SharePoint / Office 365 serving as a Virtual Data Room

We recently had a request to set up a SharePoint environment to serve as a less featured version of a virtual data room so that an organization could make available documents to external users and organizations. SharePoint was chosen as the environment by the client because of the relative speed in which the needed components could be set up.

In this particular case, the client needed various other organizations to access certain files they would make available for a short amount of time. Rather than setting up a dropbox and going through the motions of inviting users to it and worrying about limitations imposed by drop box, the team asked us to spin up a SharePoint site for the purpose of sharing the files.

A single document library was created with the necessary folders for each outside organization. Access to each folder was granted to a corresponding group, so that each user into the system would only see their folder. The client could then drop the correct documents into each organization folder, and then simply invite those external users into the site and into the corresponding group.

This was set up in half a day and required minimal training to the client. External sharing in SharePoint and Office 365 is the driving force behind this particular solution. For this particular case, the invited users only needed a Microsoft account of some kind whether that be another Office 365 account, or an outlook account. More information on external sharing can be found here

Document Sharing Options in Office 365 (OneDrive, SharePoint, etc)

At McKula Inc., we often work with and recommend Microsoft’s Office 365 service when potential customers ask about document management and sharing. Various plans that include different services are offered by Microsoft, often times the featured offered in these plans depend on the level of the plan you purchase. Specifically when it comes to document sharing options utilizing Office 365, we talk about the business and enterprise plans, though there are educational, nonprofit, government, and home plans. One of the benefits of an Office 365 plan, is the suite of products included, which often includes all the Office applications such as Word, Excel.

Microsoft bills the plans on a per user basis, so for example if you have 5 users in your office and you want them to have access to the Office 365 Business Premium plan, each user would need a license purchased for their account. If that particular user leaves, and a new user is hired, you can transfer the license to the new user fairly easily through the administration area offered in Office 365. Each user would have access to those Office applications mentioned above, as well as other features included in the Office 365 Business Premium plan such as SharePoint.

Microsoft has essentially split file sharing service into two parts – OneDrive and SharePoint. OneDrive is the user-based file sharing. We would describe is as a “My Documents in the cloud”. It is effective for helping users store their own documents in a safe, secure location – while providing them with some sharing capabilities with other users as needed. It is effective for getting attachments out of email and great for backing up material (so it doesn’t exist solely on a PC). OneDrive is available on all the Office 365 Business plans.

SharePoint is a broad set of tools that allows you to build more customized collaborative solutions. It serves a wide set of purposes. In the case of file sharing, you may want to use a canned SharePoint solution called Office 365 Teams. This particular solution is geared towards file sharing and collaboration between set groups of users like departments, project teams, company initiatives, etc. Teams is a very slimmed down, lean, easy-to-learn version of it – that also combines file sharing with conversations, OneNote, and chat. SharePoint is only available on the Office 365 Business Premium and Office 365 Business Essentials plan, as well as the Enterprise E1, E3, and E5 plans.

The solution that works best for you can depend on many factors. If you have any questions or just wish to learn more about what Microsoft offers within it’s Office 365 plans, contact us today.

What Google’s Security Flag Means to Your Web Site and SEO

Google has been pushing more and more for web sites to secure themselves with HTTPS encryption and in July 2018 they will take a larger step utilizing their Chrome browser to identify non-secure sites to users.  According to google, over 68% of traffic in Chrome on both Android and Windows is now secure while over 78% of Chrome traffic on Chrome OS and Mac is secure.  If your current web site is not secured with HTTPS encryption, you are currently falling behind certainly other sites on the internet, but more importantly you may be falling behind your competitors web sites.

Could this damage your search engine rankings (SEO)?

It is rumored that security of a site may factor in how the site is rated and ranked in their search engine algorithms.  This may mean that if your site is not secured, you may begin to lose your ranking in google’s search results.  While Google does not often release how it’s algorithm works or changes, it can be assumed at some point the ranking of the site may partly be determined by security of a web site the same way Google may determine the ranking of a site based on how responsive it is to mobile platforms.  Certainly with the number of Chrome users, the security of a web site now being placed front and center by Chrome may have your visitors going elsewhere if they noticed you are not a secure site.

Ensure your web site is secured with an SSL certificate.

HTTPS encryption involves the installation of an SSL certificate on the web server that serves your web site.  It activates a secure connection between the user’s browser and the server that is hosting the web site.  There are numerous ways to ensure your site is secured with an SSL certificate, both freely and with a cost.  The difference usually depends on how long the certificate is valid and whether it’s a feature that is included with a hosting package.

What McKula Inc. is doing.

McKula Inc. is currently converting all the sites we host to a platform which will allow us to take advantage of a free certificate system to ensure that our clients web sites are secured at no cost to them.  If you have any questions about a web site that you own with regards to security, please do not hesitate to call us at (724) 424-1130.



ShopMP Phone Application Launch

A phone application for Mt. Pleasant businesses and customers

The developers here at McKula Inc. recently had the great experience of working with the Mt. Pleasant business district authority to bring a phone application idea to fruition.  It’s always enjoyable to work on something that will benefit the entire community and the businesses within, and that’s the opportunity we had over the past few months.  ShopMP is a phone application that will help connect the small businesses in the Mt. Pleasant area with their customers.  We’ve seen large corporations make various specials available to users who download their application, and ShopMP does that only in a wide scale to all the businesses in the business authority area.

This particular application was developed utilizing Cordova with Ionic serving as the front end, and was developed for both Android and Apple phones.  The application utilizes push notifications to alert users of new specials or deals that have been added by local businesses in the area.  When opening the app, users are first presented with a “business of the day” providing information about a local business as well as a special or deal that the business may be offering at that time.

Along with the business directory, users can browse upcoming events in the area, a list of important local contacts, and a business directory that is searchable by category.  They also have access to a list of specials or deals that are currently being offered locally.  Businesses will have access to all the data associated with views and clicks of both their business individually as well as any specials or deals that they offer.  Download the application today by searching “ShopMP” on Google Play or the App Store.  For more information about the Mount Pleasant Business District Authority, click here.

SharePoint Branding and Customization

Often times a client interested in SharePoint wants to do something, sometimes small and sometimes drastic, to change the look of the out of the box SharePoint site. The basic branding changes include a few color palette changes and a logo placement. Eventually though, a client will want to alter some of the layout, remove a menu, or wish to lay out a page that just is not possible with the page layouts offered in SharePoint.

The first place to start branding your site can be with the SharePoint’s master page. SharePoint’s most recent version offers two out of the box master page layouts, named Oslo and Seattle. Seattle is the layout that most people who have used SharePoint are accustomed to, and Oslo utilizes a top line of navigation as opposed to a left menu that Seattle employs. These master pages can be customized to fit the branding requirements of the client as needed.

Web Parts are a fairly popular option for adding content to a SharePoint site. When creating a page in SharePoint, the user can opt for certain layout options that provide positions to place Web Parts. In some cases a client may find these layout options limited and unsuited for their needs. Custom page layouts can fill the void and provide these clients with the customization that meets their requirements.

Microsoft recently released the SharePoint color pallette tool which will provide an easier method for customizing all the colors involved in a SharePoint layout. Previously, a custom css stylesheet was the method for making site wide color changes, but utilizing SharePoint color pallettes make this job a whole lot easier. Stylesheets and css can still be used in certain cases to make precision like changes to a layout, along with some client side javascript or jquery.

A client may want to match their SharePoint environment to their external facing web site, or may just want to provide their users with a fresh look as opposed to the default SharePoint experience. In either case, there are plenty of avenues to make things look just right when it comes to a SharePoint site to change the generic out of the box look.

What is the most cost effective way to convert complex Lotus Notes databases?

Lotus Notes was a very effective tool for its time.   The platform allowed for the effective deployment of applications that could range in size – from simple expansions of existing database templates to highly customized and complex applications.

Converting mail files and templates has been done.     Many partners have developed advanced tools and techniques that makes performing a Lotus Notes migration a very painless process for the consumer.    But what do you do about the more complex applications?

The McKula Inc solution

Our methodology with complex Lotus Notes migrations is to take a very detailed and specific look at the application.   We do not rely on tools to attempt to estimate the application based upon forms, views, and agents.    We rely on our team and their experience to give you the best estimates for effort to convert your applications.     We perform a detailed assessment that includes interviews with the business users and a detailed analysis of the application by our own Lotus Notes developers.     Once we have completed our interviews and assessment, we will present you with a path to moving the application to a possible technology (such as SharePoint) along with an estimate of effort to do so.

When it comes to actual database conversion, we again rely on our experience working with both Lotus Notes and Microsoft technologies to build a new solution.     We are also available to assist with any data migration and constructing tools (if necessary) to assist you in moving your Lotus Notes data.    Our team has experience with common Lotus Notes data migration tools – including DocAve, Dell Migrator, and SWING.

Our strategy has been successful in converting complex Lotus Notes applications for many large, enterprise clients.     Contact us today if you have a challenging Lotus Notes migration on your schedule or would just like to ask some questions regarding a potential Lotus Notes migration opportunity.

I can’t find files in our file share – You need SharePoint

The File Share Problem

We’ve got a current customer that is facing a common problem as their file share grows. Nobody follows a naming convention, versioning is done with random bits of information like the date or month mixed into the document name, and files that may belong in more than one place are impossible to find. This is one of the perfect situations to leverage SharePoint metadata for files and document libraries.

The SharePoint Solution

Tagging documents with metadata is similar to tagging your friends in a Facebook photo. SharePoint allows you to manage what data you would like to be tag-gable to an uploaded document or even a document library. Rather than organizing your files into folders, which could get layers deep with no easy way to determine where a document current exists or should exists – leveraging SharePoint metadata would allow you to store your documents with a more linear approach – utilizing search and filter features that would use the selected metadata to find the documents you are looking for.

Our current customer has a need for a document to belong to a few separate areas. In their current file storage solution, this document can only live in one of those areas, and whomever is looking for it either must know this location or search through multiple areas until they find it. SharePoint’s metadata allows them to tag this document with multiple tags – making this document far easier to find. This also solves a concurrency problem, the document only lives once on the site as well.

Document versioning is another sore spot that SharePoint solves for this current customer. Rather than having users making versioned copies of files and inevitably failing to adhere to a naming convention, SharePoint takes care of all versioning issues – providing a clean way to retrieve older versions of the documents in the library.

For this customer – SharePoint’s document library functionality and metadata solution was a perfect solution to their needs.

Custom Online Forms in Incident Tracker Application

With cloud-based web applications, lack of customization is always a pain point for a customer’s needs.  Online incident management is just one of those situations where the creator of the software package may have included certain fields that a customer may or may not want, but also left out relevant or required fields related to a customer’s absolute needs.  Customization is the solution, but often this can be costly for the customer and, in some cases, not a feasible option for the creator of the solution.

Incident Tracker by McKula Inc. recently received one of the more exciting updates in the applications 10+ year lifespan.  While the customization of a form was previously possible, we can now seamlessly integrate multiple custom sections directly into the form that is used to report incidents.

This feature allows us to replicate nearly any form for an Incident. In addition to this new feature capturing all the required information, workflows and reporting features work directly with the custom fields as well. This provides the ultimate flexibility to our customers.

Custom forms are just another customer centric feature in a whole list offered by Incident Tracker, making it one of the most feature packed applications available for incident management and tracking.  For more information – visit the Incident Tracker web site today.

Office 365 Who To Call List with JSLink Customization

Office 365 JSLink

The Problem

This past week we had a request from a client to display a list of employees to call based on a selected department.  They asked that the menu specifically be displayed on the left side of the screen with the department users displayed in two columns in a box like display.  They also needed to be able to manage not only the users and their information, but the departments as well.

The Solution

We needed some custom lists to allow the client to update their own departments and call lists.  We provided a person link field to help with photographs, along with some custom fields that the client could use to better explain why that particular user should be called.

The challenge came in both the menu and the custom display.  For the menu – we utilized a content editor web part that linked to a custom html page.  This custom page grabbed the department list and structure from the SharePoint API for lists and formatted it utilizing some custom css and javascript.

Clicking on a department would push that selected department into the query string – which would give us a way to determine which users to show.  We used a Query String Filter Web Part on the page to facilitate sending the values to our display web part area which was linked to our Who To Call list view.

To achieve a customized look of this list, we took advantage of a JSLink setup which allowed us to customize the list view to suit the customers needs.

Bootstrap provided us some layout options to achieve the look the client desired. Adding the javascript file under Master Page Gallery then Display Templates as a Javascript Display Template allowed us to then use it as a JSLink file for our view.

Nintex Forms and Workflows

The main tools to utilize in SharePoint development of forms and workflows have been InfoPath and SharePoint Designer.  However, with Microsoft’s latest updates in 2016, new versions of InfoPath and SharePoint Designer were missing from the list.  Microsoft has stated that there won’t be new versions of InfoPath, and it seems to be the case with Designer as well.  Both will be supported by Microsoft for years to come, but existing versions aren’t very intuitive.  Without future improvements, it may be time for businesses to look at other options.  One such option that stands out from the rest is Nintex Workflows and Forms

Nintex extends SharePoint’s functionality, giving a user-friendly way to create what would normally take extensive programming to achieve.  The two products they offer are Nintex Forms and Nintex Workflows.  They can be purchased and utilized separately if needed.  Nintex is also compatible with both SharePoint on-premise and Office 365.

Workflows are key in automating processes that would normally require a manual effort.  Workflows can be either scheduled to run or can be triggered by an event.  Nintex Workflows accomplishes this simply by point-and-click.  Nintex Workflows provides an interface with drag and drop actions that can be specifically configured to users’ needs.  In the workflow designer, you are given a flowchart view of the actions within the workflow.  A menu of draggable actions are shown to the left of this section.  Email notifications, setting SharePoint fields, assigning a task to users, and triggering another workflow are all standard options in the menu.  In addition, actions normally reserved for programming can be employed, such as setting variables, loops, and if-statements.

Forms are critical for easily capturing information and setting fields in SharePoint.  Similar to Nintex Workflows, forms can be built through Nintex using drag and drop.  A variety of form controls are available in the menu that can be placed on the form’s canvas.  These include all the basic form fields like labels, textboxes, checkboxes, and radio lists.  Once placed on the canvas, the fields can be connected to SharePoint fields.  However, there is also a tab containing all the fields in the associated SharePoint list.  These can be dragged onto the canvas as well, looking to column type to determine which form control is necessary.  For more advanced users, there is a section in the settings to add CSS and JavaScript to extend Nintex out of the box functionality.  The configuration options for each field allows for CSS classes and JavaScript IDs to be set.

Nintex will be an additional cost to SharePoint’s out of the box fees, but will allow for more extensive forms and workflows to be created with far less development time.  An additional advantage to Nintex is that a programming background is not required when setting up basic workflows and forms.  However, when working on more intricate solutions, programming experience certainly helps.