A dynamic website built on Office 365

I mentioned it on twitter a couple weeks ago, Bradshaw & Weil has launched its new public website based on Office 365: http://www.bradshawweil.com

In an article last year, I expressed my frustration with the current Office 365 public sites, for which building dynamic pages requires more effort than it should. Well, it doesn’t mean that it cannot be done, and Bradshaw & Weil is one of these sites that take advantage of both the traditional list management capabilities of SharePoint and the features specific to Office 365.

The site content is managed by the site admins in SharePoint lists. For example, when you open Topics.aspx?Menu=For%20Individuals SharePoint will filter the Topics list to only display the topics tagged “For Individuals”. Topics.aspx?Menu=For%20Individuals&Topic=Motorcycle%20Insurance will only display the information related to motorcycle insurance, and will pull from the Insurance Carriers library only the logos of the carriers that offer this specific service. Thanks to the dynamic behavior and the use of querystrings in the URL (“Menu” and “Topic”), a single page handles all the topics, where with a static site 20 pages would be needed. And if a new topic gets added to the Topics library, this will automatically create a new entry in the menu.

Besides content management, the site gets all the benefits from working with Office 365. The business users have a convenient interface, the Site Design tool, to customize the header, footer and layout of the pages, without having to call a SharePoint consultant for every minor change. And the gadgets allow them to include convenient features like contact forms that would be hard to implement on a regular SharePoint site.

The site also gets help from jQuery. Note in particular:

All these plugins pull content from SharePoint lists and libraries (menu items, images, logos, phone numbers, website links). Here again, no need to call the designer every time a logo gets added or a phone number changes!

For this project, I worked directly with Jared Morgan, vice president. This was a great experience, as the company has been using SharePoint for several years, and Jared knew exactly what to aim for.

As you explore the site, feel free to post your comments or questions below, and Jared and I will be happy to post additional details.

And if your company is interested in a test drive of Office 365, drop me a line and I’ll be happy to send you an invitation for a free trial.

Advertisements

Office 365: some frustration with public websites

In the past few months, like many SharePoint consultants, I have spent some time playing with Office 365, Microsoft’s own SharePoint hosting offer.

Having read on many blogs how great Office 365 is, once again I’ll go against the grain to express some frustration I had with public websites (plan E3).

On the paper, the SharePoint architecture offered in plan E3 looks very attractive:

  • On the one side, a collaborative site collection with secure access (https). Anonymous users are not allowed here.
  • On the other side a public site collection with pre-built pages (Home, Contact Us, etc.). Business users can easily do simple customization  – add a logo, move the navigation, etc. In addition, Microsoft offers a set of “gadgets” that can be added to the pages to insert a contact form, a map, etc.

I really like the clear separation between public and private sites. I also like the gadgets set, which makes it easy to add functionalities that are not available in SharePoint out of the box, like contact forms (several bloggers have claimed that they could build secure contact forms with SharePoint OOTB… but none has proved it!).

So, what’s my problem? Here is the catch: the usual content management features, that make SharePoint such a powerful application, are not available on the pages designed for the public site. You cannot, for example, manage your public announcements in an Announcements list, and have these announcements displayed on the Home page via a Web Part.

You can read about my discovery path in this thread from the Office 365 forum (obviously I was not in a good mood when I stumbled upon this):
http://community.office365.com/en-us/f/153/p/4533/17358.aspx

I also wrote about it and my current workaround on LinkedIn.

To conclude on a bright note, I really appreciate Microsoft’s recent efforts to get more involved in the community and provide proactive support. Special thanks to Jason Hennis for getting back to me and investigating the issue.