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Leveraging Third-Party SharePoint Add-ons

Third-party software applications are growing at an amazing rate and are convincing many companies that a portal is worth the investment in time and energy based on the added value they can provide. In some cases these add-ons add to the basic feature set offered by SharePoint, and in others they enable the portal capabilities of SharePoint and allow connectivity to critical business software applications.

Data Roll-ups

One need that has emerged with SharePoint users is to have a roll-up of information in a central location. For example, there may be 20 subsites each with an announcements list and its own events list. When an employee wants to schedule a new event, she doesn’t want to have to check each and every calendar to find free time. That same employee wants a site to visit when she wants to see all the different announcements in one place as well.

CorasWorks offers an excellent set of Web Parts that provide this functionality, several of which are shown in Figure 3.9. In this example, there are three subsites—Professional Services, Sales, and Training—each of which has its own announcements and events lists that have content. As shown in Figure 3.9, announcements from each site are available, and the announcement for the Sales department is displayed. A weekly calendar view is shown and also summarizes all the events for the week displayed. Each Web Part has its own search bar, so a user can search among the rolled-up items for a specific term. Clicking on the announcement title or the event title opens the announcement or event from its current site.

Figure 3.9

Figure 3.9 CorasWorks announcement and calendar roll-up Web Parts.

Roll-up Web Parts are increasingly considered mandatory for administrators of site collections and managers to be able to keep up with updates in different lists on the myriad of sites and subsites they work with. Project managers benefit greatly from task and issue roll-ups for similar reasons. CorasWorks also offers filtering capabilities, as well as the capability of building customized roll-ups based on any or all fields from any custom lists or libraries.

Enhanced Navigation Tools

When a complex portal structure is in place, it can be challenging for a new user to remember the URL of a particular site he wants to visit. He can go to the Sites area on the portal and then look for the site, but this is not always an intuitive process, and the default configuration of the Sites area can add extra mouse clicks and confusion to the process of locating a specific site or subsite, list, or library. A number of vendors provide Web Parts that assist in the navigation process, which provide a tree structure that makes the location of the site clear.

On the left-hand side of Figure 3.10 the site navigation Web Part is shown. It includes the Administration and Lists folders for the current site, as well as icons for each subsite (in this case Professional Services, Sales, and Training). The Training folder is expanded, revealing an Administration folder, also expanded, and a Lists folder, also expanded. This tool enables the user to explore before committing to jumping to a specific site or list. Note also that the number of items in a list is included after the name of the list. In this case, the user could see that no documents are in the Shared Documents library on the Training site, so there would be no need to visit it.

Figure 3.10

Figure 3.10 CorasWorks site navigation Web Part.

Workflow Solutions for SharePoint

The limited workflow features in the SharePoint "version1" products was removed from the SharePoint 2003 products, but many clients are interested in creating workflows. The idea of workflow is that a document is submitted to the workflow, and then one or more users need to approve the document so that it can then move on for the next round of approvals. While some organizations choose to build a workflow solution in-house, there are a number of add-on products on the market that provide workflow capabilities.

A number of products are available that work with SharePoint 2003 products, one of which is from Nintex and is called the SmartLibrary. SmartLibrary enables people and teams to collaborate and tightly control document quality through a customizable workflow process. SmartLibrary enhances SharePoint document libraries with features such as change auditing, statistic reporting, document undelete, and the ability to publish approved documents to other systems.

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