SharePoint Best Practices Posts, Day 3 of 10. The file server is dead! Long live the SharePoint!

Guest post by Dave Coleman- Twynham School Network Manager

Is the file server dead? The man in this video clearly thought so!

One of the sessions I attended last Monday was Joel Olsen’s input titled, ‘Help me kill my File Servers….’ This is really well timed with the work we are doing at Twynham School as we are currently moving away from network Home Drives to the use of My Sites with students and staff. When I became a Network Manager at Twynham School in 1999 I adopted a network with the NT4 server and NT4 workstations. Accessing your Home Drive from home was an abuse of the term home, being complicated and a genuinely challenging technical achievement.

Windows 2000 made Home Drives a realistic possibility for the end when user off-site through the use of Webdav and at Twynham School our students and staff have had access to their resources from home since this time. With the huge adoption of SharePoint at Twynham we have been gradually moving over to SharePoint sites and as Joel confirmed yesterday, the age of the file sever is indeed dead!

How do you make the transition from a File Share with 2,000 users dependant on access to data, both personal and in a shared resource, in this case Public Drive? Joel gave an example of the removal of a Public Drive within Microsoft which was identical to the method we used when removing our Public Drive at Twynham. In September 2008 we set upon a road map to remove our Public Drives in a way that would avoid panic and turmoil upon our end users. This should be carefully phased out and our model was as follows: 

  • 1. Student Public was made ‘read-only’ for staff and hidden from students. This was essential as the only way staff could get resources to students was through SharePoint.
  • 2. At the same time Staff Public was made read-only. Staff could still access their resources from here but could not add further clutter to a resource that was already vastly out of control and unmanageable.
  • 3. We did allow staff to copy files into SharePoint and delete them from both Public Drives and our early adopters led the way.
  • 4. In September 2009 at the start of the new academic year we will stop mapping the Staff Public Drive along and archive both Drives to external media.

This process has run very smoothly and many schools are now looking to move away from Public Drives. Occasionally I meet colleagues who ask ‘what is wrong with Public Drives’. In short the navigation of Public Drives has always proved a nightmare in my experience and one persons idea of where a file should live is often different from another colleague who needs to share the file! Although SharePoint sites can suffer from the same clutter without a robust taxonomy they have a saving grace. The power of search in SharePoint should render network drives redundant in place of access which is ‘anytime and anywhere’.

SharePoint Best Practices Posts, Day 2 of 10. 3 key messages from Joel Oleson’s Keynote.

April 11, 2009 by · 3 Comments
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Today I want to focus on 3 key messages from the Keynote Joel Oleson gave which represent a challenge to us moving forward with our SharePoint deployment. These may not be relevant to all but for us the focus on developing our SharePoint strategically and ensuring appropriate structures are in place are key to moving forward effectively. I have pulled 3 slides from Joel’s excellent key note here- the whole PowerPoint is viewable from my previous post, directly from slideshare or Joel’s site itself.

Key Focus 1- Governance

One of the biggest buzzwords with SharePoint at the moment is Governance. This is a hot topic, particularly in the US and the business environment but is an essential consideration for all. Governance can be defined as ‘the set of policies, roles, responsibilities, and processes that you establish in an enterprise to guide, direct, and control how the organization uses technologies to accomplish business goals’ (Microsoft TechNet). In essence the message here is planning to ensure you maintain control of your SharePoint deployment to best achieve your business/organisations objectives.

Joel’s slide shown above shows the key fundamentals of a Governance Plan and represent a starting point for thinking. Governance is both a vast topic and a big deal. I would not pretend to have any expertise in this area (that is why it is a key message for us from the conference) but I have started researching so that we can get our Governance Plan in order. Here are some useful links I am using which may be helpful:

  1. Microsoft has a TechNet article which is a great starting point.
  2. This article on The SharePoint Team Blog contains key links.
  3. Mark Wagner’s Sample Governance Plan is available here.
  4. The Codeplex Governance Workspace contains useful resources.
  5. Mark Schneider’s Taxonomy and Governance blog represents a vast resource.

Key Focus 2- Establish your Governance Roles and Responsibilities

Linking on from the first point, the diagram below struck us as really useful. At present in our organisation we do not have complete clarity of roles and responsibilities with a number of colleagues overlapping different area. Developing more focused roles will be a key task over the next 18 months.

Key Focus 3- Developing your SharePoint Team

The final diagram is very much self explanatory and represent the balance needed within a SharePoint Team to fulfill the various functions. This is something we already knew but the slide gave us cause for reflection in terms of the balance of our team and various skill sets. At a time when we are looking to build our staffing we will return to the diagram to look at which areas are most in need within our team.

SharePoint Best Practices Posts, Day 1 of 10. Avoiding failed deployments and newbie mistakes.

April 9, 2009 by · 2 Comments
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Well it seems a long time ago but it is actually only 72 hours since the first European SharePoint Best Practices Conference kicked off in London. The three days were very intensive with 63 possible sessions to visit and our decision to send 4 colleagues was fully justified with so many inputs available. Looking back at day 1 we arrived for the Keynote with Mr SharePoint, Joel Oleson, running the opening session. Joel presented an overview of the 10 factors you should consider when deploying SharePoint in your environment. For our team at Twynham this was really encouraging to see that most of what we have done aligns with the views of the SharePoint Community.

Joel has kindly made his Keynote deck available from Slideshare and I have added it below with permission. It is well worth working through and most of it will make sense without the input we received from Joel. Below are my thoughts on what instantly made sense to us and aligns with what we have already done.

View more presentations from Joel Oleson.

What made sense- Top 3 things we have already done.

  1. Adoption is what counts. For our SharePoint setup we have always believed that the most important measure of success will be user adoption. This drives everything and at the end of the day if your SharePoint is not being used it is likely to have failed. How did we achieve this? Perhaps one motto sums up our philosophy at Twynham- Content is King. Whilst this is an over simplified statement, in education too may people spend endless hours discussing and searching for VLEs. If you build rich and varied content into your Learning Platform which makes the end users experience richer they will use it. This leads nicely into point 2 which is…
  2. Keep it Simple Stupid. Most of the discussion I see in education focuses on ‘The Magic Bullet’ with online learning and so many people avoid the easy gains that can be made with a learning platform by waiting for the killer app (VLE with SCORM compliant resources) which has shown little sign of appearing. This fits in with a third ot Joel’s 10 top tips which resonated with us- Build a Service not Install Software. A classic example of how we have done this is The Revision Gateway which was envisaged as a ‘One stop shop’ for all your revision needs.
  3. Get a Passionate Executive Sponsor. This was something we only realised we had done when seeing Joel’s deck but it instantly made sense. I have spent most of the last 3 months talking about how we engaged end-users with SharePoint but looking back none of this would be possible without the engagement of our Headteacher and to some extent the whole Leadership Team. They provide the financial resource and allow the time, input and focus in the school which ensures our SharePoint deployment is successful. It is no surprise that our number one point on the School Development Plan is the Learning Gateway- we have full Executive buy-in and it is essential for success. 

Tomorrow I will cover the three key messages we took away from the keynote which we feel we need to work on to develop our SharePoint deployment further. My 3 colleagues who came along to the conference are busy polishing their more technical posts which will appear from Saturday onwards for a week so look out for them.

SharePoint Best Practices Conference 10 days of posts. Blogging on the biggest European event.

April 8, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: SharePoint, Twynham School 

It is the Easter Holidays at schools in England for 2 weeks and I have taken a mini break from blogging for a few days. Most of the blogging I have done this year has been pitched towards education with a SharePoint context but not heavily technical. For the start of the Easter break 3 of our SharePoint technical team and myself have come to London to the European SharePoint Best Practices Conference. I thought I would use this opportunity to do something a little different and so have asked the 3 of them to write one blog each day for the 3 days of the Conference. The plan is to provide 10 blogs (I will have a go at one!) which are more technically SharePoint focused during the next two weeks.

The team have declared themselves up for the challenge and this will be their first time blogging so be nice as they learn please! We aim to have them all written by the time we get off the train in Bournemouth this evening so that we can set them on auto-release each day and head on our own holidays. A few points of clarity here in terms of content. All blogs will be ‘inspired’ by one session attended each day with a principal focus of how this will impact on Twynham. All material will be attributed to the speaker and each speaker will be asked if it is ok to reference them and share any of their gems from the input before it appears in the blog.

So, in summary, we plan to release 1 blog per day for 10 days based on SharePoint Best Practices which will run from Thursday 9th April until Saturday 18th April.

If you are around today and want a live feed to the conference but don’t use twitter Mark Miller, he of the End User SharePoint Blog, has done some great work linking up twitter feeds on to his blog. It is up and running and will be two way with the ability to comment or ask questions from the blog.

SharePoint Best Practices Conference UK

February 14, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: SharePoint 

In September last year the first ever SharePoint Best Conference was held in Washington. This proved to be an excellent opportunity for professionals working with SharePoint to get the very best CPD. The only problem for those of us on the other side of the pond was the cost when flights for travel to the US and hotels are included in the price. The ‘Best Practices’ model has recently been repeated in San Diego at the start of February and I am pleased to say that the concept is coming to London in April. The dates could be good for professionals employed in schools as it falls on the Monday-Wednesday at the start of the Easter holidays so getting out of schools should be straight forward.

 If you are starting with SharePoint or are well on your way to developing an online learning tool then I think this conference will provide a wealth of information and training on where you might go next. Office 14 is just round the corner but how many people are planning to move to the next version of SharePoint instantly having just gotten to grips with 2007? I suspect most schools will be with SharePoint 2007 well into 2010 and beyond unless migration is seamless. Take a look at the ‘Best Practices’ site here and a more detailed look at the agenda as well as themes based on your job type. I hope to be able to catch up with many of you there.