Intranet 101: If your employees still use email to request information that’s on your intranet, your intranet is failing.

Maybe it’s too hard to update, so everyone simply assumes the information there is outdated. Maybe the search functionality consistently returns irrelevant results. Maybe it’s not accessible from a smartphone or tablet.

Whatever the reason, the result is the same: poor user adoption has doomed your intranet.

For over 30 years, we’ve been building complex intranets for businesses and organizations of all types and sizes, leveraging the latest technology platforms to create beautiful, usable intranets that solve business problems and eliminate common user pain points.

Our latest whitepaper, Building the Intranet Your Employees Expect, walks you through the building blocks required to design an intranet that not only incorporates today’s capabilities and features, but will also be an essential system that gets adopted, used and loved by your employees. Download your copy today!

In the world of SharePoint upgrades and migrations, a number of terms are thrown around and often used interchangeably. This post outlines several key terms that will be surfaced throughout a three-part series on upgrade/migration strategies for SharePoint 2013. If you would like to jump to another post, use the links below:

  • Part 1 – Definitions (this post)
  • Part 2 – Considerations Outside of SharePoint (Coming soon)
  • Part 3 – Diving into Database Attach (Coming soon)

In past revisions of SharePoint, we had multiple ways to upgrade our farms (and the content within them) to the latest version using the tooling Microsoft provides. Over the years, Microsoft used a number of terms related to the types of upgrade available:

  • In-place upgrade – Often considered the easiest approach, but the most risky. The setup of the new system is performed on existing hardware and servers.
  • Gradual upgrade – Allows for a side-by-side installation of the old and new versions of SharePoint.
  • Database attach/migration – Allows for the installation and configuration of an entirely new environment where content is first migrated, and then upgraded to the desired state.

As SharePoint matured, the number of available upgrade options dwindled. For instance, in an upgrade from SharePoint Portal Server 2003 to Office SharePoint Server 2007, we could follow any one of the three upgrade paths noted above to reach our desired end state. In an upgrade of Office SharePoint Server 2007 to SharePoint Server 2010 we still had two paths available: the in-place upgrade and the database attach approach. For SharePoint 2013, we’re left with just the database attach approach.

Before we dive further into the database attach upgrade scenario, it’s helpful to take a step back and establish a common language as we discuss the upgrade process. Read More…

My decision to join AIS six years ago was a revelation. After almost seven years spent working as an embedded IT analyst for various government customers, I joined AIS to support a customer who was implementing SharePoint.  I soaked up everything I could about this (at the time) brave new world of SharePoint. I loved it.

SharePoint 2003 had been available for use in my previous office where I had initially set up out-of-the-box team sites for working groups to support a large department-wide initiative. I found it empowering to quickly set up sites, lists and libraries without any fuss (or custom coding) to get people working together. Working with my new team, I gained insight into what we could do with this tool in terms of workflow, integration and branding. It got even better when we migrated to SharePoint 2007.  We made great strides in consolidating our websites and communicating to those who were interested exactly what the tools could do in terms of collaboration and knowledge management.

This ability for a power user to quickly create a variety of new capabilities exposed a deeper customer need – easier communications with IT.  While we had all this great expertise and firepower to create and maintain IT tools and services, our core customer base did not have an easy way to quickly and reliably communicate their needs in a manner that matched their high operational tempo. It was a problem. We needed a way for our customers to quickly and easily communicate with us in order to really hear what they needed to meet their mission goals and work more effectively. Read More…

I vividly remember the iconic scene from the 1995 box office hit Apollo 13 where a team of NASA engineers gathered around a table with a collection of mishmash spaceship junk. From this collection, the team had to create a square air filter to fit in a round receptacle so that the astronauts would not asphyxiate on CO2 in space. It’s an intense, life-or-death scenario of literally making a square peg fit in a round hole, where “failure is not an option.”

Working as a business analyst for our federal government clients means that budget, time, and resource constraints almost always play major role in any development effort. This challenge requires our team to use bit of ingenuity and a mixed bag of tools to create a solution for our customers. Read More…

Software development is a risky endeavor, with many things that can go wrong. At any moment, you may find that your budget or schedule targets have been completely missed and your developers and customers disagree about the scope and functionality of the project. In fact, numerous studies state that up to 60% of projects completely fail or massively exceed their budgetA recent study by McKinsey found that on average, most software projects over $5 million exceed their budget by 45%, turning that $5 million application into a $7+ million application.  As responsible software systems developers, we have to constantly ask ourselves – how do we prevent this from happening to our projects?  The answer is to reduce risk. Read More…
Dynamics CRM 2013 is about to be released and if you have already made a large investment into SharePoint as a development platform, you may be asking yourself why Dynamics CRM matters.  After all, you are already using a wildly successful platform that underpins collaboration tools, intranets, your ‘corporate’ social media and quite likely a base of custom applications and tools. Why would you need yet another platform if SharePoint is capable of handling everything you throw at it?

First off, let’s clear up a misconception that everyone generally has the first time they hear about Dynamics CRM: it’s not “Dynamics versus SharePoint,” it’s “Dynamics AND SharePoint.” Dynamics CRM offers some pretty significant benefits that are not available when using the SharePoint platform alone. Likewise, SharePoint has capabilities that Dynamics CRM simply wasn’t designed to even begin to replicate. The trick is knowing when and how to best leverage the benefits of each tool. Simply put, both tools need each other to offer a truly complete platform that offers you the best of everything: a collaboration tool, an intranet and content management tool, a repository for unstructured data, an application platform, and a quick and easy way to rapidly and efficiently build applications to manage structured data. Read More…

Amazon Web Services (AWS) CTO Werner Vogels offers this great piece of cloud advice: “Treat everything as a programmable resource, including data centers, networks, compute, storage and load balancers.”

In other words, automate every aspect of your (cloud-based) infrastructure.

Given AIS’ years of experience with SharePoint, we are always looking for ways to make the underlying infrastructure more cost effective, scalable and robust. Fortunately, the benefits of automation apply equally to a SharePoint 2013 farm hosted in the cloud — whether it’s the ability to dynamically provision a SharePoint 2013 farm on the fly, or the ability to scale up and down based on load, or the ability to make the SharePoint 2013 farm more fault-resilient.

We’ve written about two automated deployment approaches to SharePoint 2013; one for Amazon Web Services and one for Azure. In case you missed them…

Our AWS-based SharePoint 2013 script and source code can be found here.

Our Windows Azure-based SharePoint 2013 script and source code can be found here.

A global law firm gained a planning and billed-hours edge with a new custom SharePoint application, incorporating an intelligent data dashboard, developed by the experienced team at AIS. This custom-developed solution continues a rich history of success, as the firm views AIS as their IT project partner and a long-term extension of their team.

Background

The long-time AIS client is a top law firm with household name clients in the technology, financial, healthcare and retail industries. They staff more than 1,000 lawyers and offices in 12 cities in the United States, Europe and Asia. This client offers comprehensive legal capabilities for intellectual property, tax issues, real estate, bankruptcy, environmental, corporate law and more.

The Challenge

AIS was initially brought in to build the firm’s global intranet. The project, a SharePoint intranet application, was very successful and user adoption exceeded expectations. Around the same time, the firm hired another company to build a resource application for its main legal practice areas. But because of poor user feedback and bad performance, the application never made it to production. After nearly three years of time and money spent, the firm turned to AIS for help.

Click here to read the full case study.

In my job, I have an opportunity not afforded to most: I get to listen to all of the risks, challenges, and issues (a.k.a. problems) that other organizations face. (I know, you’re jealous, right?)  From issues with large-scale hardware deployments to the risks of implementing new federal bureaucratic form processing, I get to hear it all.  Without fail, nearly all of those discussions start with someone in the room declaring, “We do it different here.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “we do it different here” during a federal project kick-off meeting, well…I would have about twenty or thirty bucks, but that’s not my point. The point is you don’t do it differently!  Human nature is human nature and given similar constraints, regulations, policies and procedures, the outcomes will be similar.  Beyond the obvious irony in nearly all organizations declaring their uniqueness, I am struck by the actual similarities of the problems.

Read More…

I recently attended SPC12 with many of my colleagues from AIS.  One of the sessions I really enjoyed was High Availability Solutions with SharePoint Server 2013 delivered by Bill BaerThis sessions was geared toward the ITPro (admin) audience and detailed the options when making SharePoint Highly Available.

During this session I found it interesting how much time was spent talking about mirroring.  Mirroring is now considered a deprecated technology but is still supported by SharePoint 2013.  Today I’d like to break down the session and talk about my thoughts on each point.

Read More…