (inadvertently), or not at all.

We recently revived a SharePoint collaboration environment that was all but dead due to disuse. Our method wasn’t rocket science – it was best practice. We provided a missing link: a bridge across the gulf that had formed between the business and the technology. To build that bridge, we engaged in a thorough consultation with users and established a change management process.

We are strong believers in the potential value and power that SharePoint holds to bring diverse organizations together into a shared virtual space; to effect significant improvements in productivity through effective document sharing and information management. But it doesn’t happen by magic. It doesn’t happen through great technical prowess. It happens by talking to users and configuring the technology to fit, then talking some more and adjusting where needed.

It happens through people. Read about how we made that very connection at a mid-sized organization in this case study >>

SMEs: Notoriously Unprepared for Disasters

– Dean Tremblay, Partner

A recent survey of 145 professionals responsible for IT security in small- and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) recently found that 87% of SMBs have inadequate or out of date disaster recovery plans. Another 45% of them don’t enforce security policies.

SMEs are remarkable for operating under many pressures while being one of the major drivers of economic growth today. By keeping a close eye on the bottom line, minimizing overhead and investing in innovation, SMEs have become the providers of some of our favourite products, apps, and necessary services – like accounting, financial assistance, legal advice and more.

Despite all of the things that attract us to purchase from SMEs, we need to be able to trust them. That includes being assured that the data we entrust to them is protected, and that the services we rely on them for will be available even if disaster – such as fire or a data security breach – strikes.

One of the biggest challenges of operating an SME or other small organization is focusing on core competencies while taking care of the myriad non-core necessities – like IT security. Unless an SME is in the IT business, it’s not likely that they’re able to devote the significant resources necessary to staff IT personnel with the expertise or the time to take care of robust IT security, backup and disaster recovery in addition to that day-to-day IT needs of the organization.

That’s where Managed IT Services can help SMEs remain successful, vital contributors to our economies, our lives and our businesses.

As part of our Managed IT service, we at Tango Technology Group offer IT Backup and Disaster Recovery services that are tailored to SMEs. Because we work exclusively with small to mid-size businesses, we understand their pressures and their needs. Our services are designed to give SMEs and their customers peace of mind about the security of financial, marketing, sales, human resources and other business data. And, we do so affordably, with a managed IT service model that provides predictability for the SME budget.

Most importantly, we also work with our clients to review the specific needs of their businesses in order to ensure alignment between the business, its customers and its vital IT infrastructure.

I’d welcome the opportunity to talk to you about protecting your business and your customers from untimely disasters. Contact me at: dtremblay(at)tangotechnologygroup.com.

Business-Centric IT: What Does that Really Mean?

– by Dean Tremblay

At Tango Technology Group we like to say that we take a business-centric approach to technology. It’s definitely what makes us unique among other providers of IT services to small- and mid-size business customers. But what does it really mean to be “business-centric”, and why should a small- or mid-sized business (SMB) care?

In practical terms, being business-centric means that when I recommend an investment in technology to a client, I have first determined how that technology will enable the client to be more efficient and/or to drive more revenue. If I can’t make that business case clear then I can’t recommend the investment.

In philosophical terms, it means that at Tango, we focus as much on understanding WHY we deploy technology as we do on HOW it is deployed. Unfortunately, this is an atypical approach in our industry – but we’ve been business owners and managers in a variety of forms for long enough that we know it’s the only approach that makes sense today.

There really is no business today that isn’t influenced by technology. Most absolutely depend on IT to serve customers and to conform to standards and regulations. Savvy SMBs are now leveraging technology to gain competitive advantages – and helping them do it is what we do best.

Again in practical terms, here are some examples of what we do to help SMBs leverage technology to gain competitive advantage:

  • Eliminate capital expenses & costly specialized headcount – by eliminating on-premise hardware (servers) in favor of virtual servers
  • Improve cash flow and budgeting by replacing client-based software with pay-per-use technology “in the cloud”
  • Ease the resource burden associated with regulatory compliance with flexible, easy-to-use information management/ records management/ document management solutions
  • Support competitive and market intelligence with effective business intelligence solutions designed for SMBs
  • Free up resources (financial, administrative and real estate) by providing outsourced IT and helpdesk service
  • Improve internal communication processes and operational efficiencies with easy-to-use intranet sites
  • Protect customer and business data with offsite data backup and recovery

I’d be happy to speak with you to discuss how we can work with you to ensure that technology is part of your strategic business plan. I also invite you to read about some of our customer projects and success stories.

I can be reached at dean.tremblay(at)tangotechnologygroup.com

A New Paradigm for Critical Document Management & Records Management

– by Dany Charland

Document and records management (DM/RM) has traditionally followed a strict file plan, with profile forms used to create and maintain records. These are important best practices; and, for regulated industries such as accounting firms, healthcare, IT, food safety etc., they are necessary to provide evidence of document controls.

However, a common complaint about document management is that its file structure is too rigid and its forms too cumbersome to effectively support users. These systems rely on the carefulness and attention of users to retain, dispose and secure records. The combination of inconvenience and user dependency make many traditional DM/RM systems error prone on the best of days.

“It’s too hard to find what I need” is a common user complaint about traditional rigid records management systems. Part of the challenge is that no single file storage structure can account for the myriad organizational structures represented by human brains. From a business perspective, frustrated users are a risk because they are prone to take shortcuts, make errors or simply avoid using critical systems.

Microsoft SharePoint gives businesses the opportunity to manage records and documents with appropriate protocols in place while also delivering a more flexible user experience. They key to unlocking these capabilities is to establish a properly structured, standards-based and controlled vocabulary for meta-data management. This enables document management and records management developers to build virtual entity structures – also called virtual file plans – that provide users with multi-faceted browsing experiences.

In short, SharePoint offers a user-driven records search and browsing experience while maintaining the necessary file structures by making the storage structure invisible to the user.

At Tango Technology Group, we use SharePoint and Silverlight, combined with DM/RM best practices and principles, to deliver records management solutions that meet both business and usability needs.

For more information:
• Visit our SharePoint Practice web page
• Learn more about SharePoint from Microsoft
Contact me, Dany Charland – I’m Tango Technology Group’s SharePoint business expert
• Attend my SharePoint DM/RM presentation at SharePoint Summit 2012 in Quebec City

SharePoint Collaboration vs. Governance: Not Necessarily Mortal Enemies

– by Dany Charland

Virtual/online collaboration is an absolute necessity for many small- and mid-sized organizations today. It may be required to support ad hoc project teams; to facilitate geographically dispersed teams to work together; or, to increase the efficiency of internal communication in any organization.

Virtual collaboration environments – such as SharePoint intranets or SharePoint collaboration environments – can certainly add significant value to a business. But they can also become liabilities. Common causes of collaboration environment break-down include:

  • Rapid growth of the organization and/or the collaboration environment – unfettered growth can make collaboration environments unruly and difficult to use
  • Increasing proliferation of information shared in the environment – rapid increases in information can make the environment overwhelming and discourage use
  • Duplication of information in the environment – this can lead to version control problems (also regulatory/compliance breaches) as users unwittingly interact with multiple versions of the same document
  • Loss of relevance or timeliness of the information shared – this discourages use and can lower morale as the environment seems neglected

This is where a Collaboration Governance Strategy is invaluable. It is the tool that brings structure to the free-spirited collaboration environment, by governing growth, content management, information management and versioning/aging. When combined with a Change Management process, the governance strategy comes to drive ongoing decisions about the management and use of the system.

Rather than discouraging users with complex rules and controls, an effective collaboration Governance and Change strategy increases user satisfaction by creating alignment between the business/business goals and the various content producers; content managers; collaboration collections and properties (sites and sub-sites).

Tango Technology Group’s information management experts are seasoned in delivering governance strategies and related processes for intranets, SharePoint intranets, and SharePoint collaboration environments. We are experienced in the development and implementation of strong governance structures that encourage creative, free-spirited collaboration.

If you have an existing or planned collaboration or intranet project in the works, I hope you’ll contact me to ensure that your investment in the new environment will be a success: dcharland(at)tangotechnologygroup.com

For more information:

Don’t Let Your Business Become a Statistic in the Year of the Data Breach

– Dean Tremblay, Partner

Online security threats to organizations reached an all-time high in 2011, according to software security firm, Internet Identity (IID). In fact, IID has named 2011 “the year of the data breach” and cites these market shifts as drivers behind the increased threat:

  • A new black market makes it easy to obtain software whose sole purpose is to steal data
  • Increased sophistication of cybercrime
  • Malware proliferating due to increased smartphone use

When companies as well capitalized as Sony suffer major data breaches, it’s common for small- and mid-sized organizations to contemplate their own potential security risks. While most organizations in the 50-250 employee range have implemented security measures through enterprise firewalls and secure data backup, many have no idea if the protection they are relying on (and paying for) is airtight.

When you implement organizational security, backup and disaster recovery systems, you should also implement a system of accountability for those mission-critical operations. Too often, organizations seek out our help only after a major failure – such as a security breach or data loss – has occurred. To be fully protected, an organization must have a reporting procedure in place, as well as a proactive alert mechanism, to remain ahead of any potential risks to data security.

Another frequently overlooked aspect of IT security is alignment between the technology in place and the business. You may wonder what one thing has to do with the other, but it’s really quite simple:

  • If your business strategy is outgrowing your security infrastructure, you’ll be at risk
  • If your business model is shifting but your security infrastructure remains static, you may be at risk
  • If the way your employees, partners, suppliers and customers communicate with one another is shifting but your security infrastructure was architected in 2008, you’ll be at risk

At Tango Technology Group, our Managed IT services offering – which can include network and data security measures – includes proactive alerts and informative reports. Most importantly, we also work with our clients to review their business strategies and changes, ensuring alignment between the business and its enabling infrastructure – including online and data security.

I’d welcome the opportunity to talk to you about ensuring the integrity, security and alignment of your business data. Contact me at: dtrembla(at)tangotechnologygroup.com.

More information:

2012: How Your Small/Medium Size Business Will Benefit in the Year of the Cloud

– Dean Tremblay, Partner

Information technology think tank, IDC, has made its annual technology predictions for 2012. I’m not surprised that they’re predicting that cloud services will begin to take leadership in the enterprise technology mix.

IDC anticipates that “the strategic focus [will shift] from building infrastructure to the creation of application platforms and ecosystems,” and notes that “the battle for enterprise platform dominance is just getting underway with established players like IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle facing serious challenges from Amazon, Google, Salesforce.com, and VMware.”

Cloud services – whereby IT infrastructure and business applications are delivered from a centralized location rather than from a server farm at your premise (much the way we receive electricity service) – represent a major opportunity for small- and mid-size organizations:

  • They make enterprise-level applications and products more accessible to organizations >500 users
  • They reduce capital expenditure and minimize physical infrastructure (and the specialized human resources needed to maintain it)
  • They support on-demand provisioning of new applications as you need them

As you plan out your business for 2012 and beyond, cloud-based services should absolutely be considered as part of your business (not just your technology) mix. Consider how you can leverage cloud-based applications to improve sales and marketing productivity; to reduce operating costs; to support the rapid roll-out of new products, services and promotions on demand.

Here are just a few examples of how some Tango Technology Group SMB clients are benefitting from cloud-based services:

  • Implementing professional contact relationship management (CRM) without deploying new servers
  • Collaborating enterprise-wide and effectively managing documents without additional capex
  • Communicating more productively through company-wide contact and schedule management without an Exchange server

You can read IDC’s complete technology predictions here – then talk to me about what it all means to your company. I’m always excited to talk to small- and mid-size businesses about how technology should be deployed to deliver serious BUSINESS value. dtremblay(at)tangotechnologygroup.com

SharePoint 2010 Branding: The Essentials

In my last blog entry I gave some tips and tricks to creating a new SharePoint theme for your site. This is an important first step to rebranding your SharePoint site. Since this theme will take care of changing almost all of the font colours and backgrounds in SharePoint, it will save you tons of time trying to find the proper CSS styles to override through the master page. Having said that, the theme will not change everything… You will find that certain things, such as the ribbon, remain virtually untouched, and you may also find that the new theme has made certain things hard to read. This is where you, the web designer extraordinaire, come in.

If you’ve poked around the SharePoint 2010 styles a little bit, you’ll notice that most of the styles are derived from a file called “corev4.css”. Do not modify this file directly! First of all, this file is packed with thousands of lines of CSS rules, so trying to figure out what you’ve changed so far is a logistical nightmare. Second of all, once you add a theme to your site all of the styles in this file get transferred to a “themed” version of the corev4 file which is generated dynamically and is overwritten as soon as the user changes the theme settings again. The best way that I’ve found to override the built-in CSS rules is to do it within your own master page. Chances are, if you’re re-branding your SharePoint site you’re going to be moving things around so you should have your own custom master page to work with. To start overriding CSS styles you simply need to add a style element in the head block of your master page. Whenever you see a rule in the corev4 file that you want to override, simply go back to your master page, copy that same rule, and modify the attributes that you would like to change. If you have your master page as the current site default, then saving your file and refreshing the page in the browser will show you the changes you’ve made.

In order to facilitate the hunt for the right CSS rules to override in your Master Page, one essential tool to have is FireBug. This tool was originally developed as a FireFox plugin, and (among other things) allows you to debug CSS and HTML on the fly, for any site. Not only can you view all of the CSS rules that are applied to a particular page element, but you can also change the CSS rules and see the effects of your changes right away. Since FireFox and Internet Explorer don’t always interpret CSS rules the same way, there is also a “lite” version of FireBug that can be used in virtually any browser. This makes it an invaluable tool to have when you’re re-branding your SharePoint site.

Now that you have created your theme, and setup the master page that you will be adding your CSS to, you are ready to start re-designing your SharePoint site.

Get FireBug

SharePoint 2010 Branding: Creating a Theme

When designing a branded SharePoint site, the first task for any web designer should be to create a general SharePoint Theme. A SharePoint theme can be designed through the web browser, and then, with a bit of work, can be saved locally or deployed to a SharePoint site as a feature. The advantage to creating this theme before you do any heavy lifting with the master page is that you’ll find that a lot of the work will be done for you right from the start. What a theme will do is set the colour scheme for a lot of the main parts of a SharePoint page. By creating the theme first, you will avoid doing a lot of searching for the proper styles to override within your master page. Unfortunately, once you design your theme through the browser, there is no easy way to get your theme saved locally so that it can be deployed to other sites. However, Microsoft PowerPoint actually supports the same theme file type (thmx) that SharePoint uses, so you can create a local copy of the theme using this program. In this blog post I will explain how to design your SharePoint theme through the browser, and then I will direct you to some resources that explain how you can create a local copy of the theme and in turn deploy this theme to your SharePoint site.

Designing a Theme

The easiest way to design your theme is to create the theme through your SharePoint site. The reason for this is that you can see the effects of your changes almost immediately with the click of a button. This is essential when you’re doing the fine tuning of your theme.

To access the theme editor through the browser simply go to Site Actions –> Site Settings and then under the Look and Feel section click on Site theme. This will bring you to the page shown in the image below:

On this page you’ll find your most useful tools are the “Select a Theme”, “Customize Theme”, and “Preview Theme” sections. In the “Select a Theme” section you can choose from a wide array of built-in themes that come out-of-the-box. If you’re lucky, there may be a theme there that is already close enough to your desired theme, so you can take it as your starting point. In the “Customize Theme” section you can edit the specific colours within the chosen theme. This section will be covered in detail in the next paragraph. Finally, in the “Preview Theme” section you can see your theme applied to your site without actually fully applying it. What the Preview button does is open a popup that shows an exact copy of your site so that you can see how your site would look like if you applied the theme as it is right now. Granted, it only allows you to see the homepage of your site, however this is usually enough to yay or nay your current design.

In the “Customize Theme” section you can pick and choose all of the colours that you wish to have in your theme. After some experimentation, I found that the most prominent colours are contained in the first 5 settings of this section. The biggest problem with using this designer is that the colour categories are completely vague. It is impossible to know what rules apply to what. A good way to get around this problem is to pick 5 completely different colours for the first 5 settings in this section. For example, pick red, blue, green, and yellow for the “Text/Background” sections, and pick pink for the “Accent 1” section. After applying this theme to your site you will get something that looks like this:

Although this is not too easy on the eyes, it gives you a clear division of which settings are applied to which components. Once you have this as your starting point you can simply change the colours one by one, and you can be sure about which components you are customizing with your colour choices.

Once you have defined what your theme colours are you will have a good platform to start your SharePoint design. In the next blog posts I will start to explain how to customize the individual parts of a SharePoint page.

Useful Links

Tips for supporting clients with BlackBerry phones

Have you ever been called by a client who tells you, “I can’t get emails on my phone. Help me!” You would love to help, but struggle with guiding them through the menus on their BlackBerry because you don’t have the same model available. There is a very easy solution to this…download the simulator!

Research In Motion provides phone emulators for nearly all possible configurations of their phones. You can find these simulators at:
RIM Developer Zone
If you find that your client has configuration options missing on their phone, it is probably because the carrier has locked down the phone. With a quick call to the carrier, you can usually get these configuration options unlocked. (Sometimes there is an additional fee to unlock these settings.)