Archive for Partners

Providing a secure BD extranet for partners and customers using CorasWorks on SharePoint


All Federal Government Contractor customers of our Business Development solutions will at some point face the need to provide secure access to their Partners (Vendors, Suppliers) and Customers.  This month, Steve Evangelista, one of our Lead Architects wrote a series of three articles that cover securing and hardening of your system for this scenario.  We use all of these methods in our BD solutions.  You can also use them in your own CorasWorks solutions.

The articles are:

Part 1: Securing & Hardening SharePoint Sites for External Users: Basic configuration using CorasWorks to support working with external parties.

Part 2: Securing & Hardening SharePoint Sites: How to modify SharePoint Master Pages to security trim common native pages (All Content, native web part pages, etc.).  This is a SharePoint best practice.

Part 3: Securing & Hardening SharePoint Sites: Leveraging CorasWorks to create a secure proxy account to tightly secure what external users can see and do.

Comment: Design for Multi-Party Usage

It is very common for people to design systems in a classic way in which we think about all users sharing the same user interface, with security as a back-end system issue.  However, in most collaborative systems and certainly BD systems, it is a better design approach to think of your groups of users as having separate interfaces.  CorasWorks and SharePoint easily support this approach.

So, imagine your employees, your partners, and your customers each having their own user interface.  It is their place to go.  This interface is then optimized for them.  It supports their role.  You may even get more granular so that you have interfaces for Executives, Managers, and Doers internally or different types of partners or partners in different roles.  Yet, effectively, all of these users are working off of the same data.  This design makes it far easier to manage the security by role in a different interface.  This makes it more secure.


R3 Knowledge Factory for Cim: Ideas to Knowledge Products

A very common business process, particularly for the SharePoint community, is creating knowledge used by the organization or external communities.  R3 Business Solutions, has created the Knowledge Factory add-on for CorasWorks Idea Management, that leverages social features of Cim to improve the process of tranforming ideas and questions into knowledge that is interactive and dynamic.   This is a very interesting solution for Cim, in that it highlights the fact that the output is a knowledge product.  This solution really helps you to start thinking of knowledge in a product management context and giving you the means to get there.  Here is a discussion of this business scenario and a walkthrough of their add-on solution.

The Situation

A lot of time and effort goes into creating information that can be used as knowledge by your internal workforce or external communities.  The process raises some key questions.  What knowledge is needed and being asked for?  How important is it?  What is the process for creating and approving it for publication?  How do we manage the processes for different types of information? How can users find it and access it?  What do users think of the knowledge?  How can it be improved? What has been published?  How often is it used or looked for? How easy is it to change and versionize?  How do we track our knowledge creation process and the user satisfaction?

The tools and approach of most organizations lack the ability to answer many of these questions.  Typically, knowledge creation is a back room process with an end product that is rather dry and passive (aka a document).  Most approaches lack the interactivity to drive forward the value of knowledge.  Often, it gets published without the ability for the users to interact and add value upfront, during the creation, or after it is published.  It is often not easy to find the right information or to know what is important or even popular.  As a key part of the work of most organizations, this is an important process to improve.  

R3 Knowledge Factory Solution

Leveraging CorasWorks Idea Management, R3 has created an end-to-end add-on solution that provides organizations with a 360 degree process for transforming ideas, questions, and topics into knowledge that is dynamic and continuously improved.  It is a product management solution for knowledge.  It leverages the social aspects of Cim to know what is needed by users and to get feedback on the finished knowledge product that is used to improve existing knowledge and also drive needs.  In effect, Knowledge Factory takes a dry, passive process and transforms it into an interactive, dynamic, measurable system for serving the knowledge needs of users.

The Walkthrough

In this walkthrough, we’ll look at a scenario for the HR department.  We’ll assume that they have their own community where users can post ideas, questions, and topics.  It is part of the HR portal.  Users consume the published knowledge via a self-service display in the HR portal or in any other portal in the environment.  In the middle, there is an HR Knowledge Base app where the heavy lifting of creating the knowledge base articles and managing the review and approve process takes place.  Below we show the core modules of the solution and the activities.  Note that the solution is role-based in that different users are working in different contexts from different places across your SharePoint environment.



The HR Community

It starts with the Community.  As shown below, users are posting ideas and questions for the HR department.  Other users can also see them, rate them and comment on them.  This is used to determine the demand for a given topic. Members of HR can also respond to the posts via comments or email in an interactive and visible way.  



Knowledge Mgmt App: Scan, Screen, and Select

Each department or group can have its own Knowledge Management app.  This is where the creating process happens and the knowledge base is located.  From here they can scan the Community posts.  For instance, the HR department can see the posts in the HR Community.  Plus they can see posts in other communities that might relate to their work. They can view the original post and interact – commenting as necessary.  As shown below, they can then select posts to kick off a draft of a knowledge base article – it automatically pulls in information from the post and provides the user with a form to begin the process.  It also maintains a trackback to the original post providing the means for continued interactivity with users during the knowledge creation process.



Knowledge Mgmt App: Create and Review Process

Knowledge Base owners then go about their process to create the KB article with supporting information – often interacting with users.  The end result would be the KB article description, attached documents, links to videos and web pages.  This is then put through a managed review process with notifications. The end result is publishing the article for consumption by users.

KB Articles - review


KB Self-Service: Search and Social

Once published, KB articles are available in the self-service display.  In our scenario, this would be available in the HR Portal.  It can also be snapped into any other portal/location across your SharePoint environment.  As shown below, this lets users search the knowledge base (with suggestions) and access the information.  Each search by a user is tracked so that KB owners have another way to know what users are looking for.  In addition, users are able to rate the articles and comment which helps other users and the KB owners.  The commenting allows for the HR KB owner to interact with users in a public or private manner. 

search combo-850


KB Top 10 Listings

Think dynamic marketing of knowledge.  Sometimes users aren’t proactive.  They often just want to see what is new and most popular.  Knowledge Factory comes with a Top 10 Listings display that shows users the most recent articles and the highest rated articles (Star Power as shown below).  They can quickly click through multiple knowledge bases all in one display.

top 10


Wrap Up

R3’s Knowledge Factory does a great job of providing the complete 360 degree process of transforming ideas into knowledge.   It leverages social interactivity at all of the key points in the life cycle.  In doing so, it actually transforms your process from a “back-room” activity into a dynamic, interactive way that needs are effectively converted into knowledge that has its own cycle of improvement. It also comes with extensive tracking and reporting such as seeing what KB articles are published and what users are looking for.  This helps you to guide your efforts and activities going forward.  You can now have a 360 process for managing knowledge like a product. 

The solution is an add-on for CorasWorks Idea Management.  It is licensed on a single perpetual license per customer depending on size of organization.  The one solution can be used to support multiple departments.  And, the communities and self-service Snaplets can be distributed across your SharePoint environment for maximum visibility and interactivity.



Spirit Releases the Community Services Suite for SharePoint

This is cool product. We did a joint webcast with Microsoft in November where we talked about integrating Extranets in the Cloud with Intranets on premise (what we termed the X design). In it, we highlighted the Spirit Community Services Suite which was just released. This product allows organizations to create very webby UI, integrated collaborative communities on SharePoint. It contains a set of 4 modules that you use to create your communities, or, you can use the modules to add “community services” to any site in any SharePoint environment – Intranet, Extranet, or Internet.

 spiritbinoc-800-omega community-as

We’ve been using the different modules for some time in our own Community – so I am a believer. If you visit the Resources section of the Community you’ll see the link service in action. In our Partner Extranet we use the link service, the news service, and the group blog. The neatest part though is the UI that is all clean CSS/XSLT. This is particularly important for the main community navigation template, which makes it very easy to change and rebrand. With that piece, it is quite easy to pop up, eye popping communities across your environment.

A subtle but key part of the design is that the services modules run as centrally configured web application services. You configure them using a simple, native SP interface, then, you distribute the UI’s, called Service Viewers as web parts to wherever you want to use them. So, when you make changes centrally to a service, any and all uses of it across the environment are immediately updated. This allows you to make access to community services convenient for users by putting them where the user works (like in their departments) while minimizing the maintenance.

It runs on the CW Toolset on top of WSS 3.0 or MOSS. You can run it on premise or in the cloud via our offering with The documentation is rather extensive. Armed with it, you can deploy your first community, as shown in the demonstration video, in just a couple of hours. In a full day, you can have a slick, branded community, integrating information from across your SharePoint environment.

If you want to get some business leverage for your organization in 2010, interactive communities that engage and leverage people, inside and outside your organization, is a great way to start.


App Review: Software License Management by Future Structure

A couple of posts ago, I discussed a trio of apps for the IT Department published by CorasWorks.  The new Software License Management app by Future Structure is a very useful addition to the trio – starting to really hit the pain in IT work.  Here is my take on it.

For IT folks, managing end-user licenses (desktop and online services) in an attempt to maintain control and be in compliance is a real pain.  FS’s Software License Management (“SLM”) app for SharePoint does a very clean job of eliminating a good deal of the pain, by automating the routine tasks, and providing a new layer of tracking and reporting that happens automatically.

SLM is used for managing your catalog of end-user licenses (what you have in inventory), getting requests by end-users or managers, and assigning the licenses to the end-users and tracking.  These are the basics and it does them cleanly.  It also has a group of very useful additional features as follows:

  • You can create “Image Suites” of licenses.  This is a set of licenses for a particular image by user role, such as a Suite for a Salesperson, an Exec, an IT Help Desk engineer etc.  You can then allocate a Suite to a user, bypassing the license by license process.
  • How about on-boarding? – In a couple of clicks you can allocate a Suite to a new employee during on-boarding. 
  • How about off-boarding? – Imagine in a couple of clicks the licenses from a former employee can be added back into your virtual license inventory.
  • License Key Assignment – It also supports the request and assignment process for license keys.
  • Inventory management – There is reporting that shows where you are in your inventory based upon what you’ve bought and what’s been allocated.
  • Management reporting – There are a bunch of reports, very customizable, that show who has gotten what and when.

In my view, SLM’s sweet spot is organizations with 40-400 end-users.  At 40 people, the problem is usually enough of a pain and a risk to make it worth while.  At about 400 people and up the work starts to be getting so big that you will probably need an automated way of discovering licenses on desktops/laptops.

But, even if you address the “desktop” issue there are two other areas that need to be managed, where SLM might also be a good addition:

  • The first is ad hoc licenses for specific groups.  An example is getting some copies of Camtasia from Tech Smith for the marketing department or even some temporary vendors.  What is being requested, purchased, and distributed?  SLM can handle this.
  • The second is the user/license management for apps/services provided via ASP/cloud offerings.  How many services are you using and who has access and the rights?  With SLM you can keep track of these licenses and provide the reports without having to go through all of the sites of all of the services you are using.  Better yet managers can be the ones requesting access (some self-serving).  This provides a great source of data to routinely review your expense levels for software as a service.

My wish list for the future consists of two items:

  • I’d like to see Future Structure extend SLM to integrate with our Help Desk so that it can be a downstream app.  Thus, if a Help Desk engineer gets a license request they can push it into the SLM system automatically. 
  • Second, is that I’d like to see a Snaplet for it as part of an organizations’ end-user self-service offering.  It would be used for end-users to a) see what software is available and supported by the organization (what a concept?), b) allow end-users to make requests and track them and c) allow end-users to request new software or services to be added to the organizations offering.

As it is today, it is a great addition to the IT Department app catalog – particularly for $1,250.  Any pain we can remove from this “not fun” process for already overworked IT folks is all good.