Slacking & a story

I know I’ve been slacking on this whole blog challenge thing. CRM has been taking up more and more of my time along with SharePoint going gang busters. Not to mention it takes real effort to put blog posts (even 300 word posts) together. I have several fellow tech bloggers that I’m amazed at who can put together several stellar posts a week when I have trouble just getting one together.

Rob Collie – www.powerpivotpro.com – is one of those bloggers in particular. He puts out 2-3 blogs A WEEK and they each are all excellent as far as I’m concerned. I had the opportunity to meet Rob at #SPC13 and he is as engaging and smart in person as he is on his blog. I even got the opportunity to have drinks with him and a whole host of Microsoft Program Managers. So the story goes like this . . .

On Monday morning of the SharePoint conference I get an e-mail from Steve: “Go have dinner with this guy,” along with a link to a blog post (LINK). I’d heard Rob’s name mentioned but never really followed his blog much or considered myself a PowerPivot expert by any stretch. I had spoken on PowerPivot in SharePoint and how to set it up, but as far as using it I felt I was still a relative n00b. But Steve is a smart guy and has never steered me wrong when it came to tech or drinking so I figured what the hey. Shot Rob an e-mail and heard back within an hour or two. Instructions for Wednesday night was to stroll on down to the Experts Exchange and then go with a group of Microsoft BI folks to dinner. Sounded pretty cool.

Monday and Tuesday flew by. On Wednesday I was starting to get pretty excited and anxious all at the same time. I may work on a BI team, but I was far from a BI expert. My advice to myself was “stick to what you know lest you sound like an idiot in front of people smarter than you.”

After the conference wrapped for the day I headed down to the Experts Exchange. This is a pretty cool event at the conference where Microsoft Program Managers, MVPs, and MCMs meet with conference attendees and answer their biggest questions. It was pretty sad that Microsoft BI only had 2 tables while other Products/Topics had far more. At the BI table was Rob and several other program managers: Diego and Kay (rhymes with Hi).

We started talking about PowerPivot and SharePoint and service architecture. It was immediately apparent to me that all 3 of the guys were beyond experts at this material: THEY DESIGNED IT. Diego was a Program Manager for the Excel team and Kai was a Program Manager for the SSAS team. Very smart, very cool dudes. They broke down the architecture of PowerPivot and SharePoint to its most basic level and even took time to answer my pitiful questions.

After Experts Exchange it was time for dinner. I figured the place would be PACKED. Went over to Red Square in Mandalay Bay and sat down with a small group of about 10 or so. Not what I was expecting. I figured the place would be full of people clamoring over each other to talk with Microsoft’s BI brain trust, but sadly it looked like I was the only Microsoft customer that took Rob up on his offer. I felt like Wayne and Garth at the Aerosmith concert. Rob sat next to me, across from me was Jen Underwood, and to my right was a Senior Program Manager on the Excel team. Holy sh^t! I was a simpleton among geniuses. I – sadly – did not catch everyone’s names and nor could I keep up with all the genius talk. It was just nice to sit there and be a fly on the wall while BI experts solved the world problems. Only here these folks did have the ability to solve the world’s problems. Pretty surreal if you ask me.

After a few hours the party’s attendees started to trickle out one by one. I was determined to be the last guy there. The folks at the other end of the table meandered down to me. Come to find out they figured it was only Microsoft employees and Rob at this thing. Astonishing how they didn’t think anyone would be interested in attending. Boy were they dead wrong.

Dynamics CRM reactions

As the newly minted Dynamics CRM admin at Trek, I feel I’ve got just enough experience to be a danger to myself and others. Therefore, it’s time for a blog post.

We’re using the Microsoft hosted, Online version of CRM and it’s been interesting to find many Microsoft Partners have shied away from that choice. As opposed to SharePoint consultants pushing the Microsoft O365 kool-aid, it seems that many partners are pushing their own hosted versions over Microsoft’s. Very much a departure from what I’m used to.

What’s also interesting is that Microsoft CRM plays second fiddle to Salesforce.com right now. I haven’t done enough research to know who has the larger install base, but it’s definitely clear from a Marketing standpoint that Salesforce is where it’s at right now. In my native world, SharePoint is – hands-down – the king of Enterprise Content Mgmt systems, but with Microsoft CRM it feels like the product is playing catch-up.

Strategy-wise, 3 things have struck me about ensuring success for your CRM deployment:

  1. Know your processes – you have to know how your users are going to use this; “build it and they will come” does not work here
  2. Don’t make CRM a fancy front end to your ERP system – this blog post sums it up for me
  3. Social (just like in SharePoint) is king

Know your processes

I’ve read a lot of blog posts lately about failed CRM deployments that were supposed to “replace Outlook.” Replacing Outlook – while a noble pursuit – is a lackluster strategy if you don’t know how your people actually use Outlook to begin with when it comes to managing customers. It means you have to ask the hard questions and get your hands dirty with your users. Document as much as you can when it comes to process. That way expectations can be set and everyone understands how things should work.

CRM cannot be a fancy front end to ERP

The blog post I linked above did more for me than almost all the others combined. If you want to guarantee an almost certain death to your deployment, make it a front end to your ERP system. While surfacing data from your ERP system is not entirely bad, recreating ALL the data is bad. Why would I go to CRM to do some of the things I can do in my ERP system when I can just go to my ERP system and do everything.

Social is king

If you’re not collaborating in your CRM system, then you’re doing it wrong. Same can be said for SharePoint. Social is only going to get more and more important as time goes on and more people join social networks in their personal life. Obviously Microsoft sees value in Social since they dropped 2 Bil on Yammer, meaning that product is going to be ingrained in all other Microsoft products. Therefore, there are now 3 truths in life: Death, Taxes, & Social in the workplace. Get used to it.

Conclusion

So that’s what I’ve learned so far. I have more opinions on the subject of CRM, but they may/may not be right based on my experience thus far. I’ll post more as I get more “in-the-know.”

Week of January 21 update (late)

Due to a publishing glitch this post didn’t make it out last week. So pretend it’s last week and we won’t have any problems. Winking smile

On Wednesday (January 23rd) I presented my SharePoint/Yammer Case Study presentation to the UW E-Business Consortium. I got some really interesting questions and folks seemed genuinely interested in what I was talking about.

One thing that struck me from the start was that many of the decision makers in the room – the folks that are responsible for setting the collaboration and social strategies at their organizations – don’t have Facebook or LinkedIn profiles. This is akin to your dentist not having gone to dental school. I can’t stress this enough: If you’re responsible for setting policy or direction on something at your organization you need to know something about the tool. The best way to learn these tools is to actually use them. There is no Easy button here.

That Dilbert comic pretty much sums it up…

Some other points that struck me:

  • Governance and Compliance is a big point for most – everyone is paralyzed by making a decision because they’re concerned things will get out of hand, or worse, no one will use the tools. Understandable but I’d say the concerns are generally overthought.
  • Cisco vs. Lync runs RAMPANT! A lot of organizations – mine included – are using Lync for IM but Cisco for all the other communication tools (tele-presence, phone, etc.). I think most people overlook Lync as a true Unified Comm tool.
  • Collaboration tools are being used by almost everyone, every where – at least it’s good to know we’re not stuck in the 1990’s anymore with Outlook and File Shares.
  • Confidential vs. Secure vs. “I-don’t want-you-to-know-what-I-know” is a pretty common theme – I even heard one organization utter the comment “We don’t want our internal competitors choosing a tool before we choose it.” Aren’t you all on the same team?!

At the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat dealing with the same problems so you can at least take solace in the fact you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to take some calculated chances on these tools. Start small and work your way out. Never underestimate the power of the Proof-of-Concept.

#SPSSTL recap and other things

#SPSSTL (SharePoint Saturday St. Louis) was this past weekend. Very much a success. The more I go to these free events I realize just how important they are to the IT community. Both SharePoint and SQL offer these and they are absolutely worth their weight in gold. I hear the Windows Server folks are trying to start them too.

The benefits? Where do I start? First of all, they’re free. Doesn’t cost you more than your time and attention. Secondly, they feed you breakfast AND lunch. I guess there really is a free lunch in this life after all. Thirdly, you get to meet not only local talent, but you also get free access to many Microsoft MVP’s and taste-makers. Often times we look at some of these folks as absolute rock stars and we get to talk to them . . . for free! When was the last time you got to talk to Justin Bieber . . . for free?  Wait, what?

My session was entitled: Case Study: How SharePoint and Yammer shine together at Trek Bikes. I recapped all the things we’re doing at Trek to make SharePoint and Yammer work for folks. Really got down to some specific use cases and described the steps involved to go from point A to point B with each department. You can find my slides HERE. Overall, I had great attendance and the audience seemed to get in to what I was talking about. Got some awesome feedback and kudos so thank you all for that.

Several folks brought up an interesting point throughout Saturday. They don’t use Yammer at their workplace because it creates another place to save documents. Folks, odds are better than good that your workplace employs e-mail, public folders, shared drives, SharePoint, and individual workstations. That means people already have a number of places to save content. Adding Yammer will not add an exponential amount of complexity for information workers when it comes to saving things. Odds are they’re already complaining about the amount of places to save things. You can easily replace public folders with Yammer, and you may even be lucky enough to replace shared drives with SharePoint (I’m not that lucky…yet). Choosing not to deploy Yammer because it creates too many places to save documents is near-sighted and ignorant. Definitely a “throwing the baby out with the bath water” scenario. You’re dismissing all the social benefits that the tool provides just so you can make document management easier. IMHO, social takes precedence over document management. And since Yammer integrates so well with SharePoint’s search I highly recommend you rethink your approach on Yammer if you’ve avoided it up until now.

Some of the other sessions I attended were JWillie’s Rich vs. Reach presentation. Very interesting approach and very interesting topic. Felt much more conversation-ary and collegial. Would like to try that approach in the future. Jeff talked about how mobile is becoming more and more common and he shared some of the things Rightpoint is doing. Always cool to see how other companies are approaching this impending tidal wave.

Caught Bill Feldker and Benjamin Niaulin’s presentations on SharePoint 2013’s Search capabilities. You’ll need to completely change your way of thinking about SharePoint Search in 2013. An entirely new subset of SharePoint careers will be developed around Search in 2013. Just way too many good things to mention when it comes to Search. Both gentlemen did an outstanding job on their presentations. I seriously thought Tamara Bredemus’ head was going to explode during Benjamin’s talk. 

And finally, I caught Andy Milsark’s 2013 upgrade talk. Pretty amazing how far we’ve come in such a short time. The upgrade path from WSS 3.0 to MOSS was long, daunting, and scary, and that was just 5 years ago when people started doing that upgrade en masse. The SP2010 to SP2013 upgrade can be covered in an hour and realistically be accomplished in one day on small farms. Unbelievable.

I know I promised you the “greatest test environment since sliced bread,” but I’ve been busy with other things. I’ll try to get the first installment written this weekend.

PowerShell v3 & SharePoint 2010

I’m finding more and more that I’m late to the party for some things in SharePoint.

Apparently, SharePoint 2010 isn’t compatible with PowerShell v3.

Basically, when you try to use the SharePoint 2010 Management Shell you’ll be greeted with this:

clip_image001

Once you encounter this lovely error you’ll think you’ve done something horribly wrong. Is something up with your account? Did you break something? Are you losing it?

Nope to all of the above.

To get around this, type: powershell –v 2

Then hit enter. You now have regular ole PowerShell loaded. You’ll have to load the SharePoint snap-in if you want to do anything with SharePoint though. For anyone who may need it, the snap-in is:

Add-PSSnapin Microsoft.SharePoint.PowerShell

You can check out all the details here in this Connect article:

http://connect.microsoft.com/PowerShell/feedback/details/746908/powershell-3-0-and-sharepoint-2010

Hopefully this gets fixed in the next CU.

Update!

I know I promised you the "Mother of all test environments.” But I’ve been busy. Let me tell you what I’ve been up to:

  1. Taking on new responsibilities at work:
    • Taking over Dynamics CRM – Our CRM resource decided to leave Trek a few weeks ago. Our team will be taking over the administration of our deployment and I’ll be one of the main points of contact. Hopefully I’ll have some good blog posts coming out around the topic. Does that make me the Dynamics Wookiee too? (har har har)
    • Working more with Active Directory – cool stuff going on here
    • SSRS Integration with SharePoint – I could write an entire blog around this subject alone, especially my experiences around making SSRS talk with DB2
    • More and more training, especially around Excel Services
    • Learning more about SQL and the inter-workings with SharePoint
    • More developer type experiences
    • Yammer integrations
  2. Getting ready for SQL Saturday St. Louis. I had the pleasure of speaking there last year and it was a blast. Well sort of, my CloudShare environment died on me 3 hours before my session, but that experience aside, it was definitely a highlight for me. I’ll be speaking about SharePoint and Yammer at Trek so stay tuned there.
  3. Blog challenge at work – gotta write 1 blog post a week so I ‘m getting my ducks all lined up so I can pwn.
  4. The holidays [nuff said]

  5. Getting my head wrapped around SharePoint 2013 – so many cool things there it’s not even funny.
  6. And finally, planning world domination

On a completely unrelated side note (and because I need to get to 300 words in for this post due to point 3) I did all my holiday shopping through Amazon. Muuuuuuuch better way to go when it comes to getting everyone’s Xmas gifts. Amazon Prime was money too. Highly suggest you give it a try.

The mother of all Test environments (series)

So a few weeks ago I set out to create the mother of all Test environments at work running the latest Microsoft tech. We’re talking SharePoint 2013, Lync 2013, and Exchange 2013 all running on Windows Server 2012. In addition, my SQL backend is SQL 2012 SP1, and my workstations are running Windows 8 with Office 2013. All brand new tech that I won’t be able to put into production for months (if not 201 4).

It’s all set up now and let me tell you…it is a thing of beauty.

I’m going to putting together a series of articles outlining all the lessons learned and the pitfalls I ran into. The series WILL NOT be regurgitating MSDN and Technet articles; 1) because Microsoft pays their writers handsomely to write that stuff; and, 2) I’m a lazy blog writer.

My first post will be around setting up my VMs and the Domain (complete with AD Certificate Services). Who’s excited!? I know this kid is:

Search adventures with SSRS in Integrated Mode

At Trek we’re all about the BI. Just so happens I sit within the BI team so it was no surprise when Steve wanted to go with all the BI tools. PowerPivot and PerformancePoint were already setup before I got there. With SQL 2012 we get an overhauled instance of SSRS in Integrated mode and the newly introduced Power View. SSRS is now a Service App rather than a separate application so it makes deployment a lot easier. I won’t bore you with the details of installing as you can find all sorts of other bloggers walking you through the steps. What most bloggers don’t cover are the details of searching for .rdl’s.

Installation is pretty easy and getting your report libraries up and running are relatively straightforward. We even managed to create a few shared data sources and reports the day we went live. Real “Ready, Fire, Aim” type stuff. We happened to do the install on a Friday so we didn’t really put everything through its paces until Monday. When we began emailing links to rdl’s around we started getting complaints that users couldn’t see these reports. In addition, rdl’s weren’t showing up in search results.

Now what?

Posted this to the technet forums: LINK. Nauzad was pretty helpful in his reply in pointing me in the right direction. Come to find out, rdl’s are not extensions SharePoint search crawls by default. That’s an easy fix. Navigate to Central Admin > Manage Service Apps > Search Service App > File Types > add “rdl” and you’re golden. Kick off an incremental crawl and you should start to see rdl’s showing up in your results.

But I also noticed that only Full Owners, Site Collection Admins, and Farm admins were seeing reports in search results and in the libraries themselves.

Based on my research for the search issue I found that Report Libraries rely heavily on Publishing. Because of this, only those with Full Control rights and Site Collection Admins or Farm admins will see the rdl’s until they’re published, but it doesn’t stop there. You also have to publish the data source file as well. After some trial and error we figured this all out.

It’s relatively easy to get around the publishing requirement. Navigate to the Library Settings > Advanced Settings > check the box for “all users can see draft items.” Doing so will make all reports and data sources viewable as well as surface all reports in search regardless of published status.

For now, we’ve made the intentional decision to leave publishing on as it will allow use to security trim who has access to publish (accurate) reports and provide layer of oversight.

Issues adding add’l SharePoint server when using SP1 media

Few months back we added an app server to our farm, and – as always – it turned out to be an adventure.

Got a fresh Windows Server 2008 R2 install, joined to the domain, and applied all pertinent hotfixes and patches. While things were installing I downloaded the latest .iso’s from Volume Licensing. I went with the SP1 .iso’s as I figured this would be fine since the farm was already well past SP1. Save some time right?

Popped the dvd’s in the server and away we went. Install went fine with SharePoint so I moved on to the Office Web Apps. No incident there either.

I started up the Products Configuration Wizard and tried to join the box to the farm when I ran across an (in)convenient message telling me the Office Web App language server proofs we’re missing. But didn’t they install when I laid down Office Web Apps? What gives!?!

I commenced to Googling and I ran across this:

http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-AU/sharepointadminprevious/thread/7f728f00-2283-4fe2-9134-f31bdf9cefb6

Looks like the slipstream installers are broken. I would take a guess and say Microsoft won’t be fixing them any time soon either.

Needless to say, I ended up reformatting the hard drive and starting over. I downloaded the pre-SP1 media and installed in the following order: SharePoint 2010 pre-SP1 > Office Web Apps pre-SP1 > SharePoint 2010 SP1 > Office Web Apps SP1 > SharePoint June 2011 CU > Current SharePoint CU. Took considerably more time, but it joined the farm no problem.

Moral of the story here is if you stood up your farm prior to SP1 with Office Web Apps, and you want to add another server to the farm you’ll need to do so following the procedures I went through.

Anyone else run into this?

Remove ;# when using a SharePoint List as a data source in SSRS

I find myself creating more and more SSRS reports with a SharePoint List as the data source. If you’re like me you’ll run into this issue sooner or later; the dreaded ;#.

Generally speaking, you’ll run across this when there is a choice column setup to allow multiple values. Gina and Zach helped me put this fix together:

Function ReplaceChar(ByVal value As String) As String 

	Dim fixedString As String 

	if(String.IsNullOrEmpty(value)) then

		fixedString = String.Empty

	else

		fixedString = value.Replace(";#",", ") 
		fixedString = fixedString.substring(2, fixedString.length-2) 
		fixedString = fixedString.substring(0, fixedString.length-2) 

	end if

    Return fixedString
End Function

You’ll take this code and add it to the Code section of the Report properties. MSDN explains it pretty well for me.

How’s it work? Pretty sweet if you ask me. Starts by declaring “fixedString.” Then we go with the all important if statement. If it’s Null or blank then leave it blank. For everything else, replace ;# with a comma. But we don’t want commas at the start and end of our string so we gotta take care of those. The next two fixedString.substring statements take care of that.

When you’re ready to use the code on a particular column, right-click said column then choose Expression. From there you should see your column setup like this: =Fields!DogNames.Value. Add the following red text and you’re golden: =Code.ReplaceChar(Fields!DogNames.Value)

Enjoy!