Creating sites from templates

Today I finally made the templates for the “public” versions of our departmental sites. We have team sites that are private, accessible only by the people who work in those departments or committees.

We created a publicly accessible portal page that linked to each of the private sites, but that created error screens for anyone who wanted to visit a site run by their peers. This was not a very pleasant user experience, so the solution we came up with is university-accessible sites.

Today I made the templates for both the departments and the committees. We had designed them late last year, and were waiting for data to implement them now. I received that data today, and we plan to populate the sites on March 4th, with the help of an army of SharePoint Coordinators.

The department sites include two apps: Location Finder, and Visio. I had to remove them from the base site template and put in placeholder images before I could save out and deploy the department templates. Creating these sites was a fairly simple process, and took about 5-10 minutes per site. Of course, needing to do 30 sites meant this took several hours, and all I really got accomplished today was changing the name of the site, and updating permissions.

None of the content has been placed on the sites yet, but the sites are looking really good. I will post instructions on how to create site templates, and creating new sites using SharePoint Designer 2013.


Permissions, Access, Restrictions

Whatever you want to call it, permissions or access, is one of the more fun and complicated pieces about SharePoint Online.

Permission levels we use at work

Because we have publishing turned on at the site collection level, we have (or are using) the following permission levels:

View: can see items, but cannot download them

Read: can see items, and can download them

Contribute: can see items, download them, and can add, change, and delete list or library items

Edit: can do everything contribute can do, and can add, change, and delete lists or libraries

Owner: can do everything edit can do, and can edit permissions, add and delete subsites.

Permissions can be set at various levels

Site collection level: while access can be set at the site collection level, we decided not to use our site collection level site for anything specific other than to house assets (images and files) for use throughout the DSA sites. Therefore, any settings we have here are very specific and somewhat more restrictive.

Site level: mostly used for our departmental and committee team sites, where all members of your department or committee are members of a site. This level of access is the most common, and is also used among sub sites within your unit.

List or library level: we might use this if we have certain files that we want to share with other people, but we don’t want to necessarily grant access to the whole site. We might also use this on a team site where there are some documents that should be private for just one or two people in a department.

Item level: mostly refers to documents, pages, or images. I can do a whole presentation on this one and what the consequences are – we’re living it in some places. Be very careful with this one. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Content Types, Document Information Panel, and Content Organizer…. Oh my!

There’s so much I’m picking up in this class that is making me drool and think – I want to use that!

I am learning that as the SharePoint Business Architect and Administrator I have a lot of tools at my disposal that will help all of the site owners manage their sites better.

Content types

One of these is content types, where I can create Word, Excel, Powerpoint templates for DSA use that include some basic features, and then make them available for all of the SPOCK to use in the DSA departmental and committee sites.

Document Information Panel

This is what is referred to as a “hidden lever” on the content type window (I think – will have to go back and delve further into this), that shows the meta data fields in the desktop version of Microsoft Office. Next time someone opens a document, they can fill in the metadata right from within the document, and then that information will appear in the columns. Why is this cool? Because of the next feature:

The Content Organizer

This one should make our heads in HR drool a little bit. It’s where we can basically put all of our documents in a drop off library, and SharePoint takes that document and files it according to the rules you set up for it in the Content Organizer. Kind of like your outlook rules that route your emails? But on SharePoint Online. Imagine all of your benefit-related files just being moved to the benefit folder?  Or your forms? Definitely something worth knowing more about.

The difference between Office365 and SharePoint

In rolling this system out to the masses, I think we might be confusing ourselves and others with the words we’re using. When meeting various people in the division, it became very clear that we need to clarify some things, because everyone is calling everything SharePoint or Office365 and not really knowing which parts are which.

Some of the confusions we came to

Office365 includes a bunch of different things, and SharePoint is just one of those. But… the SharePoint we see in Office365 is called Sites, and the page where the Sites live, is really our MySite.

That’s why, when we talk about SharePoint, many people are missing out on the fact that we have this whole Intranet built out for our division. They’re never getting there. We built a SharePoint Bridge Page that lives outside of SharePoint so it’s accessible without needing to log in. This page provides links to various parts of SharePoint but because our users are logging in to Office365 they never really see those, so they don’t see our central communication hub where all the announcements live.

How can I help the situation?

As I start thinking about my role here as SharePoint Business Architect and Administrator, I am thinking about how I can clear up the confusion.

Hopefully my experience in marketing can help this move along, and undo some of the confusion that’s been surfacing.

So what is Office365?

Office365 is essentially the Microsoft Office Suite but in an online environment. In other words, it’s Office on the web. You access Office365 by logging into The process for logging into Office365 is the same as that for SharePoint, but where you end up can be very different.

Once you log into Office365, you can set your default screen to be one of three views:


Here you see the office icons you’re used to, such as Word Online, Excel Online, PowerPoint Online, OneNote Online, and some you may never have seen before: Delve, Sway, Newsfeed, OneDrive, and Sites. From this screen, you can open any of the applications or open your MySite (see below).


OneDrive is where all of your document live, at least those you have synchronized from your C:\ drive. OneDrive does not include files and documents you may have on your departmental shared drive, such as an O:\ drive. You probably have some folders in your OneDrive so you could organize your documents. Your word documents, excel spreadsheets, and powerpoint presentations all live here. Your OneNote files may also live here, though technically they are not files, but packages… I digress. For many people, this is all they care about when it comes to Office365/SharePoint/any of it. Just give me my files, and I’m happy…. Yes?

A nice feature of OneDrive is that your files are always accessible to you, no matter where you are. In addition, you can choose to share specific files with other people, as well as complete folders. This means that you can work collaboratively on files.

It will be a personal or team decision whether (or which of) these files should live on your OneDrive or on SharePoint Online in a document library.

Sites (MySite)

The Sites view is your MySite. It shows all the sites you are following currently. If you’re not following any, don’t worry. As you begin to visit sites, you can use the FOLLOW buttons to add sites to this MySite page. You can also create your own personal SharePoint site here if you would like to, and if you created one, you will find it here under the Sites view. I have a love/hate relationship with my MySite. I inadvertently broke it to the point where Microsoft didn’t even know how they were going to fix it, and I had to back up all my data. Since Microsoft restored my MySite back in November or December (I forget when), I think I broke it again.

So, a word of caution… if you want to create personal MySites – go ahead. If you plan on putting any team related things there, you might be best to create a subsite under your Team Site – just talk to your site owner about the use for it.

So what is SharePoint, then?

As I noted, SharePoint Online is a platform within Office365, but the SharePoint Online environment kind of lives outside of the Office365 environment as far as our personal experience goes.

When we talk about SharePoint, we really mean the sites that we created within the SharePoint Online platform. In many companies, these are department and committee sites.

Within our division, when we talk about SharePoint, we are also talking about one of the sites in our intranet environment that we have designated as the central communication hub.

Working simultaneously on Mac and PC

In my former role as Web Producer I was also one of the SharePoint Online Coordinators for my department. With so many things in SharePoint Online not working with non-Microsoft products, I had a loaner laptop to help me develop the SharePoint Online features for our department, so I have been working on two systems for a while now.

With SharePoint Online and Office365, working with both systems is actually a pretty nice experience. You need to make sure you have Microsoft Office 2016 installed on your Mac. For Windows, it doesn’t matter if you have Office 2013 or 2016, but for the Mac it does.

If I have the files stored on SharePoint Online or in my OneDrive for Business, I can access them from either computer, and the online versions of Office, while missing some more advanced features, do a good job of letting me create and edit a file as needed.

And I love the fact that the file auto-saves while working online. No more losing changes because I forgot to save. Just remember – you still need to save your files in the desktop version of your Office suite.

Term store management, content editor and more

Using brackets to link between pages

​using [[two brackets back to back with words in between]] can create a link to another wiki page within your site.

Using site columns to re-use data

If you have information that you will be using among several lists or libraries, but not necessarily everyone in DSA will need this information, then it might be good for you to create a site column with prefilled information that you can use across many lists within your site.  Before I learned about term store management, I thought creating a choice column for Departments would be a good use. Other types of site columns might include years, types of documents, etc.

Using term store management to house reusable metadata

I keep hearing the term metadata and I am fascinated by it. I want to learn more about how exactly we can use this to manage our site. With the term store management feature I am starting to get a better grasp of it. For us here at DSA, using the term store manager to house the names of our departments and committees is a good start. We will also want to house other data here as we use nomenclature that is common among most departments. Human Resources, Assessment & Professional Development, and Finance, I can see these departments making good use of this feature.

The content editor can be your friend

One thing about SharePoint Online is that all the HTML code pretty much lives on Microsoft’s servers. One of our goals going forward is to brand our intranet a little more like the external websites we have, and that will require some indepth thinking and planning. For now however, we may need to fix a couple of things. We can use a content editor to house custom CSS, or even javascript. The instructor suggested we start with some customizations using this feature first, before we build out our sites.

Follow, Focus in, Alerts, Explore

There are a couple of features in SharePoint Online that may just make our lives a little easier.

The FOLLOW button

It shows up in the right hand side of your screen, and has a little star. It would be nice if the little star would be filled in if we’re already following the site, but alas, no such luck.

The FOCUS IN button

I’ve seen this little guy, but never knew what it was for. It shows up next to the FOLLOW button and it looks a little bit like the “full size” button you see on videos. What that little icon does, is get rid of all the menus and garbage on the screen, so that all you are left with is the content of the screen.

The alert me function

This feature is available in most lists and libraries, discussion lists, etc. and it lets you set an alert on that item, where you can get notified “immediately”, once a day, or once a week, if something changes in that list or page. The way you activate this feature is by clicking on the “List” or “Library” tab at the top of the page, and then choosing the Alert me button.

Open with Explorer function

This only works in Internet Explorer, so make sure you are in this browser. This lets you open your document library using Windows Explorer so you can add move a number of files at once, or if you like, you can just use it to double-click on a file to open it.