Access integration with SharePoint

Microsoft Access Logo
Microsoft Access Logo

This post will be a short one! The reason for that is because I’m just going to mention a solution a coworker is working on at the moment. He hasn’t ironed out all of the kinks yet. We’ve been dealing with the issue of users using MS Access databases. Unfortunately in the newer version of Access 2007, Microsoft has removed the ability to split your databases and merge them later. People would split the databases so that they could have multiple people entering data and then merge them later.

This same functionality can be achieved through SharePoint. However, you still have to “Publish” to SharePoint so it’s not in real time. Today he showed me how to link a database to a SharePoint site so that changes to the Access database are replicated in real time in SharePoint and vice versa. This means that we will be able to maintain the integrity of an Access database, but allowing users to make real time modifications either through SharePoint or Access. We still have a lot of testing to do – but this definitely looks exciting! I’ll post again when we’ve ironed out the entire process.

Chatting in SharePoint

As part of my project responsibilities, I’m tasked with looking for additional features to add to SharePoint to make it more of a community website. Now if you’ve used SharePoint, you’ll know that it has some great collaboration features, but it’s still not quite there when it comes to full communications. For example, it has no chat feature. It also has no way for people to instant message one another. MySites definitely give the “useful” user profile tool – but that’s not much to shake a stick at when it comes to communications. If you think about sites like Facebook – they have great communication features. Think about ways to share bookmarks, message online friends, add friends, blacklist friends, create groups, blog, post on forums, etc. Some of these features exist in SharePoint but not in such a clean way.

The first feature that I went looking for was a live chat for SharePoint. I came across a free web part called the chatterbox.

http://cks.codeplex.com/Release/ProjectReleases.aspx?ReleaseId=5021

Some additional reading on it : http://blogs.msdn.com/sharepoint/archive/2007/05/15/chatterbox-persistent-chat-session-for-sharepoint.aspx

This has already been deployed on our team sites – but we’re not sure if we like it yet.  I was hoping that it would be a plug and play web part that you could simply add to the gallery and users could use – but it requires some configuration in order to make it work. However, we’re still refining a process for rolling it out – and as soon as we have a plan  – I’ll definitely post something about how it has worked for us.

Project Management – All Hail the Mighty SharePoint Task List

When most people think about SharePoint they think of document management. Unfortunately it’s often used just as a document repository and an online calendar. I thought those features were cool but I quickly gravitated towards the task management features of SharePoint. I will add a caveat that I actually attended training for “SharePoint for Project Managers”. It was a good training, but it didn’t really teach me anything I didn’t already know. What I did like is that it gave suggestions about scenarios you could use SharePoint in. In the spirit of the training, I thought I’d share my favorite project management tool : The Task List.

Out of the box – the task list is pretty cool. The default columns include the task, who it is assigned to, status, and priority (amongst other things). This works great out of the box – but here’s how I modified a task list to expand on its capabilities.

1 – Adding additional columns to match your work.

I created an additional column for the “Type of support”. In this case my project has people with very different skillsets. Therefore I wanted to be able to sort the tasks by the type of activity / support provided. I also added another column for the total number of hours to complete the task. By adding these two columns, I am now able to get totals of the numbers of hours required to complete types of tasks. I can also get the number of hours spent on work by the person they were assigned to.

2 – Creating Views

The out of the box views are great for the task list. I created user specific views. Therefore, if you came to our team site, you can view tasks only assigned to you. This makes it easy for team members to know what’s pending.

3 – Creating a user dashboard

To assist team members, I created a page which displayed 3 things for a team member: Recurrent tasks assigned to you, incomplete ad-hoc tasks assigned to you, and a third – completed tasks. I encourage my team to use this list because it doubles as a record for your achievements. This works great around annual review time!

4 – Using email alerts

I turned on the alerts feature for the task list. Team members get an email notifying them that a task was assigned. They also get email reminders when tasks are changed and when a task becomes overdue.

5 – Creating views for meetings

For weekly meetings, I use the task list as a status update tool. Finally – no need to put together status updates! I also don’t need to track what I’ve assigned because it’s all in the team site.

6 – Using due dates to help staff prioritize

Although it is more work up front, I carefully choose appropriate due dates for assigned tasks. This makes it easier for staff to look at their tasks and prioritize based on due dates.

These tips have made my SharePoint task list extremely useful.

SharePoint LMS – the first steps

SharePoint LMS
SharePoint LMS

So needless to say, I work in a SharePoint friendly environment. I’ve been tasked with finding a learning management system that can integrate cleanly into SharePoint. It’s no wonder that I typed “SharePoint LMS” into Google – and up popped a LMS called SharePoint LMS. It seems pretty robust – and coupled with the ability for a SharePoint developer to improve the look and feel – and it seems like the perfect solution.

The SharePoint LMS folk were nice enough to give us a 60 day free trial so that we could test the system. We were unable to get it to install on WSS cleanly – but it installed on MOSS with no problem. I’ll probably go more into detail about the functionality – but it seems ok. It’s SCORM compliant – and we were able to upload SCORM lessons successfully. We used a test file from www.SCORM.com to test that.

The reporting seems kind of weak – but we’re confident that we can create a more robust report with some minor development. Anyway – the LMS can be found here : www.sharepointlms.com . I’ll definitely be posting more about how our integration of this 3rd party tool goes.

My first SharePoint post!

SharePoint Logo
SharePoint Logo

I’ve decided to start blogging about some of the more interesting things I’ve been doing with SharePoint. Before I start I guess it’s worth giving some background to my experience with SharePoint . I started back as an intern at CDC. I did an assessment of a password protected section of a website and wrote a full assessment of what worked, what didn’t and how it could be approved. At the time I didn’t know it, but I was starting to understand the true value of portals. After that internship, an opportunity to work on a public facing SharePoint portal popped up. That position set me on a path that would have me trying to see just how creative a portal could get.

Now that portal was SharePoint 2003 portal server (also known as SharePoint 2.0). While it had a lot of good features, that version of SharePoint was really limited in its collaborative features. Sure we could build out areas on the fly, we could develop new web parts, user management was easy, but it was clunky as a web-based platform. Out of the box SharePoint simply doesn’t have that clean website feel. And then there’s the question of how dynamic it could be. SharePoint 2.0 simply didn’t have triggers and interactions (later known as workflows). It’s great for content management, but it really didn’t do much for managing processes. I liked the project, but I missed the very beginning stages of that project. I really wanted to take my web development from just websites to really giving birth to a communication portal. I worked n two such portals for close to 2 years. After that – an opportunity popped up that I simply couldn’t pass on. A new position opened up, as a web content manager, to lead the development of a website for monitoring and evaluation specialists around the world, working on HIV/AIDS. Oh I didn’t mention – my work at CDC (as a contractor) was supporting Global HIV/AIDS. So the position opened up, and it matched my background perfectly! At the time I didn’t know that it would be a chance to build a SharePoint portal… but that’s a story for another day.

So – quickly jumping to the present – I got that job, and I got a chance to build a SharePoint public facing website – www.globalhivmeinfo.org. I’ll be blogging about some of the cooler things I’ve done with it. I’m constantly trying to push the envelope with SharePoint. I developed a lot of training for it, customized for configured team sites. I have built some nice little team site configurations for project management. I’ll be blogging about that too. I don’t consider myself an expert on SharePoint – just someone who has a lot of respect for the platform and is more than happy to share.
So that’s my (not so short) introduction on my SharePoint background! That’s all for today.