Just say yes to InfoPath! (with caveats)

It feels like every week I see a thread with someone relatively new to SharePoint asking about the viability of InfoPath for business forms development. The responses to these questions commonly fall into these buckets:

  1. InfoPath is the devil
  2. InfoPath is currently deprecated, end of life in 2026
  3. PowerApps is the future
  4. Just buy a 3rd party product like K2, Nintex, etc. etc. etc.

While there is merit to all of these responses, I feel for the folks engaging in these conversations because many times the answers that they are provided do not really help to address the core issue of what to do now.

I want to break down each of these common responses and provide some of my commentary.

1. InfoPath is the devil
This is perhaps my favorite response as it provides little advisement other than that the person providing feedback is not enamored with the technology. When you look at an organization’s investment in both Microsoft Office and SharePoint technologies, business forms have been a part of the equation. One of the major selling points for SharePoint 2007 and beyond has been the ability to help automate and standardize business processes using the built-in workflow engine. While compared to today’s technical standards, InfoPath is certainly not in alignment – I’m not sure this is a proper response to a user requesting help. At it’s core InfoPath helps to develop user friendly forms which it has been doing quite nicely for a long time now.

2. InfoPath is currently deprecated
I absolutely agree with this statement that the product team has confirmed that there is an end of life date for the technology. InfoPath is no different than most products in that there is a date where it will eventually be replaced by newer technology (in this case most likely PowerApps as I will get to next). So at the core this statement is cautionary towards the individual considering investing in creating forms that in ~9 years the technology will no longer be supported.

3. PowerApps is the future
When I first saw PowerApps, I knew Microsoft was positioning it to be the InfoPath form replacement. However, I would say that as of today (2/18/2017) there is not complete feature parity nor is PowerApps as user-friendly as InfoPath. I am in no way saying do not consider PowerApps – if the features & functionality made available are in alignment with your business need then go for it. However, if you are on-premises without an O365 Hybrid implementation, then PowerApps will not work for you.

4. Just buy a 3rd Party Product
Having come from a large organization, I feel the pain of trying to advise senior management to purchase software especially after making a large investment like SharePoint. If your organization is flush with cash then maybe this isn’t such a big deal, but I would imagine that this isn’t always the case. It is not always as simple as “Jane recommends buying K2, let’s just do that.”

What should you do now?
Having provided some commentary on the typical options here are my recommendations for addressing the need for business forms technology & using InfoPath assuming that the four options from above are not helpful.

  1. Build your form using InfoPath – I’ll wait a second for the tomatoes to hit me in the face. But honestly, waiting for the perfect alignment of technology capabilities & what you have available is foolish. As an employee of your company you have an obligation to help drive business forward. Streamlining processes and removing error-prone tasks is how you help demonstrate real value to your organization. If you are trying to decide between doing nothing/waiting or building your business form in InfoPath – you should absolutely build that form!
  2. Document your solution – Addressing the issue that InfoPath is not going to be around forever, you need to be mindful and document any of the business rules in your form. At some point your form will be migrate to a different platform/technology and having your business rules documented will be essential for ensuring the success of that migration. In addition, should you move on from your current role it helps to enable the person will inherit your solution to be able to make updates/changes as appropriate.
  3. Inventory your InfoPath forms – Speaking to the future road map of the product at some point your organization will move those forms to a different technology. Inventorying your forms is a great idea for a couple of reasons:
    • You’re starting to get your arms around the value your business is realizing from process automation. Senior leadership tends to understand technology in terms of business impact & return on investment so having this information is valuable.
    • You will be able to report on the quantity of forms in your environment which combined with the previous bullet will help either support an investment in a 3rd Party product or some other replacement technology.
  4. Schedule quarterly reviews with appropriate stakeholders – Once you have built that inventory of forms/business solutions it is a really great idea to review them with a body of stakeholders. I suggest quarterly but it could vary based on your organization. The point is to spread awareness of the technology adoption in addition to helping build the business case to support the ongoing maintenance & support of these solutions. This doesn’t include just helping to build a justification to purchase a 3rd party but it might also mean allocating the appropriate amount of headcount to help manage these business solutions. More often than not I have encountered small SharePoint teams inundated with support requests but no way of providing any sort of metrics around the environment beyond site collection counts & data storage. Understanding the business applications within your environment is essential to communicating the business value and justifying additional investment.

So essentially if you boil down everything I have written my TLDR is go forward and build InfoPath forms, but be mindful of the Product road map as you build your own internal business process automation road map.

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6 Things You Can Do If You’re Not Attending Microsoft Ignite

If you’re an IT Professional there is a pretty good chance that you have heard that Microsoft’s Ignite event is this week down at Atlanta. Ignite is the consolidation of various other Microsoft conferences such as TechEd, SharePoint Conference, etc. For those of you who are attending, there are plenty of “what to expect” blog posts which give you the usual tips of stay hydrated, wear comfortable shoes, bring battery packs, business cards, etc. However, there aren’t too many posts out there for those who aren’t able to attend.

This year I’m not able to attend Ignite but I have a small checklist of things I plan on doing to ensure that I stay up to speed with all the announcements.

Stream the keynote & select sessions – so like most big conferences, Ignite’s keynote is going to be streaming on Channel 9. Last year at Ignite SharePoint/O365 were barely even mentioned, but with the return of Jeff Teper I have a strong feeling that things might be different this year. There are also select sessions each day which will be available for streaming. Be sure to check out http://ignite.microsoft.com & Channel9 for links to those sessions.

Follow the #MSIgnite hashtag on Twitter – there are over 18,000 people heading down to Atlanta to attend Ignite and you can be sure that there are going to be tweets both official from Microsoft & unofficial from the attendees. Following the #MSIgnite has tag is a surefire way to get quick micro updates from attendees and companies.

Watch sessions on Channel 9 – for the past few years Microsoft has been posting session recordings on Channel 9 about 24 hours later which often times spurs the debate of why attend in-person when all the session are uploaded the next day. Of course the direct product team interaction, networking activities, and being able to ask your questions after the session are all some of the common examples. But for those who aren’t able to attend in-person, getting access to session recordings is truly amazing.

Attend Ignite recap at you local User Groups – I run a local user group and each year after the major Microsoft/SharePoint conference we always ask someone that attended to provide a recap of some of the highlights. Many user groups are moving their scheduling to Meetup, so that would definitely be a good place to start if you’re not sure what user groups are in your area.

Be on the lookout for “After Ignite” events – in case your local user group doesn’t host an “Ignite recap” session, oftentimes Microsoft will host these events in a few select cities. Talk to your local Microsoft rep after Ignite to find out if there’s going to be an “After Ignite” nearby.

Follow these folks on Twitter – finally, if you are completely overwhelmed by following the #MSIgnite hashtag there are a few folks attending which often times provide their own amateur journalist recaps of the day/event (in no particular order):

Nik Patel – fellow Slalomite, fastest fingers in the mid-west
Naomi Moneypenny – presenting like 5 sessions at Ignite, absolutely brilliant
Benjamin Niaulin – Mr. ShareGate, Tweets a lot and includes pictures
Jeff Teper – Mr. SharePoint (enough said)

So there you have it – hopefully this is helpful for any fellow “remote attendees” that want to stay up to date on the latest from the Ignite conference but aren’t able to make it this year!

Quick Tip for creating a view of empty folders in your document library

Without stepping into the holy war of folders vs. metadata I would like to share a quick tip for how to get rid of those pesky empty folders in your document libraries by creating a view which shows you all the folders which don’t have any child items in them. Note this only seems to work for root folders and not subfolders. I’m still trying to come up with a clever way to identify those subfolders as well.

Create a view like normal but under the filter section, you’ll want to set the following condition to be true:

1. Folder Child Count is equal to 0
2. Content Type is equal to folder

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Click apply and boom – you have a view of your current document library with just folders that are empty!

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For big libraries you might want to show more than 30 items by default so you can delete all those empty folders in one shot.

Hope that helps, and happy SharePointing!

Humbled to be awarded Microsoft MVP

This morning I received a notice from Microsoft that I have been presented with the 2016 Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award for my efforts in support of Office Servers & Services.

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I am very fortunate to live in an area that has so many amazing technical mentors to help inspire, elevate, and challenge me to be a better technical professional. There’s such a long list of people that I would love to thank for their support in my journey such as my amazing wife May, my good friends Tim Ferro, Mike Maadarani, Tom Daly. I thank Chris LaQuerre for helping me to get the CT SharePoint Users Group off the ground and to help keep our SharePoint Saturdays running smoothly.

I have had some amazing technical mentors such as Scot Hillier, Marc Anderson, & Bob German whose continuous commitment to giving back to the community has challenged me to be creative and never stop learning.

I would like to thank Jason Himmelstein for inspiring me to take up speaking after a SharePoint Saturday Boston event, and to Seb Matthews for literally slapping some sense into me. 🙂

My employer Slalom and my amazing colleagues for putting up with my conference speaking schedule and listening to me drone on about SharePoint.

Finally, I would like to thank every organizer who has ever selected me to speak and every attendee who has sat in on one of my sessions. Without you I wouldn’t have a platform, an outlet to expend my creative energy, a safe place to overcome my previous fear of public speaking, and a community which I am fortunate to be apart of.

Thanks to all and have a wonderful long weekend.

-Jared

More information about the MVP program can be found here:
https://mvp.microsoft.com

 

Current thoughts on the new SharePoint Framework

The blogosphere erupted after the May 4th Future of SharePoint event for right reason – senior leaders at Microsoft unveiled the roadmap for new functionality to first be released in O365 and that will eventually trickle down to on-premises via “feature packs”. Out of all the UI/UX enhancements that were announced, the one bit of news that perhaps got the least coverage but the most post-event commentary was the new SharePoint “Framework”.

I’m not going to re-cap the features of the new framework, that’s been done much better by the likes of Chris O’Brien & Doug Ware:

Chris O’Brien’s code examples, breakdown, etc
Doug Ware’s comments


What struck me as interested and perhaps even excited came a few days later during a Collab365 session where Daniel Kogan (Microsoft) started to talk about how all new enhancements to the SharePoint Platform are going to be developed using this new framework. Let me dig into that a little bit – the new page structures which include responsive design, are going to be developed using this new framework.

This is a huge deviation from the Microsoft of old where they offered Sandbox Solutions & Add-ins/Apps but never had to suffer with building client solutions using these development frameworks. Right out the chute you now have <insert big number of developers here> who have the ability to influence this new development framework. Just the fact that the new branding techniques are being introduced to the platform using the SharePoint Framework has me feeling optimistic that maybe it won’t completely suck.

There’s also the fact that Microsoft is all-in on continuing to push developers towards modern web development tools & technologies such as Node.JS, Gulp, Yeoman, Typescript, etc. I love that this is exactly the same message I have been communicating during my SharePoint Saturday sessions introducing attendees to client side development using JavaScript. The other unexpected benefit of this is you will be able to find more developers who are able to build customizations on top of SharePoint without having to be “SharePoint Developers” since Microsoft is embracing common web development patterns.

So yes, this might be the 4th development pattern recommended to SharePoint Developers – but it honestly isn’t quite so different from what many folks are doing today. Honestly since O365 has come out, there are a a lot of developers building rich solutions which leverage the CSOM & JSOM and which are included via Script Editor or Content Editor Webparts. This framework is extending that capability and with Microsoft eating their own dog food – I imagine that you will see continual enhancements to the framework even after initial release.

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on this new framework and try it out myself!