The Biggest ‘Wow’ Factors of SharePoint – The Almost – And The Plague

One of my clients asked how I would approach a new project where I had to ‘sell’ SharePoint. In short, I don’t ‘sell’ SharePoint, with or without apostrophes, but if presented properly, SharePoint will largely sell itself.

As such, I’ve compiled three lists of features that are important to have in mind when presenting SharePoint to someone new. The lists are the ‘do this’, the ‘maybe in certain situations’ and the ‘if you value your life and paycheck, do not do this’.

The 3 Biggest Wow Factors of SharePoint

When I show people SharePoint, I try to capture their attention using a couple of ‘wow’ generators. What are ‘wow’ generators? Well, it’s the things you can show off or explain in a few minutes that makes people go ‘wow’. What makes these items especially powerful is that you can create it while the audience is watching and thus adapting the presentation to a particular situation, much like stand-up comedians can take input from the audience and generate quick fun.

1. SharePoint Designer Workflows

Business Process Management in SharePoint is incredibly powerful and may be the single highest ROI feature of all times. It is incredibly easy to set up a simple scenario for saving an organization time and money for processes that most organization do.

How to execute: Pick any process that the organization does today such as vacation requests and use SharePoint Designer to create an illustrative workflow that, if nothing else, tracks the progress of a task through two or three stages.

2. Data Collection/Surveys

Organizations need to gather data from it’s users, whether that is to get food requests for overtime work from the cantina or getting evaluations of bid proposals. Business users can within a few minutes set up simple lists with automatic forms that gather this information.

How to execute (a): Pick a task for which the organization may want to collect data from users. Use out-of-the-box lists as a starting point to illustratively create a simple list to which users can add data. For an additional ‘oomph’, show how to create a task for someone to fill in that data in the form.

How to execute (b): As for (a), pick a task to gather data, but this time, set up a simple survey and show how you can use multiple pages to collect data in stages. Also make sure you show how to share the results.

3. Office Integration with SharePoint

I didn’t actually realize how impressive this feature was until I ‘accidently’ user the feature to show how when you click ‘New’ in a SharePoint document library, that Word pops up with a document ready for writing, and that when you click ‘Save’ the file is automatically stored in the correct location. I guess it’s not impressing me anymore, but others apparently don’t even know it exists.

How to execute: Requires Office installed, but create a new document library (which in itself may be part of item 2 in this list) to which you add a few required columns. Hit the New button and have people pay attention to the Document Information Panel for metadata entry. Then, hit Save and show the audience how the file gets saved back to the document library.

Things That Almost Made This Top List

For various reasons, these items may be impressive but fails to meet the presentation requirements.

1. Search

Search may be impressive but to get a true ‘wow’ factor, requires you to have a specific setup done already. That doesn’t make it situation specific and it would take too much geeking and crawling time to get something that can adapt to inputs from the audience.

2. SP 2010 Social Features

Although impressive compared to previous versions of SharePoint, the social features in SharePoint 2010 won’t impress any audience in these FaceBook savvy times. ‘Everyone’ uses tagging already, so you’ won’t win any favors there either. Shared notes and tags may be useful, but again, it’s not something you can simply show off in a matter of minutes.

I love the new social features, but they aren’t easily ‘wow’-able.

3. Web Part Pages

I really, really love the ability to compose advanced presentation layers by mixing and connecting web parts on a page. However, as for search, setting up a truly impressive web part page setup requires a fair amount of preparation and not something you can whip up in a matter of minutes.

Things You Should Avoid Like The Plague

Finally, to complete the 3×3 grid, here are the things you should never show to any client.

1. Wiki and Blogs

C’mon… Wikis? If you want to do them right, get a proper Wiki platform. Granted, Wikis themselves are incredibly valuable, but SharePoint’s handling leaves a lot to desire. Blogging may seem like a great idea. Get all your employees to write everything they learn and know and then get everyone to read that. Also, Christina and Britney will invite you to their slumber parties, just as soon as you fall asleep and enter the realm of the sandman. For the rest of us, either go with a dedicated blogging platform for those few employees who really have something to contribute, or look for alternate ways for employees to share their inputs. Blogs will not add significant value to your solution.

2. Web content management

SharePoint was never suited to do public facing web pages any more than a Ferrari is suited as a fly-swatter. Yeah, you _could_ use it like that with a bit of effort and some pain, but there are so many better ways of doing WCM that showing what SharePoint does is close to embarrassing. Add to that the SharePoint WCM security issues and you got a recipe for disaster.

3. Team Site

I’ve said this before, so I’m not going to elaborate, but in short, showing your clients a team site will often dictate their requirements and lock their imagination into a single track. “Sure, we need a shared calendar, a shared documents library, a task list, and a list of announcement. Spot on! How much will it cost?”

Obviously, knowing your target audience affects which features you show off – it doesn’t help to show off how incredibly easy it is to generate forms for data entry to someone who doesn’t know how incredibly difficult it can be with other technologies.

Keep in mind, though, that although the last two lists aren’t good for generating the ‘wow’ you want, these features may be good in certain situations. If you have the time to prepare an elaborate setup tailored to the user, any of these features may be exactly what will have your clients’ jaws drop to the floor.

Well, except WCM, that is.

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System.IO.FileNotFoundException: The Web application could not be found – Part #1

Well, it’s right there, isn’t it? *points finger*

First of all, this is not a developer’s post. This is general troubleshooting, useful for administrators as well.

For non-developers reading this: Here’s a brief intro to the simplest things you can possibly do in SharePoint programming and that is connecting to a site. You’d do that with a call like this:

SPSite site = new SPSite("http://someurl/");

As developers, we generally do about as often as we blink, so it’s pretty rooted in our fingertips. And yes, the URL is always correct.

The problem appears when you start to do this in applications that run outside the IIS web application on which SharePoint runs. This, for example, could be a console application, a Windows application, or a web service.

Developers are lazy bastards so unless something blows up, we don’t really care about potential situations. For that same reason, we usually test all our code running as the account with which we develop, usually an administrator account who has permissions to rival the gods themselves.

So, what is the inevitable consequence? Well, when our code runs as less privileged users (‘minions’ as we like to call them, to further boost our overly bloated egos), the code isn’t blessed with our divine powers and fails miserably.

And waddaya know, when we write that simplest of tests, connecting to a site using that weird syntax above, running as a minion, our code fails, telling us System.IO.FileNotFoundException.

Yeah, I know it works on your machine, developer. I don’t care, the code blows up where it matters, which is in production, and you are responsible for fixing it!

When getting a FileNotFoundException, because we don’t always think (or are too lazy to fire up enough synapses), we assume something is missing. So, we start testing our URL by opening it in the browser, to make sure it works. Lo’ and behold, of course it works! So, there must be a bug in SharePoint, right? The site is there, but SharePoint is claiming that the file is not found.

These situations are likely a cause for people yelling ‘SharePoint sucks!’ (try Googling that term, btw). However, in this case at least, it’s more a case of ‘SharePoint developers suck!’.

SharePoint Frustration

The problem, you see, is in permissions. Minions, as cute as they are, don’t have the awe-inspiring powers that their developer gods possess. That’s why, if we want those minions to be happy, we have to elevate their privileges. Somehow, a few clicks of a mouse and keyboard seems to be enough to keep the minions in their place and leave us to sip our ambrosia in peace.

Which permissions? Well, that’s the trick, isn’t it..?

If you Google around, you’ll find a lot of creative answers. Microsoft suggests (question 10) that you make your users Farm Administrators, give them read/write permissions to the content database, and, just to be sure, grant them site collection administrator rights. If that doesn’t work, which it actually won’t, you’ll need a nuclear device to be able to do more damage.

Paul Galvin, MVP and a nice guy I’m sure, suggests granting users the same permissions as your application pool account. While seemingly logical, it doesn’t explain _what_ permissions you need to set, just that if you give users everything, something is likely to be correct. Making minions as powerful as gods have been scientifically proven (just watch Bruce Almighty) to be a bad idea.

Note: Paul _is_ a great guy, so don’t take this the wrong way. It is symptomatic of an immature platform, however, that its experts are incapable of explaining why something works.

As many other’s mention, if you’re developing against SP2010 and don’t have your platform build set correctly, you get similar errors, although those are easy to spot. I’ve never seen them because, well, I never make mistakes.

None of these things work. I’ll tell you how to find out what works in the next part of this post and even how you can figure out exactly what isn’t found, but in the meantime, ponder this: Why is it that, with the immense amount of traction that SharePoint has and with the truckloads of money that the business world pours into this platform, that so extremely few people really understand what is going on behind the scenes? Even Microsoft recommends handing out keys with dynamite sticks as key chains in case, you know, they door doesn’t open.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

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