Posts tagged SharePoint Online

Rob and I have been working to create an example team site using sharepoint online hosted by Microsoft as part of the Office 365 service. We have made slight modifications to the theme and css file to give the site a clean, simple and professional look to match the green corporate identity the company has. However, we were unable to brand the header and footer to the site, this part of the site is generated at the server and cannot be changed. Part of the limited customisation is due to the version being used, Small Business. This version is designed for those small businesses that would not ordinarily have dedicated IT staff and has been made simple enough so that almost anyone could set up a sharepoint with ease.

We have given the the site the functions a small business is likely to need from employee databases, finance reports and absence recording to document libraries for storing company policies and other project documents and web databases for product ranges.  For absence reporting we have used a list to record the information that can be easily exported to MS Excel so that further analysis can be carried out on the data. To improve the user experience rather than typing directly into the list, a pop up form will appear to enable the user to input the information – a much easier and interactive way.

We have also implemented user groups and permissions to enable the Management team to have access to every part of the site and a Staff group, which has a limited view on certain sections of the site. For example there is a section on the site called Management, which contains all managerial documents such as employee records, financial documents and absence records, this section of the site is only accessible to users of the Management group.

We have also integrated web databases to complete the truly cloud experience, enabling users to access all business data from almost anywhere at anytime. These were easily to create and upload to the Team Site, meaning that businesses with no dedicated IT staff should find it easy to set something like this up. It all depends on what the business requires the database to do, so it could get more complex, depending on the specification. The only problem we have experienced using web databases so far is that reports do not currently work, although this should be resolved in the general release, code does not appear to be allowed on web databases and macros seem to have limited functionality. We have also created many lists to house public contacts, absences, word excel and powerpoint documents, and announcements to be used as a method of updating a team with business news. Announcements are a really useful tool within small businesses as many of the staff can often be part time, so they will frequently miss out on vital communication, this way they can all be kept up to date wherever they are.

Next we will be looking at the external site, also provided as part of the Microsoft Office 365 service and using that to reach the clients to the business.

In an article by Ed Bott, who attended the Office 365 Launch Conference, asked a few questions at the launch, one of which stood out to me. He asked about the development roadmap of the system and in particular SharePoint Online. As it stands SharePoint Online does not have the same feature set as the standalone on premise version (SharePoint Server 2010). John Betz (Microsoft’s Director of Online Services) is quoted as saying that Office 365 will be updated every 90 days, and that their ultimate goal is for SharePoint Online to have the same feature set as SharePoint Server 2010.

For more details check the article at: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/office-365-three-questions-for-small-businesses/3503?tag=search-results-rivers

Microsoft Office 365 comes with an external customer facing website for the users. This is a prebuilt website using a prebuilt master page and CSS file. Office 365 gives the users the ability to easily update the website directly from the 365 Team Site, using the inbuilt tools provided. The user has the ability to add/remove pages, edit content and insert gadgets. Gadgets can be a useful tool to the developer, it allows certain useful objects to be inserted into the site without any programming knowledge at all, for example, the user can add an interactive map into their site, giving the consumer directions on how to reach their store, the user can also add a ‘contact us’ form into the site which will send an email direct to whoever deals with consumer questions. This is not the extent of the site customization.

We have found that many websites reviewing Office 365 have had an issue in the web development side of things, claiming that there are very few ways a user can customize their site. They say that a user is not able to edit the the HTML of the site, however, I have found this a fairly simple thing to accomplish. An external web .ASPX page can be taken from Microsoft Workspace 2010 and opened in Sharepoint designer. From here I have easily been able to add new content into the website in HTML form, for example, I inserted the Database that I created the previous day into the site using an iframe, this was fairly easy and it looked very appealing. Unfortunately, their issues with the web development area aren’t completely unfounded. When editing the external page, I realised I needed to alter the master page file, after sometime it became clear that it was hidden from the user. This meant that I was not able to edit the entire look of the page at all. Although there is a way to work around this, the user can create another master page from scratch and upload this onto the server and direct the site pages to this master page rather than its original master page.

This custimazation allows the developer create the customer facing site, making it look however they want and not just an extension of Sharepoint and Office 365.

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With SharePoint Online it’s easy to share and manage documents with colleagues. Once you have a Team Site you can add users and set their permissions. Now the Team Site members will be able to share documents, images, lists, blogs and much more, with both internal and external organisations, which are password protected. You will also be able to manage meetings and track key project milestones and schedules using the shared calendars. You can even save documents directly from one Microsoft’s Applications to SharePoint Online.

The following features could be useful in an educational environment.
  
Libraries
Libraries are a location on a site which provides users central access to important work documents and files. There are different types of Libraries for different purposes, such as ‘Document library’ for many file types like word documents and spreadsheets. There are libraries for images called ‘Picture library’ which is dedicated for digital images and graphics. Functionality varies between different library types, just as folder functionality varies in Windows Explorer, for example a slideshow option for picture folders or libraries. There are many more library types such as, Process Diagram Libraries, Record Libraries, Report Libraries and Slide Libraries.

Libraries allow the great control over documents for people working on a project together. Everyone can have access to the latest version of documents, with document versioning included, see who last edited the docment and when, and you can even specify specific permissions to documents to protect the most important ones.

Lists
Lists offer a collection of data that can be shared with team members and other site users. There are a number of list templates, which provide a good starting point. The way lists are organised can be customised for the specific needs of the business. SharePoint sites often include many lists by default, such as, Links, Announcements and Contacts, that you can use for team collaboration. One type of list that is also very useful is ‘Calendar’, with Calendar it’s easy to show all of your groups events, whether these be meetings, all day events or milestones. This will enable the whole group to see what is happening with a project for example and most importantly when. ‘Tasks’ is another useful List type. You can use it to assign tasks to specific people within the group. It is also possible to create a custom designed list.

Blogs
Blogs provide a running commentary or news thread of a particular subject, same function as personal online diaries. Blogs are useful to keep upto date with a particular subject and are often a good learning material.

Wiki Pages
Wiki pages are a useful tool, that enables webpages to be quickly and easily edited by any user.

My Sites & Profiles
My Sites and Profiles integrates the social side to the learning environment.  It enables you to connect with other people around you and build your professional network. It is important to remember that just like other social networks, your should consider what information you share with who. This can be controlled by privacy settings, that allow you to specify which people can see each piece of information that you share. You can also apply these settings to documents that you share. The organisation implementing the system, can also restrict what information you may share with others.

Discussion Boards
Discussion boards are a great way to share ideas and knowledge, or to discuss a particular topic. These can easily be setup by a user and moderated by an administrator. It could be important to ensure that the boards are moderated to look for cases of plagarism, although this is a possiblility there are many processes already in place to identify plagarism.

Mobile Browser Support
The system will also work on the go on mobile phone web browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, giving users even more choice to where they can access thier data. Some phones can even display the documents that are stored on the system.