07 December 2009

Getting Value from SharePoint Foundation 2010

There has been a lot of new content on the latest version version of SharePoint.  However, most (if not all) of the coverage has been on the licensed version SharePoint Server and little on SharePoint Foundation.  As one of the key factors in the overall platform success, it’s important to understand just what value you can get from the the upgrade to Windows SharePoint Services.

Like it's predecessor, SharePoint Foundation will be shipped as a free download from Microsoft’s site.  And, like WSS before it, Foundation provides all of the basic features found in the licensed SharePoint Server product.  If you work in an organization that can only take advantage of the non-licensed version, here are some of the features you get with Foundation:

  • Basic document management
    You don’t need SharePoint Server to enable some of the basic document management features.  Foundation allows you to create sites, document libraries and manage the update of various types of binary files (e.g. Word docs, PowerPoint, PDFs, etc).

    Figure 1 – Working with a PowerPoint Presentation in a Document Library
  • Blogs, Wikis and other Information Management
    The latest release of the basic SharePoint framework continues to include features like blogs, wikis and a wide array of other information types, like tasks, contacts and events.  Like the basic document management features, information management is a strength of SharePoint Foundation.

    Figure 2 – Editing a Wiki page in Firefox 3.5
  • Integration with Office
    By far, one of the biggest strengths of SharePoint is its integration with Office.  Whether you have Office 2007 or Office 2010, you can save, edit, work with versions and manipulate metadata directly within the client.  You can also create other sites directly from the Shared Workspace task pane (Office 2007) or in the new Backstage (Office 2010), which exposes extended data about the document, the SharePoint library where it’s stored and other functions like viewing previous versions.

    Figure 3 – Backstage in Word 2010
  • Working Offline
    In this release, SharePoint Foundation (with the help of SharePoint Workspace or Outlook) allows you to take content offline.  Whether you are connected to the web or disconnected on a plane, you can work on both documents and list items.  Editing list items is a significant upgrade from Groove 2007 and Windows SharePoint Services where only documents were available.

    Figure 4 – SharePoint Workspace showing a SharePoint Site offline
  • Connection to External Data
    In the SharePoint 2007 timeframe, connection to external data was only available in the Enterprise version of MOSS.  In 2010, SharePoint Foundation has a basic version of Business Connectivity Services.  This means that Foundation users can take advantage of external data in SharePoint just like its server brethren.   All you need is SharePoint Designer 2010 (which is free) to create the connection and define what you want to expose.  Once defined, the data can be used to add content to columns or you can even manipulate the data through the familiar SharePoint list interface (if the data source supports that functionality).

    Figure 5 – Defining a new external content type in SharePoint Designer 2010

While these five features are not the whole of the new SharePoint Foundation product, it’s important to note that the latest release provides quite a bit more functionality than the previous version.  It also important to mention (again) that there’s no license fee for these features.  NOTE:  You must have a licensed copy of Windows 2008 R2 (64 bit) and you will need SQL Server (though you can use the Express version for no fee).

If you’re looking for a basic collaboration platform that is inexpensive and can be deployed inside your organization, you would do well to review what SharePoint Foundation offers.  If you need help with that deployment, Consejo offers a Fast Track to SharePoint solution that will help you get you running in about a week.

11 November 2009

SharePoint 2010 Metadata and Taxonomy Management Overview


Stephanie Lemieux wrote a terrific article on metadata and taxonomy management in SharePoint 2010.  In fact, she’s referring to one of the new, key Service Applications that ships with the new product.

Like Stephanie, I’m interested in getting deeper into the details of how SharePoint handles metadata.  However, it’s clear that Microsoft did hear the challenges customers were facing and invested significantly in the new service.  It was one of the key areas of improvement I wrote about in the CMS Watch advisory paper on SharePoint 2010.

If you’re interested in learning more about managing taxonomy in SharePoint (either 2007 or 2010), be sure to check out the KM World 2009 pre-conference workshop that Stephanie and I are presenting.

30 October 2009

What are the 10 most notorious pitfalls when developing a web strategy


Dorthe Raakjaer Jespersen (sorry for the “English” character translation), wrote an excellent blog entry on the 10 most notorious pitfalls when developing a web strategy.  If you’re developing any sort of web application, I would highly recommend taking a look. 

If you happen to be in or near Aarhus, Denmark next week, you can also catch an expanded version she’s presenting at the J Boye conference where I’ll also be presenting two sessions: “Managing a SharePoint project” and “Finding Content inside of SharePoint” (with Stephanie Lemieux).

28 October 2009

SharePoint 2010: Service Applications

Freshly back from the SharePoint conference in Vegas, I was slightly overwhelmed with the new content come from the product team.  While there’s much of 2010 that remained fundamentally the same from 2007, there are also a lot of new concepts.  Of particular interest to me and a number of my clients is the new Service Application architecture.

In the “old days” of SharePoint 2007, you had Shared Services Providers (SSP).  SSPs contained a number of common “services” that were used by Office SharePoint Server (not WSS), like profile import, search and the business data catalog.  It was an interesting concept at the time and got hyped initially, but most SharePoint farms ended up with simple implementations.

In the 2010 timeframe, SSPs go away and you now have Service Applications and Proxy Groups.  Service applications are the atomic equivalent of  individual services within the historical SSP.  For example, there’s a profile service application as well as one for search.  In addition, there are Service Applications for other new functions like metadata management, word services and access services.  Each service application stands on its own, has its own database and can be deployed separately across one or more servers (load balancing for service applications is built in for scalability).

If you’re interested in getting a bit deeper, take a look at Spencer Harbar’s blog post: SharePoint 2010: Service Applications Part One: Model Overview.  You can also refer to the new Technet content on 2010; here’s a page on how SharePoint 2010 works.

14 October 2009

Conference Appearances through 2009

It’s  been a busy year for conference attendances and speaking engagements.  However, as 2009 winds down, there are still great conferences coming up.   Here is a list of conferences I’ll be attending or speaking at through the end of 2009:

If you happen to be attending or presenting at any of these conferences and want to connect, send me an e-mail (shawn_shell<at>consejoinc.com) or a tweet (@shawnshell).

13 October 2009

Content Types in SharePoint

Taxonomy expert Stephanie Lemieux (Earley & Associates) and I had a great Skype discussion about creating and managing content types in SharePoint.  The conversation centered around whether you should create lots of content types, supporting a very granular taxonomy of documents or creating fewer content types, supporting a larger variety of documents.  Stephanie published a great blog article about it on her blog.  

Stephanie and I both concluded that fewer content types is probably a far better bet.  In fact, there are both taxonomic and technical reasons supporting our position.  From a content management perspective, content management guru Bob Boiko had a great quote in the article:

"How many content types is the right number? The fewest possible to squeeze the most value out of the info you possess.

23 September 2009

Finally! Intranet Success Measures Everyone can Understand

Many of our clients truly want their intranet to be successful.  However, when we bring up the topic of how they measure success, they often respond that metrics are too hard to capture or that they really don’t understand what success means.  In his latest blog entry, intranet guru Toby Ward discusses the top 5 key performance indicators (KPIs) for company intranets.  Toby cites specific examples and references you can use when creating your success criteria.

I would highly recommend checking out this blog entry and creating your own metrics.

13 September 2009

Review: Windows 7 Ultimate

Having been a long time XP user and then upgrading to a painful Vista experience, I was interested in Windows 7.  To my surprise, the latest version of Windows has been a great improvement, though with some continued annoyances.

No review would be absolutely complete without a little context.   As a consultant, I’m constantly traveling and use a laptop exclusively.  By trade, I am also a developer and run virtual machines frequently.  As a result, I use a laptop that is a relatively new Dell Lattitude E6500, equipped with a 250 Gb hard drive and 4 Gb of RAM.  Since I have a newer machine, I’m running the x64 version of Windows 7 Ultimate RTM (I didn’t wait for the GA version).

Overall, my experiences have been positive.  Windows 7 hangs less frequently than Vista.  On those few occasions that Windows has hung, I was able to recover without rebooting – often by simply logging out and back on (a trait Windows 7 seems to share with my iMac).  I also very rarely reboot my laptop and use the hibernate function regularly.  Finally, performance has been good; my laptop seems to run faster on Windows 7 than it did on Vista, though startup times tend to be about the same.

One of the most important metrics I monitor regularly is memory usage. Windows 7 seems to consume far less RAM than Vista (which was the x86 Business version).  According to the CPU/Memory gadget, my RAM usage was generally 50% or higher with Vista (it was never under 50% and often in the 70 to 80% range).  Running Windows 7, my memory usage has been about 30%, peaking at about 60% with loads of applications running.  As it happens, I’m writing this blog article with Windows Live Writer, with IE 8, Visual Studio 2008 and Outlook all running in the background; my memory usage is 52%. 

Here is a list of a few other positive changes I’ve noticed since upgrading:

  1. With Vista and XP, the task bar listed large icon buttons for all running programs.  If you have, for example, more than one session of IE, it was difficult to figure out which button on the task bar corresponded to the session you wanted (sometimes it listed multiple IE buttons or a single button with a number indicating the number of sessions).  With Windows 7, a preview is provided when you roll over the button on the task bar. 

  2. When you right-click on task bar elements (either in a toolbar or with a running program), you get frequently accessed functions or files associated with that application.  This is terrific when trying to find a previously opened web page without opening IE or opening a document through Word without opening Word.  Below is the context menu for LiveWriter.   Microsoft calls this functionality “Jump Lists.”

  3. You can start InPrivate browsing with IE 8 without having to first load IE through the IE jump list.  Just right click on the IE icon and choose InPrivate Browsing from the menu.

  4. The desktop context menu provides more options directly without having to dig through the control panel.  This feature is particularly helpful when trying to change resolution (which I do frequently for presentations), adding gadgets or getting to other personalization functions (which Vista provided as well).

  5. The Print Management console has improved managing print devices on your computer.  You can view all printers, queues and access common functions in a much more rational way.

  6. Wireless networking connections and some portions of the management are much more convenient.  I’m still not comfortable with the “dumbing down” of some of the management features, but this one is pretty nice.


There are, however, some areas where Windows continues to be a source of frustration:

  1. The User Account Control component is still a pain.  When making relatively minor changes, I’m prompted to confirm.  I totally understand the need for the feature, but it’s not clear to me that the implementation, even in Windows 7 (though improved from Vista), is the solution.
  2. I still can’t find what I’m looking for in the control panel.  This was the same criticism I had with Vista; the new layout and organization is no more clear than the XP version.  The difference, unfortunately, is that I got used to the XP organization.  I was specifically looking for the BlueTooth devices listing and couldn’t find it.  I’m sure it’s in the “Network Devices” section somewhere, but where?
  3. The upgrade process, for me, did not work.  I did upgrade from Vista Business x86 to Windows 7 Ultimate x64.  I suppose the change between 32 and 64 bit would be one explanation, but it seems as if the upgrade should be possible if you boot from the DVD.  At the very least, Microsoft should be able to carry over the OS settings even if they’re not able to preserve the application settings.
  4. I’m struggling to understand the premium put on the Ultimate edition.  I get the nice themes, the games that are completely uninteresting and the ability to operate in 35 languages.  What else?  Not really sure what the extra money buys me.
  5. I still don’t get why a business would want to play, pause and/or record live TV on their company laptops.  Isn’t that what Windows Media Center was all about during the XP era?  Doesn’t this functionality take up space and create more opportunities for bugs and vulnerabilities?  I understand why the home version and Ultimate might include this functionality, but why Professional?
  6. I really liked the Quick Launch toolbar and being able to create a task-bar centric collection of frequently used applications.  Unfortunately, in Windows 7, the Quick Launch is no longer part of the standard configuration.  To make matters worse, I had to search forums to figure out how to get the Quick Launch back. 
  7. Microsoft makes a point of highlighting Aero Shake, which enables someone to click on a Window, shake your mouse and have all other open windows minimize.  O.K….  not sure about this one.  Using my laptop’s touchpad mouse, this feature is kind of a pain and I’m not sure I see it as all that useful.  I’d prefer the disk space and memory back that’s eaten up by the shake.

While I have some criticisms of Windows 7, I do like it better than Vista (an understatement).  Microsoft seems to have learned from some its past mistakes and developed a good operating system.  It remains to be seen whether the next version of Windows will be a home run for Microsoft, but it’s certainly better than the obvious disappointment Vista has been.

24 August 2009

Article: How to Monitor your SharePoint Environment

As SharePoint becomes a more critical component of your infrastructure, it also becomes a service that needs to be more closely monitored to ensure its availability. But many organizations mistakenly try to treat SharePoint like other application servers, such as SQL Server. The reality is that SharePoint can be incredibly more complicated.

The most common misconception is that it's SharePoint that you have to monitor. This false belief will lead most operations personnel to overlook the fact that SharePoint is really a combination of services that act together. Because these services are tightly integrated, your monitoring strategy needs to be multidimensional.

For more information, read “How to Monitor your SharePoint Environment” on SearchWinIT.

17 August 2009

Updated ECM vendor evaluations available today from CMS Watch

CMS Watch has released their updated ECM vendor evaluations. One of the key findings is that nearly all of the ECM vendors sell a SharePoint connector, leading to coexistence with MOSS instead of competition.  Another interesting finding is that ECM vendors are finally starting to focus on mobile computing.

If you’re in the market for an ECM package or need to better understand the capabilities of a tool you already own, I would recommend reading this report.

08 August 2009

Social Networking on Intranets (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

A friend and taxonomy expert, Stephanie Lemieux (Earley and Associates) passed along a link to Social Networking on Intranets, on Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox.  The article reinforced recommendations we typically make to our clients.  And although the title suggests the article is strictly about social media, it was also an excellent list of how to be successful in intranet development generally. 

If you don’t have the time for the full article, here’s a summary:

  1. Employees use social media in their private lives and have come to expect the those same tools to be available inside the organization.  As Nielsen states “[s]ocial software is not a trend that can be ignored. It's affecting fundamental change in how people expect to communicate, both with each other and the companies they do business with.”  Some organizations we’re working with fear that the words “social software” will prevent executive buy in.  If that’s true, change the words, but don’t ignore the advice. 
  2. In fact, Nielsen goes on to say that most executives don’t generally support social media because they themselves don’t use these tools personally.  However, organizations “don't have to teach or convince younger workers to use these tools; they expect them and integrate them as easily into their work lives as they do in their personal lives.”
  3. Tools don’t matter – it’s the problems the tools solve.  Consejo is often called to help organizations implement SharePoint.  In many cases, these enterprises don’t have a good sense of how SharePoint will help solve business challenges; they simply own SharePoint licenses and now want to use them. Nielsen suggests that “organizations are successful with social media and collaboration technologies only when the tools are designed to solve an identified business need.”  In other words, the “build it and they will come” approach to SharePoint deployment won’t work unless there’s a clear business benefit and employees can easily identify how SharePoint helps them to realize that benefit.
  4. One surprise finding was that Nielsen recommends integrating new tools into the intranet without fanfare and let employees discovery the functionality naturally.  Advertising new tools as “new” won’t help spur adoption and that some terms (used to describe tools or features) may be scary – Nielsen uses RSS and social bookmarking as examples of “scary” terms.
  5. Support both content contributor and content consumer communities within your intranet.  Nielsen states that “[a]s with the open Internet, there's substantial participation inequality in enterprise communities: some employees participate a lot, while others mainly lurk… value a community based on a combination of posting and use...”  As I mentioned in my previous post on SharePoint governance, successful intranets must create vibrant content contributor and consumer communities (filed under Poole’s Rules regarding giving encouragement and show appreciation).  Further, as a part of measuring success, you should count both types of participation equally.
  6. Search is only as good as the content it indexes.  Truer words have not been spoken.  Many organizations lament about poor search quality.  Unfortunately, those same enterprises fail to take the necessary steps to improve results.   As Nielsen states “[t]raditional methods for relevancy scoring on the Web don't work as well on the smaller scale of most intranets: for example, counting links works only if you're doing so across a huge base of links. But, even if only a few employees tag a page with a given keyword, it's likely that the page will produce a good search result for that query in your organization's context.”  In a recent “Making Basic SharePoint Search Work” (a free Jumpstart call with Earley and Associates), I discussed how to improve SharePoint search results using out-of-the-box techniques for tagging.
  7. Nielsen found that “it’s essential to provide a single, unified search across all intranet resources.”  Many search products, including SharePoint, can search across many different kinds of source repositories.  Critical to search success is finding the most relevant content, regardless of its location.  Playing on the theme in Nielsen’s article, enterprises should include social media and collaborative spaces in search results, even if the content is not completely “final” or authoritative.
  8. “Content-is-King 2.0”  The tool is nothing without content to consume.  This finding supports actively encouraging content contributors during an initial roll-out and ensuring there’s ongoing content authoring.  As Nielsen states, “[a]n empty wiki can be a lonely place and also hard to sell to users.”
  9. Employees should be able to use the intranet will little or no training.  If users have to “figure out” how to use a tool, they’ll tend to avoid it.  Further, you need to ensure the language you use is familiar.  Nielsen points out that describing something as “Twitter-in-the-enterprise” or “micro-blogging ” will be equally inaccessible to users not familiar with the concept.  One approach, used in our Fast Track to SharePoint, is licensing training materials like SoftwareFx Virtual Training Center for SharePoint 2007.  It can be embedded in your intranet, accessible at any time.  The training is provided as 100 modules that are 30 seconds to 4 minute videos delivered through a flash video player.   Users are shown the features in action instead of just being told.
  10. Open communication is a requirement.  Nielsen suggests that communication groups need to adapt to the speed at which employee communications need to be developed: “Corporate communications must adapt to social media’s real-time culture and become more proactive than in the past… procedures that required days or weeks for approval need dramatic streamlining…”  It may be unnerving to executives to have an open discussion of company policies on the intranet, but it may mitigate the risk that the same employees will use more public internet services.  However, Nielsen cautions, there is still a place for “official” communications and that the two must co-exist.

04 August 2009

REVIEW: Samsung Jack and Windows Mobile 6.1

I recently replaced my 1st generation Samsung BlackJack with the latest generation Samsung Jack.   I had spent months agonizing over what new mobile phone to buy (partly because of equipment and partly because I wanted to wait for the oft-delayed Windows Mobile 7).  I looked at the obvious non-Windows contenders like the Apple iPhone, the RIM Blackberry Bold, as well as other Windows Mobile smart phones, but still came back to the Jack.

In the end, I chose the Jack for a few reasons, listed in order of importance below:

  1. I really wanted to stay with the Windows Mobile platform.  Windows mobile is often maligned for poor performance and even worse battery life.  However, I’ve had pretty good luck with both my Audiovox SMT5600 and Samsung BlackJack.  Both phones worked quite well and I’m usually near a computer, giving me access to trickle charges when necessary.  I’ve not suffered any of the performance problems and I’m tied to an Exchange e-mail account; synchronizing between a Windows smart phone and Exchange is mostly flawless.
  2. Despite some issues with dropped calls and terrible customer support, I wanted to stay with AT&T.  I’ve used both Verizon and Sprint in the past, but found AT&T to be an equal carrier for the locations I visit.  As for custom service, issues and frustrations seem to be universal.  That said, Verizon certainly has much better coverage in less densely populated areas, but I am usually in a medium to large city.  Even when I’ve made it into “the country,” I’ve not had any challenges with AT&T.  Finally, AT&T has international coverage (although expensive), which I’ve used a number of times without incident.  Besides T-Mobile (whom I didn’t consider at all), none of the other U.S.-based mobile carriers handles roaming internationally (at least not well).
  3. After looking at all of the Windows mobile equipment options with AT&T, it came down to the Samsung Epix and the Jack.   Most of my elimination criteria centered on talk time (very important), size (important) and price (important).  The two phones were generally equal when it came to talk time.  The Epix seemed to have the edge on functionality, but was larger than the Jack.  The screen resolution was also higher on the Epix, but I couldn’t get past the relatively small, but noticeable size difference.  Plus, virtually every other aspect of the phones was imperceptibly similar or the same.
  4. AT&T offered a $49 deal to upgrade to the Jack (after a $100 rebate that I have yet to mail in).  I was not able to get an equal deal on the Epix

I’ve been using my new Jack (which looks hauntingly like a Blackberry Bold) for about a month.  In that time I’ve made the following observations:

  • The phone is light, slim and unobtrusive.  It’s slightly shorter than my old BlackJack, but the slick plastic housing is a bit more of a challenge to grip compared with the matte, rubberized finish on the BlackJack.  However, it fits nicely in my pocket without the bulk associated with larger phones.
  • Battery life and management seem to be quite a bit better than my old BlackJack and SMT6500.   I can typically go two days, with moderate usage, without recharging the battery.  My other phones would barely last a day or less before complaining of low power.
  • Windows Mobile 6.1, which is what the Jack shipped with, is much improved over Mobile 5.  I really like the “Slide” interface and haven’t had the any issues with lockups or glitches. 
  • Overall, there just seems to be more intelligence in the design to both the phone and operating system.  I particularly like the single touch button for many functions like mail (which the BlackJack had) and the camera.
  • I really dislike the GPS and AT&T buttons.  The GPS button is tied to the AT&T Telenav application/service.  It’s an extra charge to use the service on AT&T’s network and I’m just as happy to use Bing Mobile or Google Maps Mobile; both work well, though I think I’m more favorable to Bing Mobile at the moment after some very positive early experiences, though neither have audible driving directions.  As for the AT&T button, it seems like a hold over from Cingular and it navigates me to a 404 page; not a fabulous experience.
  • When the keyboard is locked, Mobile 6 has the same faulty behavior that Mobile 2003 had in that it will allow you to dismiss a meeting reminder, but not “snooze.”  Mobile 5 had corrected this oversight, but I think Microsoft forgot to add that functionality back to Mobile 6… weird.
  • I really like that you can now invite others to meetings you schedule with your phone.  That was functionality previously missing from the Windows Mobile platform.
  • Mobile 5 had the ability to send a picture or video shot with the phone through a pre-defined mail account.  This functionality worked flawlessly on my old BlackJack.  However, it fails to work on my new Jack.  When I’ve tried to send a phone or a video, the phone reports that I don’t have any e-mail accounts setup (except that my phone has been synchronizing and sending e-mail through Exchange since day 1).  I thought I may have missed some setting somewhere, but I can’t find it.   I’m hoping the problem is easy to fix, but I haven’t spent enough time investigating.
  • The phone could do with more onboard memory.  It came with only about 2/3rds of the onboard space available.  After installing apps like Bing and Google Maps, I’m closer to half full.  Also, my phone was filled with a bunch of junk I can’t seem to uninstall (like demo games that want money to play).  I could care less about the spamware AT&T installed on the phone, but I could really use that space back.  Unfortunately, none of these games (or the other silly things AT&T insists on adding to my phone – like links to web sites that don’t exist) are listed in the Remove Software option on the phone. 
  • The keyboard is laid out differently than my BlackJack and is a little smaller.  The layout and size seem similar to the BlackBerry.  I’ve generally gotten the hang of it, but I still find myself hitting the space bar instead of the 0 (zero) button when dialing numbers; previously the zero and space were the same key.

In the end, I like the phone (I withhold a modifier like “really” until I have more time with the device).  I think it was an excellent upgrade from my BlackJack and if you’re looking for an upgrade to your Windows Mobile phone, I would recommend it.

23 July 2009

Make SharePoint Governance Plain and Simple

Much has been written on the topic of SharePoint governance (and just to satisfy the Bing lovers: SharePoint governance).  Microsoft even has a Governance Resource Center for SharePoint on their TechNet site.  While most of the content I’ve found is quite good, though a bit fragmented, I still felt like there was something missing.

In fact, all of the discussions around governance got me thinking about the idea that you should be able to create a model where governance just “happened.”  Before you go away thinking that I’ve spent a bit too much time inhaling paint fumes, hear me out:  is it possible  to create a self sustaining “culture” of governance where participants reinforce content and technology best practices because “that’s the way we do business?”  I think the answer is: YES.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of older companies – companies for whom computing technology is relatively new compared with their years in business.  Many of these older companies, especially those with a strong founder affinity, have a deeply engrained company culture.  This culture is so pervasive that it permeates virtually everything they do without being overbearing.  

I’m not speaking of the largely manufactured “culture” we saw sprout during the dot com days; that’s the kind of culture that never leaves any lasting impression beyond a few hollow words by an executive.  I’m speaking of , the real ingrained and consuming kind of culture.    Examples can be found in companies like GE, Caterpillar, Kiewit and the “old” IBM (somewhat paradoxically specifically because they’re a technology company).  These companies have a “way of doing business” and new employees quickly learn this “way” by having it reinforced by the processes and people around them.

Another such culturally rich company is PCL Constructors Inc.  They’re based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  PCL’s founder, Ernest Poole, created a memo that’s now called “Pooles Rules.”  At the time of its creation, it created the basis for a company culture, PCL’s business practices and values.  Even today, the words of Mr. Poole are displayed throughout their headquarters and guide the companies business practices. 

What struck me about the rules was the plain and simple language used to describe “how to do business.”  These rules can be applied to a broad set of circumstances, even ones that couldn’t have been anticipated by Poole himself.  Today, while the language may seem “old,” the concepts and guidelines haven’t gone out of style and PCLers still largely operate using the insight that Mr. Poole jotted down on a single piece of company letterhead nearly 70 years ago.

To demonstrate just how applicable the rules are, I’ve created a derivative work that could be used as a basis for a SharePoint governance “culture.”  I’ve replaced certain words in Poole’s Rules with more SharePoint or portal-relevant terms (if necessary). 

  • Employ highest grade employees obtainable
    SharePoint is a unique product with it’s own complexities and nuances.  I’ve seen some companies try to “fit” employees into a SharePoint administration role or use less-experienced resources to create solutions.  Just as Mr. Poole suggests using the highest grade employees to build a building, you should strongly consider the same approach for your SharePoint environment.   Frankly this rule is just good business and common sense.
  • Encourage integrity, loyalty and efficiencies
    Create an environment where your content consumers and contributors see the SharePoint solution as central to their work.  This means avoid “snazzy” features for their own sake and instead focus on real time-saving or productivity-improving functions.  These functions don’t have to be complicated and can be simply a good employee directory or the place to find the right template for proposals.  By considering the time your users will invest in learning the new SharePoint solution and leveraging any given function, you’ll avoid overloading them with frivolous content or features – this builds loyalty, trust and a sense that the SharePoint application is meant to improve efficiency, not make it harder to get work done.  Further, employees won’t try to use “rogue” applications to get their work done, since you’ve demonstrated real value.
  • Avoid side lines
    Don’t try to make your SharePoint environment be all things to all people.  As I’ve mentioned in the past, SharePoint has strengths and weaknesses.  Make sure you know what they are and avoid trying to make SharePoint do something it wasn’t meant to handle.  It’s better to do a few thing well than create a broad, mediocre application.
  • Do not permit side lines by employees [or SharePoint environments]
    Don’t allow rogue SharePoint implementations in your environment; more than one organization I’ve worked with suffers this problem.  Multiple, unmanaged SharePoint environments cause lots of pain in the organization and confuse the general employee population.  I would highly recommend working to create a tightly controlled, singular (or set of SharePoint) environment(s) that can be relied on, supported and recovered (in the of a disaster).  The idea is not to create a uber-SharePoint group, but rather apply real discipline to the management of the environment, even if more than one group physically operates an environment.
  • Be fair in all dealings with owners [content contributors and consumers], architects [SharePoint managers], engineers [internal SharePoint developers] and sub-contractors [consultants]
    The critical bit of  the initial deployment as well as long term application management is to understand there are lots of individuals, groups and interests involved.  You will do well to develop very clear goals for your environment, a plan to achieve the goals and metrics to measure success.  In addition, communicate constantly with everyone involved.  How does this equate to fairness?  In the end, no one group can bear the brunt of the development or maintenance.  Your contributors can’t be expected to create content over night, managers can be expected to solve “world hunger,” it should be understood that it will take more than 24 hours to design/develop/test/deploy a SharePoint solution and any consultants you hire don’t know your business as well as you do.  In addition, you need to make the environment accessible and easy to use for your content consumers.  Try to minimize overburdening one group or another when developing and maintaining your solution.
  • Keep your word as good as your bond
    This is about credibility.  If you (as the “owner” of the Intranet) want to encourage use,  make sure you deliver what you promise and what is useful.  This means not only delivering the obvious – SharePoint functions and the environment – but also the ongoing content contribution, continuous improvements and overall management.  Living web applications – whether their internally or externally facing --  need to be cared for and “fed” to survive.  Once you’ve built your solution, you or another group must be responsible for keeping your implied promise that the solution won’t be abandoned.
  • Give encouragement and show appreciation
    I had the good fortune of working for knowledge management guru Susan Hanley while at Dell.  She was famous for saying that organizations should use techniques like “bribery” to create a vibrant community of content consumers and contributors to build up an intranet.  In fact, as she often pointed out, without both communities, a intranet will wither and die away.  Providing encouragement and showing appreciation is especially important for fledgling SharePoint environments; participation and adoption are paramount to success.  It’s also critical for ongoing success; consider your own population and develop a program that continuously provides encouragement and support to all communities involved.
  • Be firm, fair and friendly
    Think outside the box, encourage suggestions and get folks involved.   Improvements or changes can come from all levels in the organization.  Treat all who participate as if they can constructively contribute to the environment.  However, it’s also equally important to set firm ground rules for that participation and refuse some requests if they’re either unreasonable or don’t fit the “model” you and your team have developed for the application.  See the “avoid sidelines” rule.
  • Avoid jobs where design is not good or financing doubtful
    If you don’t have the funding, time, human resources or the budget to effectively create, deploy and maintain a SharePoint solution, don’t start one.  I have seen numerous companies attempt to develop a solution with insufficient resources, thinking “it’s just a simple intranet” or “SharePoint does that out of the box.”  There is nothing simple about an intranet and while SharePoint does provide a lot of out of the box functionality, more enterprises must buy add-ons, build customizations and deal with challenges that are often underappreciated.
  • Good accounting and cash keeping are essential [Develop good metrics for success]
  • Do not let finishing up of jobs or collecting payments lag
    These last two bullets are close enough to lump them together.  In construction, like developing a SharePoint solution, demonstrating success is critical.  How do you demonstrate success?  You have objective measure to compare against.  Whether this means that the new application supports a certain number of users, that it helps to reduce the time it takes to accomplish a task or eliminates work altogether, you have to be able to measure it.  Many organizations say that it’s impossible to measure productivity improvements or more “soft” metrics. I would agree that it’s very difficult in many cases to determine whether process improvements have saved time, for example; often you don’t have a baseline to compare against or it’s difficult to gather ongoing data.  However, even anecdotes can serve as a metric (e.g. here’s an example of how I save time generating a proposal using the new intranet).  Further, stay on top of these measures of success both throughout the initial deployment and the applications lifecycle.  It’s the only real way of figuring out whether all the time, money and effort paid off.

Keep in mind that I’m not necessarily endorsing this specific approach for everyone.  However, I think it’s an interesting model to explore when developing a governance program for a SharePoint environment.  Obviously, a good governance has to include more than just a few rules.  That said, writing this blog entry, for me, has only reinforced that there is an argument for creating a relatively broad set of guidelines that can apply across numerous circumstances.  Many companies fail to realize this and end up creating an inaccessible, overly complex governance policy.  In the end, their policy fails because no one understands it or it is too hard to follow. 

Consider creating your own “Poole’s Rules” for your SharePoint environment.  I suspect you’ll not only gain new insight on a practical governance strategy, but also end up creating something that outlives SharePoint.

12 July 2009

Create a Support Program for your SharePoint Environment

A recent article in CIO Magazine provided some great content around the true cost of SharePointSocial software and portals expert, Peter Sejersen from J Boye, has expanded that discussion when he added a quick case study of a DIY SharePoint implementation at the municipality of Aalborg in Denmark.  However, one dimension of SharePoint that has not received a lot of attention is support.

In virtually every engagement we have with clients, the cost of supporting SharePoint comes up.   Clients want to better understand what it takes to “care and feed” for an enterprise SharePoint environment.  If you’re struggling with this same challenge, I’ve included some of the various support dimensions touched lightly in the CIO article and that may help you create your support program:

  • Monitoring
    Do you want to get the most value out of SharePoint?  Make sure you monitor the servers, the applications and ensure up-time.  During your implementation’s early stages, little attention will be paid if it’s unavailable.  Once the site has been around a while, you better ensure it’s running in top form.  Beyond that, you should really know if errors are being generated in the event logs, issues manifesting themselves in the SharePoint logs or if your content databases are getting to large.  This means that you must get serious about monitoring and look at more than just ping responses.  Microsoft has System Center Operations Manager, which provides a good tool for monitoring your environment.  You can also leverage a combination of event log monitors, perfmon or manual checks.  At Consejo, we developed a monitoring agent with Panopta and integrated it into our SharePoint Support offering.   Whatever approach you choose, make sure you have one.
  • Patch Management
    The SharePoint team releases patches with relative frequency.  They are sometimes in the form of a “hot fix” (an update the corrects a “small” feature or function within SharePoint), a roll-up (a collection of these hot fixes) or a service pack (the total collection of hot fixes plus updates not found in any hot fix).  Whatever the form, you need to have a program to apply them regularly, since you don’t necessarily want to update SharePoint the way you update the OS.  While you may have a program for applying fixes to your server and desktop OS, a lot of organizations fail to regularly implement SharePoint-specific fixes – some of which are required for working with certain OS and/or .NET framework patch levels.    The tricky bit about this element of  a support program is the number dependencies created by either custom or commercial add-ons; this means testing ahead of deployment.
  • Reusable Components
    Companies like Telerik and Infragistics have made a good business out of creating new controls or components that fill in functional gaps between what Microsoft provides in the .NET framework and what you may have to create for your application.  In the same way, consider creating an organization specific set of controls, components or SharePoint add-ons that you can reuse across your SharePoint applications.   Examples of this might be a “print Wiki” function that can be used with any wiki in SharePoint or SharePoint site archive function that backs up a SharePoint site before deleting it from a Site Collection.    More granular examples may be components that make it easy for developers to connect to your specific SAP implementation.  While your needs may be different, creating a collection of reusable components will help improve development quality and speed within your organization.
  • End-user Assistance/Help
    A lot of IT organizations tend to take the “build it and they will come” approach to SharePoint.  This approach suggests that IT organizations simply need to make a facility like SharePoint available; from there business users will “figure out” how to be more productive.  Unfortunately, most end users are unable to conceptualize how SharePoint can help them to be more productive as they tend to struggle with the basics like simply uploading documents or using search.  Instead, enterprises should create real training materials that translate SharePoint capabilities into tangible benefits in the context of the business.  This means demonstrating how users can be more productive in real situations using SharePoint to supplement or replace tools they already uses – like Word (just as an example).   When we deliver our Fast Track to SharePoint solution, we provide a license for the SoftwareFx Virtual Training Center for SharePoint (created by PortaLogiks) and embed them in the SharePoint application we create for our clients.   The materials give end users 30 second to 4 minute flash-based narrated videos on everything from uploading a document to a document library to customizing a page with SharePoint Designer.  Along with these materials, we typically recommend clients create application-specific help material that will further supplement the rather generic videos with specific information on their implementation.  In this way, business users don’t have to “imagine” how they can be more efficient -- they’re shown.   This will encourage use and help with adoption.
  • Be Serious about Adoption
    Another frequent topic of conversation is end user adoption.  Adoption describes how you get your business users to utilize the new intranet, extranet or internet site you’ve built on SharePoint.   There are no easy answers to help to spur adoption; each organization will need to create a specific program to fit their end-user community.  However, success of your SharePoint implementation will depend entirely on end user adoption.   If you’re interested in learning more, check out a blog entry by Bianca Wong at Prescient Digital Media on change management strategies to support intranet adoption.

Admittedly, creating your own support program will be specific to your organization.   It also likely you’re doing some related activities already, so adding SharePoint-specific elements to those existing programs should not burdensome.  However, consider the alternative costs if you avoid creating a disaster recovery program or skimp on training your users.

06 July 2009

Article: Effective Site Provisioning for SharePoint

One of the criticisms lodged against SharePoint is that you install it one day and the next day you end up with thousands of sites. Each site brings with it potential security risks from improper security settings and massive storage consumption resulting from, among other reasons, content dumping.

Even assuming you don't have either problem, it's always better to have a well managed SharePoint environment than one without appropriate controls on usage. That's where site provisioning comes in.

To be honest, there's no magic formula for managing the site-provisioning process on SharePoint. Different companies will have success with different approaches. But there are some guidelines that enable every organization to both provide flexibility to its end users and ensure an appropriate framework to help manage growth, security and usage.

URL: http://searchwinit.techtarget.com/tip/0,289483,sid1_gci1360488,00.html

NOTE: Beyond what’s mentioned in the article, SharePoint Solutions has a good tool for helping to managing the provision process called siteProvisioning Assistant.  The product provides a nice mix of pre-built approval processes and end user ease of use.

26 May 2009

Free Webinar Series: Improving SharePoint Search

I will be joining a list of fantastic speakers on a free four-part webinar series on improving SharePoint search.  The series was developed by Earley & Associates

From the web site:

“From basic search scopes to custom properties, unstructured content to structured data, we’ll cover a variety of methods you can use to improve your search experience and results.”

Please join us for one or all of the calls during the month of June.  You can register here.

04 May 2009

New Support Offering for SharePoint Farms

Today we announced the availability of a new SharePoint support offering called SharePoint Operational Support Solution or SOSS. 

Consejo has been focused on SharePoint development since our founding.  What we’ve found, particularly with small and medium organizations, is that it’s tough for IT groups to support the relatively new SharePoint implementations effectively.  Most often, we see organizations struggle to create a support plan that addresses all of the critical support areas:

  • Level 2 and 3 support
    Level 1 support is typically handled by internal IT staff.  As long as the issue is related to basic usage, IT groups seem to be fine.  However, when the error or issue is more complicated, a number of IT groups have trouble resolving the issue without external assistance (be it a blog entry or a call to Microsoft).   With our offering, we supplement your team by providing the expertise at the ready.
  • Farm monitoring to ensure uptime
    Is SharePoint running?  Why can’t users access their documents?  Is my SharePoint server nearly out of disk space?  These are common questions and without proper and active monitoring, you won’t known until your end users are already complaining to find out.  We partnered with Panopta to create a proprietary monitoring agent that leverages their existing global monitoring servers without the need to expose your SharePoint farm to the internet.  Our agent gathers multiple performance and status data points from your SharePoint farm and securely transmits that data to Panopta.  Both you and Consejo can see your SharePoint farm status through the Panopta monitoring dashboards, receive weekly/monthly reports and receive alerts when farm performance is outside of pre-established thresholds.
  • Service pack and hot fix management
    It’s a pretty common problem: Microsoft issued a service pack or hot fix and you’re unaware it exists.  Unfortunately, the trouble you’re currently having with your SharePoint farm is fixed by installing the new fix.  The SharePoint Operational Support Solution corrects this problem by enabling Consejo to manage this operation for you:  we monitor Microsoft for all new service packs/fixes related to SharePoint, we’ll notify you about the existence of a fix, identify whether it’s important to install and physically install the update if necessary.
  • Periodic strategic reviews of the environment
    Are you making the best use of SharePoint?  Are there ways to improve operations?  Are there new services or features that will impact your operations?  We’ll review your environment on a quarterly basis and identify areas for improvement.  Since we have performance data available, we’ll even be able to tell you if your farm is operating within established thresholds and where you may want to make changes.  

All of these services are delivered through our solution, which is sold as a subscription; we ensure you don’t have to “find” help when it’s too late.

If you’re interested in seeing what we have to offer and how we can potentially help your firm, check out the new solution on our web site or simple contact the Consejo Sales Group.

10 April 2009

SharePoint Summit 2009 Recap

I have just returned from a fantastic trip to Montreal for the SharePoint Summit, where I taught one tutorial on making SharePoint work in the Enterprise and one regular session on Web 2.0 and SharePoint.    The sessions were very well attended (partially to my surprise) and I really enjoyed seeing a different side to SharePoint implementations – in the U.S., Consejo tends to see more commercial organizations and, while there were definitely a number of folks from commerical organizations, I saw quite a few Canadian governmental agencies represented as well.

Overwhelmingly, the questions about SharePoint remain largely consistent with the U.S.

  1. What does SharePoint do well and where does it falter? 
    The answer to this question really depends on your needs.  I saw quite a few organizations who needed records management, for example.  However, as readers of CMS Watch’s SharePoint Report 2009 know, SharePoint does not have any real depth in records management; if that’s what you need, you should probably look elsewhere or find an add-on to improve SharePoint’s RM capabilities.  Beyond that (and imagining), SharePoint is a pretty mediocre player.  However, Mike Fitzmaurice  from Nintex (and his Microsoft days), made an interesting point: SharePoint doesn’t have to be the best at any one thing as long as it’s pretty good at a lot of things; partners, organizations or even Microsoft can add point capabilities to supplement what SharePoint does natively and cover a good deal of what organizations need to accomplish.  Interestingly, Mike made his point with a little “presentation zen,” by showing images that represented examples of the “best” animals in specific categories (e.g. Cheetah’s are the fastest land animals, the Bull Elephant is the strongest , a specific species of Shark is the fastest sea creature) and then comparing those “best of breed” animals to a human with a tool.  Obviously an elephant could lift, literally, a ton.  However, a human with a crane can best the elephant.
  2. How do I control (govern) SharePoint in my environment? 
    This is something that I had the opportunity to give a keynote on during the conference.  I’ve also written a little about governance in the SharePoint Report 2009 and on SearchWinIt, in my article “Four steps to creating practical SharePoint governance standard.”  However, the short answer (if you don’t want to read the source material) is really about establishing “how” to use SharePoint within your organization.  Microsoft gave administrators some tools to limit growth or unused sites, but the tool won’t solve any real governance problems or create your policies.  Good governance has to be an explicit effort on your part.  You must actively engage in a process of policy creation and education to ensure your success.
  3. Do I have to buy add-ons to SharePoint and/or why doesn’t Microsoft handle “this” out of the box?
    The answers to these questions are: “probably” and “by design.”  More often than not, organizations will have to buy/build/download add-on components to supplement SharePoint.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Microsoft could not be expected to anticipate every need or “solve” any specific requirement in a way that all organizations may require.  In fact, as Mike pointed out, Microsoft explicitly excludes certain features and/or components by design.  Mike shared that even Microsoft does not have inifinite resoures and when deciding on what features end up in a version of the product and which don’t, the product team focuses on “platform functionality” over “improvements to the UI or scenario specific” features.  The expectation is that partners, consultants or customers will fill in the gaps.  This approach doesn’t work for every customer, so be clear about your own goals and how much you’re willing to accept with regard to “missing” functionality and/or capability.
  4. What’s in the vNext of SharePoint?
    Only the Microsoft product team knows for sure.  However, what I did hear from people in the know is that Office 14 (the version number of the next release) will be largely evolutionary with some slightly cooler, but not revolutionary components.  The one caution I will provide is that point 3 (above) still holds true; don’t expect Microsoft to cover every base and you should still budget for consulting and add-on products in your implementation.

Beyond all of the points I’ve made here, SharePoint is one of the fastest growing portal products on the market.  There were over 300 attendees at the conference and, universally, everyone was legitimately interested in better understanding SharePoint – primarily because they had all committed to using the platform for some web-based application within the enterprise.  I’m excited to see what’s coming in the next release and encouraged by the excitement I saw at the summit. 

20 March 2009

SharePoint Migration PodCast

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a podcast regarding SharePoint migrations.  The podcast is in the style of an interview.  We cover topics like: what to watch out for, best practices for migration and practical planning tips.

You can register to hear the podcast here: http://library.theserverside.com/data/document.do;jsessionid=DE5FF872B3C13936ECBD952257887AC9?res_id=1237487165_496

20 January 2009

SharePoint Page Layout Error: Only Content controls are allowed directly in a content page that contains Content controls

I recently built a SharePoint feature to provision custom master pages and page layouts for a client.  Overall the solution worked pretty well until one day, while making changes to one of the page layouts, I saw the following error: Only Content controls are allowed directly in a content page that contains Content controls.

Since other blog entries, referenced at the end of this article, can explain the background I'll get right to the cause and the solution.  The cause is improper case for the <asp:Content> control tags in my page layout.  A few contorls used a lower case "c" instead of an uppercase "C" in the word content.  The page layout that had trouble had tags that looked like: <asp:content> instead of <asp:Content>.  The specific offending tag is the one associated with the page title (<asp:Content ContentPlaceholderID="PlaceHolderPageTitle" runat="server">).  The solution was as simple as correcting the case of the tag name and all worked well.

Here's an example of the symptom I saw.  Errant code is inserted in the page layout after it's deployed to the master page library in SharePoint and result is an error when trying to render the page; this errant code will not appear in the source, but you'll see it if you open the layout in SharePoint designer from the master page gallery:

<html xmlns:mso="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"xmlns:msdt="uuid:C2F41010-65B3-11d1-A29F-00AA00C14882"><head>
<META name="WebPartPageExpansion" content="full">
<!--[if gte mso 9]><xml>
<mso:PublishingPreviewImage msdt:dt="string"></mso:PublishingPreviewImage>
<mso:ContentType msdt:dt="string">Page Layout</mso:ContentType>
<mso:MasterPageDescription msdt:dt="string"></mso:MasterPageDescription>
<mso:PublishingAssociatedVariations msdt:dt="string"></mso:PublishingAssociatedVariations>
<mso:PublishingHidden msdt:dt="string">0</mso:PublishingHidden>
<mso:PublishingAssociatedContentType msdt:dt="string">;#Agenda item;#0x010100C568DB52D...;#</mso:PublishingAssociatedContentType>
<title>Dummy Content Type</title></head>

SOURCE: Tech MOSS Team blog on SharePointBlogs.com

Where I found my solution:

Both of these blog articles were older entries, but they saved many more hours of work.  Thanks to both Rich and Waldek!

17 January 2009

Customizing a SharePoint Site's Visual Design

One of the common questions we get from clients is "how do I apply a custom design to my SharePoint site?"  While SharePoint's interface is relatively clean, it has the ubiquitous "SharePoint Look."  Most clients want to make their sites match their brand, palette and navigational style.  However, it's not always easy to figure out the various elements that need to change.

To that end, here's a short list of options for changing SharePoint's look into something more complimentary to your brand:

  1. Custom SharePoint Theme
    A Theme, in SharePoint terms, is like a fresh coat of paint over the existing SharePoint interface.  A Theme is driven exclusively by a series of CSS files located on the file system (in the "12 Hive").  The best custom themes simply override styles that can be found in the various CSS files that accompany the SharePoint software, like CORE.CSS.  The advantage to a custom Theme is that it takes very little to create some dramatically different interface styles; since so much of SharePoint's interface is CSS drive (to its credit), you can do quite a lot by simply changing the theme.  The easiest way to create your own theme is to copy an existing one (located in X:\program files\common files\microsoft shared\web server extensions\12\template\themes where X is your SharePoint installation drive).  Once you've copied the directory, renamed it, updated the included CSS and added your images, just modify the THEMES.INF to point to your new custom theme.  If you'd like detailed instructions, take a look at this MSDN article.

    Figure 1 - List of Themes included with SharePoint
  2. Custom Master Page(s)
    In the .NET v2.0 timeframe, Microsoft introduced a concept called a "master page."  A Master Page, in SharePoint vernacular, represents all of the common elements of pages that share that Master Page.  Using an overloaded term, "template" might best describe at least part of the concept.  While Master Pages don't represent that entirety of the visual design, they establish the major elements and then determine where variable elements of a page can be placed.  By using "container objects," called placeholders (another overloaded term), Master Pages can establish the interface framework without interfering in a specific implementation.  Using various Master Pages with the same Page Layout (more on that shortly), you can produce vastly different looking sites.  In fact, SharePoint (MOSS) comes pre-loaded with several master page examples (mostly with names including "band" in them).   If you currently have a publishing enabled MOSS site (collaboration portal, News site or Publishing portal are the standard ones that enable this feature by default), you can change your master page in Site Settings.  There you'll have the option of choosing between various pre-installed Master Pages for both the Site Master Page and the System Master page.  In addition, you can create your own custom Master Page to introduce a radically different look.   If you are using WSS or don't have the publishing feature enabled, you can still use different Master Pages.  However, you'll either have to write a small utility to change the Master Page or you can download an open source extension to SharePoint from CodePlex to assist you in changing your master page (among other visual design elements).  Microsoft published a short article on customizing master pages on their MSDN site.  Remember though, you can have many Master Pages defined in your SharePoint site collection, but you can only use one Master Page per SharePoint site (unlike a traditional ASP.NET application).
    Figure 2 - Option in Site Settings for changing Master Page
  3. Creating Custom Page Layouts
    Page Layouts, like Master Pages, were released as a part of the .NET v2.0 framework.  They are used in conjunction with Master Pages to create the overall visual design of a SharePoint site.  Page Layouts define what content will be placed into placeholders defined by the Master Page.  SharePoint ships with a number of different layouts.  By default, selectable Page Layouts are only available when using a publishing enabled site; you can choose a specific Page Layout for other SharePoint-types.  However, if you are using a publishing-enabled site, you can further refine your SharePoint site's look by leveraging customized Page Layouts.  Just keep in mind that Master Pages and Page Layouts are pretty tied together; if you create a Page Layout that uses placeholders from a customized Master Page, that Page Layout may not be "compatible" with out-of-the-box layouts.  For more information on creating Page Layouts, see this MS Office article.

In many cases, organizations will need to leverage more than one of these techniques to create the look they desire.    The specific technique will largely depend on how different you want your SharePoint site to look.

Once you've completed your changes, the best way to "install" the new, customized look, is through a SharePoint Feature.  A feature can provision all of the files involved in the customizations and programmatically enable them on one or more sites within the site collection.  The advantage to this approach is that by activating or deactivating the feature, the customized look can be enabled or disabled without vastly affecting the function of the site; this approach is also the way Microsoft recommends making changes to your SharePoint site.

Now, if all of this is too much to take in, or if you just need some help, Consejo has recently created a new SharePoint Branding Fast Track offering.  This offering is meant to help organizations quickly develop a customized the look and feel for their SharePoint site.   In a short 11 business days, we create a semi-custom visual design for your site, leveraging our pre-build master pages, page layouts and themes.  For more information or to discuss your needs, contact our sales group.