Announcing the Implementing Information Management on SharePoint and Office 365 Course

I’m pleased to announce that today my Implementing Information Management on SharePoint and Office 365 course went live on the AIIM web site. This project has been a long time coming both from the most recent development of the content and the history.

It was 2010 when I was meeting with the Microsoft product teams for the development of what would become the SharePoint ECM Implementers course. It was available for a few years internally and to partners and ultimately was available in its recorded version online. It’s long since been removed. It’s too bad, because, as I speak at conferences, I consistently find people who are struggling to leverage SharePoint as their enterprise content management system.

The opportunity came up to help translate the good work of AIIM’s ECM Master program into a pragmatic implementation guide for SharePoint and Office 365, and I jumped on it. I started from the conversations I’ve had with the product team – and with organizations looking for a way to implement SharePoint successfully – and created a brand new four-day instructor-led course. Then I took the course and recorded all the instruction and the labs to turn it into an online offering par excellence.

The online course includes a 715-page student/lab manual, 324 minutes of recorded instruction and 181 minutes of recorded labs. The course gives you everything you need to be successful with SharePoint and Office 365. It covers thorny topics like retention and records. It explains how to leverage search to create findability. It makes the use of site columns, content types, and content type hubs real. It even walks step-by-step how to manage security in the environment, how to create user experiences, and dozens of other important topics that are relevant whether you’re using SharePoint Online or you’re running SharePoint on your premises.

Merging from SharePoint Lists in Word with Images (via Access)

Recently, we were asked to create a cleaning book that has a set of materials on objects in rooms. There were a relatively small list of fabrics and a relatively small number of objects that used those fabrics, but we had to create a cleaning plan for each room, which included instructions for every object in the room. It was all relatively straightforward – until we had to insert the images for the objects and fabrics and include fields with multiple lines of text.

We started by thinking we’d just project the columns through lookup fields. This would allow us to enter the fabric cleaning information once and have it show up multiple times. Unfortunately, you can’t project fields of some types – including multi-line columns. No problem. We can do that in Microsoft Access. We link to the external lists and join them with a query and we get all the columns that we want. That was great until we realized that the report generator won’t allow you to get images dynamically from web URLs.

That’s OK – we can use Word and do a mail merge off the Access query with all the data. Except you can’t have an image as a merge field. Ultimately, we created the mail merge with the URLs getting dumped out in the report – and I wrote a quick VBA macro/script which converts the URLs into pictures.

The script is designed for our needs – so use at your own risk. It looks for the # markers that appear that the edges of the URL. It utilizes #http:// to find the start and then extends to the next #. If the user entered a label for the URL, it will appear before that, so we expand the selection before inserting the image. (An enhancement would save the label to add as alt text.) The script also doesn’t allow any of the images to exceed 2.5″ in height – so our cleaning instructions will stay on one page.

The script is below if you need something similar.

Sub InsertImages()
Dim url As String
Dim pic As InlineShape
Dim maxPicHeight As Integer
maxPicHeight = 2.25 * 72 ‘ Maximum size in points – 72 per inch
With Selection.Find
Selection.GoTo wdGoToLine, wdGoToFirst, 1 ‘ Go to top of file
.Text = “#https://” ‘ Find URL start
While .Found ‘ while we found a start
Selection.Extend “#” ‘ Extend to the end of the URL
url = Mid(Selection.Text, 2, Len(Selection.Text) – 2) ‘ get URL minus bumpers
Selection.Expand wdLine ‘ Get the rest of the line
Selection.End = Selection.End – 1 ‘ Don’t take the cell/paragraph mark
Set pic = Selection.InlineShapes.AddPicture(url, False, True) ‘ Insert Shape
If (pic.Height > maxPicHeight) Then ‘ If Larger than max height then scale
pic.LockAspectRatio = True ‘ Technically unnecessary, ensure that width and height scale together
pic.ScaleHeight = maxPicHeight / pic.Height * 100 ‘ Set scale of image to get to desired height
End If
.Execute ‘ Execute next search to see if we have more
End With
End Sub

It was amazing the number of blind paths we went down before being able to generate a report from SharePoint lists which had images, multiple lines of text, etc., and looked good when we were done.

SharePoint Calculated Column Field Formulas – Alphabetically

I’ve been working on some new course material and I wanted to verify the list of functions that could be used in a calculated column and realized that the list that was available from Microsoft wasn’t in a meaningful order – so I’ve alphabetized the list. I included it here for those who want it.

  • ABS() – Absolute. Remove the negative if present
  • AND() – Logical And. Return true if both clauses return true.
  • AVERAGE() – Average value. The average of all the provided parameters
  • CONCATENATE() – String concatenation. Concatenates every parameter provided and returns it as a single string.
  • COUNT() – Count the values. Returns the number of values provided.
  • COUNTA() – Count the non-null values. Returns the number of non-null values returned.
  • DATE() – Create a date. Given a month, day, and year return a date
  • DATEDIF() – Difference between dates. Given two dates, return the difference between them.
  • DAY() – Day of month. Given a date return the day of month.
  • EVEN() -Round up to the nearest even number.
  • EXACT() – Exact comparison. Given two values return true if they are exactly the same
  • FIND() – Find a string in another. Returns the position of the first string in the second or null if not found
  • HOUR() – Returns the hour of day. Given a date time column returns the hour of day
  • IF() – Return results based on a comparison. If the first parameter is true return the second parameter otherwise return the third parameter
  • INT() – Returns an integer. Given a number returns the integer portion.
  • ISERROR()- Is the parameter an error. Returns true if the parameter is an error and false if it is not.
  • ISNUMBER() – Is the parameter a number. Returns true if the parameter results in a number and false if not.
  • LEN() – Length of a string. Returns the number of characters in a string.
  • LEFT() – Left portion of a string. Returns from the first parameter the number of characters specified in the second.
  • LOWER() – Convert string to all lower case. Returns the string provided but in all lower case.
  • MAX() – Maximum. Returns the maximum of the provided parameters.
  • MEDIAN() – Median. Returns the number at the median of the provided set of parameters.
  • MIN() – Minimum. Returns the smallest of the provided parameters.
  • MINUTE() – Minutes after the hour. Returns the number of minutes after the hour from a provided date time parameter
  • MONTH() – Month of year. Given a date returns the month of year.
  • NOT() – Logical not. Returns true if the parameter results in false and false if the parameter results in true.
  • ODD() – Round up to the next odd number.
  • OR() – Logical Or. Returns true if either of the parameters result in true.
  • POWER() – Exponent. Raises the first number to the power (exponent) of the second.
  • PRODUCT() – Multiply. Multiplies the provided parameters
  • PROPER() – Proper case a string. Initial capitalize the string.
  • REPT() – Repeat character. Repeat the string provided in the first parameter the number of times specified in the second parameter.
  • RIGHT() – Right portion of the string. Return from the first parameter string the number of characters specified in the second parameter – from the end of the string.
  • ROUND() – Round. Round the number to the nearest whole number (up or down).
  • ROUNDDOWN() – Round down only. Round the number down to the nearest integer.
  • ROUNDUP() – Round up only. Round the number up to the nearest integer.
  • SECOND() – Seconds after the minute. Given a date time parameter, return the number of seconds after the minute.
  • SUM() – Arithmetic sum. Add the parameters together
  • TEXT() – Convert to string. Format the first parameter according to the format specification in the second parameter.
  • TRIM() – Remove spaces. Removes spaces from the front and end of a string.
  • UPPER() – Upper case string. Converts a string to all upper case.
  • WEEKDAY() – Day of Week. Returns the day of week for a date time parameter
  • YEAR() – Year. Returns the year for a given date time parameter

There you have it, the list of functions that are supported in calculated columns.

Comparing SharePoint On-Premises (Apples) to SharePoint Online (Oranges)

I get asked about whether SharePoint on-premises or SharePoint Online is right for the organizations I work with – or whether they should leverage the power of “and” and use both. In this quick video (3:42), I cover the basics about why you should choose one vs. the other – or whether both is the right answer.

Take a look and see if this answers the questions that you have

If you need more information, feel free to reach out.

The Making of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users: 2016

A few weeks ago, we launched the 2016 version of the SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users. This is our fourth build of the productivity aid and book since its 2007 release. Updating and delivering the content is something we know how to do. Our big achievement for this release wasn’t in the content – though it continues to get better – the big advancements this time was transforming the way the content looked when it was deployed to SharePoint.

Goodbye Wiki Version, Hello Publishing

We often spoke of the corporate edition by calling it the “wiki” edition. That was because the corporate edition deployed as a wiki library in the client’s SharePoint. This was convenient, because it allowed users to be able to modify the pages on their own. It also meant that we could sell the Shepherd’s Guide to users with Windows SharePoint Services or SharePoint Foundation and they would be able to use it because wiki libraries were available in every version of SharePoint.

However, times have changed. Microsoft is no longer offering a SharePoint Foundation version, and therefore every customer for SharePoint 2016 will have at least SharePoint Server Standard, which includes publishing pages. For us, this was great, primarily because it allowed us to solve some formatting problems that had plagued the content due to the nature of the wiki’s HTML processing (or mangling) engine.

If you read the book you saw that we had full-color highlights in the text to indicate which things you were supposed to click on. When we generated the HTML for the wiki, these were stripped by the HTML engine. We lived without these highlights that we had painstakingly put into the content because there wasn’t a solution. However, with the 2016 version and the migration to publishing pages, we could get them back in the corporate edition.

The use of the publishing feature allows us to structure the content better and improves some other handling, but the big value of this move is in how we allow you to customize your content.

Customizing Content

One of the hallmarks of the SharePoint Shepherd solution since its initial release has been the ability to customize the content. You can customize what we provide as well as adding new content of your own. None of the other help solutions for SharePoint allow you to do this. It’s been one of the things that customers have repeatedly told us was essential to their needs. They were using the Shepherd’s Guide to get a head start on their support for their users, and customizing was a big deal.

Historically, we’ve not needed to do many updates to the content once it was released. Microsoft started changing this in SharePoint 2013 when they changed SkyDrive to OneDrive post-release. The changes for SharePoint 2016 are anticipated to include the new modern UI. That meant we had to plan for situations where we were updating content and users were updating the same content. We needed an elegant way to manage updates in a more fluid way.

The switch to publishing allows us to do this. We track the version of the content we deploy. If the user changes the content, we detect this and we don’t overwrite their content. Instead, we post a non-major version of the content into the library. The impact of this is that editors can look for items which aren’t published as major versions to evaluate the content that we have updates for and decide whether to keep their changes our ours. It also means that the standard tools in SharePoint work to help you identify changes in the content.

In doing this we’ve delivered a way for you to both receive updates and to customize your content at the same time.

Multiple Versions

While listening to customers, we began to hear about organizations that were struggling with multiple versions of SharePoint. They had everything from SharePoint 2007 through Office 365 and the support staff was struggling to provide answers on how to do things no matter what the version of SharePoint. So, we added support for multiple versions of the Shepherd’s Guide content – including the ability to instantly shift from one version of the content to another – from every page.

If you’re looking at a task in the 2016 version, you can go back to the 2007 version of the guide because that’s the actual version you’re trying to use – or the user interface is stuck in that version. Users can find the version of the guide that matches their user interface and get the help they need.

The Ultimate Solution

While we still sell the Shepherd’s Guide by version as a one-time purchase, we’ve added a new way to get the guide. The Ultimate Guide includes every version of the guide we’ve published, including updates. As Office 365 continues to evolve, we’ll publish updates and provide them as a part of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Ultimate Guide for End Users. This subscription-based offering will allow you to have all the end user support content you need for your users no matter what version they’ve been on – or will be on.

The ultimate solution allows you to create your own content, edit ours, and stay up to date all at the same time. There’s no reason to build your own support content for SharePoint. We’ve got that covered.

Look at what we’re doing with the ultimate guide on the SharePoint Shepherd site at

OneDrive Sync to a SharePoint Library with a Required Field

A few months ago, I upgraded to the next generation sync client for OneDrive for all my synchronization to SharePoint libraries, and one of my libraries – on all the computers I synchronize to – had a problem. When I would try to edit files from the library, Word was complaining that the files were read-only, or I was out of space. When I went to the back office, it showed me that the file was an offline copy.

In file explorer, I saw little green locks overlaying the document icon.

I couldn’t figure out what the issue was because check in/out wasn’t required, or even turned on, in the library. Approvals weren’t required and versioning was set for major versions. None of the files were declared as in-place records, nor were they on a legal hold. I ultimately disabled a workflow to find that it wasn’t an issue with workflows running on the library. I was mystified until I walked someone through every field on the list. I realized that one of the fields – status – was a choice field with a default set, but it was also set to required. As soon as I set the field to not required, every file in the library resynchronized and the lock icon disappeared and was replaced with a checkmark (indicating it had synchronized).

So, even though all of the documents had the required field, and a default was provided, OneDrive (the new sync client) refused to synchronize the library correctly with a required field. Because of the integration between OneDrive and the Office applications, they were refusing to sync files too.

If you’re wondering why you can’t save documents or why you have little green locks… perhaps all that’s required is to set the fields to not be required.

Announcing: The End User’s Guide to Manual Migration

Over the years, I’ve helped numerous clients migrate from one implementation of SharePoint to another. Sometimes this was because of version upgrades, sometimes as they migrated to the cloud, and sometimes just because their first implementation was so “challenging.” Over the years, I picked up a few useful ways to think about the migration process when you’re asking a user to do it. I created a two-page guide (one sheet, double-sided) that we would share with every user as a part of the migration process. However, it didn’t look that good.

So, I partnered with Sharegate to help “make it pretty”. The result is available on their web site at It may seem weird that an organization that sells migration tools would be interested in helping you know how to do it yourself. However, the truth is, they care about you getting to the new platform. In some cases, the right answer is their tools. In other cases, the right answer is for the users to migrate the content themselves. If you’re looking for a guide that you can share with your users, check it out.

SharePoint Community Survey Results

A few weeks ago I posted SharePoint Users Groups and Community 2.0: Reflections and Projections. I shared my perspective on the state of technical users’ groups and SharePoint in particular, and asked folks to please take a short survey to help me get a sense for where everyone’s thoughts were about the technical community. The results are in so I wanted to share what I heard.


The first question was the importance of the community. Not surprisingly, folks thought community was fairly important:


Of the highly engaged audience, there were many (38%) who had attended two or fewer events in the last year. At the other end of the spectrum, 36% had attended more than six events.

More interesting than how many they attended was the number of those that were attending less than they used to (57%). Again, this is telling in a highly engaged audience.


When asked about the balance between on-ground and virtual communities, most folks (51%) felt like a balanced approach was best. More telling is that if you include slightly more or less (so roughly the same) nearly everyone answered that they wanted it – “it” meaning a mixture of both types. No one indicated a desire for all virtual events – though clearly we’re moving in that direction.

However, the most interesting results (to me) were the results when I asked folks what they wanted more of. Half- and full-day events on one or more topics topped the list, with over 60% for each of the two options. Webinars and Face-to-Face meetings (one-hour format) were next, with both receiving 50%. There was strong support for just getting together at a restaurant as well.

Overall, what folks want from the community is Show and Tell (92%). Other folks are looking for social interactions and development discussions (over 55% each). It’s really interesting to see what people want out of communities. Some of it is training but a lot of it is really that community connection.

Next Steps

I don’t know what the next steps are for our group in Indiana – but I do know that my perception of what people want has changed.

SharePoint Users Groups and Community 2.0: Reflections and Projections

First and foremost, this post is a desire to start a conversation about where the SharePoint community is heading and how I can help foster that growth as a community leader and sponsor. The SharePoint community has been very good to me. They’ve repaid my work in kindness and assistance that is immeasurable. I want to help breathe more life into the community but in truth, I’m not sure how.

So I’m asking for you to react to this post. It can be on Twitter, as a comments on my blog, and/or posts on your blog or if you’re willing, you can even comment via the survey I’ll put at the end of this post. (or any combination of those things.) I’ll share the results of what I find — if you provide your email address — and I’ll share summary to the community at large.

Users Groups Closing Down

As the owner of the SharePoint Shepherd brand of products I have some liberties in the way that I spend our marketing dollars. I’ve always made the number one priority community events. Most of the leaders know that I’m happy to send them books and DVDs to use as giveaways at their events. The community leaders that are within reasonable (and sometimes unreasonable) driving distance of my home base in Indianapolis know that I’ll drive to their event and deliver content whenever.

What I’ve noticed over the past few years is that there are fewer user’s groups meeting and those that are still meeting have noticed a steep decline in attendance. In fact, we’re sending roughly 15% of the care packages out today that we sent out just a few short years ago because the groups we’ve been talking to have either closed or have become non-responsive.

Let me let that sink in for a moment. If you had a user’s group four years ago there’s about a 1:8 chance the group is still operational. Oh, and if you didn’t have a group four years ago the odds are very long against you getting one started successfully. From my point of view this looks like a collapse of the offline community.

There are those who would say that Microsoft should do more to support the community. To them I’ll say “sure.” The problem is how? What should they do? What would be useful to the community? If you want to respond to me with real answers to these somewhat rhetorical questions, I’ll take them and get them to the right people at Microsoft.

What I know is that Microsoft hasn’t given up on communities – changes in the MVP program which I won’t go into detail here – recognize the power and need for local on-ground communities. It’s not that Microsoft isn’t interested. In my experience what’s missing is a roadmap for what to do that will be successful in driving the community forward.

So on the one side we know the challenge is that local groups are closing down and on the other side there are the conditions. What are the factors that are leading to the closures? For that I need to explain my perspective on SharePoint Users Groups and to talk about the challenges with Users Groups in general.

Types of SharePoint Users Groups

In truth as a planner for SharePoint User’s Groups both directly and indirectly as I helped others, I began to realize there were really three groups of users who were coming to the SharePoint meetings. The three groups are:

  • Infrastructure Specialists – These are the folks who are tasked with implementing and operating SharePoint. They’re interested in features and what they need to add-on to SharePoint to meet their user needs.
  • Developers – In general developers are .NET converts or prisoners to SharePoint development. They want to know how to develop solutions on SharePoint.
  • Users – This is a rather broad group but in essence it’s people who don’t fit into either of the other two groups. They aren’t responsible for the servers and they don’t know how to develop – or they aren’t being asked to develop in their organization. They’re trying to get something done and SharePoint just happens to be the tool.

I’ve seen groups that cater to only one of these groups and groups like the ones I’ve run that try to deliver content for everyone. We generally do this by managing our content schedule planning to target one group at each meeting meaning we’d cover everyone once a quarter.

There’s no one right or wrong way to do things in terms of targeting the users for your group. However, it’s important to recognize that there are really three groups of users who are sharing one structure.

Challenges with Users Groups

I’ve been supporting communities with user’s groups for more than 25 years. (See my post Running Users Groups for more.) What I’ve seen has been a radical change in how professionals engage. When I started user’s groups existed as an on-ground community when no virtual communities existed. Sure we had AOL and the Internet was present but communities really didn’t exist.

Over the years, virtual communities started to spring up through bulletin boards and these communities began to have some traction. However, very few of these communities took off. Few people got interested enough to create community out of this space.

As a sidebar, the MVP community grew out Microsoft’s forums. The first MVPs were the community leaders that would answer questions in these communities and eventually Microsoft recognized them. While the program has grown and changed since then, it’s genesis were in these early forums.

However, the early forums were so nascent and lacking in their features that most folks who had virtual communities still craved connecting with folks face-to-face. Thus during the first birth of virtual communities’ user’s groups remained a place to create community.

The classic anchor for a user’s group has been the technical presentation (and in many cases the pizza and giveaways). Someone who had done something interesting or had taken the time to develop expertise would stand in front of the group using a projector and would share what they knew. (I still remember when these were overhead projectors and LCD panels that you sat on top of them.)

However, the world has changed. Today the communities which are available to folks are much richer than they ever were. However, I believe one of the stronger challenges to user’s groups isn’t the availability of virtual experiences, it’s the plethora of technical information available to anyone anytime. You simply don’t have to go to a physical users’ group meeting to get technical content.

Virtual Content and Communities

Sites like make presentation slide decks available. has made getting video recordings of presentations easier too. Microsoft has recorded all of the sessions from most of its conferences and have made them available for free on Channel 9. If you’re looking for raw content the ability for you to get it is substantially different than it was even a few short years ago. Content delivery isn’t enough.

However, with on-ground communities there’s questions and answer sessions that allow you to ask questions about how the presentations apply to you. In the virtual world, there are now free virtual conferences that offer hours of content available along with questions and answer sessions at the end. These interactivity options aren’t the same as being face-to-face with the speaker but they can be nearly as good.

In truth communities like have made it easier to pass knowledge along in the community. You can vote up and down answers to get to conversation threads that help focus in on questions and the “best” answer. Google, Bing, and others have made searching for these threads easy and relevant. What you used to have to be present to hear is now recorded and answers prioritized for later rediscovery via search.

The result of all of these changes is that the anchor for the classical users group has eroded. There’s very little differential value to the off-line community from the point of view of content delivery.

Conditions for Closure

When you’re trying to figure out what’s leading to the closure of so many SharePoint user’s groups and the erosion of on-ground communities, you’ve got to look at the factors.

First, let’s look at the infrastructure folks who were told for about three years (2012-2015) that their services were no longer needed. You see Microsoft had a grand plan that everyone was going to go to Office 365 and it was going to be wonderful. By 2013, Microsoft was informed by many of its largest (and therefor important) customers that they would switch from Microsoft technologies before they would move everything to the cloud. The resulted in a softened message of do hybrid then move to cloud only and has settled (at least for the moment) that there will be a SharePoint in the future and Microsoft would love to have you on Office 365 when (and if) you’re ready.

However, the damage was done. Many SharePoint administrators got the message loud and clear that they weren’t wanted any longer and as a result they fled the world of SharePoint administration. Whether they fled at a greater or lesser rate than customers moved to Office 365 is a question but the simple fact is that fewer SharePoint administrators are still in the market. Thus we’re losing one of our audiences for SharePoint users groups but surely we’re doing OK with developers, right?

Well, SharePoint has had four software development models in just four years. We have our classic SharePoint “Full trust” development model. We had the SharePoint Sandbox introduced and then quickly deprecated. Next we had the Apps model which was forced to be renamed to Add-ins after the decision to add the Azure AD Apps model – which obviously only works in the cloud. (But I’m not even counting that one.) Now they’ve released the SharePoint Framework model as a new development model. Four models. Four years.

So there’s a lot to learn. That’s good. The bad news is that it has turned off many developers. They don’t want to keep following the rapid changes in the development models – because each new model comes with its own quirks, bugs, and limitations. Add to that, most of the newer models are models that are designed to leverage core HTML/JavaScript development skills and you realize that the big learning need for SharePoint developers isn’t SharePoint skills it’s HTML/JavaScript development skills.

Another side bar is that I know what the surveys say about developers and their ability to write JavaScript applications, however, I also know why those surveys are yielding results that can’t be trusted at face value. First, the sampling is of developers who are on the Internet – so they’re more likely to be Internet developers. Second, if I’m asked as any sort of web developer if I know JavaScript or I use JavaScript the answer’s going to be yes. Whether it’s two lines of script copied from Stack Overflow or whether I’ve written hundreds and hundreds of lines of code. So while the surveys say that there are lots of JavaScript developers, there are relatively few. I stood on stage at a Microsoft SharePoint Conference and offered to start the JavaScript Haters of America Club (JHAC) and there were many hands in the room raised to volunteer to join and a few who jokingly offered to create clubs in Europe.

It looks like with developers, we’re at strike two. But surely the end users will pull us through.

With the introduction of Office 365 we had a whole new class of user opportunities open up. Small companies who could previously not afford to deploy their own server infrastructure could suddenly implement and use SharePoint. (In fact, Microsoft deprecated its Small Business Server offering pushing users to Office 365 instead.) One would think this would bring a whole new set of users who had never used SharePoint into the fold.

To some extent this is right. However, by and large users didn’t understand the similarities and differences between SharePoint on-premises and Office 365. In fact, in the app launcher it wasn’t even called SharePoint. It was called sites. That means that many of these new users who were on the platform didn’t really understand that they were. It’s hard to search for help for something that you can’t describe. It’s even more difficult to form a community around the nameless technology that you depend on to get your job done – if you’re smart enough to stop sending attachments.

The other issue that has become increasingly frustrating for users is the feature disparity – both positive and negative between SharePoint and Office 365. Users can read something online and realize that it doesn’t apply to them.

Add to these challenges the financial challenges of running a group and it’s not hard to see why so many groups have shut down.

Financial Considerations of a User’s Group

Generally speaking, running a user’s group isn’t that expensive. In truth the expenses are largely providing food and drinks for the attendees. Depending on the size of your group you may spend $100 to a few hundred dollars per meeting on food and drinks. Admittedly the food is most typically pizza but if the goal is the conversations and community the food is just a way to handle a need for folks. (Though I do sometimes joke that all people come for is the free meal.)

However, someone has to pay for the pizza and that means sponsorships. Every user’s group leader I’ve ever known has struggled with this. On the one hand the sponsors typically want to give a presentation or get a few minutes at the meeting for a commercial announcement. It’s a tough line to walk between providing value for the sponsors and pissing off the attendees. For the SharePoint User’s Group of Indiana, we asked our sponsors for very little, mentioned them at every meeting and in every communication and we worked with them for presentations when they made sense. They weren’t guaranteed a slot at one of the meetings but we generally tried to make that happen when it made sense for the attendees.

We were lucky in a sense. The market in Indianapolis is more friendly than larger markets. I could leverage relationships with most of the consulting companies in town who were doing SharePoint consulting and ask them for $500/yr and they would graciously help out. We met at the Microsoft office and it just worked.

In other markets the options were different which necessitated the pursuit of tool and software vendor sponsorship. The problem with this is that they almost always come with an expectation that the software vendor gets to pitch their SharePoint add-on. But a meeting with a vendor session is better than no meeting at all so many leaders accepted it. And to be fair, the vendors were aware of the delicate balance and in all but a very few cases delivered real value to the attendees whether or not they decided to purchase the vendor product.

However, in today’s world the choices are different. A wave of consolidation went through the vendors so there are fewer folks to ask for sponsorship on the vendor side and on the consulting side many organizations stopped promoting their SharePoint practices. A lack of promotion means a lack of funding sources. While they may still be doing some of that work, they’re not investing marketing dollars in it. While we still do a great deal of SharePoint and Office 365 consulting we’re finding ourselves in the minority.

The result, the ability of organizers to attract funding has become harder and therefore represents a greater barrier to those who want to keep the groups open.

The Path Forward

For the leadership of the SharePoint Users Group of Indiana, we officially put the group on hold. We didn’t know where we were going with the group – and still don’t. I’m personally conflicted because I miss the conversations that I had with the local community and at the same time I don’t know how to really get it back.

I realize that the process of content planning in our environment is too challenging. At the same time, the groups that I’ve seen that leave things open to discussion topics doesn’t seem right either. It seems like the format of the one-hour user’s group with technical training is gone. So what’s going to replace it?

We tried for a while in Indianapolis to do half-day workshops. The idea was that this is a type of content that the community needs but can’t get elsewhere. This represented its own challenges not the least of which was getting presenters who would commit to the work to put the workshop together and who had the facilitation skills to do it. On the other side was the attendees who needed to get a half-day away from their jobs to participate. Even when we found the speaker we often struggled to get the right amount of attendance.

There are still SharePoint Saturday events across the world but they’re happening less and less. From some of the organizers that I’ve spoken with finding the funding to do these events has proven more and more challenging over the years. This is as the software vendors have pulled back from these events because they continued to struggle to show the value.

The Weather Forecast

I’ve never been a fan of weather forecasters. Historically accuracy was about even with the odds of a professional baseball player hitting a ball. (Roughly 1:3). However, I find that we’ve all got the desire to know what’s going to happen. What does the future hold? I don’t know. However, I’d like your help. I’ve created a survey that I’d love for you to help by filling out. Once I get enough responses I’ll gather them up and post a follow up to this that explains the results. Can you help find a path forward for our community?

The Survey is at:

The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users, Instructor Led Training

For years now we’ve licensed instructor led training for SharePoint through our SharePoint Shepherd brand. Included in that training is some framing information that puts SharePoint’s value in context. This information helps folks understand what SharePoint can do and how it can help organizations accomplish their goals. For some of our customers we recorded module 1 so that they could optimize their employees’ time and they wouldn’t have to worry about finding time to teach it.

Today I’m releasing the first part of that module that we recorded on You Tube, so that anyone that wants to help their users and business leaders understand how SharePoint can be valuable can do that at no charge.

Of course, we’re always here to help you be successful with your SharePoint adoption, whether that’s end user training, adoption and engagement training and support, helping you deploy the infrastructure, or developing solutions that are built on top of SharePoint.