Category Archives: SharePoint 2016

Branding SharePoint using Application Customizers

I’ve been a SharePoint designer now for over 10 years. By designer, I mean changing the look and feel of SharePoint. Not just adding simple themes, but making SharePoint, “not look like SharePoint”.

It’s a common request for companies and schools to have an intranet or communication portal which reflects their brand and identity. Although Microsoft have come along in leaps and bounds in this area with out-of-the-box options, it’s still a common requirement for some deeper unique branding.

The ways in which we apply design customisations have changed over the years. From MasterPages and themes to custom actions, the landscape has been ever-changing but moving slowly towards JavaScript and client-side customisation.

The most recent SharePoint UI (modern experience) gives designers the opportunity to deploy custom headers and footers to all new SharePoint pages. To make these customisations, we need to use the new SharePoint framework. Projects are built using web stack tools and libraries such as Node.js, Yeoman and Gulp. I’ve provided an overview of these on previous blog posts last year:

Getting started with the new SharePoint framework

Creating a picture library slideshow using jQuery cycle



In the video above, I show how design has changed over the years and I create a new Application Customizer SharePoint framework extension using TypeScript and SASS for design purposes.

It’s an exciting time to be a SharePoint designer and the quicker these extensions are released as general availability, the better! We can then start updating customisations and switching clients over to the new pages.

Microsoft Teams for Education Released

Class teams are now available inside Microsoft Teams. These are created automatically using School Data Sync (SDS) or can be created manually in the Teams interface.

Microsoft Class Teams

Teams is a great collaboration interface that pulls together instant messaging, videos calls, SharePoint, OneNote and assignments into one place. It can also be extended with custom tabs.

I’ve created a quick video review below.



There are some similarities to Microsoft Classroom, however some functionality is different. A few issues with Class Notebooks in Teams:

  • Student sections menu not visible
  • Missing the Class Notebook tab to distribute pages and sections
  • Immersive reader option missing from view tab

You can get around these issues by opening the Team’s SharePoint site and clicking “Notebook” inside SharePoint. Hopefully Microsoft will be quick to resolve these issues.

Microsoft Classroom had a mobile app for Android and iOS which gave students notifications when new assignments were posted or graded. It also allowed students to set reminders for homework. The Teams mobile app does not include the assignment section at all so no notifications for students or teachers. The assignments are not visible on mobile devices. Again, this is early days and I expect Microsoft to release this functionality in the not too far future.

SharePoint Virtual Summit 2017

The 2017 SharePoint virtual summit took place last week. The previous year had seen a brave new bold redesign of SharePoint into a modern experience. This year we had exciting new announcements building on last year’s vision.

New OneDrive and SharePoint Sync Client

The new version of OneDrive sync client will map out the entire contents of SharePoint and OneDrive libraries without syncing them across. Documents will only be synced when requested on-demand or when a document is opened and edited.

OneDrive Files On Demand

This is great news and solves two problems faced by OneDrive users:

  • Large OneDrive/SharePoint libraries consumed large amounts of local storage syncing across
  • Possibility of errors when large numbers of files synced at once

A new unified sharing interface will be rolled out across OneDrive and SharePoint for a simpler experience. This feature will also be available in windows explorer.

SharePoint Virtual Summit

Communication portals

SharePoint released a new experience team site last year. It has now matured with developers creating third party web parts using the SharePoint Framework. Microsoft have now released a new type of site called a communication portal. This site replaces the older publishing sites used for company intranets. Although the new site is responsive out-of-the-box, we can now apply custom branding and functionality extending this into a true intranet experience.

SharePoint Communication Portal

Integration with Flow and PowerApps

These two new Office 365 apps are gaining momentum as modern replacements for SharePoint Designer Workflows and InfoPath Forms Designer.

Microsoft Flow creates workflows that can integrate with almost any product including Google Calendar, Twitter, Slack and a whole host of other services. Flow will have tighter integration with SharePoint and Flows can be created directly from list views.

PowerApps empowers users to create useful mobile friendly apps with no code for SharePoint and OneDrive. This has now been extended to integrate directly into a SharePoint page. PowerApps can now act as the custom form for SharePoint list data. This was a task previously done using InfoPath Designer or custom code.

SharePoint with PowerApps and Microsoft Flow

There was also news of a more powerful personalised search and much more. You can read the Microsoft review from Jeff Teper here.

So, it’s another exciting year ahead for the SharePoint and Office community!

School Data Sync – UK Schools

School Data Sync has now moved to general availability. Currently this allows users to get data into Microsoft Classroom but does have limitations and can create a considerable overhead when providing the import data.

I’ve produced a quick video below looking at School Data Sync and what is means for UK schools. Hope you find it useful.

UPDATE – 31/03/2017

There has recently been some third party free tools released to automate the creation of these spreadsheets. This is another step in the right direction and hopefully there will be some free tools in the next few months to sync data directly into SDS.

The SDS data can also be used for the new Intune for Education released in April 2017.



Machine Learning with Cognitive Services API in Microsoft Flow

I recently attended a fascinating talk on machine learning by Martin Kearn and an implementation of this in Microsoft Flow by Mark Stokes. Did you know that there are APIs to access machine learning functionality via Microsoft’s Cognitive Services API? Did you also know that you can easily connect to these services in Office 365?

Microsoft Flow

Take a look at the available APIs and try them for free here.

The APIs give you access to computer vision, face emotion, face detection, text analytics, translators and much more. Microsoft have really opened up machine learning to the average developer (or non-developer)!

In this blog post, I’m going to show you how to use the text analytics cognitive API in Microsoft Flow without any code at all. If you are not familiar with Flow, check out some of my earlier posts.

Starting in Microsoft Flow, search the templates for “Text analytics”. Some interesting starter templates appear including analysing text for positive or negative sentiment via Twitter, Yammer and email. The returned sentiment value can then be used to start an action or chain of events. Have you ever wanted to be alerted to a negative email from the boss? Well now there is a template for it!

Microsoft Flow

In this example, I’m going to use the “Get emails for positive tweets” template. I want to get notified by email when I receive tweets which are very positive in sentiment.

Microsoft Flow

From this screen, you can see that the services involved in this Flow are Twitter, Text Analytics and Mail. Select “Use this template” and sign into each service.

When you get to the Text Analytics service, you will be required to enter a connection name and account key. To get this go to the Azure Text Analytics site and sign up for a free account (if you don’t already have one) by going to Getting started.

Once you have the account setup, navigate to your account keys in the Azure portal (as shown below).

Microsoft Azure Sentiment API

Copy and paste the account name and key 1 into the Flow connector.

Microsoft Flow connectors

In my Flow, I have used the hashtag #msflowtextanalytics as my trigger. If anyone uses that hashtag on Twitter, it will start the Flow.

Microsoft Flow

I’ve left the condition as 0.7. This means if the API returns a 70% positive sentiment rating, it will send the email.

Microsoft Flow Email properties

Finally, fill in the email details to complete the Flow. The template email will show who sent the positive tweet and the sentiment score from the API.

Publish the Flow and go to Twitter to test it out.

Twitter hashtag tweet

The Flow can take around 2 minutes to run but you should eventually receive an email with the name of the person sending the tweet and the score from the sentiment API.

Microsoft Flow Email

There are many uses for this in real world scenarios. Marketing and PR departments could use a very similar template to detect any negative tweets. That could then trigger an email for manual intervention or you could automatically direct message the user and open a support ticket. It could save huge amounts of time watching and sorting through thousands of tweets manually.

There are connectors for SharePoint, Instagram, Office 365 Email, and much much more. Imagine integrating all of these separate systems into one workflow (you couldn’t do that in SharePoint Designer).

Exciting times for machine learning and very powerful tools for those of us who are not developers or data scientists.

Set default classic or new experience in SharePoint Online

The new list and library experience is here in SharePoint Online. It is great news for the SharePoint community (better integration with OneDrive, responsive, platform independent). For users with customisations or for companies who are not ready for the change yet, you can delay the new experience from the administration panel. There are certainly things which will improve in the new experience such as consistent navigation (you may notice that you lose the navigation configured in classic mode), custom JS overlays and custom branding. Microsoft should have some updates on those features in the coming year.

To switch back to classic mode for the entire tenancy:

Open the Office 365 admin centre and select “SharePoint” from the admin centre list.

Office 365 admin area

Go to the settings option and set the list and library view to classic mode. This may take a few moments to apply.

Office 365 admin area

You can override these settings in individual library settings if required.

New SharePoint apps for education and business

We are releasing several apps for SharePoint (on-premises and Office 365) I’ve included some information below, please feel free to drop me an email or give me a call if you want an online demonstration of the Apps. More information on the apps can be found here

Parents evening booking system

Parent evening booking SharePoint App

This app allows parents to view available days/times and book online. This app was designed to reduce the administrative time taken to book slots on behalf of parents based on their preferences.

Parent evening booking SharePoint App

Some of the features include:

  • Parents view available slots
  • Parents book online
  • Parents can make changes to the booking
  • Teachers can see who has booked to see them
  • Admins can upload session data via spreadsheet
  • Supports multiple children at the school
  • Updated several times a year as part of the subscription

Internal helpdesk

The Cloud Design Box internal helpdesk app manages all your support tickets in an easy-to-use list. Users can view and update their own tickets while the helpdesk team have access to manage all the support tickets.

Parent evening booking SharePoint App

Leave requests

Leave and holiday requests tend to create a burden on admin, managers and human resources. Streamlining requests to just a few clicks and automating the processes by sending notification emails saves everyone time.

Parent evening booking SharePoint App

Using the Cloud Design Box dashboard, employees can view all approved holidays for their team, allowing them to make an informed decision on when to request leave. Employees fill in a simple form on the site which is them emailed to their manager for approval. In just a few clicks the manager can approve or reject with some feedback.

Employee onboarding dashboard

Over the years Cloud Design Box developed several workflows and processes for new employees. When making this web part, we took the core requirements made added them to an easy-to-use interface.

Parent evening booking SharePoint App

A clean dashboard shows instantly the onboarding status and progress of each employee. Each task list assigned to individual departments can be viewed in more detail.

Parent evening booking SharePoint App

The HR department have full control over the lists so they can check the current status and chase up any outstanding tasks. Departments are alerted by email when a new employee joins and have access to update their own task list. The app is mobile friendly and can be used on any device.

KPI and appraisal tracker

This dashboard was designed to make it easier and clearer for managers to track the progress of their team. Setting a KPI is easy and the employee can view their own goals and see a graphical representation of the progress made towards meeting their targets.

Parent evening booking SharePoint App

Appraisal documentation can also be attached to the employee making appraisal meetings easy to track.
It’s been really exciting developing these new apps and dashboards. Our enthusiastic customers have helped define the core functions and we look forward to developing these further as time goes on.

Other Apps

Our other apps include:

  • PO Tracker
  • Timesheets

And can be found on the Cloud Design Box website

For more information or to arrange a demonstration please drop me an email or give me a call.

Thanks,
Tony

Integrating Google Calendar Data with SharePoint using Microsoft Flow

It can be time consuming to update multiple calendars. You can now setup custom flows using Microsoft Flow to copy and edit data between the two calendars.

Google Calendar to SharePoint

In the example below, I create a Microsoft Flow to detect when a new Google Calendar item is added and then create a new item in a SharePoint calendar.

First of all, open Microsoft Flow.

Microsoft Flow

Select “Create from blank” to open the flow editor

Search for the correct trigger by typing “Google” into the search box. You should see “Google Calendar – When an event is added to a calendar”. We will use this trigger to detect when a new item is added to the Google calendar.

Google Calendar trigger

When prompted, sign into your Google account and allow access to the calendar.

We are now going to add another step to the flow to add the items into our SharePoint calendar. Click “New Step” and then Add an action.

New flow step

Search for “SharePoint – Create item”, add the URL and list name. This should load up all the calendar new item fields.

Click in each field and select the output from the previous step (the google calendar data). You may wish to populate the Title, Start Time, End Time, Location and Description.

New SharePoint calendar item

Select “Create flow” when you are ready to publish the new task. It can take a few seconds for the task to run once the Google calendar item has been added. You can check the progress and status of the task from the Flow site.

There are other things to consider when setting this up such as all day events, recurrence, editing items and deleting items. However, you should be able to extend the logic in the flow to handle these data types. Below is a video guide going through the process.