Something New is Springing Up at Liquid Mercury

Today’s technology marketplace is constantly changing. Larger IT departments are working with smaller budgets, and in-the-cloud capabilities are bringing abilities to smaller businesses that they’ve never had before. Disruptive technologies have everyone feeling a little bit irritable, and somebody keeps moving their cheese. The overall result is strong down-market pressure on the entire market.

Many companies tell us that they’re now working actively to reduce their recurring monthly costs for cloud based solutions such as PaaS, SaaS, and hosting. As such, they’re seeking to return to the earth with solutions that – while they may represent a larger investment in the short term – allow them to control the terms under which they incur costs for initiatives such as upgrades, maintenance, and support.

In short, our clients are reporting that cloud based solutions simply provide too much functionality for their money; they want to do less with less.

Liquid Mercury Solutions is constantly striving to stay ahead of these emerging business trends. In response to overwhelming requests from you the customer (usually made in the form of late or non-payment) we’ve made an important decision to diversify our offerings.

Announcing Liquid Mercury Farms, a new venture devoted to getting our head out of the cloud.

“I thought you were talking about server farms.”
– LMS founder and CEO Thomas Carpe seen with Attila (left) and Seth (right)
As an alternative to moving to the cloud, Liquid Mercury Farms offers a broad array of ground-based solutions for “subsistence IT”. For example, our premier line of Liquid Mercury Eggs* is Grade A extra-large. They’re an excellent source of protein, delicious with toast, and the perfect add-on once you’ve uploaded bacon into SharePoint.

Our farm is also highly secured, with all equipment stored behind electrified barbed-wire fencing. Production servers are kept in locked cages, and all gates require two-tractor authentication.

The farm is fault tolerant, offering five nines of capacity – that’s almost 4 dozen eggs a day. Farm infrastructure has been fully optimized for production layers. Also, our cluck-through ratio is off the chart. 

Best of all, our support staff work for chicken feed.

To make licensing Liquid Mercury Farms’ products as pain-free as possible, we’re now accepting sacks of potatoes and fresh dairy in addition to our usual methods of payment. So, at the risk of beating a dead horse, why not give us a call and save a few bucks?

*Please note that Liquid Mercury Eggs contain no actual mercury. Happy April 1st!

“I thought you were talking about server farms.”
– LMS founder and CEO Thomas Carpe seen with Attila (left) and Seth (right)

Limited Time Offer: Save 5% on Office 365

Okay, we have a whole series about Office 365 coming to the blog soon, but this news just couldn't wait! Eligible Office 365 Subscription Advisor customers will get 5% off your subscription for 3 months when you switch subscription plans to Liquid Mercury Solutions.

Plus that's not all! All our new Office 365 / Azure customers receive a complimentary Subscription Review ($600 value). Plus, customers with at least 50 seats qualify for free regularly scheduled Office 365 and SharePoint Strategy Sessions, worth up to $3,600 annually in valuable consulting and advice that helps you get the most out of your investment in Microsoft products. (The length and frequency of sessions varies based on number of users and plans, so ask us for details.)

Best of all, the price of Office 365 won't change at all. That's "money for nothing"!

Okay, what's an "eligible customer"? A Subscription Advisor (SA) license is one when you have Office 365 and pay Microsoft for it on a monthly basis; that means you didn't pre-purchase annually through Microsoft Open. To be eligable, you must be have SA licenses for Business or Enterprise plans. Sorry but Personal, Government, Education, and Charity plans don't qualify for this discount. This promotion is for new customers only, so if LMS is currently your Partner of Record we have other goodies we can tell you about instead.

If you are renewing your existing annual subscription in December that's great. This will be really easy. If you don't renew this month, that's OK. We'll help you submit the necessary request to Office 365 billing support to cancel the annual SA subscription. Microsoft says this is OK by them and that they've provided an option in the ticket request for swtiching to the new pricing model. (Don't cancel your current plan if you pre-paid for the entire year, because this isn't refundable. However, we can still grandfather you in at the end of your contract year.)

Sound complicated? Not really. Most Office 365 customers fit this description.

We'll even make it easy and help you figure this out. Click here to add us as a delegated admin to your Office 365 account and we'll check things out and let you know if you qualify for these discounts and incentives. If you aren't sure, you can contact us email sales@liquidmercurysolutions.com or call 410-633-5959 and we'll help you find out what we can do for you.

Seasons greetings from all your friends at Liquid Mercury!

Shut the Front Door! Newly Released Beowulf Identity Server Puts Better Locks on Internet Facing SharePoint Web Sites

BALTIMORE, MD, July 18, 2015 - Liquid Mercury Solutions is proud to announce the official public launch of our groundbreaking security platform Beowulf Identity Server.  

According to LMS Principal Architect Thomas Carpe, "The first step to a secure SharePoint farm is not leaving your front door hanging wide open for just anyone to simply walk in. To that end, Beowulf locks SharePoint's login and puts a two-factor deadbolt on it." 

While Beowulf isn't limited to just SharePoint sites, it offers unique features that greatly enhance the way users sign-in to SharePoint, beyond providing two-factor authentication. For example, Beowulf can convert claims-based users into Windows accounts, preserving the native SharePoint user experience while providing added protection against security risks associated with making it Internet accessible. 

BeowulfScreen1BeowulfScreen2BeowulfScreen3

Department of Energy's Office of Project Management Oversight and Assessment (formerly APM) was the first customer to implement Beowulf in order to provide Multi-factor authentication for the PARSIIe web site based on SharePoint. This was a joint effort in cooperation with DOE's contractor ActioNet and CipherPoint who provided a SharePoint document and content encryption solution. Our implementation was submitted for Assessment & Authorization review on July 1st, with release to production targeted by the end of the federal government's fiscal year. 

Marc Cree of ActioNet affirms that Beowulf meets Department of Energy's rigorous security requirements, while providing an intuitive and user friendly interface. He further noted that "Liquid Mercury worked with us to ensure that all security requirements were met and that the added layer of multi-factor authentication would seamlessly integrate not only with our application, but end-user expectations." 

 About Liquid Mercury Solutions 

Liquid Mercury Solutions is a Microsoft partner with gold competency in SharePoint and Office 365, founded in 2009 and headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland. LMS serves customers throughout the US, Canada, and the Caribbean. To learn more, visit www.liquidmercurysolutions.com. For more information about Beowulf, visit http://www.liquid-hg.com/apps/beowulf, contact Liquid Mercury Solutions by email at beowulf@liquidmercurysolutions.com, or 410-633-5959. 

 

AgilePoint Anounces Office 365 and Forms Capabilities at SPC14

Well, it's that time of year again where all the SharePoint product companies trot out to Las Vegas to strut their stuff.

Today, we have a big anouncement from the SPC 2014 Keynote Sponsor, AgilePoint.

AgilePoint - SharePoint Conference New Product Highlights

In this release, there are two things I noticed right away that we've been eagerly awaiting for a long time. 1) AgilePoint support for Office 365 not just as something that can be manipulated by workflow, but in a fully integrated fashion similar to Nintex workflow. 2) An alternative to InfoPath forms that emphasizes responsive web design.

As readers of our blog will know, we're quite fond of AgilePoint's product. One of the difficulties we face in working with it, however is that it didn't really play well with customers working in Office 365. We're happy to see now that is a possibility, and we'll be putting together some demonstrations in the next few weeks, as we definitely want to be able to take this out for a test drive and see what's possible.

CloudPrep 2014 Development Update

I wanted to take a few minutes today to talk about what we've been doing since late January in regards to CloupPrep and the PowerShell commands for file migration and management of SharePoint Online.

First thing I can say is that one of our most difficult choices was in choosing an e-commerce platform and licensing API to use for our product. Even though we plan to keep our licensing fairly simply, we wanted to have options for future products and well as many of the items we also sell through our partners.

This turned out to be more challenging than I imagined, but we have settled down on using Fast Spring and LogicNP Crypto License. Perhaps in some future post I will talk about those more from a software developer's perspective. What I can say today is that it will be at least a couple weeks before we can get a working prototype of the licensing server and the store online, and so we have had to push back release closer to the end of March or early April, mostly for that reason.

Meanwhile, we have been developing features for the different editions of CloudPrep 2014. Progress on that front continues at a rapid pace and I am pretty satisfied with the way our tools are maturing.

When we decided to produce this software, we planned to release the lite and standard editions first and follow up with premium and professional features later this spring. I was a bit surprised to see that where we are putting our development efforts, probably all four editions of CloudPrep will be available at one time.

Now for the geeky stuff. Here's some of what's been happening as we've been building.

Features we've essentially completed:

  • Upload an entire folder or specific set files to document library
    We've tested that these commands will work against network drives and UNC paths. Take that, OneDrive!
  • Preserve metadata about the local file system that the document was uploaded from
  • Create and Modified dates on files are preserved, though we did find that with larger files there are limits to what we can accomplish here
  • You can specify the content type for uploaded files, root folders, and sub-folders - including Document Set and its child content types
  • A bunch of other random stuff including commands for manipulating SharePoint lists and reports to make sure that file uploads won't exceed SharePoint limits


We noticed that Office 365 throws us a lot of connectivity errors that we don't normally see in on-premises SharePoint environments. If you've been trying to copy files using their standard UI or using OneDrive, some of these errors might be hidden from you. However, they're readily apparent if you're using Web Folders (WebDAV) or Client Side Object Model to connect. We see unexpected dropped connections quite often, and certain upload methods will time out on files that are too big and required some fun workarounds. There are different methods needed for files under 2MB, under 35MB, and larger.

Our path was also complicated by the fact that on certain Office 365 sites, our rights come from delegated admin privileges. This is the preferred way that consultants get their rights to help clients manage SharePoint Online, so we figure a lot of folks who are interested in CloudPrep are seeing this phenomenon as well. When you log in with delegated admin to a client's Office 365 site using the credentials from your own Office 365 account, you sometimes see the access denied page; login again a few seconds later, everything is fine. Our code had to expect and handle this contingency.

Another thing that we did not expect is that we're seeing some reasonable evidence that Office 365 uploads are being throttled. Most of the time, file transfers seem to be limited to about 300KB/sec; there are days when the transfer speed is even slower than that, sometimes by half. As such, it is difficult for us to estimate file upload times, and we're having to improve our algorithms to take these fluctuations and sea changes into account.

As for the cause, we can't say if this is something Microsoft is doing, or if it comes from the erosion of net neutrality. We do wonder if Comcast or other providers may be limiting traffic to Office 365 in order to give their own offerings a competitive advantage or just to control their own costs. I expect we'll be doing some tests in the near future, and we've been kicking around some ways to circumvent these bandwidth caps - at least partially. One test we did in January showed that if we took half our files to a different physical location, we were able to upload them to SharePoint Online in about half the time it would have taken if we'd uploaded them all from one server.

One thing that became clear during early development was that the disconnected nature of cloud storage was going to introduce multiple random problems along the way. As a result, in any large set of documents to be moved to the cloud, there would be some which for one reason or another may not be successfully copied. We started by trying to get this failure rate as low as possible, down to less that 0.25% of files in most cases. We did a lot of work in early February to improve the code and reach this threshold.

Even so, we needed to be able to easily run multiple passes on any file copy operation and track the results. Our first prototypes had to crawl the Document Library in SharePoint one folder and file at a time. This proved to be incredibly slow, and it quickly became apparent that we needed to be able to gather status information for thousands of files at a time if we wanted to hone in on only those which required an update from the local copy. This is something we added to the code base about a week ago, and we're now in the process of replacing some of our early code to use the new file comparison analytics logic.

As a side note, a bevy of SharePoint management features found their way into our PowerShell library simply because we had customers who needed them in short order. For example, we now have the ability to take a View from any SharePoint List and make a copy of it in the same List or a different one even on another SharePoint Site. Of course, one must be very careful with this kind of power, since creating Views with field references that don't exist in the List will certainly break the View if not the entire List itself. When we've added sufficient safety checks, we'll open the capability up as part of the CloudPrep product.

This week, we introduced the concept of using a hash algorithm to test whether files in SharePoint match those on our local drive. Use of a hash in addition to checking the file size and date stamps of a document ensures that the document has been uploaded into SharePoint and that it has not been corrupted in the process. We developed this ability in order to add credibility to Office 365 migrations where we may be moving hundreds of thousands or even millions of files, and we need to establish that the migration process has been completed satisfactorily. This capability can also be used to perform duplicate file detection, and we may develop a follow on product or feature to do just that later on.

Next week, we're planning to work on some important features that we feel are a must for getting this product to where we want it to be.

The first is the make sure that we can translate between Active Directory permissions on the local file system and users in SharePoint. The primary purpose here is to preserve meaningful data for Created By and Modified By fields in SharePoint; this is something we can't do yet. As part of this process, we'll be introducing PowerShell commands to add new users into SharePoint sites and manage groups. For most customers, this is probably of limited use. However, those with several hundred users or groups to manage will find it much easier to deal with these via PowerShell instead of using the SharePoint admin web pages. For consultants, it will make migrations faster by speeding up the time it takes to implement the security configuration. Our goal here is to lower the cost of our migration services.

The next things we do after that will be:

  • Download documents from SharePoint to the local drive
  • Assign metadata from CSV file as you upload documents
  • Flatten a folder structure as you upload it.


These are harder to do than you might think. I'll post more on this in coming weeks, including our challenges and progress updates.

Anouncing CloudPrep 2014 Migration Toolkit for SharePoint Online

We do a lot of Office 365 migrations. Most of these are for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. This should surprise nobody except maybe Microsoft, who seemed to be slow to realize that their cloud platform would have the most appeal to companies with limited budgets – or that most jobs in the US are provided by small businesses. Go figure.

Over the years, I’ve written several times about the challenges of moving from a conventional file store to Office 365. Fact is, it’s just not simple to do. It really makes sense to have an experienced IT professional help you make the move. I like helping customers make the switch, but doing so has presented interesting challenges for my business that I’m sure other SharePoint consultants share too.

Firstly, there are great third party tools out there for migrating files. We often use ShareGate and Content Matrix from MetaLogix. MetaVis is another great company that has great tools with lots of features. Fact is that even though these tools are great, they are also quite expensive. They’re feature rich, so really knowing the tool is a skillset of its own – and it makes good IT people hard to find when I need them to do a job. We also run up against serious limitations when trying to use these tools; sometimes we cannot find a way to use the tools to migrate the files in exactly the way we want to.

Second, some of my client already have a part-time IT person or managed services company that helps them service their PCs and on premises servers. Traditionally, we’re a SharePoint consultancy and we never set out to try and replace other IT folks; they need work too. They have the relationship with my customer, and the local presence needed for that on-site work. Over the years, I’ve seen that customers prefer to have their own local IT provider for most small requests. We needed to find a way to coexist with these other businesses in a way that would benefit us both.

Back in 2012, at the behest of a marketing consultant (who gave me lots of advice that was either bad or I couldn’t follow it at the time) I created a small tool called CloudPrep. This tool wasn’t much; I never had much confidence in it and so I never really promoted it. But, it did the work of renaming files that SharePoint didn’t like, and combined with WebDAV it was enough to make getting 20 to 50 GB of customer files into the cloud in a few days’ time. I released it into the wild, and CloudPrep has been getting downloaded a few times a week – mostly by other Office 365 consultants to my chagrin. Lesson learned and another checkmark for finding a way to compete with other IT providers; there are more of you than there are of me!

One problem I’ve noticed is that Office 365 migration budgets are small – I mean really tiny! That’s weird when you consider that for a 25 person company the ROI could be hundreds of thousands of bucks. But, we have been in an economic slump for something like 5 years now. I guess that takes its toll; even if you knew it would make you a thousand dollars next month, you can’t spend $100 today unless you have it to spare. Some companies are reluctant to spend even a few thousand to plan and execute.

There are a few tools that are in the “beer money” range. I tried FilesToGo once – and only once. It lacked some features that seems obvious to me, but made my client extremely angry. It didn’t have a lot of options either, one size fits all. I won’t discourage anyone from using it if it meets your needs, but I’m not going to risk my relationship with my clients on it. I am honestly surprised that after all this time, there’s nothing else in its price range.

I guess you could say that I’ve gotten fed up with this situation. Yet another migration we had to do where the current tools on the market couldn’t meet our needs for the client’s budget. That story gets old.

So, the boys in the lab and I finally built our own!

Announcing CloudPrep 2014! Forget everything you ever knew about that crappy tool we made back in 2012, because this is completely something at a whole new level.

CloudPrep 2014 is not one of those big expensive tools with a fancy GUI. It’s a set of PowerShell command-lets that work with SharePoint Online and your local file system. These commands and the sample scripts provided with them are designed to empower IT people and make migrating files to and from SharePoint Online a piece of cake.

These tools don’t replace an IT person or their experience. You’ll still need an experienced consultant to tell you how to organize your files, use metadata, overcome or avoid SharePoint Online limitations, and of course actually use the tools. You needed all that before anyway. The difference is that now much of this can be provided by your own experienced IT staff; or if you’re an IT consultant yourself, you can use our tool and make your small-business and small-budget migrations a breeze instead of a quagmire.

Our commands fall into basic categories: planning, preparation, file migration, and SharePoint management. We’re still putting the finishing touches on the product now. We’re hoping to have the Lite and Standard editions released to market sometime in February, with the Premium and Professional versions available as soon as March or April.

In the meantime, please take a look at our feature matrix and proposed pricing structure. There’s still time to collect some feedback. So, if you have a feature you’d like to see that isn’t here, then leave us a comment and let us know. Even if you don’t add a feature by the launch date, we’re planning to add even more features later. We’ll entertain any reasonable suggestion – except charging more for the product.

Like what you see and can’t wait to try it out? Contact us and I’ll give you a 15% discount if you purchase during the early access period.

Edition->Feature        Lite   standard Premium Professional
Release Date   Feb  Feb  March  April
Proposed Price Free $285 $576

$1,092

+$300 Per Tenant>2

Number of Office 365 Tenants Unlimited Unlimited unlimited Unlimited
Numbre of Site collections Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited Unlimited
Requires powershell 2.0 or higher Yes Yes Yes Yes
Requires Sharepoint client connectivity Yes Yes Yes

Yes

1 year support and Updates

(renewable Annually)

  Yes Yes Yes
Supported OS: Windows server 2008 or 2008 R2 N/A Yes Yes

Yes

Supported OS: Windows XP N/A   ?? ??
Supported OS: Windows Server 2003 N/A   ?? ??
Planning and Reporting        
Sizes and Numbers of items by folder, extention, ect. Yes Yes Yes

Yes

 

Check for Potentially Illegal file types   Yes Yes

 Yes

Folder and File Path Length Checking   Yes Yes

Yes

Permissions Checking for Local Files     Yes

Yes

Target URL Length Check Report     Yes

Yes

Upload Time Estimates      

Yes

File Preparation        
File Renaming for Illegal charaters Yes Yes Yes Yes

File Renaming for Illegal Paths

(_files,_forms)

Yes Yes Yes

Yes

Preserve Author and Editor for uploaded Files

  Yes Yes

Yes

Check for and Automatically ZIP files with illegal extentions (EXEs, Ect.)

    Yes

Yes

Check for and Automatically ZIP "_files" Folders

  Yes Yes

Yes

Migrate and Manage Files

       

Supports Network Mapped Drives

yes yes yes yes

Supports Network UNC Paths

yes yes yes

yes

 

Upload Entire Folder to Document Library

Yes Yes Yes

Yes

Upload Specific File to Document library

  yes Yes

Yes

Download Document Library to Folder

  Yes Yes

Yes

Download Specific File

  Yes Yes

Yes

Warns if Source Exceeds 5,000 items

  yes Yes

Yes

Warns if Target URL length Too Long

  yes Yes

Yes

Specify Content Type for Uploaded Documents

  Yes Yes

Yes

Specify Content Type for Top Level Folder

    Yes

Yes

Specify Content Type for Sub-Folders

    yes

Yes

Support for Documents Sets

     

Yes

Flatten Folder Structure with duplicate filename handing

    Yes

Yes

Flatten Folder Structure at 1 or more levels deep

     

Yes

Convert Folder Names to Metadata Fields

    Yes

Yes

Create Source URL Field for Uploaded Files

    Yes

Yes

Create MD5 Hash Field for Uploaded Files

     

Yes

Export Metadata to CSV File when Downloading Files

     

Yes

Synchronize of Local and Cloud files using File Modified Time

    Yes

Yes

Synchronize of Local and Cloud Files using File Modified Time+ MD5 Hash

     

Yes

Automation Features

       

Powershell command-lets

Yes Yes Yes Yes

Unattended Execution

  Yes Yes Yes

Sharepoint Management &

Development      

Create and Edit SharePoint Users

  Yes Yes Yes

Set Common Properties for Lists and Document Librarys

  Yes Yes Yes

Create and Edit Columns in Lists and Document Libraries

  Yes Yes Yes

Create and Edit Views Lists and Document Libraries

    Yes Yes

Copy a view to same or Different Document Library or list and site

    Yes Yes

Import and Export Site Columns

    Yes Yes

Import and Export Content Types

    Yes Yes

Import and export views

    Yes Yes

Add, Remove users and Groups, Permission Sets

    Yes Yes

 

CloudPrep Lite
This edition is a good fit for small file migration needs and try-before-you-buy. You can use it to do basic reporting on the structure of your files, rename files that are known to cause problems during migration, and upload folder structures to your SharePoint Online document libraries. In most cases it has a 99.7% or better success rate, and it produces a handy report so that your remaining files can be uploaded manually.

CloudPrep Standard
This edition includes a standard set of features designed to help you move files into Office 365 with a minimum amount of difficulty. You can upload and download large file collections without having to stand by the computer, perform multiple upload/download passes, and specify a default content type for files. Run it from anywhere, including various versions of Windows Server. We also include some additional pre-migration reporting tools that help to identify problems before you migrate your files.

CloudPrep Premium
For the seasoned SharePoint admin or IT professional, this edition includes features that will help you get the most out of Office 365 in the cloud. We include even more reports to give you a 360 degree view into any potential file migration issues. The file upload tool includes a variety of features for setting metadata and flattening folder structures.

CloudPrep Professional
This edition enables the true Office 365 IT professional to handle migrations for multiple clients. All the features of the Premium Edition plus advanced content type features including support for Document Sets. It also includes the ability to create MD5 Hash file uploaded files, which helps in detecting duplicate files and in determining that if two files are not the same even when their date stamps match.

Save Money for Your Small or Midsize Business by Moving to the Cloud

There are many small companies out there with a rack of servers in a closet. Years ago, this was the expected way that companies supported their internal operations. My company has one too. Many companies depend heavily on this equipment to perform vital functions for the business operation. E-mail and files typically live here - lots of files!

In recent years, there's been a shift to a new IT strategy called "the cloud". For small companies that may not have a lot of cash to make big changes, a move to the cloud can seem to involve a lot of risks and requires spending precious resources.

Today, I want to take a few minutes to explain some of the most compelling reasons that you might want to find a will and a way to turn that closet full of equipment off - because losing that ball and chain could help to set your business free.

Cloud Savings from Electrical Utility Costs
For starters, all that stuff running in your closet uses a lot of electricity. It's hard to tell how much exactly, because that depends on how old the equipment is and things like how many CPUs, drives, extra power supply it might have installed. Air conditioning costs energy too, and many people fail to take cooling costs into account when they try to estimate how much energy their computers use.

You can make some educated guesses based on the size of the circuit breaker on your equipment rack. For example, if you run everything on a single 20 amp circuit and it isn't blowing out like a Christmas tree in a hundred-year-old house circa 1974, then you are probably consistently pulling less than 18 amps and it's probably more like 15. Converted to watts, that's 1800 to a max. of 2400 watts. That's more than enough to run 5 servers with 500 watt power supplies - assuming you don't power them all up at one time. If you have fewer servers than that running, you either have older equipment that consumes more power or you aren't really using the circuit to its capacity.

1200 w at 120 v = 10A

500 w / 120 v = 4.15A

Another rule of thumb would be to assume about 550 watts per server, unless there's something fancy going on like it has a redundant power supply.

So let's use my own equipment as an example and I'll see if I can guess how much it costs me every month.

Here's my inventory:

  • Firewall
  • Domain Controller
  • 2 Virtual Servers
  • Database Server
  • Other Small Load Equipment: Wi-Fi Router, Network Switches, Battery Back UPS 


5 x 550 w = 2,750 w

2,750 w / 120 v = 22.9167 A

Maybe it's a little more than that if you include all the low end equipment.

This runs on a 20 amp circuit, so if I were really pushing 22A or more then I'd be blowing the circuit all the time, but I do know that if we add anything like a mini-fridge to the mix then we will trip the breaker, so I'm probably not far off. I could use this figure and call the overhead the cost of air conditioning.

Fortunately, I have another way to tell. I have these two APC 1500 VA back-up batteries and each is nice enough to tell me their load. Right now each is sitting at about 50% load. So, that's about the same as saying that we're running is 15 amps. This figure makes more sense, because you have to figure that the servers need a little extra capacity for starting up and such.

I could've come to the same conclusion by guessing that my equipment uses about 70% of its max. capacity. All these methods brings me to about the same figure.

My system uses 15A * 120v = 1,800 watts. I'll round it up to 2,000 watts to make the math easier and account for cooling costs and spikes in use that occur once in a while.

So, how much is that in money? The power company charges me per kilo-watt-hour. That's a fancy term for saying that if I use 1,000 watts for 1 hour, that's one unit on my electrical meter - for which they charge me $0.12.

24 hours in a day times an average 30.4 days in a given month equals 729.6 hours per month. Remember that this equipment runs 24 x 7 x 365, in case some employee wants to VPN in at an odd hour and get a little extra work done. So we have 2 kilo-watts times 729.6 hours times 12 cents. That's about $175.10 a month or $2,101.25 per year. Over time that really adds up.

What if I could cut that power consumption in half, by removing some of that equipment? If I had a thousand bucks, I could do a lot of things with that money instead. Here are some examples: 

  • Office 365 E3 plans for 4 employees
  • A small virtual server in the cloud with a VPN connection to my local network
  • Business-grade broadband internet service
  • A fancy office lunch for all the employees once per quarter
  • An extra grand for me to take home as a bonus

In fact, over five years this alone could pay for about 25 to 50% of the budget for moving to the cloud.

We do some really fancy stuff with our servers, but most companies are doing pretty ordinary things with their equipment. Here's some examples: 

  • Domain Controller
  • File server
  • Backup server
  • E-mail server
  • Anti-spam appliance
  • Company Intranet site
  • Remote Login / VPN / Terminal Server
  • Accounting Software
  • Other Customer Application Servers


If you replace that old equipment with cloud services and virtual servers in the cloud, you can eliminate a lot of these. In fact, only the domain controller and those last two items are particularly challenging to phase out completely. Depending on how your systems are configured, that could be as many as 3 servers (maybe more) that are just sitting there chewing up power that you could save.

Cloud Savings by Avoiding Upgrades to Hardware and Software


All of that hardware may be aging; the recession hit a lot of businesses that haven't had spare funds to update their servers since before 2008. That was 5 years ago, when Windows Server 2003 was still considered reasonably current. A lot of it isn't upgradable, because it's 32 bit architecture and won't support the newer operating systems, which means you have to figure hardware into your upgrade costs as well.

Even if your hardware is state of the art with the latest operating system, chances are good that you'll probably want to upgrade it sometime in the next 3 to 5 years. Depending on what the hardware does and what software runs on it will say a lot about how much you could save by freeing yourself from that burden.

Likewise, at some point you're probably going to want to upgrade Microsoft Office. Many companies say they're perfectly happy using Office XP or 2007; often, they just don't know about certain features that could be of really high value to them. Because they can't afford to upgrade, they never get the chance to discover the benefits on their own. Office 365 solves that problem because your Office desktop client software is included with the service.

For example, modern versions of Office have improved abilities to collaborate on documents when they're saved on a SharePoint server. Two people can edit the same Word document or Excel spreadsheet at the same time from two different computers. Most folks also don't realize that Excel has some very promising business intelligence features now that can let you crunch your business data in ways that could give your company the competitive edge.

One customer told us that because they were switching to a cloud architecture, they would be able to stop buying the more expensive laptops they'd been providing to their employees, in favor of units that we about half the price. If you have less than 10 employees that may not seem like a big deal, but if you're buying computers for a larger team, the multiplying effect can lead to formidable savings.

Here are some examples of some hardware and software costs you can save by switching to the cloud:

  • Typical mid-grade business server: $3,000 to $6,000 per server
  • Cheaper desktops or laptops: $250 to $1000 per user
  • Windows Server operating system: $1,000 per server
  • Exchange Server software: $1,000 + $120 per user
  • Microsoft Office client software: $400 to $700 per user depending on edition 


There are other miscellaneous software expenses too, like Remote Desktop Server (terminal server) clients, VPN devices, anti-spam appliances like the Barracuda, or backup solutions like Veritas. Having some of these in your company typically comes with annual support contracts that must be renewed - that's kind of like paying for cloud services without getting the cloud. You may not be able to discontinue all of these services, but especially for those which charge per user, scaling back the number of seats can save you a lot.

Cloud Savings by Reallocating IT Service Costs
Of course, computers don't take care of themselves. Some companies have an IT staff of their own, others hire managed services companies or freelance IT tradespeople to help maintain their computer systems.

These services come at a cost. A full-time IT person can cost $80,000 a year to keep on staff. Part time workers will usually charge consulting rates of around $50-100 an hour or more. Such a consultant might cost you $25,000 a year even if you bargain shop and only give him 10 hours a week. 

Such services are necessary. Backups need to be run. Users need help with malfunctioning software or broken equipment. Server drives will get full, fail, or both. Learning all those systems and which levers to pull in order to keep them running is a distraction from your business operation. Most business consultants agree that smaller companies should outsource their IT needs.

It might be tempting to think that you'll be able to cut the budget for IT support if you move to the cloud; after all your IT staff or MSP will have less equipment to maintain. The truth is that this will probably be a wash, because it's common to see both IT departments and managed service providers starved to the bone for resources. Likely, some of your resources will shift to supporting the new cloud solutions instead of the old infrastructure. Also, there are probably projects that have needed attention for a long time where you could redirect those funds or hours instead of cutting back.

So, look for changes in where you get your IT support, how it is delivered, and what platforms it will support - but don't expect to unearth a gold mine of savings by cutting back on IT work when you switch to the cloud. Fortunately, there are so many other places to find savings that it probably won't matter.

Cloud Savings from Stupid Accounting Tricks
Another thing to consider is that in some cases there are significant differences between CAPEX and OPEX, meaning that capital expenditures - those which result in obtaining assets - require different accounting treatment then ongoing expenses like your phone bill. Because cloud services are operating expenses, you may be saving money on stuff like business property taxes and depreciation if you go into the cloud.

Another thing to point out is that cloud services do not have to be paid all at once. For example, buying Office 2013 for 25 employees could mean coming up with over 17 grand up front, tapping into a line of credit, or having to phase the purchase in slowly. Getting that kind of money for big expenditures can also involve jumping through flaming hoops. Such obstacles might delay purchases you need to make, and they'll certainly drain your productivity.

Cloud services also scale much better than conventional server infrastructure. For example, you might provision an Exchange server that is reasonable for 15 employees. Over time, as employees are added to the company and old e-mail accumulates that server would be overburdened, thus accelerating the pace at which you'd have to spend more to upgrade it. Or, alternatively, you could plan ahead and buy a server that could support up to 30 employees, but then all that added expense is an opportunity cost and wasted resource for every year that you don't use the server to its full capacity.

Cloud services typically come with an annual agreement, just like your cell phone plan, which means there are some limits on how fast you could scale back if you have to, but you can increase capacity at any time. So, there's no excess supply except in cases where you shrink the company a bit - and your maximum liability is something you can plan for. With the traditional server all you could do is wait for users to drop to zero and then turn it off - just before hitting the light switch on your way out of the office.

Cloud Savings from Productivity Gains
This is the fun part that I always like to talk about, because people really overlook it when they're trying to find ways to save money - and this is where the real money is.

Suppose your small company grows, and you need to hire another office employee to handle the work. That probably costs you anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 per year - maybe more depending on their qualifications, experience, and the value they bring to your company.

Suppose your company does less well than you'd like and you want to cut your staff. Everyone else would feel the pinch as their work is transferred to the rest of the team. The added workload affects morale, and productivity could drop - increasing the chances that you'll continue to slide downhill.

My point here is that whether your company is struggling or growing, both of these come with a cost. What if you could mitigate that cost by cutting out wasteful activities that aren't really productive but have just sort of become habits because you've always worked that way before?

If your business is like a lot of other companies, you probably have some pretty typical work patterns in your office. Here are some examples:

  • You have a network file share that you've been using for years; maybe you have everything going back to the early days of the company; there's an elaborate folder structure to keep everything organized, which has changed over time; finding things involves digging around in different folders until it turns up or asking the office admin if they know where it is.
  • Once in a while, somebody deletes a file off the network file share; either you don't ever find out about it, or when you need it you have to go to a backup since there's no recycle bin for the file share.
  • Since there's no official document retention policy - or way to automate it - old documents just pile up and lay around making everything else harder to find.
  • You have tons of documents living in e-mail; when you need a document you have to search Outlook to find it; sometimes you're not sure if it's the latest version or not.
  • You archive your old emails to gigantic PST files which you can only access on your work computer, because the file has to live on the network share in order to get backed up.
  • When you're on the road or working from home, you have to remote into a terminal server so that you can get access to all of your files at the office; you can't use your tablet or smartphone to do it; it's extremely slow compared to working on your home computer.
  • Your version of Office at home is different than the one you have at work, and so some of the stuff that you can do in the office can't be taken home with you
  • If there's an internet connection or electrical issue at the office, you can't really work from home, because VPN is down; business just shuts down for the day until the crisis is past.
  • If you do most of these things, chances are you could gain a lot of productivity by moving to the cloud. And, if you do any of these, chances are pretty good that everyone else in your office has the same bad habits and coping skills.

Logging into VPN, working with slow connections, foraging for documents, lugging portable drives back and forth, trying to find the correct version among duplicates, waiting for e-mail and file searches to finish running, being at specific computers to in order to complete certain tasks, and having to ask other people where to find that important file are all wasteful unproductive activities. Up to a certain point in time, they were considered necessary, just like people still consider driving to and from the office to be necessary - at least some of the time.

According to one McKinsey study, workers spend about 30% of their time reading and answering emails, 20% of the day looking for things, and 15% communicating and collaborating with their fellow workers. That's a whole workday every week spent looking for information, much of which may already exist inside your own company.

And yet, if each employee in a 25 person company could save just 2 hours a week by cutting down on how long it takes to find things, that'd add up to 50 hours a week in reclaimed productivity. In other words, you can add an entire virtual employee to the rolls without paying a penny - whether you simply avoid hiring another warm body or have to make due with less staff, either way you're looking at an effective savings of $50-80k.

The reality is that you can probably save a lot more than just 2 hours per week; that's just 24 minutes a day. If you think of it more like a worst case scenario, it's a pretty darn compelling argument to go ahead and make the change even if it costs you a little in the short run.

Think your company could benefit from a move to cloud architecture including Office 365? Reach out to us and we'll develop a custom migration plan, cost breakdown, and ROI.

Congratulations to Dustin Sparks, MCPD

Yesterday, Dusty informed us that he has passed the 70-576 Pro: Designing and Developing Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Applications exam, making him our fourth MS Certified Professional at the "Pro" level.

Dusty held MCTS in SharePoint 2010 for a couple of years now, which is an accomplishment in itself. He joins myself, Enrique, and Ted as having the next level higher certification. We're hoping Alara will soon join us as an MCITP which she plans on taking in a week or two.

In addition to securing our status for another year as a Microsoft gold partner, we know that passing this exam was an important part of taking his skills and career to the next level. It's also a significant step in updating his certifications for SharePoint 2013, which will be an ongoing goal for all of us this coming year. Let's face it, these things are expensive and time consuming; we can always be on the bleeding edge, can we?

All of us in the Liquid Mercury Solutions and Colossus Consulting family want to take a moment to let Dusty know that we value his efforts and will continue to do everything we can to support him on his SharePoint journey. If you see Dusty at a user's group or trade show, please take a moment to congratulate him. Or, you can reach out to him on Twitter and give him some SP Lovin' at @SparkDustJoe.

Also, Dusty will be giving a presentation at the Baltimore SharePoint User's Group on Thursday January 16th. The topic will be revealing the mysteries of Document Sets. Remember that this month is a little odd because the 1st is a Wednesday, so BSPUG is really going to sneak up on us this month. Mark your calendar and don't miss it, whether you plan to attend in person or via the livestream. 

Dusty, you are an awesome individual and we're looking forward to accomplishing some really amazing stuff together in 2014! We'll see you when you get back from vacation, and lunch will be on me.

15 Things: a Day in the Life of a SharePoint Life Coach

Recently, we launched a new service called SharePoint Life Coach. This service was designed to be of value of customers who need help with SharePoint but have a limited budget they can work with to get the support they need. To help folks understand this service better, I'd like to describe what sets this service apart and some of the questions we answer in a typical session.

With traditional consulting, you the customer tell us what to do and then we tell you how long it will take.  We then run off and accomplish these things for you, and sometimes we work with you along the way. Some consulting is about making recommendations, some is about troubleshooting. In general, the focus is to bring you a finished product, whether that deliverable is a document, a working system, or a piece of code. Of course, all of this is billed by the hour, and having a consultant working full-time is beyond reach for many companies.

SharePoint Life Coach service differs from traditional consulting in a couple of important ways.

  • The customer sets the pace for sessions, based on their time and budget.
  • Sessions follow a semi-structured format, so that desired material can be fit within the allocated time.
  • Focus on consistency and results will emerge - the idea is to have regular sessions over an extended period that help ensure better results.
  • The deliverable is you - our approach is "teach a person to fish and they'll eat for a year".


As we bring new folks into the Life Coach system, one of the first things we do is to set up topics for that all-important first session. Sometimes the hardest thing is knowing where to begin. Many times, our customers come to us after just getting started with Office 365 and SharePoint Online. They quickly realize that SharePoint is a very complicated product, and that there is more to managing it than just pulling some levers on the Office 365 management portal web site.

Over time, we've found that folks are asking some of the same questions over and over again. On some topics, we start to feel a bit like a broken record. Though we've answered those question many times, the answer varies from customer to customer based on their specific story - for example the size of their company, tech savvy of staff, etc.  As a result, while there are common themes, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for these things. Thus, being able to tailor these recommendations to your needs is what having a SharePoint Life Coach is all about.

Here are some of the popular topics that people have asked for:

  1. What are some of the pitfalls that I should avoid while working in SharePoint?
  2. What training do my end-users need to work effectively in SharePoint?
  3. How do I keep SharePoint from becoming a mess?
  4. What is the right way to structure my SharePoint web site and sub-sites?
  5. When should I use a sub-site, a list, a library, a document set, or folders?
  6. I know folders are bad, but my users love them; how do we cope?
  7. Everyone misses the network shared drive. How can people work with files quickly in SharePoint?
  8. I want to use SharePoint as an Intranet for my company; what kinds of content and things should I put on it?
  9. What's the best way to structure users, groups, and permissions?
  10. I've heard of SharePoint governance. It turns out it was a 500 page document. Is there anything for small businesses that is like governance-lite?
  11. Should I buy a file migration tool, move my files by hand, or just hire someone to do it for me?
  12. Should I use an Outlook Shared Calendar or a SharePoint Calendar?
  13. Can I organize our list of customers in SharePoint?
  14. How long does it take for stuff to show up in Search? Why aren’t my PDF files showing up?

How to Generate Proposals 376% Faster Using SharePoint

In a previous case study and white paper, I described how to make proposal generation a snap using SharePoint's Document Set feature for quick proposals, and site templates for more complicated RFP responses.

We used this method in house for a long time. One thing that struck me about this approach was that it still took a long time to get the proposals together. Also, even though we has a few good templates, it was often better to copy a winning proposal than it was to go back to our building blocks and start fresh. I wondered what we could do to make this process easier and get more mileage out of our existing library of written materials.

Thankfully, the technology to solve this problem has been around for quite a while - it just isn't part of SharePoint's out-of-the-box feature set. Today, I'm going to describe our solution to this challenge.

Document Automation and the Proposal Process
Did you ever wonder why Microsoft changed all of the extensions for Office documents, for example from .DOC to .DOCX? Well, it isn’t just because Microsoft has a long standing love-affair with the letter X - though they certainly do. It's actually because they made a switch to a new document format called OpenXML. Open XML is basically just a giant ZIP file (actually CAB, but whatever) full of XML files that describe Office documents.

What makes OpenXML significant is that it is the standard that lets us manipulate those documents. Aha! Now we've come back to my problem with proposals. (I bet you wondered where I was going with that tangent?) Previously, we've been able to manage our documents, but all the work we do with them has been manual. But, what if we can further automate the process?

In many ways, our proposals are not very different from those of other companies. A lot of this is dictated by the best practices of purchasing departments or government agencies.

Here's the basic structure of a typical proposal.

  1. Title Page
  2. Executive Summary
  3. About Us: History, Services We Provide, Locations, Etc.
  4. Capabilities:
    1. Certifications, Etc.
    2. Several Short Resumes for Staff*
    3. Products / Line Card*
  5. Past Performance:
    1. Customer Satisfaction
    2. Several Project References*
  6. Technical Approach
    1. Describe the Problem
    2. Methodology*
    3. Proposed Scope of Work
  7. Pricing, Terms, Etc.
  8. Appendix - pretty much anything that does not fit elsewhere

Essentially, this structure is pretty formulaic. We can trim this up, or expand it to hundreds of pages. Sometimes the customer will have RFP requirements that will force us to rearrange or rename the sections, but the same things appear over and over again.

Salespeople complain that these proposals take too much effort for too little reward. Often, the large ones end up being written by entire teams of people over several weeks. There's a lot of hand wringing about getting the tone to be consistent throughout the document - and there are often more opinions than there are people doing the work. For all the effort, often the chances of winning are very small.

However, our best and most successful proposals did not take very long to write. The reason for this is that most of the material above is repetitive - meaning it will appear in any proposal. The exceptions to this are the Executive Summary, The Technical Approach, and the Price. The less time we take to craft the rest of the document, the more likely we will have the time needed to craft a good proposal in the places that actually matter.

Rather than letting people have their way and just never write proposals, why not find a way to make them easier to do? There's something to be said for the fact that if you don't bid on an RFP your chances of winning are zero.

Document Automation by Brute Force
Notice that in the above list, I have marked some of the items with blue asterisk (*)?

The way we used to handle these sections was to have one big document called, for example, "Past Performance". It would have all our past projects and references that we might be inclined to use. Because there are lots of different kinds of SharePoint projects (and even more kinds of customers) this document would get pretty big. Same goes for staff biographies or the products that we sell. When a proposal would get created, we would paste the contents of only those items that we wanted to include for a particular proposal.

The other way to do it would be, for example, to have one document for each methodology section. These tend to be pretty large; they talk about for example how you would do an Intranet project differently from an Extranet project. We'd just paste the entire document directly into the target proposal.

For the asterisked items, this is how we would handle things. Sounds easy enough right? It has a couple of drawbacks though.

Firstly, it is pretty manually labor intensive. And, you need a person knowledgeable with Word to do it, or the formatting will get all screwed up. There's a large potential to make a mistake and forget to put in a particular reference. Believe it or not, this is the less serious of the two problems with this approach.

The other issue is that changes do not make it back into the master documents. For example, somebody who is doing a red-team review of a draft proposal might notice that there is some language in a paragraph that's confusing and so they revise it. If that paragraph came from our templates, then we'll make the same mistake on the next proposal; we might repeat the same work fixing it - or we might not catch it the next time through.

You can imagine this is a serious enough problem if you're just trying to write more professional looking documents, but consider this. It is not just your past experience or the qualifications of your staff that are different over time - the marketplace is always changing too. Because of these problems, our best work was often not giving us the repeat value that would have helped us win more business.

The Concept of Document Assembly
What you want instead is to reach that sweet spot, where you can reproduce success at a minimal cost. Each time you get a little bit better, and all the while you can adjust your tactics to deal with new information or moves from the competition. We found a way to do exactly that with OpenXML using a technique called document assembly.

The concept behind document assembly is really simple. It is basically a streamlined version of what Office already lets you do with copy-and-paste. The way it works is that you have many smaller documents - sometimes they may even be only a paragraph or two. For each one, you focus continual effort on making those two paragraphs the best that they can be. This is something you should be doing even when you don't have an RFP to work on, but it's especially important when there is a proposal due.

The key is to always make the changes to the master documents - unless they're a one-time thing for a particular proposal. Near the end of the proposal process, you use document assembly to piece together all the parts of the proposal. Make a couple of formatting changes and then send the document to the printer.

There are several benefits to doing things this way:

  • You can add metadata to each document "part" so that you know its status, where it belongs in the overall proposal, how recently it was updated, and what types of clients or jobs it's relevant to.
  • You can assign rights so that, for example, the resumes are always updated by HR staff and the past project summaries are always added by whoever led the project.
  • You can leave the really strong branding stuff out of your proposals until the very last minute. Often, really fancy branding stuff looks great but slows Word down a lot.
    You can have different document styles, such as a version for professional two-sided printing, a version for economy print or PDF, and a version for those pesky government bids that don't want color images or any fancy font-work.
  • If you don't like the results you get, you can easily rebuild from the template and source document parts.
  • If you liked the document format that you got, you can copy the template for next time. That's way better than just copying the finished product and then doing find-and-replace on the customer's name.


What Document Assembly Looks Like in SharePoint
But you don’t want to hear me going on and on about this stuff, right? Let's take a look at how we do this in SharePoint and you'll see how much easier it is.

We start in the Quick Proposals document library. This library has been set up with some SharePoint document sets (whose content type is called Proposal Set). That helps us keep track of data about separate proposals that might include one or more related documents. By the way, if you want more information on how we set up Proposal Sets and our Quick Proposals library, you can reach out to me for details.

 

From here, you can see our default view is Active Proposals. In our case an active proposal is one that is either "In Progress" or "Submitted". Today we don't actually have very many of those, because two of our most recent proposals were accepted - yay! So, there's not much in the queue today.

Let's make a new proposal for a client who called us this week. We switch to the Document tab on the ribbon and under the chevron for New Document we'll find Proposal Set. (You could also hit the big icon for New Document, since Proposal Set is the default - and only - option.)

 

In some cases, we might also include options here for Proposal Document and Proposal Document Link. These can be added when folks have a bad habit of dropping documents directly into the root of the Quick Proposals library before they've created a Proposal Set. Usually it's better to leave them out, so people have to create the Proposal Set first, but that's really a business decision.

From here, we need to enter some basic details about the proposal. Not all of these fields have to be filled out right away, but we do need to give the proposal set a name.

 

Personally, I find it really helpful to fill out all these fields from day 1. It helps with managing the proposal creation as a project, and I can use some views in SharePoint to generate reports for my business partners, Alara and Justin.

When you're done filling out the data you want, you hit OK and SharePoint will create the new Proposal Set.

 

Above, you can see the Proposal Set has been configured to show me all of the information I entered on the welcome page. This is useful for sharing the key data with my teammates who will help me generate the proposal documents.

We can customize the welcome page to include a variety of different things. For example, we can combine the Proposal Set with our Document Rules Engine to show KPIs for completed or missing documents or metadata. We can change the columns shown for individual documents, and even add custom web parts to this page.

Let's start creating some documents; there are two ways to do this. The first method is to configure SharePoint to create new documents each time a new Proposal Set is created, which is what we've done here. But, if the type of documents you'll create is going to vary a lot from proposal to proposal, you'll want to create them by hand.

You'll notice that we already have 2 documents in our Proposal Set. This was done to make the whole process fast and easy. We could have easily created these from the New Document menu in the ribbon.

The XLSX document is a worksheet that we can use to create estimates. The Word document is our DocxFusion Proposal Template. This document is customized for each company and specific print formats. Here's what ours looks like.

 

As you can see, this template contains all the styling for the proposal as well as placeholders for content that's going to come later from other canned documents we've already created. We also have some review comments to give guidance on how this proposal should be crafted.

Here's a close-up view of a content control that's being used as a placeholder, with reminders about the recommended length of each section.

 

You can customize the template now, by changing some of the copy or entering the name of the person it is intended for. Sometimes it is better to customize the output document, and sometimes it is better to customize the template.

We're going to go ahead now and build our final proposal from the template. To do this, click the chevron (or ellipses in SP 2013) and then click Build Document.

 

This will pull up the Build Document screen, where we can choose content to put into our proposal.

 

The left hand panel shows documents from a Templates library. This is where I've saved all my reusable proposal materials, including canned marketing copy, case studies, and short pieces describing the technical approach for different types of projects. Don't worry if you don't have all these things yet, because you can build your collection up as you go.

Above the left hand panel, you can see there's a dropdown to choose the view for the Templates library; I'm only looking at approved content right now. You could organize this in a variety of different ways.

By checking the documents on the left hand side and clicking the > and < buttons, I can copy them into different parts of my template document. I can also change the order using the Move Up and Move Down buttons, so things will appear in the order that I want them to later on.

Here's the list I decided to go with for the Black Mesa proposal. Specifically, since Black Mesa is in the defense industry, I only picked case studies for government agencies. Also, I only chose the Team Bios for people who will be working on the project as Key Staff, as well as recommendations and methodologies that apply to this opportunity.

 

When finished, I click Build to start the process of document assembly.

We're given a quick chance to add some metadata to the document, some of which will actually appear in the text of the document itself.

 

And now, voilà! Here's our new proposal.

 

Here's what our finished proposal looks like by the way. Very professional!



... and, well, you get the idea. Here's the back cover.

 

Where to from Here?
Of course, if that were all there was to do, then there wouldn't be any work left for the sales team! We can open the document and put in our finishing touches, additional content, etc. If you need to rebuild the proposal from the template, you can do so as many times as you'd like.

It's also possible to add content from image files, Excel workbooks, and PowerPoint slides using this approach. For example, I could complete my WBS worksheet and then include it under Schedule or Pricing sections.

Best of all, you can make updates to any of the template documents that will be included in any subsequent builds (for this or other proposals). You can re-use effective content from winning proposals quite easily.

Suddenly, bidding on those last minute proposals and adapting to the changing marketplace is no longer the bridge-too-far that it used to be. We liked this solution a lot; and other people have started asking about it. So, we've made it into a software product named Chimera. If you'd like to put this kind of solution to work at your business, you can contact me about it and we'll be happy to build you a proposal for it. ;-)