SharePoint Forms and Workflow – A Different Perspective

advanced-formWhenever I get into conversations about forms in SharePoint (or anywhere else for that matter), the conversation almost always turns immediately for workflow. It seems to greatly surprise a lot of people when I say that sometimes workflow is irrelevant for forms. I’d say that 80%+ of SharePoint forms have no workflow at all. (I think it’s a higher percentage, but I know many of you live and die by workflow.)

I think forms and workflow are too often intertwined as concepts, making the forms discussion overly complex.

IMO, forms are for collecting or editing data. Workflows are for managing that data. By keeping those two concepts discrete, we can have excellent forms that just do what forms should do.

Conflating the two will probably delay the possibility of a robust new form tool for SharePoint. We know that something is coming to replace InfoPath, but we don’t know what it is yet.

We learned early in 2014 that InfoPath is dead. In actuality, it’s not dead; it’s only entered its twilight years. We have until 2023 before it isn’t “supported” anymore, and it will probably be useful for many people even after that. (I won’t make any snarky comments about “supported” software.)

I made up the 80% number above based on my own experience. It really depends on type of SharePoint installation you’re working in. My work is more toward the KM and Intranet side of things, and it’s very rare that I end up implementing a workflow. Knowledge workers can be trusted to do their work in the right way to create value, and it’s rarely a sequential or predictable thing. The few cases where workflows matter – time sheet submission, time off requests, article posting, etc. – the workflows tend to be very simple.

For similar reasons, I haven’t seen much need for InfoPath. With a little JavaScript and CSS, I can usually layer a veneer over the default list forms to give them any boost they need to meet business needs. Even so, the default list forms are fine probably 90%+ (another number I’m making up) of the time.

So much of this depends on the culture of the organization, too. If it’s an open and trusting culture, workflows come up infrequently. If it’s more of a command and control culture, they want workflows for everything. That is until you ask them to describe the repeatable process and they realize that there really isn’t one. Either they have to define a real process (lots of hard work) or they keep doing things the way they have – in a slightly disorganized way that still works.

My point is that assuming that there’s always a coupling of forms and workflow means that everything gets more complicated fast. I like the fact that forms and workflow are separate but connectable in SharePoint now. It means I can plug in a workflow if and when I need it; the forms engine isn’t too cluttered by the workflow artifacts.

What is your experience on this? Are forms and workflow always intertwined or are they really two separate ideas? I’ve created a little poll below to capture your feelings on this. Add your voice into the mix and I will try not to use the statistics inappropriately, as do may others.

Hidden Content Type Hub on Office365 Tenants

This is a simple thing, but because at the moment it’s sort of invisible, you may need a little help understanding it.

The Content Type Hub is a nice capability that lets you create your Site Columns and Content Types in one centralized Site Collection for syndication across your farm. It’s an excellent idea to use it so that your Content Types have consistent definitions and set up across those Site Collections.

In an on premises farm, you’d create a Site Collection to play this role and activate the Content Type Syndication Hub Site Collection Feature.

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However, if you try to do this on Office365 in SharePoint Online, you may get an ugly error. Even if you don’t get an error, you may be creating a redundant Content Type Hub.

This is because there is a Content Type Hub Site Collection already provisioned (in the tenants I can see) at /sites/contentTypeHub. You should probably use this Site Collection for your Content Type Hub if it is there.

Unfortunately, this Site Collection isn’t visible in the admin dashboard listing of Site Collections.

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To determine if you have this Site Collection, you can go to the /sites/contentTypeHub URL. However, a more conclusive test is to go into Site Settings on one of your existing Site Collections (probably the root one) and click on Content Type Publishing.

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On that page, you’ll see a link to the Site Collection that is acting as the Content Type Hub, if there is one:

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Upcoming Bonzai Intranets Webinar – Wednesday November 26th at 10am PST

DynamicOwlLogoMy good friends at Dynamic Owl in Vancouver have been doing some amazing things of late. Not only are they some of the smartest people in SharePoint consulting, they have a relatively new product offering called Bonzai Intranet.

Based on their years of consulting, the folks at Dynamic Owl realized that they had been building similar capabilities for their client’s Intranets over and over again. By capturing those patterns and repeatable components, they have come up with a tool set in Bonzai that can get anyone up and running with an Intranet on top of SharePoint faster and more effectively.

But that’s not the half of it. I’ve been looking into their offering; from the surface at first, and then more deeply as they take me through the architecture. This is a gorgeous Intranet offering. By gorgeous, I mean is simply looks fantastic. Of course, that could all be lipstick on a pig, but it isn’t. As I’ve seen how they have built things, I’m truly impressed. It’s the right mix of server side code and client side code, with a slant toward the latter, as it should be in this cloudy world of ours. It’s extensible, robust, and reliable, too.

There’s a post on Michal Pisarek’s blog about the webinar, and I’ve stolen some of that content below. If you’re considering using SharePoint to run your Intranet and see it as a daunting set of tasks, you owe it to yourself to check out Bonzai and the webinar on Nov. 26th.


 

As part of the recent launch of Bonzai Intranet for SharePoint we have been receiving many questions about Bonzai such as:

  • What is the difference between Bonzai and a template/skin?
  • How the hell did you make Bonzai not look like SharePoint?
  • What is the 80% of common Intranet functionality that most organization have? How does Bonzai handle these?

In order to provide you with the answers to these questions and to show you a sneak peek at some of the great features of Bonzai we are hosting a webinar on Wednesday November 26th at 10am PST titled “Rethinking SharePoint Intranets with Bonzai”  In this webinar we will go through our thinking behind Bonzai and take a look at some of the features that we think makes Bonzai an amazing Intranet platform.

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Dave Coleman, Men’s Health, Movember, and a Request

Last week the SharePoint community lost a valuable member and I lost a friend. Dave Coleman, who had been in and out of hospital since last year about this time, finally succumbed to cancer. Dave was a SharePoint Server MVP, active community member, and educator. He was also a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a friend to many. Many people will miss him, and I am one.

Dave Coleman

Dave Coleman 1959-2014

One of Dave’s many legacies will be his work to raise awareness of the types of cancer which first struck him, namely prostate cancer. In the video blow, Dave elucidates on his goals very clearly. Even while staring directly at his own mortality, Dave wanted to spend some of his time to make all of the men in his life and beyond more aware of how to prevent – as much as possible – them arriving in a similar plight.

Dave Coleman, Claire Smyth – 05 February 2014 15.36.21 (Original link)

In honor of Dave, I’m participating in the annual Movember movement. The goal of the Movember movement is not just to have millions of men grow cheesy 1970s era moustaches – aka ‘Mo’s – but to raise awareness and fund research about men’s health issues. It’s about the diseases like prostate cancer that can only strike men. The women’s health movement has been incredibly strong in recent years, with pink pervasive during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Movember is not meant to detract or compete with NBCAW, but to build a similar platform for men’s health. I’ve committed my upper lip to help change the face of men’s health by growing a moustache, now I need your support.

Many cancers and other male-specific diseases are highly treatable in this day and age, but we men are too often reticent about seeking out regular health care. I know that there have been wide swaths of my life when it seemed to me that regular checkups were just too much trouble. I felt fine and didn’t see the point. Once I got married and had a son, I started to think differently about these things – there are people who love me and need me around, and I want to be here for them. I am not as invincible as I thought I was in my 20s. Annual checkups with appropriate testing based on family history, physical condition, and lifestyle can help prevent others from being taken from us too soon, as was Dave.

If you are at risk for any reason whatsoever – and even if you’re not sure that you are – take the time to make those annual checkup appointments and go to them.

Dave was a mere 54 years old at his death – just one year older than I am now. Age isn’t the only factor in the likelihood of contracting cancer or any other disease, though. As Dave said so well in the video, we should take control of our own destinies and be sure that we understand our health and the risks each of us might have.

If any of this strikes a chord with you at all, please donate to my Movember campaign or that of anyone else on the In Memory of Dave Coleman (This is a network dedicated to Dave Coleman – a bloody nice chap.) network. We’re growing bad facial hair for you, for all men, for the women and children who love us, but most importantly, for Dave.

If you’d rather donate in Dave’s memory via the site his family has set up, by all means do that instead.

However you choose to memorialize Dave, or even if you never knew Dave, please donate to the men’s health movement this month, and if you’re a man, make that MEDICAL APPOINTMENT. We need you around here.

Visual Studio Intellisense for SPServices

Be careful what you ask!

Well, no more than two hours later Daniel had sent me the stub of a vsdoc file for SPServices.

Now I don’t use Visual Studio, but I suppose if you like this kind of hand-holding, Intellisense could be useful. If you’re game, give it a try and let me know how it works out.

jquery.SPServices-2014.02 Intellisense BETA

If you have suggestions, additions, whatever, please send them along. If I get a general thumbs up, I’ll include the vsdoc file with the 2014.02 release, which I’m hoping to get out there in the next few weeks.