Having been in SharePoint space for over 21 years, providing consulting services and solutions for Microsoft 365 and Azure, the power platform and DevOps, Pat shared his expertise in SharePoint with Mark and his listeners.
Their chat focused on developing web parts – past and present, showcasing two of Cloudwell’s very own productivity-focused web part solutions, as well as tips and tricks for both developers and intranet managers.
What follows is an abridged version of their conversation. For the full interview check out this month’s Intrazone.
Mark Kashman (MK): What’s your take on web part development, especially if you compare it to pre-SharePoint Framework?
Pat McGown (PM): Having been involved in the SharePoint space for so long, I’ve really been able to see the maturation of development and deployment through those years. I think we can all remember, whether we want to or not, what the deployment experience was like pre-SharePoint Framework what with the GAC and bin folders. In addition, with regards to the user experience, we all remember how the big ask was to “make it not look like SharePoint”.
Fast forward to today, we’ve really come a long way. What SharePoint Framework has introduced is the really advanced web part development. In terms of development and deployment, we now have the ability to use Fluid UI with the SharePoint Framework, which means we’re able to really deliver a cohesive user experience to the end users.
And on top of that, the SharePoint framework has the capability to allow us to utilize what’s called ‘supported hosts’, to really extend the reach of what used to be SharePoint web part, out into Microsoft Teams and or Microsoft 365.
MK: When Microsoft moved SharePoint to the cloud it came with a real limit to customizations. As a solution developer, how did you get around this?
PM: At that point of transition, there was a lot of push-backs for a number of different reasons and there still is today.
However, one of the great things with this modern SharePoint experience is it’s really made organizations rethink the value prop of the solutions and customization they’re building and bringing into their environment. And they’re really able to now focus on driving efficiencies for their organization, as opposed to putting the weather and traffic in the top right hand corner of that bar.
We always say, with introducing any web part people should be thinking how the solution can solve a problem for the organization as a whole, not just think of it as a web part on a page in SharePoint.
MK: What's the most common question you hear from your customers when they're implementing their intranet?
PM: Microsoft has done an amazing job, bringing all these wonderful apps to the market but there’s one common theme that comes up a lot – what to use and when?
To that question, I think each tool has its advantage and a space where it really operates optimally, where its function really fits perfectly. We tell our customers, to use them all. They all work well for specific use cases. It’s a question of where it best fits.
However, in some cases the standard web parts need a little enhancement. For example, when it comes to event based data – there are different ways to collaborate on that data such as SharePoint Calendar, lists, plans, exchange, and even shared mailboxes. What people really need is to bring all of that information and data together in one place. Which is what we’ve done with our Calendar Overlay web part solution.
With our Calendar Overlay app, we developed the solution because this had been a common request from organizations, whether we were building an intranet or building a team site, or other various communication sites, that they wanted a way to bring in calendars from various different data sources across the organization and have it in one view.
The classic SharePoint experience had a calendar overlay feature where you could overlay up to a certain number of calendars, but the branding options were limited. And it was data source specific.
So, we sought a way to bring a solution to market that allowed customers not just to solve that problem of overlaying different SharePoint lists for SharePoint calendars. But to also pull in data from other great tools that Microsoft has brought to market such as planner plans, Microsoft 365 groups, shared mailboxes, resource mailboxes, public events calendar on their website, which can be fed through an iCal feed.
Using Calendar Overlay, our customers have the ability to see all of these different data sources in a color-coded fashion in various different views in one space.
MK: I'm curious from a SharePoint framework can you share the wizardry of Calendar Overlay app and what's going on behind the scenes?
PM: Calendar Overlay is made possible by using the Graph API. Using Graph API, we’re able to reach out to all the various different data sources that Microsoft has now created with its wonderful apps.
What’s good about that is the Graph API also allows you to respect security. And in the case of Calendar Overlay, security is absolutely top of mind because you don’t want to be sharing event information on someone’s calendar if they haven’t been granted permissions.
In addition, through our development framework and SharePoint Framework, coupled with the localization options that SharePoint Framework and Azure translation services provide, we’ve been able to overcome major obstacles such as specific regional and timezone settings and scenarios which means this app can be consumed globally without barriers.
MK: How did you come about creating the Staff Directory web part app?
PM: In terms of our Staff Directory app, limitations have long existed within SharePoint specifically from a web part perspective – as there is no native static directory in SharePoint. Yes, you’ve got the People web part, which is great if you have small teams and you want to add people to the page. You’ve got the org chart, which gives you a small, hierarchical view that you can navigate up or down. But there’s no real directory that’s searchable.Think of it like your old office Rolodex.
So, what our Staff Directory app does is it allows users to search, filter, and refine staff in SharePoint and in Teams. Because it’s built on the SharePoint Framework, users have the ability to quickly find colleagues across their organization based on specific criteria, which is extremely useful.
Using the app, they have the ability to search against departments managers, with a quick filter based on last name, first name. Other functionality includes a toggle feature so they can see celebrations, birthdays, and company work anniversaries etc.
Staff Directory app is a great tool for finding people quickly within an organization, but it also helps you to really celebrate people within your organization to if you’d like to.
MK: If someone wants to customize their internet, what tips and tricks can you share? How do they do it? What are some things to avoid or do?
PM: The number one thing is utilize the platform and its best capabilities. And when I say the platform, I’m talking about the SharePoint Framework and integrating that with the native Fluent UI.
Think about building your solutions not just for SharePoint, but for all of Microsoft 365. Because you can solve a much bigger problem, or broaden the reach of your solution.
I’d say re-usability is key. You know, every time you need to reinvent the wheel, that could be time that could have been better spent on nice to haves that are really putting icing on the cake of an already functional solution.
Finally, really utilize the community around SharePoint and its resources. There are tonnes of great starter web parts that you could find out there on the PNP sites and on GitHub. I particularly love, and really refer back to regularly, this great month’s long blog post series on the on the SharePoint framework blog by Vesa Juvonen and Hugo Bernier, where they sum up everything you need to know about getting started and how to make your solution shine within your organization.
MK: Can you share any tips for intranet managers looking to design their intranet to meet the needs of the business?
PM: There are four steps that organizations need to focus on: explore, align, implement, and then engage.
Explore: Get inspired with the SharePoint look book. There’s a lot of templates that Microsoft continues to add to this look book that you can then provision right within your own SharePoint tenant. Have fun with it, kick the tires around, and really use that as the opportunity for you to learn the capabilities of the platform.
Align: Align and share with stakeholders to really build interest and to find and identify use cases within your organization. Don’t do it on your own, it can get overwhelming very quickly.
Implement: The biggest thing, and this goes back to the weather and traffic in the top right corner scenario, is really focus on the value-add for the organization, and what you’re trying to achieve with your intranet.
Engage: Capture feedback from users. We do this regularly with our team. I’ll send off a Microsoft forms survey, because we’re continually trying to improve our intranet. Improvements are great and can be easy to do. Engage with your audience and couple their feedback with your SharePoint analytics, to really get a great understanding of what your users are trying to do in your intranet site.
Don’t forget to implement a sound information architecture. A lack of this can really create difficulty for your users to find information. And more importantly, could risk your security posture. So, make sure to keep that information architecture top of mind.
For more information
Links to important on-demand recordings and articles mentioned in the Intrazone episode:
- Hosts, guests, and related products
- Articles and sites
- “Cloudwell launches Cloud9 Microsoft MVP Program” (blog)
- Check out the two Cloudwell solutions we highlighted: