Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Speaking at the SharePoint Evolutions Roadshow'14 (Dublin)

Last June, I was invited to speak at the SharePoint Evolutions Conference Roadshow, here in Dublin. It was a joint session promoted by Derek Finnerty, my practice director in Storm, with Gerry Moloney, from the NTMA.

The goal of the presentation was to show "a client story, a very real one, about the hoops and hurdles our client went through to create a SharePoint centric platform that delivered a full range of business solutions to make things work".

As Summer fades away (maybe "Irish Summer" is more appropriate...still Summer!), I'm taking a look back at the last few months, which have been quite busy.

The first stop is in June, in the SharePoint Evolutions Conference Roadshow (www.sharepointevolutionconference.com/), where I attended the Dublin day. It's organized by Combined Knowledge (Twitter) and their very energetic CEO, Steve Smith, who was in charge of the keynote.

The conference had a very nice pool of speakers, like Eric Shupps, Symon Garfield and Penny Coventry...Andrew Connell (blog) was probably the stand out personality for me, being involved in so many WCM projects since 2007, his blog has been one of the best sources of trustworthy information. I attended his session about workflows, which was very interesting, but also quite focused and deep into the details, so I would reckon would not be the ideal session to attend if you still know nothing about SharePoint 2013 Workflows.

I also attended a session by Colin Byrne (blog), probably the best technical SharePoint guy I know and with whom I've had the pleasure of working on a couple of occasions in Storm. He is a regular speaker on the Irish SPUG (he is the organizer after all!) and this time he spoke about Cloud, Office 365, Apps and how the new paradigm will change the lives of SharePoint people.

The third session I attended (not in this order), was about Hybrid scenarios, presented by Sam Hassani (blog). It's an interesting topic, getting more traction than ever, but the reality is it is still early days and really only the authentication is fully catered for, with search also providing a couple of integration options as well that may prove to be a solution in some cases, but there's no escape from the fact that the results are not fully integrated.

This was a different conference for me as well, it was the first time I was speaking in a big event like this. I know it was only a shared session from one of the event sponsors (Storm), but it is a start :)

The motto of the session was "When the business says make it work". Derek wanted to make a different kind of presentation. We have great people working on the commercial side of the house, but by now people attending conferences are probably tired of listening to high level conversations that seem to come from a world where everything is perfect and always goes right. So the challenge he made me and Gerry was to have an honest and open conversation about the work we've been doing together for the last (almost) 3 years. In his own words, the "hoops and hurdles", not just the shiny stuff we can brag about.

The presentation slides are here, you can see them yourself.

We talked about the challenges of using SharePoint in NTMA (National Treasury Management Agency), an organization that has so many regulatory restrictions and media attention, especially since the NAMA (National Asset Management Agency) was created in 2009, following the Irish financial crisis and property bubble.

Their most pressing business challenges were having a fully auditable document management system that could scale to meet their growing demands in terms of data. The IT department was also very keen to delegate the management of the structure to chosen representatives of the business. By that they meant allowing them to manage their own site templates, configuring libraries, content types, security and so on. It is called the "Governance Engine".

Our work there (Storm), as one of their Microsoft partners, has been helping them not only deliver the business solutions they need, but also work together on improving their ALM process. John MacHale, a very good Storm colleague of mine, and an excellent ALM Consultant (now transformed into a Delivery Manager), has also been a big part of that effort. In the presentation we discussed both the inherent technical challenges of creating the "Governance Engine", but also the challenge of doing it right, process-wise.

The major take away points we discussed are:
  • Agree and follow a properly defined ALM process: there's no silver bullet, each organization is different, but the various teams must always reach an agreement on the strategy to follow when developing and deploying business applications. Whatever process you agree to, give it an honest chance of succeeding, or failing, by following it with discipline and willingness to adapt. Analyse the good and the bad frequently and improve continuously.
  • Iterative development: this is a key improvement for any organisation that is still taking a very conservative approach to projects. Early feedback through frequent releases is the best warranty for a successful project and the best way to manage the ever changing requirements.
  • Managed release process: as iterative development gains traction within your organization, your release process will soon after get under pressure. Make sure you define your quality gates properly and do not accept releases just because timelines are pushing it. Always make sure a release is good enough to proceed. Experience says that relaxing the quality criteria early in the cycle (i.e. System Test or UAT) may have disastrous consequences later (i.e. Production). It's better to push a System Test release a few days, than failing a release to Production or creating disruption in live systems.
  • Using the right tools: regardless of what we are talking about, having the right tools for the job is always fundamental. In our case, that meant TFS for source control, work management, automated builds and recorded/automated tests. As for the development tools, we successfully migrated to Visual Studio 2013, and the correct usage of tools such as ULSViewer, ILSpy (yes, we had to looked deep into SharePoint when facing certain issues!) and SharePoint Manager was fundamental.

I was also quite happy to see an audience of around 20 people, which is not always common in presentations from the event sponsors.

I thought the idea of a roadshow was a very good one and it seemed quite successful, let's hope the organizers felt it too and this is a conference to stay for many years to come. Dublin was the last day and I could see some tired faces around: 12 locations in UK and Ireland, with 240 hours worth of presentations and 50 odd speakers in only 16 days is quite something!

Well done to all the team.

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