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SharePoint 2016 Productivity Features: Easy Ways to Get More Bang for Your Buck

Editor’s note: This post about SharePoint 2016 productivity is a guest post by Asif Rehmani, Founder and CEO of VisualSP and SharePoint MVP. For more information about Asif, visit VisualSP’s website and follow him on Twitter.

Whether you’ve been using SharePoint for years, or if you’ve only recently decided to use SharePoint, its vast feature set and powerful capabilities can seem a little daunting. But really, it doesn’t take much to make your SharePoint deployment a productive space for your users.

In fact, there are a few pretty easy things you can do to enhance SharePoint 2016’s native capabilities and customize your deployment right away. These tips will not only help you realize the full potential of SharePoint 2016 features, but it will also make life easier for your workforce. Really, it’s a win-win.

PowerApps for SharePoint 2016 Forms

These days, it doesn’t take a whole team of developers and months of coding to create and enable customized business apps. Microsoft has gone beyond thinking about forms just for SharePoint or Office 365; they’ve tackled the beast that is forms at a higher, more strategic level in the form of PowerApps.

Microsoft’s strategy around PowerApps means you can take out-of-the-box capabilities, like lists and forms, and amp them up. Whether you need a way for users to submit a new service ticket or a mechanism to add a new lead to a list, forms are easier than ever to use. With PowerApps, you can specify the data you want to use, and the service builds an app for you based on that information. Customizing the app is really easy, too – with a few clicks, you can end up with a well-built form.

One of the most impressive aspects of PowerApps is how nicely it plays with others. PowerApps can pull in data from a variety of sources, like SAP, and it supports the whole Microsoft stack as well. PowerApps is headed in a very unifying and interoperable direction, which is great news for customers. Usually customers use a variety of solutions from different companies, and PowerApps is a great example of how customers are uniting the power of their IT infrastructure in a seamless way.

At the moment, the PowerApps experience is very mobile-focused. Users will get an awesome experience across phones and tablets; however, something is lost in translation to the desktop. This is something I hope Microsoft will address with time, and it is certainly something for customers to be aware of for the time being.

Also, in its current state, PowerApps isn’t a full replacement for InfoPath when it comes to forms. I’ve found that usage of InfoPath is still very much the current reality for customers across the world. But this will change as PowerApps matures.

Get into the Flow

Workflows hold a special place in my heart – it’s a topic I’ve worked on for a great deal of my career, so it is exciting to see Microsoft’s evolving strategy here. Traditionally, Microsoft had us use Designer or ASP.NET to build workflows from scratch (or, of course, enlist the help of a third party). Some customers also used Visio to orchestrate and upload workflows. These days, the new kid in town is Flow, and it’s gaining a lot of momentum.

With PowerApps as the way to create forms and interfaces, Flow is the way to automate those interfaces. Flow and PowerApps have great integration points, but Flow reaches far beyond that. Flow can even incorporate information from your Twitter or Wunderlist account.

I tend to think of Flow as other web services that have been around for a while, like IFTTT or Zapier. As we already mentioned, customers often use more than one provider for their IT solutions, and there needs to be strong integration points so data can get where it needs to go, while also hitting the right milestones along the way. All this can be accomplished through Flow.

Like PowerApps, Flow is still a developing story, much like a child growing up into adulthood. It will take time before we can utilize Flow to its fullest power. For example, if I’ve left a company after I create a Flow, that couldn’t be transferred to someone else and all that work I’d done would just disappear. Microsoft very recently addressed this through Team Flows, so if someone leaves a company, a new owner can be assigned and the Flow isn’t orphaned.

Customers need to be aware that, as Flow matures, there might be use cases where new issues are discovered. But Flow is headed in the right direction, and it’s a great way to get a lot of value without a lot of effort.

Bring it All Together with SharePoint 2016 Search Web Parts

Enterprise search has been one of the key reasons customers decide to use SharePoint, especially these days where enterprise search is very much a hybrid story. Regardless of whether your IT infrastructure is on prem, in the cloud, or a combination of both, end users need to be able to easily find the information they need to do their jobs. And that’s where Search Web Parts come in.

With web parts, you can be a step ahead of end users when it comes to common search topics. Employees will want to be able to easily find quarterly financial results or HR benefits information, and web parts provide a navigable way for end users to access pre-defined search results.

Web parts also allow you to define result sources, so if you have a hybrid SharePoint solution, you can pretty easily customize search results. This means end users will receive results from all of your predefined repositories, whether the information is in the cloud, on prem, or even at a partner organization. These are capabilities that used to fall to developers, but now power users are able to configure search web parts for their own areas of the business, too.

Web parts also respect the boundaries set in place by governance and access policies. That means permissions and role profiles will dictate who should see what information and where (given this is set up correctly on the back end to begin with). If everything is set up properly, it just works.

Getting Users on Board in SharePoint 2016

Features like PowerApps, Flow, and Search Web Parts pack a punch, but they will fall flat if you don’t take the time to educate your workforce. Rather than letting new tools just sit on a shelf, there are a few things you can do to help bring users along.

  1. Address the users’ main concern: what’s in it for me? If the processes are too tedious or the navigation isn’t intuitive, adoption will be a much harder feat.
  2. We’re also finding that holding a one-time training session when a new feature is available doesn’t work. Instead, IT should identify champions and help empower them to advocate for new features organically within the team setting. Let them help you make these initiatives successful.
  3. The users’ needs should always be at the forefront. If a tool or feature meets a real need for the workforce, adoption will happen much easier.

Microsoft is helping adoption efforts through new upgrading processes. Rather than a drastic change from one environment to another, we’re seeing things like feature packs that make the process more gradual and less jarring for users.

What’s really important is how intuitive, relevant, and easy the experience is for users. And by using some of the lesser-known features and tools for SharePoint, like PowerApps, Flow, and Search Web Parts, users will be more enthusiastic about embracing new tech.

VisualSP offers SharePoint training through its award-winning VisualSP Help System designed to enable sustainable adoption in every organization. For more SharePoint 2016 productivity help and information about VisualSP’s products and consulting services, please visit their website.


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