Replace Forefront TMG with a high quality, flexible, edge security, SSO application from KEMP TECHNOLOGIES

SharePointEduTech have been working with a series of education clients all looking for an effective replacement for their Microsoft Forefront TMG server that will reach end of support in December 2015.The answer comes in the form of an Edge Security device from KEMP.

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TMG goes End of Life

Many schools, colleges and universities around the world are still deploying services such as Exchange, Lync, SharePoint or other web based services on premises and will continue to do so despite the compelling reasons to consider the cloud. For many years, these services have all sat securely behind a Microsoft Forefront Threat Management Gateway device. With TMG reaching its end of life status and Microsoft declaring no replacement models we spent quite some time looking for a cost effective replacement.

The answer came in the form of the Kemp Technology LoadMaster and its extended feature pack. Built in as a standard feature, the Edge Security Protection (ESP) has the ability to secure all of the usual public facing services. The ESP features offer a secure and effective gateway and offer all of the following familiar requirements from TMG.

  • End Point Authentication for Pre-Auth
  • Persistent Logging and Reporting
  • Single Sign On across Virtual Services
  • Active Directory Integration
  • RADIUS Authentication Support
  • Fully Customizable FBA Forms
  • Soft Lockout
  • Group Membership Validation
  • Dual factor authentication with RSA SecurID

SharePointEduTech have found, in KEMP LoadMaster, a flexible solution that allows customers to decide on the best options for their infrastructure when deciding on installation. You can chose between,

  • Virtual devices on Hyper V, Xen, VMware or Virtual box
  • Custom built hardware devices on premises
  • Cloud devices on AWS or Microsoft Azure
  • Bare Metal conversions of your existing high performing server solutions.Options for Kemp

Five reasons why this solution suits Education customers?

kemp_logo_new1. Flexible solutions with straightforward installation and commissioning

As you can see from the options above there is a Kemp Solution to meet your requirements, either on premises or in the cloud. Once installed the commissioning process is so straightforward. If you can manage a rule set on TMG then there is no reason you can’t manage your Kemp device.

The device will come with a series of inbuilt templates to allow for quick commissioning of all the familiar workloads. If your workload isn’t listed there is likely to be a downloadable template for you.

2. Top class Support

From time to time, things will go wrong, after all it is IT we are talking about here. The level of technical support offered by Kemp is first class. You decide on the level of support required from Basic to Premium plus. In our experience the Premium support gives you a high level of support that is really proactive. How often have you had a support engineer chase you for a response rather than the other way around? We have found the level of technical support from KEMP to be quick and effective. What more could you ask for?

3. Industry Standard

KEMP is not a new company. When we started to look for a replacement for TMG they took some finding. This might make you think that they are a small company. Nothing could be further from the truth. KEMP have been in operation since 2000 with over 26,000 worldwide installations. They are listed third in the Load Balancing market with a rapidly growing profile and they are consistently marked as an industry leader. KEMP is a big player who places a great deal of importance on customer satisfaction.

4.  Simple Licensing Model

Whether it’s on premises physical, cloud or part of your virtualisation infrastructure, KEMP have the right model to meet the scale of your implementation. The ESP features all come as standard and there are no hidden costs. Ask about pricing for your school and we guarantee you will be surprised.

5. Let’s not forget the Load Balancing

This post has talked about the TMG replacement provided by KEMP LoadMaster but don’t forget that you also get a top quality load balancing service as the primary feature of the device. Maybe you’ve been using other top quality devices or simple Windows load balancing (if you could ever get it to work properly). Now with KEMP you have the best of both worlds. Strong and effective Edge security and high quality, industry standard load balancing that won’t blow your budget.

Call to Action

If you want to know more, or discuss replacing your TMG services, we are just an email or a call away.

Email:                    info@sharepointedutech.com

Telephone:         +44 2476 362712

We can arrange a demonstration, a short trial or discuss and plan your move to KEMP LoadMaster supported by SharePointEduTech.

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SharePointEduTech – Have You Considered The Cloud?

As we move ever closer to July 15th when support for Windows Server 2003 will end, many colleges and universities are looking at this as an opportunity to move towards the cloud for their hosting and workload needs. We have a number of partners who are able to help academic institutions move to the cloud, including SharePointEduTech, who are running a series of webinars for Further and Higher Education.

This post explores some of the factors and objectives that colleges and universities should consider when migrating to the cloud, as well as providing details about our upcoming webinar series.

There has never been a better time for UK Colleges and Universities to consider moving their workload to the cloud. In a few short weeks Microsoft Support for Windows Server 2003 will end and many organisations are looking at ways to migrate that load. Moving to the cloud can often be a challenge for many organisations, overcoming obstacles from financial, ethical or an institutional reluctance to trust the cloud. How many IT Leaders and network support staff still say that they “like to see their server workload buzzing away”?

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The role of the IT Leader in FE and HE has never been more important. As budgets tighten and workloads increase it can often be a balancing act to find the best solution to meet the needs of the users and stay within budget. The concept of transferring that cost to a subscription model rather than capital expenditure is a great way to effect savings whilst responding efficiently to the needs of your customers.

The first step for many is a migration to Office 365 in order to lever the benefits of world class email and communication technologies such as Exchange online or Skype for Business. There are so many more opportunities in the cloud ‘beyond the mailbox’ and it is the role of Microsoft Partners to help customers see the wide range of opportunities available.

SharePointEduTech has been a Microsoft Partner for several years working in the education space delivering some great communication and collaboration solutions. As a Gold Cloud Platform Partner we are strategically aligned to help customers explore the cloud and see the potential benefits.

Whether it’s a simple migration to Office 365, or an infrastructure move to Microsoft Azure (IaaS), or even a University research facility looking to make use of big data compute space, there are options in the cloud that make compelling reasons to make the move.

lachende studenten halten hände zusammen

If you are interested in finding out more, SharePointEduTech are offering a series of Cloud Webinars in June that are designed to help IT Leaders in FE and HE see just what is available to them and how they can safely and efficiently make the move to the cloud.

Webinar 1 – Ten Reasons You Should Care About the Cloud, seeks to unpack the concept of cloud, explain why it is so important and provide you with the tools to make the case for considering cloud as the right option.

This webinar is followed by two strands:

Webinar 2 a) – Flexible Solutions for Adding Value to SharePoint and Office 365 is for IT Leaders who already have Office 365 and want to look at ways to add value beyond the mailbox. Maybe you have SharePoint Server on Premises and want to offer cloud services like One Drive for Business. Perhaps you are looking for ideas on how to increase user adoption. This webinar is for you.

Webinar 2 b) – Microsoft Azure – Options for Education will focus on the wider options available to Higher and Further Education in the Microsoft Azure platform. Many will hear ‘Azure’ and think ‘virtual machines’. This webinar is designed to help you consider the bigger picture, think about your big data requirements and how a cloud solution could help you deliver that requirement.

To register for these webinars, simply click the links above or go to www.sharepointedutech.com/elastic

Restore a deleted Site Collection in SharePoint 2013, 2010 or Office 365

Restore a deleted Site Collection in SharePoint 2013, SharePoint 2010 or Office 365

If you have deleted a site collection and you want it back again it really is quite straight forward but not particularly obvious. It’s the same process for both SharePoint 2010 and 2013 and even easier in Office 365  – Another reason to move to the cloud!
If you are using Office 365 then it’s all through the admin interface for SharePoint. Under the section where you manage your site collections there is a recycle bin icon on the ribbon, just go in there and restore!

restoredeletedsitecollectionO365
If you have SharePoint on-prem fire up PowerShell on the server (make sure it’s either the Management shell or you have the SharePoint modules loaded)
Then run the following:
Get-SPDeletedSite
This will list all the deleted site collections, in this example I just have one.

getdeletedsitecollection

You’ll need to take a note of the site Id as we need that next. Run the following command but with you’re site Id.
Restore-SPDeletedSite –Identity
You’ll be asked to confirm, there wont be a message to say successful but if you go back to your site you’ll see it’s all back just how it was.

restoredeletedsitecollection

Smart Link for ‘OneDrive for Business’

A post from Darren White, our lead developer.

Smart Link for ‘OneDrive for Business’

In this post Darren is going to show you how, with the aid of a Smart Link you can SSO from SharePoint to ‘OneDrive for Business’, using the OneDrive link on the top right of the ribbon.

This blog post assumes you have:

  • Federated with Microsoft Online
  • SharePoint 2013 with SP1
  • ADFS with Web Application Proxy Set-up
  • SharePoint is published externally through your ADFS Proxy (This will still work externally just without SSO)

What is a Smart Link?

A Smart Link is a name for a URL that allows you to login to a Microsoft Online service, such as One Drive for Business, using your ADFS on-premises. These types of links are also known as ‘identity provider initiated sign in links’.

What does this mean for you?

Internally users can login to their PC on-premises and using the Smart Link they can SSO into Microsoft Online. Externally users can access SharePoint and sign in with ADFS and then using the Smart Link they can also SSO into Microsoft Online.  The vanity domain name of the tenancy is passed to the identity provider rather than the standard “onmicrosoft” default.

Creating the Smart Link

First we need to create our Smart Link that will do the SSO. The basic template for Smart Link is:

https://<ADFS_URL>/adfs/ls?wa=wsignin1.0&wtrealm=urn:federation:MicrosoftOnline&wctx=MEST%3D0%26LoginOptions%3D1%26wa%3Dwsignin1%252E0%26rpsnv%3D2 %26ct%3D1348618157%26rver%3D6%252E1%252E6206%252E0%26wp%3DMBI%26wreply%3D<Destination_URL>

  • <ADFS_URL> – This will be the URL for your ADFS. (E.G. sts.company.com)
  • <Destination_URL> – This with be a double encode URL for the destination. (E.G. https%253A%252F%252Fcompany-my%252Esharepoint%252Ecom)

So the full URL will look something like this:

https://sts.company.com/adfs/ls?wa=wsignin1.0&wtrealm=urn:federation:MicrosoftOnline&wctx=MEST%3D0%26LoginOptions%3D1%26wa%3Dwsignin1%252E0%26rpsnv%3D2 %26ct%3D1348618157%26rver%3D6%252E1%252E6206%252E0%26wp%3DMBI%26wreply%3D https%253A%252F%252Fcompany-my%252Esharepoint%252Ecom

Using the Smart Link

Now that you have the Smart Link you need to add it as a HTTP Redirect to create a vanity URL. I created a new folder within the MySite IIS Website but you might want to create a new Website. Once you decided what you want to use as your vanity URL, set the HTTP Redirect of that location as a 302 (Found) redirect to the Smart Link.

With the vanity URL in place you need to go into ‘Central Admin’ and under the ‘Office 365’ section, click the ‘Configure OneDrive and Sites links’ in the in the My Site URL box enter the vanity URL, Click OK and when you use the OneDrive link in the ribbon you should be singled signed into ‘OneDrive for Business’

 

More information about smart links can be found on this Office 365 blog: http://community.office365.com/en-us/w/sso/358.using-smart-links-or-idp-initiated-authentication-with-office-365.aspx

Five Reasons to consider Office 365 for Education

In this article we look at five reasons to consider Office 365 for your school, college or university. We provide you with information on some of the best features but also a balanced opinion to help you decide what’s best for your organization.

1)     Office 365 is a Free for all qualifying educational establishments.
That’s free Email, Free Lync and Free One Drive.

Maybe you are struggling to maintain your old exchange server.  Maybe it’s still hosted on Server 2003 and you are worried about the end of support deadline looming large.  Office 365 gives you a full, up to date Microsoft Exchange service in the cloud.  A free mailbox for all students and faculty with a 50Gb inbox and business class calendar and contact management.  You also get unlimited online meeting and IM facilities with the Lync App so that you never have to worry about snow days or missing classroom time again.  Simply host the lesson on Lync.  Every member of your school, college or university can take advantage of the free file storage and sharing capabilities of One Drive for Business with up to 1TB of storage per user.  One Drive for business is fully maintained by Microsoft so you can eliminate the cost of storage and expensive back up in house.

And did we mention, its free?

 

2)     One Note Class Notebook Creator

With Microsoft One Note in the classroom, teachers can create feature rich notebooks that help them to deliver curriculum material and monitor student progression. Combined with the power of SharePoint Online it provides a great place for teachers and students to openly collaborate and share ideas.  Teachers can create high quality material for students to work on digitally, take extra notes or take home to finish that all important coursework.  No need to manage exercise books or sheets of paper, simply share content and let some great learning begin.  Watch the overview on http://onenotefor teachers.com or ask for a demonstration.

Get started with a free download of OneNote from www.onenote.com

One Note Classbook

 

3)     Office Mix and Delve

Office Mix is a great free add in for PowerPoint that allows you to create interactive online presentations.  Combined with the Power of SharePoint teachers and students can create and easily share their work online.  It’s quick and easy to make engaging material that can facilitate learning wherever and whenever it suits the teacher and student.  With Office Mix, teachers can track learning outcomes and follow up on the personalised learning experience of students by making use of the wide range of analytical tools available. The transition to Office Mix is so easy.  Many teachers are already used to using PowerPont.  With Office Mix we can take standard material and add interactive elements to interest and stimulate our learners, including snap shot surveys, quick quizzes and so much more.

Check out this great tool at https://mix.office.com/en-us/education

Delve is a great new tool that facilitates the discovery of relevant material and contacts based on your recent activity.  Delve will display the most relevant information that is important to you right now.  The more your class works together by viewing, editing and sharing documents, the more useful Delve will become to the teacher and students.  Delve learns how your students work and how you support their learning to provide up to date information to the individual.  Delve follows the permissions of One Drive for Business and SharePoint so students will never see confidential information in Delve.  You don’t even need to remember the title of the document you were working on.  Delve will do all that for you no matter where you stored it in in SharePoint Online or One Drive for Business.

Delve

 

4)     Office Pro Plus for Students and Faculty

Formally known as Student Advantage, Microsoft are now making Microsoft Office Pro Plus available for all students and faculty to download and install on five devices.  As long as the institution is licensedfor Office 2013 Professional Plus via theiriEES/OVES agreement or the Office 365 Pro Plus plan in Office 365.

You get these great Office Applications to download to your PC, tablet or MAC for use at any time.

Office Pro Plus

You can order this through your reseller or ask your partner for advice on how to add this to your Office 365 tenancy and make the latest version of Microsoft Office available to students and teachers right now.

 

5)     Great Opportunities for Hybrid

So you want to take advantage of the free offer for Office 365 but you also want to maintain control of your content and interact with your Management or Student Information System.  Maybe you have regulations about the storage of material that means you need to maintain an on premises solution or maybe you just prefer to keep things under your roof.  That’s fine but what if you also want to make use of some of these great features in Office 365.  Well now you can.  If you haven’t yet considered a hybrid, this could be your answer. A Microsoft SharePoint-based portal that takes full advantage of the power and breadth of SharePoint 2013 locally hosted, together with the cost effectiveness and flexibility of the features within Cloud-based Office 365.  You could be making full use of Exchange Online and have migrated all your mailboxes but maintain your own SharePoint farm.  Student and Teachers can share material and collaborate online and take advantage of the free storage available with One Drive for Business hosted in the cloud with a Single Sign On solution.

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Read more about a real life hybrid deployment at one of our partner schools here the blog.

 

What to do next.

If this article has sparked an interest or you want to know more, why not get in touch.  SharePointEduTech are proud to be Microsoft Cloud Platform partners so we can have you up an running on Office 365 in a very short time.

Talk to us about your email requirements, your thoughts on migration and we can discuss the options.  Email us on hello@sharepointedutech.com

 

Droitwich Spa High School Case Study – Head pointing to the cloud, feet firmly on the ground.

The following is a guest post from Gerald Haigh

A large and rapidly improving secondary school works with Microsoft Partner SharePointEduTech Ltd to ensure that learning is effectively supported and extended by the appropriate use of technology. Here, this involves building a bespoke Hybrid solution – a Microsoft SharePoint-based portal that takes full advantage of the power and breadth of SharePoint 2013 locally hosted, together with the cost effectiveness and flexibility of the features within Cloud-based Office 365.

Droitwich Spa High School is a larger than average 11 to 18 secondary academy (1450 students) with sports college status. At the last Oftsed inspection it was found ‘outstanding’ in leadership and management, and ‘good’ in all other categories, a considerable improvement from the previous inspection. As part of the drive for further progress, Deputy Head Jonathan Brook, with responsibility for data, finance and resources, looked at the school’s existing virtual learning environment with a view to estimating its impact on learning and level of use.

‘We’ve had a VLE for some ten years,’ he says. ‘The right one, properly used, is like extending the school day, understanding that children can be at their most productive when they’re at home.’

However, the current VLE, he concluded, was not living up to that.

‘It was good at what it did, but the problem as I saw it was that it lived in a different world, with its own log-in, separately from everything else that was happening.’

To begin with he was thinking in terms of a solution that linked to the school’s SIMS management information system. This would at least put student data more easily within reach, something the existing VLE wouldn’t do. As he did the research, though, he realised, having seen SharePointEduTech’s work in other schools, that what was really needed was a branded Microsoft SharePoint based school ‘portal’, with staff, parents and students’ home pages, linked through to their routine work and activities — and with access to data from their SIMS.net MIS. Carefully constructed and used, it would become not just a useful resource, visited as necessary, but an everyday working environment – growing eventually to be a virtual version of the school itself.

SharePointEduTech on the scene

SPEduTechLTD_Draft02_Trans

Having seen SharePointEduTech’s work on building branded and customised portals for other schools, Jonathan approached them with a view to realising the Droitwich Spa vision.

‘They were on the scene quite early,’ says Jonathan. ‘First contact in July 2013 and they picked up the pace in September. We mocked up some sketches and told them that this was the kind of thing we wanted. They were really good. It was a slick process, and their first attempt was ninety percent there.’

Consultation, inclusion and Training

Despite the pace of events, it was always important to keep everyone informed and on board as the project developed.

‘We had a working party of twenty from across the school with input on the design, content, and the taxonomy of the portal. SEN, for example, wanted to be sure that parents had all the information they needed about the support available for students’.

Staff training was an important aspect of the project both for teachers and support staff. Here Adrian’s experience as a teacher and a SharePoint expert was vital. He was able to pitch training and support at the right level for the technically minded and those whose focus was academic. He knew all the pitfalls we could expect and how to support teachers with new technology.

Parental engagement

Right from the start, Jonathan was clear that parental access to the school portal would be crucial to what they wanted to achieve.

‘We knew that was a massive part of it. I was an area where we felt we could do a better job than we had been doing.’

The on premises portal

The first step was to develop the portal using SharePoint Server 2013 on- premises.

Neatly branded by SharePointEduTech with the school’s colours, logo and overall look, it offers access, for staff, students, parents and governors – appropriately, by log-in, because obviously not all have complete access – to timetables, email, class sites, subject sites, tutor group activities, up-to-date announcements, SIMS MIS data, out-of-school activities, the school’s twitter feed. Departments can populate their subject sites as they wish – with resources, past exam papers, The school uses a system of five houses — Aqua, Ignis, Lux, Terra and Ventus – and these are embodied in the structure of the portal and the portal has a league table of house points.

Some of the obvious early successes include an alert for unread emails –

‘It breaks a vicious cycle we were in where nobody sent emails because nobody was reading them.’

Also popular with students is a running check on their SIMS MIS reward points. Students and parents can also, because of the link to SIMS, see student reports, including past ones, revealing patterns of progress or otherwise.

Importantly, all of this – branding, structure, content, access permissions, was tailored by SharePointEduTech to the school’s needs and wishes. Their team were able to bring to the table considerable experience not only of knowing what’s technically possible and practical, but also of similar projects which they have undertaken in other schools.

Staff adoption

The portal in this form became available in January 2014

‘We were concerned that it wouldn’t be ready in time,’ says Jonathan. ‘But when we thought about it we realised that it would never be perfect, and we should release it as work in progress, available to the parents and students as soon as possible.’

The staff had a whole day training event on the portal in January, followed by twilight sessions differentiated according to the rate at which people were becoming confident with it. Staff adoption was gradual at first, partly because the previous VLE was available to the end of 2014, and some ICT-minded staff continued to use it.

‘But through the summer term 2014 as timetables became lighter,’ says Jonathan, ‘there were more enquiries about how to use the Portal for various functions.’

Incorporating the cloud

With the on- premises SharePoint portal firmly established, the next step was to add the functionality of Office 365 in the cloud, creating a true hybrid solution for the school – A SharePoint EduTech vision that they sum up as ‘Head to the cloud; feet firmly on the ground.’

In this way, students were able to take advantage of Office 365 cloud-based mail and the vast storage possibilities of OneDrive, as well as all the Office365 web apps and tools such as Office Mix. Anytime-anywhere working, and parental engagement are considerably enhanced, and the licensing advantage of Office 365 pro-plus for Students makes this a highly cost-effective way of providing a forward-thinking school with a 21st Century learning environment.

Student Voice

Recently, Jonathan Brook ran a survey on student use of the Portal (using the built-in survey feature) Here’s how he reports the results:

“Over 90% of the students are using the Portal at least once a week. A quarter are using it every day.

Over half of our children are regularly monitoring their own attendance on the Portal

Two thirds of our children are regularly reviewing their positive and negative behaviour points on the Portal.

Nearly two thirds of our children are regularly using the Portal as an online homework diary.”

Jonathan also adds some student comments:

“The Graphics and Product Design sites are very useful for quickly accessing resources that aid me with my projects, as there are plenty available that are incredibly useful to my learning.”

“I like to see what we may be covering in future lessons so I if might be unsure about the topic I can learn a bit about it first.”

“I find all of the sites on the Portal useful because you can have the information that you need on here e.g. the house that you’re in. It tells us how many house points our house has got and what place we are in. It also tells us what house competitions coming up or are going to happen it is all very useful.”

“We have the sheets that were used in lesson so if I am off school I am able to access the work that was done so that I don’t fall behind.”

“I find the subject sites useful because you can use past papers, materials and videos to help you revise.”

Parent reaction

Improved parental engagement was one of the key drivers of the whole project, and there’s been a gratifyingly positive reaction. Comments include:

“Checking the homework is fantastic. I can make sure my son is doing his homework on time.”

“Being able to see the positive and negative behaviour points is really useful. I can have conversations with my son at home before problems escalate in school.”

“I find being able to see the homework that has been set really useful. I can make sure my daughter is staying organised and it’s nice to know what she is doing at school.”

Conclusion

Head teacher Natalie Waters says,

“The development of the portal has been one of the most significant developments in the school this year.  It has enabled us to gather the most important information about all aspects of the school in one place, keep that information up to date and, most importantly, allow parents to be genuine partners in their children’s education.“

Supporting School Inspection and Policy Management using SharePoint

 

Using the features of SharePoint Server 2013 to support policy management in preparation for ISI or OFSTED Inspection.

 

How many policies do you have to manage in school today? How many school managers spend more time managing policies and making sure inspection documentation is up to date just in case the inspectors come knocking? Wouldn’t you prefer to leave that alone so you can concentrate on teaching and learning?

I’ve been working on a great set of features for one of our valued schools this week that required no extra development. Making use of some great out of the box features to help support the process of school policy management and remove the headaches associated with the process.

The school in question is an independent school with over 1000 pupils across from the age of 3 to 18.  The school is inspected on a regular cycle by the Independent Schools Inspectorate following a published set of guidelines very similar those used in the OFSTED framework.  As part of the process, schools are required to maintain a set of policies on everything from Anti-Bullying, to Safe Recruitment and Boarding Standards.  The school in question has a collection of seventy-two different regulatory and non-regulatory policies that are all cross referenced to inspection standards, all of which are reviewed by SMT on an annual basis and by the full board of governors every three years. The audit process is reportable as part of the initial collection of data when notification of inspection is sent to the school.  

No easy task to keep on top of, but the solution, of course was SharePoint Server 2013 Enterprise. We could make use of some of the great new features of SharePoint Server and some of those available from 2010. Sadly this is another feature not yet available in Office 365 but I’m sure it will be eventually.

We started off with a standard document library on the SMT site. Nothing out of the ordinary there but we created a site content type that allowed us to define:

  • The policy name
  • The date when SMT last reviewed
  • The name of the policy owner, (the person or team responsible for review)
  • The governor’s committee responsible for overview
  • The date for governor review
  • The publish status of the policy, and
  • A cross-reference code to the ISI Inspection Framework which forms part of the managed Metadata term set.

Making the documents flow

Once the content type was set up, the next stage was to build the workflow that would manage the policy management process.  We decided to build a reusable workflow that we could base on the ‘Policy Document’ content type. That way we could be sure there would be a reference column.

The workflow makes great use of the new Stage features for SharePoint 2013 allowing the process to recycle and look back in the event of a rejection.  The diagram below gives a brief outline of the review process that we then constructed a SharePoint 2013 workflow for. I have removed some of the audit trail to keep the diagram simple.  A second workflow is created to control the review cycle.

Policy workflow
A simple diagram of the policy review process

Policy Status

The key to driving the publishing process it was important as we will see later how this drives the ability to show policies, not only within the same site collection, but also across the farm.

As part of the design process the school highlighted a series of steps through which a policy would be processed.

  • Draft
  • Sent to SMT
  • SMT Approved
  • SMT Rejected
  • Send to Committee
  • Committee Approved
  • Committee Rejected
  • Returned to Owner
  • Sent to Full Governors
  • Full Governors Reviewed (as this was an oversight process, not approval)
  • Full Governors Concern (Return to committee)
  • Published
  • In Review

We were able to set this policy status as part of the workflow and then use this to drive the content roll-up parts to display the correct policies to the right groups within the school. At each stage of the process the date was fed back to the SharePoint list.

In part two of this post, I’ll show you the workflow and how we were able to use some of the great enterprise features to complete the solution.

Forest Hill School SharePoint Case Study

A technologically aware school moves to a branded SharePoint environment with the help of Microsoft Partner SharePointEduTech.

The school.

Forest Hill School is a boys’ 11 – 16 school with a mixed sixth form, 1450 students in all. It has specialist Performing Arts status. The school serves a heavily disadvantaged area, and was designated ‘Good’ by Ofsted in 2011 with Care, Guidance and Support judged ‘Outstanding’ . Forest Hill was one of the first of thirteen Lewisham Schools that have been, or will be, renewed under the Borough’s Building Schools for the Future project, which was in train before the cancellation of BSF in 2010   SharePoint

Properly installed and managed, ICT can be used to build a learning gateway which will be the school’s working environment, in effect a virtual version of the school. It goes by various names – ‘gateway’ and ‘portal’ are common, but there are others often incorporating the name of the school. As busy and vibrant as the ‘real’ school, this virtual school buzzes with communication and information, flowing and changing in tune with what’s happening in the classrooms and offices. Users enter first thing in the morning and leave it, well, any time they choose, because it continues to be available from home.

That was the vision to which the senior leadership at Forest Hill  School in Lewisham aspired when they had the opportunity to rethink and renew their ICT provision. However, although vision is a crucial part of leadership, bringing it to fruition is equally important. That it happened at Forest Hill – and remarkably quickly – is down to a series of well-taken decisions.

First came that determination that it could and should be done.

Then there was the conviction that the best way to achieve it was through Microsoft SharePoint.

From that followed the school’s realisation that although their IT ‘home team’ was skilful and knowledgeable, this task called for input from SharePoint specialists. And this, in turn, led to the engagement of proven SharePoint consultancy  SharePointEduTech.

Decision time.

By the end of 2012, Forest Hill , which was early into the BSF (Building Schools for the Future) programme, had been in its new building for five years. During that time, ICT had been provided by a managed and hosted service on a five year arrangement which was part of the BSF contract.

‘We moved from a building with no technology to a new- build school with lots of technology,’ says Deputy Head Jonathan Munt. ‘We pretty well overhauled everything – the MIS (management information system), registration, reporting, interactive whiteboards, the full package.  We became very cutting edge, a European Reference Site in fact.’

Towards the end of the five years, however, there was a change of contractor, and the level of service declined. Staff, who had worked hard to come to terms with rapid and radical change, began to lose their enthusiasm.

So, with the five-year contract coming to an end, the decision was taken for the school to take ownership of its ICT infrastructure. This, decided Jonathan Munt, could now include a fully developed school portal, providing ready access to all of the services required by students, staff, governors and parents.

The answer’s SharePoint

At Forest Hill, the legacy ICT estate included a SharePoint application that had been used largely, and in a loosely organised way for document storage. This, decided Jonathan Munt, would be the starting point for further development. He decided, too, that it was going to be necessary to seek help from beyond the school.

‘Our guys were good. I knew they could set something up, but I knew the system had more potential than we could achieve ourselves. I wanted something aesthetically pleasing, a multiplatform for students at school and at home, using their PCs or phones, a consistent experience wherever they were, able to access resources and communicate. I wanted parents to have information on their children, all of that and more. And I wanted it live, up to date, in real time.’

A big ask, you might think. But Jonathan wasn’t living in a dreamworld. He’d seen exactly that in other schools, where he knew that the work had been done by SharePoint specialists, SharePointEduTech, and so they were engaged first for consultancy, then for the implementation.

Building the solution.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the school and the developers was the speed at which they had to work. Consultancy with the school began in late October 2012, the legacy ICT contract finished at the end of the year and the new portal – ‘FHS Connect’ – was installed over the Christmas holiday required to be up and running in early January. That this was achieved in all essentials, despite the represents a huge achievement by the developers and the school. It’s very clear that the key lay in a very professional relationship between SharePointEduTech directors and developers on the one hand and Forest Hill management and technical staff on the other. From the school there was clarity about the essentials of what they needed, and from the SharePointEduTech came responsive yet pro-active engagement with the mission. Adrian Edgar the SharePointEduTech director running the project pays tribute to Jonathan Munt’s decisiveness.

‘He has a clear vision of everything being in one central place where everybody goes for whatever function they need.’

For their part, the SharePointEduTech team were offering advice right from the start.

That’s not to say there were no modifications along the way. Always, with a project like this, when the customer sees what’s emerging, new and different ideas are sparked off. For example, says Adrian Edgar,

‘They originally characterised subject areas by year group with separate sites. Then they decided to revise that to key stages, providing a bit more flexibility. It was that kind of iterative process, changing to meet what they wanted.’

And for his part, Jonathan is equally impressed with the ideas coming from SharePointEduTech.

‘We’d planned one server for SharePoint,’ says Jonathan. ‘They recommended two. We wouldn’t necessarily have done that, but it’s made a big difference to the speed at which everything works. It’s an example of how good they are at the technical aspects.’

As time went on, Jonathan was increasingly impressed with this positive approach. One feature that continues to impress him is ‘My programs’, a place on the portal where students can place links to access, from home, specialist software on the school network. So, for example, computer science students can continue to work with their programming software from home without the need to have it on their home computers. In a school where many students do not have sophisticated equipment at home, this is a real bonus.

‘We didn’t know that was possible,’ says Jonathan. ‘Before, students keeping up with their coursework were having to squeeze in hours before and after school. Now they can work at home, it’s a real improvement for their learning.’

 

FHS Connect

What the school now has is an extensive and flexible portal – ‘FHS Connect’ – branded for the school, with separate single sign-on access for staff, students, governors and parents. So the staff view, for example, has headings that include My documents, emails, the school diary, a link to the  school’s ‘Fronter’ VLE, library software, timetable, details of ‘cover’ duties, notices and their own ‘My programs’ section. A feed from the MIS provides quick access to important student data. The whole, of course, is available on an anytime, anywhere basis. It looks neat and professional and – importantly – it carries the school’s branding out to users. The intention is that a teacher, for example, should log at the start of each day, because that’s where they’ll be set up for the day.

Let’s see. I’m covering for Rachel period 4, I have a couple of unread emails, there’s a note about access to school in the holidays, a reminder of the department meeting with a link to the supporting documents……’

The student view has some of the same headings where they’re appropriate, including ‘My programs’ and also draws on the MIS so they can see their targets and progress.

Parent view gives access to permitted MIS data, including attendance – daily and lesson by lesson, so a parent could track a child through the school day were they so minded.

The extra mile.

Jonathan Munt is clearly delighted with the way his vision has been achieved and exceeded by SharePointEduTech’s experienced and creative response.

‘We now have a new SharePoint environment that does a lot more than we thought possible, doing things we didn’t know it could do and so much is down to their advice. They have a very proactive approach that says “SharePoint can do this” and that specialist knowledge has proved crucial through the transition. I’m confident now that we have an infrastructure that’s future-proofed and resilient.’

You can download this case study as a PDF from here

SharePoint 2013 Sign in as a different user

OK let me start out by saying that in my opinion SharePoint 2013 is awesome, But….

One of the things I do miss from SharePoint 2010 is the “Sign in as a different users”

This was particularly useful when testing out different permission levels or functions so very sad to see it go. But thanks to Adrian Edgar we do not have to miss this anymore. In the address bar just put

http://<siteurl>/_layouts/closeConnection.aspx?loginasanotheruser=true and you can then just sign out and in again, if you use this a lot my advice would be to create a shortcut on the page, below you can see an example of our icon bar on SharePoint 2013 with the change user icon.

Windows 8 Apps making a big impression

We have recently been working with a school in the Midlands, UK who wanted to harness the power and security of using SharePoint Online announcements but also allow pupils, staff and parents to read those important notices right from their Windows 8 device in a quick interface.

Not all users wanted to log on and go to the SharePoint site just to pick up the latest fixture news or other school announcements. The school had recently started to move their pupils and staff to Windows 8 devices instead of iPads and they wanted a quick way to read announcements as soon as the device was online.

The answer to their problem came in the form of a volume licenced version of the latest developments from the team at SharePointEduTech Ltd, which was already starting to build a healthy market on the marketplace.

In March 2013 we introduced the first of our Windows 8 Apps for office 365, List Hub for Office 365, on to the global market place.  Interest in the app has been huge, particularly in the United States and Australia.  We were able to harness the power of this small app and licence it for the whole school so that they could benefit from this great app.

The app allows users to manage a SharePoint Announcements list from the Windows 8 desktop, adding new announcements and displaying them in the great new Windows 8 tile interface. Lke all great Windows 8 Apps, List hub for Office 365 makes great use of the touch features making it ideal for a tablet environment.

One customer in the US has been using the List Hub for Office 365 to display news items and inter office announcements to its team of attorneys spread around the East Coast.

“This is a great way for the firm to keep our staff informed of the latest events.  The interface is so easy to use and it’s no hassle to post an announcement to the site in super quick time.”

List Hub for Office 365 is currently under further development as I write this post so keep an eye out for new features in future releases.  We hope to soon see the product featured in the worldwide demonstration for Windows 8 in Education provided by our Microsoft friends in Redmond.

 

STOP PRESS NEWS…the latest version of list hub, due for publication next week, will allow for direct access to custom SharePoint lists. Now List Hub for Office 365 really is the must have app this month.