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Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

Things I’ve Learnt About InfoPath and Forms Services

Posted by workerthread on October 30, 2009

Recently I’ve been involved in the development of a SharePoint 2007 solution using InfoPath and Forms Services.  The purpose of the solution was collection of employee questionnaire data using one of several forms designed as a multi-page survey.  InfoPath was chosen because the process needed to make use of SharePoint workflows, which are not supported with survey responses.  Also, the survey form needed to behave differently depending upon whether an employee or their manager was completing it.

I wanted to use this post to document some of the things I learnt during the development process.

Only Use Custom Code if Rules and Views Can’t Do the Job: You can do an awful lot with InfoPath Rules and Views to give the user a good experience when completing a form.  You also have the added advantage that when publishing your browser-compatible form to SharePoint Forms Services, you don’t have to deploy it as an Administrator-approved form.  Over at EnduserSharePoint, Paul Galvin has posted a useful starter template for InfoPath which includes views for handling successful submission and discarding the form.  And there are other useful InfoPath tips on Paul’s blog.

“Wizard” Style Forms Work Well Using Views: Using [Next>] and [<Back] buttons combined with views, you can create a nice “wizard” style user interface for your form.  Here’s a nice post from the MS InfoPath team on this topic.

But You can Only Validate a Maximum of 5 Fields Using a Rule: This is one of the issues which required use of custom code.  On our “wizard” style form, there are 7 questions per page, and the user should not be able to move to the next page until all 7 have been answered.  So we ended up putting validation code on the “click” event of each “[Next>]” button.  This tutorial from DevExpertise explains how it’s done.  It ended up as one of the reasons for a custom code requirement – I guess it might also be possible to to this using XPath, but as we also ended up needing code for another feature (see below), we used custom code here.

If You Want to Pass URL Parameters to your Browser Based Form, You Need to Write Some Code: For this solution, a manager could be assigned multiple questionnaires to complete (one for each person they are managing).  So we wanted to pass the ID of the employee into the new form, then this would be used to look up employee details on a secondary data connection.  Turns out that you can only read URL (querystring) parameters using code.  Here’s a post from the InfoPath Team showing how to pass/retrieve these parameters.

Use Site Columns for Promoted InfoPath Fields: Our solution required two different forms to be available as content types in the same forms library.  If both of these forms use the same set of promoted columns, your life will be a lot simpler if you first create the columns you want to promote as a set of site columns specific to the solution.  If you don’t, and you deploy the forms to different servers, you can end up with multiple “Microsoft InfoPath” site columns with same name but different IDs.  Also, we wanted to promote some InfoPath text to SharePoint multiline text columns.   This doesn’t seem to be possible using the default “Create New Column in this library” option but can be done using site columns.

Ensuring your Submitted Forms Have Unique Names: You need to ensure that the submitted form has a unique name.  Here are couple of items you might find useful – Hannah Scott: Submit InfoPath forms to SharePoint with Unique File Name and  SharePoint User Group UK Submit InfoPath with unique filename using SharePoint Library ID.

Centrally Managed Data Connections Make it Easy to Switch from Dev to Test to Production: Converting your SharePoint data connections to centrally managed ones makes it much simpler to move your solution between servers or web applications.  To make this work you will either first need to use a data connection library for data connections, then upload these using Central Admin, or use this UDC File Authoring Tool (which is also an InfoPath template).  More information here and here.

If You Are New to InfoPath, Read Paul Culmsee’s “Humble Leave Form” Series”:  Paul Culmsee of CleverWorkarounds fame has written an amusing and useful series on InfoPath called A Tribute To The Humble Leave Form.  There are 7 parts to the series so far, all based around a leave form for the Springfield Nuclear Plant.  In part 5 Paul discusses using the UserProfile web service to get more useful info about the user completing the form. 

And More Information on Getting User Information Without Code: Here are a couple more posts on getting user information from Itay Shakury and Clayton Cobb.

I hope others embarking on InfoPath/Forms Services projects find some of this useful!

Posted in Collaboration, InfoPath, Microsoft SharePoint, Office | 1 Comment »

Planning for SharePoint 2010

Posted by workerthread on May 13, 2009

So, lots of discussion in the SharePoint community following this post from the Microsoft SharePoint Team on preliminary system requirements for SharePoint Server 2010.

We’ve known for quite a while now that the next release of SharePoint will be 64-bit only.  The new and interesting information is:

It will require 64-bit Windows Server 2008 or 2008 R2.  In other words, you won’t be able to use Windows Server 2003, even if it is a 64-bit version.

It will also require 64-bit SQL Server, either 2008 or 2005.  In fact Microsoft best practice suggests that in a SharePoint farm, the SQL Server boxes should be the first candidate for 64-bit technology anyway, but this certainly gives you more reason to go 64-bit.

Now it’s worth bearing in mind we are talking about a product version which isn’t even in a full beta yet, so it’s going to be a while before real deployments (probably second half of 2010 for those pioneers who aren’t afraid of arrows).  But the points covered in the post should certainly be taken into consideration, particularly if you are in the planning stage and looking at hardware and software selection.  Also Microsoft are promising a much easier upgrade path this time, which is why they’ve put the Upgrade Checker into Service Pack 2.

If you are investigating 64-bit now, I would recommend taking a look at the Combined Knowledge whitepaper on how to move MOSS2007 from 32-bit to 64-bit which you can download from here (lots of other good downloads there as well). 

You might also be interested in best practices for using virtualisation technologies in a SharePoint farm.  If so, let me point you to the set of Best Practice for Virtualizing SharePoint articles from Brian Wilson of the Microsoft UK SharePoint team.

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Posted in Collaboration, Microsoft SharePoint, Office, SQL Server, Technology | 1 Comment »

SharePoint Knowledgebase Part 2 – Creating a Knowledge Base Site

Posted by workerthread on February 17, 2009

In part 1 I talked about my favourite SharePoint Knowledge Base sites, places I look to frequently for SharePoint information.  In this post I’m going to talk about resources available if you want to create your own SharePoint Knowledge Base site or site collection.

What is a Knowledge Base?

A quick check on Wikipedia gives us this:

“Human-readable knowledge bases are designed to allow people to retrieve and use the knowledge they contain. They are commonly used to complement a help desk or for sharing information among employees within an organization. They might store troubleshooting information, articles, white papers, user manuals, or answers to frequently asked questions. Typically, a search engine is used to locate information in the system, or users may browse through a classification scheme.”

And that immediately raises the question you should ask first – what information problem am I trying to address here?  For example, do I want a site where users can post questions and other users can answer them?  Or maybe I already have a set of papers, manuals or other documentation which I need to upload onto a site, possibly adding more value with SharePoint metadata such as classification, topic area, or review date?

Out of the Box Functionality

The good news is that we can get a lot of that functionality “out of the box” with SharePoint.  Judicious use of document libraries, Wiki Pages and simple custom lists will give you a nice, easy-to navigate structure for for your body of knowledge.  All of these can have an approval process added to them and I would also recommend adding a review date column where appropriate so that key personnel can get a “due for review” view of the list or library. 

Also, think about how you want to categorise your documents and articles and use one or more custom lists as lookup columns for use in views or as filters.   A good example of this approach can be seen in the End User SharePoint case study Pages and Sites in SharePoint 2007.

Microsoft’s Free Knowledge Base Template for WSS 3.0

This is a free download from Microsoft, one of the “fantastic 40 templates” and could be worth a look if you want to get some ideas.  It’s an administrator template, which means it needs to be deployed onto the server rather than uploaded as a site template (stp) file.  It includes pre-defined content types which let site users upload documents or articles and cross-reference.  Ian Morrish is hosting all 40 templates here, so you can try it out first to see if it suits your requirements.

Take Advantage of Search Keywords and Best Bets

If you are using SharePoint Server 2007 or indeed Search Server Express, make sure you are regularly reviewing search usage data and use this information to create and update search keywords and Best Bets.  Your users will get much more value out of your solution if they can quickly find what they’re looking for.

Zevenseas – Anatomy of a SharePoint Solution

Daniel McPherson has a series of posts covering the Anatomy of a SharePoint Solution.  The solution is in fact an employee blogging platform but many features of the approach used could apply to a knowledge base solution.  And some of the custom features they are using, such as Tagged Links, are available as free downloads.  They have also developed custom “Most Discussed” and “Most Viewed” features, something I am frequently asked about by clients (but not available for free unfortunately).

Other Free Stuff

Here are a couple of other free add-ons which might be useful for a knowledge base implementation (note, these are community contributions, so don’t normally come with any warranty – use at your own discretion):

SharePoint Document Rating System – lets users rate documents by applying a number of stars.

Ton Stegeman’s List Item Filter and Content by Type web parts – both provide nice ways to make it easier for users to filter and locate content.

SharePoint Knowledge Base Solution Accelerator from Bamboo Solutions

Last but by no means least, take a look at the Bamboo Knowledge Base Solution Accelerator.  The licence price for this solution is currently $2,000, but that’s pretty good if you consider how much a bespoke development might cost.  It incorporates the key features you’ll need to get your Knowledge Base up and running, including categorisation, search, questions and answers, ratings and most popular articles.  There’s a trial download available here, or for a two-minute overview of how it works, take a look at this (note, I updated this on 26 Sept 2012 as URL  for Bamboo video needed fixing):

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Posted in Collaboration, Microsoft SharePoint, Office | 7 Comments »