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Archive for February, 2009

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 »

SharePoint Project Management with IntelliGantt and Bamboo Calendar Plus

Posted by workerthread on February 10, 2009

I’m very impressed with the potential uses of SharePoint tasks for project management, and recently I’ve been working with the IntelliGantt Add-in for Microsoft Project 2007 to extend these capabilities.  The reason for this is that people want to create dependencies between tasks in their project (out of the box SharePoint can’t do this, but MS Project of course can) but still want to use the SharePoint tasks assignment and progress tracking capabilities.  I’ve found Bamboo Solutions Calendar Plus web part works well here too, particularly the Gantt view which hooks up nicely to the project task list.  More on this from Bamboo here.

One of the nice features of the Calendar Plus Gantt view is the option to show milestones, as coloured flags, diamonds or triangles.  The web part lets you select any Yes/No column in your task or calendar list as the milestone column.

Now, the IntelliGantt Add-in for Project 2007 lets you select a variety of Project 2007 columns which can be synchronised with SharePoint, but early on I discovered that the Milestone column wasn’t one of them.  I got in touch with John Milan from TeamDirection Inc (IntelliGantt’s vendor and developer) to suggest this as an enhancement and I’m pleased to say that within a matter of days a new build of the IntelliGantt add-in was available and included the option of exporting the MS Project milestone column to SharePoint.

In Microsoft Office Project 2007, a milestone is a reference point that marks a major event in a project and is used to monitor the project’s progress. Any task with zero duration is automatically displayed as a milestone. You can also mark any other task of any duration as a milestone using Task Information like so:

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I created a small test project and identified milestones accordingly.  Here’s a list of the tasks in Project, with the milestone column showing:

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Using the IntelliGantt Add-in for Microsoft Project, you can customize Workspace Settings when Sharing a project to a SharePoint list, and “push” the milestone column out to the task list:

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Once the task is shared to a SharePoint site (I used a standard Project Tasks list as the starting point), IntelliGantt creates the new Milestone column as Yes/No data:

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And we can create a SharePoint view of the list to show milestones only:

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Now we can use the Bamboo Calendar Plus web part to display a Project Gantt.   We can create a web part page, add the Bamboo Calendar Plus web part to it, and select our Milestone column for display in the Gantt:

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Which gives us a nice Gantt view in SharePoint with milestones clearly visible (here as flags):

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Calendar Plus also has list filtering options, so we can choose only to show milestones as you can see here:

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Which produces this type of display:

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So far I’m very pleased with the way these products work together, and impressed with the rapid response from TeamDirection in adding the extra column.  The IntelliGantt add-in for Project 2007 uses .Net ClickOnce deployment technology, so licensed users will get the update automatically.  Also Bamboo’s Calendar Plus can use a list roll-up web part as its data source, so it should be possible to see specific tasks or milestones from multiple projects in one view.

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

Using Access 2007 To Update SharePoint Lists

Posted by workerthread on February 3, 2009

Someone asked a question on the UK SharePoint User Group Forums about moving Access data to SharePoint lists, so I thought I would illustrate some of the Access 2007 features you can use with SharePoint.  Before starting, please note – SharePoint is not a relational database system, so don’t try to use it for full-blown relational database applications!!!  Having said that, it does work well for many smaller list-management applications for which you might have used Access or Excel, and I guess it’s possible (pure speculation here) that by the time we start hearing more about SharePoint 14 and Office 14, SharePoint and Access may be getting even closer together.

So, lets look at a SharePoint scenario:

I have a SharePoint list, in this case for contacts, and it includes a “Department” column.  This list may have been imported from Excel or Access, and the department column is currently a single line of text:

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So I create a separate custom Department list with a Title column like so:

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But at this stage, it’s not possible to edit the Contacts Department column from text to lookup, as you will see if you try to edit the Column properties:

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So instead, I am going to create a new Department column of type Lookup, and use Access to do the updating work.  First, we RENAME the existing department as OldDepartment, then create a new column of type Lookup to store the lookup values from the Department list:

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Now at the moment the Department list doesn’t contain any values, so we’ll also populate that list from a set of unique departments in the contact list.  So fire up Access 2007 and create a new blank database.   Next we link the contacts and department lists from SharePoint.  Do this by selecting the External Data tab and clicking on SharePoint list:

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The Get External Data – SharePoint site wizard starts up:

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Enter the url of the site containing the Contacts and Department lists, and be sure to select “Link to the data source by creating a linked table” option.  Then check the lists you want to link to and click OK:

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Now we’ll populate the Departments list.  from the Create tab in Access select “Query Design”:

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Add the Contacts list to the Query pane and drag OldDepartment into the grid:

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We want a unique list of departments, so open the query property sheet, and set Unique Values to “Yes”:

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This will give us our unique list of departments, and we want to append these to our empty Department list, so change the query type to Append:

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Select Department as the table you want to append to:

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Then select Title as the field you want to append to:

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Now run the query.  Access will tell you how many records will be appended, and warn that the action cannot be undone.  Once it runs, you will have a unique set of departments:

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Now we can update our department lookup column in Contacts.  Under the covers, the lookup will be stored as a number in the Contact list, and match to the ID column of a row in the Department list.  So, in effect, we want to create a query which says “look up the Department ID by matching Contacts oldDepartment with Title in Department, and add the Looked up Department ID to the Department column in Contacts”.  So we create a new Update query to do this.  If we create a query from Contacts and department, it will default to joining Contacts.Department to Department.ID:

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But we don’t want this, so delete the join, and instead drag Department.Title to join to Contacts.OldCompany like so:

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We need to change the query type to an Update Query:

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And we will update the Contacts.Department to the value of matching Department ID:

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Now we can run the query, and when it completes, our lookup values will be updated:

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We can now delete the OldDepartment column from our SharePoint list, and we will have available Department values in the correct lookup column:

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And that’s it!

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Posted in Collaboration, Microsoft SharePoint, Office | 46 Comments »