Sharing life in the SharePoint trenches
From No Pulse to a Live Pulse
For many organizations, the first exposure to SharePoint is in using it as an intranet for employee communication and collaboration. We spoke to three IT pros, Cory, Scott, and Ken, who were tasked with setting up a SharePoint intranet for their employer, a mid-sized media organization numbering about 1,500-1,700 employees. They had five weeks to do so.
Did you have to present any ROI or other arguments for using SharePoint as the intranet?
The company was already using SharePoint 2007, so they didn’t have to present an ROI for the intranet. The company intranet has actually gone through several iterations over the years: There was a classic .ASP intranet, then a failed SharePoint implementation that never saw production, and at least one other intranet before the “pink Pulse,”(see Figure 1) the highly customized SharePoint intranet that was the predecessor to the “new Pulse” (see Figure 2).
What are you running?
MOSS 2007. We’re on Windows Server 2008, running SQL Server 2005.
What was your SharePoint background?
Cory Lafferty is a database administrator: “I try to build connections thru SQL Server because that’s where my comfort level lies. I only know two SharePoint admins—they didn’t have a SQL background, they just ran the installer and didn’t touch SQL. I do recommend having the SQL background—or having somebody on the team with it. I don’t recommend making modifications on the SQL end, maybe some reporting.
Scott Davis is a network specialist: “I started out as a Windows admin, got into databases for a couple of years, then I came here and did more Windows admin. The old SharePoint guy left and I was thrown into SharePoint.”
Ken Savoy is director of infrastructure services.
Do you have any devs working with you?
Ken: People Finder’s Cory.
Cory: For People Finder I did the entire thing in Visual Studio, until you get to the part where you do XLT for the results—everything prior to that is a C# solution.
Scott: We did SharePoint Designer for the links back to the home page. You open the master page or asp and make that a link and that worked pretty good.
Cory: We used SharePoint Designer prior to launch to alter the style sheet on the fly and deploy it out to the site, which was a way to test changes to the style sheet. Prior to launch it was good, but I wouldn’t advise it after launch.
What was the process you went through for deploying SharePoint?
Scott: We actually tried to create the intranet twice. The first time from the very beginning the IT department wasn’t involved much. That was a mistake. IT got involved when it was time to implement the system to test and work out the bugs. The system never went into production because it performed so poorly.
The second attempt, IT was involved from the very beginning. We wanted to make the site functional and fast. We interviewed consulting firms to gain from their insight and experience. We told the consultants from the beginning that our IT department Cory/Scott along with Bethany would be doing the bulk of the work. The consultants would be here for guidance and in case we ran into any issues.
Cory: The second time, we were involved and we tried to keep it out-of-the-box as much as we could. We had to modify it because 1) out-of-the-box, SharePoint doesn’t look very good, and 2) they wanted dynamic content on the page.
It’s actually applied via themes—Quilogy \\[the Web Part developer and consulting company\\] came up with a custom theme and we modified the style sheet. Using a solution that was generated we were able to apply the theme to the whole site collection, which made it simpler.
Ken: You can make the home page look like anything you want, you just end up breaking the inherent functionality of SharePoint. The first go-round was ‘make it look like this and do whatever it takes,’ so it wasn’t functional at all. We were very careful this time: If we were going to fundamentally break something, we held the line. Since we’ve launched, it’s proven that strategy.
If we want to add something, we haven’t broken any functionality, so we’re continuing to add more to the site without any real issues. If you look back two versions, everybody was very nervous to touch the existing Pulse, the pink one—if you touched it, you might break everything. So this version is pretty much out of the box with custom Web Parts. We can change things, turn things on and off, without fear of breaking something.
Scott: We built this site in five weeks, and I don’t think they thought we could do it in five weeks.
Ken: Nobody thought we could do it. That last 10 percent was hard. The first 90 percent went fast. We did a lot of updates to the functionality post-rollout, too.
Scott: When we were working with the second version, we had a testing area, but we built on the same box.
Ken: It was actually recommended that we do it that way. SharePoint doesn’t like to be moved, and it’s difficult to move once you have a built-out SharePoint site. We do have a sandbox where we test a variety of things, but we don’t move those things over. We implement to the correct spot. It’s a different development cycle.