What’s New in Record Center Version 2

Yesterday, we announced the release of Record Center Version 2. This release is marked with a number of enhancements to help our customers more easily wrap their arms around their organization’s complex records management practices. We continue to work to simplify otherwise stressful and complicated tasks for users and record managers, making the overall records management life cycle much more manageable. This ethos has fueled the development of Record Center from the very beginning—putting a focus on something that most organizations can’t afford to ignore, and setting them up to be able to easily implement the records management structure their organization needs.

Enhanced In-Line Preview

In the previous release of Record Center, we introduced the concept of an in-line document preview, enabling users to easily input and review metadata while being able to view the document directly alongside. This feature has become a hallmark of Record Center, drastically reducing the time needed for users to initially submit records, and for approvers to validate that a document’s metadata is correct. In Version 2 of Record Center, we’ve expanded this capability by making it available throughout the record lifecycle, whether editing, submitting, approving or viewing a record. We’ve also added full support for Office Web Applications and Office Online Server, enabling a richer document preview experience for PDF and Microsoft Office file types.

New “Browse Records” Functionality

Since the very beginning of Record Center, we’ve acknowledged that users are always going to have varying levels of technical acumen. Our approach to making records easy to find has been based on the premise of empowering users—regardless of their experience level, and helping them to develop concepts over time that increase their proficiency. Recognizing that most users are familiar with file shares and directory structures, Record Center has always offered a “Browse Records” capability as the introductory method to finding records. In Version 2, we’ve overhauled that browsing experience, to increase commonality with the look, feel, and behavior of “Keyword Searching” and “Record Finder”. This update helps users to feel more at home regardless of their chosen search method, and standardizes the user experience across all three methods.

Performance Enhancements

Version 2 of Record Center includes a number of under-the-hood performance boosts to make your Record Center experience faster, and more stable than ever before. We’ve significantly increased the processing time of record submission, and increased the number of records that can be bulk submitted, approved, or rejected at once. These enhancements allow you to process more records in less time, and with less clicks than ever before.

Brand New Management Interface

Our design philosophy with Record Center has always been to present options in a clear and concise way, simplifying the overall task of managing and maintaining a large records management process. Version 2 of Record Center includes a refreshed configuration page, centralizing all of Record Center’s core configuration options in a single, tabbed interface. From here, a record manager can control all of the options that drive record approvals, user experience, user security, plus any Record Center add-ons.

Record Center is your turnkey solution for enterprise-class record management. An extension of Microsoft SharePoint, Record Center arms your users and record managers with a feature-packed, intuitive solution to manage the entire life-cycle of your records. Configure, approve and search for records faster and easier than ever with Record Center.

Hybrid IT: A Journey Worth Exploring

In recent years, the cloud has emerged as the leading technology for delivering services across industries.  How have cloud technology-as-a-service solutions come to dominate the market so quickly?

  1. The internet continues to improve and is the backbone of delivering cloud solutions anywhere.
  2. Cost-effective, high-speed networks and broadband used by individuals, small businesses, and enterprises.
  3. Server virtualization has dramatically reduced the cost of powerful computing (possibly to a tipping point for #2)

Now, massive and extremely cost-effective datacenters around the world are hosting all the software that drives “as-a-service” apps. Businesses of all sizes and their employees can access these datacenters for services from around the world via reliable and affordable high-speed networks.

All cloud all the time? Not so fast…

Despite all the powerful advancements, we are living in a hybrid world where there is a mix of on-premises and cloud technologies. 

Though cloud computing is here, organizations and their Modern MSPs need to approach cloud computing as a journey from on-premises technology to cloud computing.

During the transition, a hybrid model is a great (and often recommended) next step to gain the flexibility, scalability, and affordability of cloud computing while getting the full life and utility from existing on-premises IT.

A Modern MSP with expertise in both traditional on-premises technology and cloud computing can help customers build an intelligent solution now that will help an organization transition in the future. The right partner will help to make every investment in the cloud an investment that addresses immediate needs as well as long-term goals.

How? It’s all about the business outcomes you have in mind.

Just as moving to the cloud is a journey, so are the long-term business outcomes you hope to achieve. Combine the two goals and you create a powerful feedback loop to drive your IT and your business forward.

We’re here to help you grow. We look forward to the opportunity to discuss your unique needs and see where the cloud fits into your IT and business planning.

Not All Customizations Are Bad

As I meet with technology and business executives, one of the topics that keeps frequently coming up is whether to customize SharePoint of SharePoint Online in Office 365.  There continues to be a lot of misunderstanding around what can be done safely, and what is going to cause long term stability or maintenance problems. 

In the Beginning

The first thing to understand is that not all customizations are the same, or have the same level of risk or impact within the system.  In the early days of SharePoint, the platform was completely open for customizations and in some cases developers had free reign to do whatever they wanted or needed.  In some cases, poor decisions were made or bad code was written.  Generally, the mistakes fall into a few categories; the developers were inexperienced with the platform and didn’t know any better, or they were not forthcoming with information on what kind of impact there would be maintaining the solution or when upgrading SharePoint to the next version. 

Over time, SharePoint started to get a bit of a bad rap as being difficult to upgrade if there were any customizations or commercial add-ons within the system.  The people that know the system, of course, know how to mitigate this risk, and address the upgrade challenges -- but again, that assumes knowledge and competencies that only a small percentage of people have. 

Evolution of Customizations

Over time, Microsoft and the community-at-large learned some valuable lessons and responded with better guidance, as well as new options for how to interact with and customize SharePoint. The focus shifted more toward client-side development and interacting through standardized web services. 

  • Full Trust Solutions:  Server code that runs within the server, this is the traditional SharePoint Server customization, which is typically deployed with a .WSP file. 
  • Sandbox Solutions:  Microsoft’s first attempt at providing a system for customizations that runs in a safe, isolated space to ensure customizations have little to no negative impact on SharePoint sites.  Unfortunately, this did not prove to be a powerful enough solution and so it was deprecated.
  • Add-In (initially called App) Model:  Isolated applications that can interact with SharePoint through published APIs in a safe manner.
  • SharePoint Framework (SPFx):  A new, lighter method of developing SharePoint interface customizations through client script, without a full Add-In package. 

As Microsoft has evolved, the public APIs for SharePoint have also evolved.  The client side APIs for interacting with SharePoint have become very robust, and while you cannot do everything that you used to be able to do with the server side APIs, it could be argued that it provides a good set of safety rails for the average SharePoint developer, ensuring that the risk to long-term stability is minimized. 

Management Tools

What spurred the idea for this blog post was a customer conversation around a request for a tracking system that needed to be setup and then reset for each new calendar year.  Using the published APIs, it is simple to create a process that can safely automate the setup in a repeated manner.  The customer in question was concerned with implementing a customization that could have a negative impact on the system in the future, and stated that they have a "no customization" policy.  It proved to be an interesting conversation as I uncovered the root of the concerns and perceptions.  In the case of the solution we were proposing, there would be no customizations deployed to SharePoint, and therefore no artifacts left behind that could impact SharePoint in any way.  Since our tools would be run locally and interact with SharePoint through the REST services, our solution would be safe and effective.  This is the same approach taken by most SharePoint management tool vendors, like our partners at Sharegate and Metalogix. 

Our Approach

At B&R, our approach is always to understand the goals of what the client is trying to accomplish and then figure out the most appropriate way to accomplish those goals.  In some cases, we still get requests that are best addressed with the traditional Full-Trust code model.  In those cases, we have to have an open and honest conversation about what that means, and what the ongoing costs will be for the customer.  At times, that is the only way to address the requirements (for on-premises) customers, while in other cases it may be a more cost-effective and attractive fit than adopting a provider hosted add-in. Whatever the path forward, we make sure that the pros and cons are fully understood. 

While we do still find ourselves building some Full-Trust solutions, it is difficult to argue against client-side code being the future, and many of the modern SharePoint development techniques find their way into our solutions one way or another.   

Can We Help You on Your Journey?

Are you experiencing issues upgrading a farm with customizations, or are you looking for assistance in getting a solid development plan in place for the foreseeable future?  We would like to help you make the most of the platform, and leverage all the options that are available to you.  If you would like to talk through your goals and challenges, please reach out and setup a consultation.

'Cloud First' MSPs and How You Should Think About the Cloud

Why does the Modern MSP think ‘Cloud First’ for its customers?

Let’s be honest – say and think what you want, but the cloud is here to stay. It provides enormous benefits to organizations that have never been realized in the technology world before.

But, what is the cloud? Quite simply, cloud computing means that on-premises-based IT systems, applications and databases are hosted in one or more state-of-the-art datacenters managed by a cloud services provider. Examples include Microsoft Office 365 for email and collaboration, Microsoft Azure for Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) or Microsoft Dynamics for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

There are huge benefits to having a cloud-driven business

For many reasons - productivity, security, accessibility, costs, etc. - cloud services have become enormously popular for companies of all sizes from the SMB to large enterprises.  The cloud is universally believed to represent the future model for the delivery of almost all IT services. 

Through advanced virtualization technologies, an experienced technical support staff, and a major investment in hosting facilities, a cloud services provider can operate more efficiently and cost-effectively in delivering hosted IT services than a company which owns and manages their own dedicated, on-premises datacenter.

Cloud services come in many forms - sometimes as point solutions and sometimes as fully integrated applications and services that solve a range of business challenges.

Let’s explore a simple example: hosted email

By moving a company’s email service from an on-premises system into the cloud as a hosted service, many benefits are immediately realized by the customer.

First, the server itself is eliminated. No longer will a costly and complex device require floor space, electrical power, cooling, system upgrades, software patching, maintenance, and repair. Email service in the cloud removes this costly overhead and replaces it with a hosted service; heavy and unpredictable capital and operating expenses associated with an on-premises solution are replaced with a predictable monthly or annual service fee that dramatically reduces the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Even better, the simplicity of a hosted solution and the reach of the internet enable untethered, universal access to the service for users located anywhere, using any device. The cloud is not only a cost saver, it’s an enabler of mobility, information access and device independence.  

Now imagine that all the benefits (and more!) associated with our simple email example are applied to any and every application or service that migrates to the cloud. Savings and organizational benefits are greatly multiplied.

Customers today have an extremely broad range of cloud services available to them. Think of them as a collection of building blocks that you can use to solve problems and enable business objectives. The Modern MSP must have a “cloud first” mentality to de-mystify the cloud and help customers reap the rewards.

Want to learn more about what’s available to you in the cloud? Contact us today!

Why B&R Business Solutions?

We are frequently asked what differentiates B&R Business Solutions from other companies.  This question comes up during both sales-related discussions with companies that do not yet know us and during interviews as we try to recruit the best possible talent.  It is a good question, and one I always look forward to answering. 

Culture

The culture at B&R is unique thanks to the vision of Founder and Managing Partner Christopher Regan.  It starts with empowering employees to think independently and works to remove any extra impediments to their growth and success in each project.  We are a flat organization and everyone has the ability to hold each other accountable.

Experience

We strive to hire the very best people that can work either independently or as part of a team, and do not hire inexperienced resources that we must hide in the background behind the senior level team members.  Team members are always encouraged to partner with our customers and build strong relationships.

We are a relatively small firm, but we have seen slow and steady growth over the past eight years.  When people join the team, they tend to stay, allowing us to avoid the constant churn and employee turnover seen at most consulting companies.  This is illustrated brilliantly by our average tenure rate which is currently 6 years!  Not too bad for a company that just celebrated its 15th anniversary and has grown by 25% in the past few years. 

Our core history is rooted in Microsoft’s SharePoint product, and another amazing stat is that our staff has an average of 11 years’ experience working with SharePoint.  We have been able to improve our processes and show off the depth and breadth of our team while working on some of the most complex deployments and solutions around. 

Community

B&R puts a high value on technical community participation and factors this in during the recruiting process.  That allows the team to not only give back to the community, but enables them to stay current on trends, best practices and common challenges organizations are facing.  Our team members are highly engaged within the overall SharePoint and technical communities, sharing and learning best practices and ideas.  More than half of our team has presented at local user groups, regional events, and international conferences.  While we support and encourage this, our people do it because they are passionate about what it is they do and they want to share and learn. 

Here are some thoughts from some of our great people:

“Working with our clients is extremely fulfilling. The diversity of industries and backgrounds they provide creates unique work relationships in every engagement. I thrive on learning about their organizations, understanding their needs and developing solutions to meet those needs.”
~Tom Daly, Senior Solution Developer
"At B&R you have the freedom to find the right solution to a problem.  Too often members of a team are afraid to think outside the box, but the culture at B&R encourages creative problem solving that allows us to find the best solution for the client."
~Ben Steinhauser, Solution Architect
“B&R has also always fostered and valued the contributions of each and every team member, no matter their seniority.”
~Josh Carlisle, Senior Architect
“We work with a team that is passionate about technology and give team members the flexibility to go and further their careers by learning about what they are most passionate about.”
~Jason Medero, Managing Partner

To find out more about how B&R can help your organization, please contact us.