Time(line) for a change: New tool developed for use in ISG SharePoint sites

A new SharePoint timeline tool has been developed by a member of The University of Edinburgh’s (UoE) Information Services (ISG) team which will enhance organisation and utilisation of list data.

The tool has been created by Don Stuckey who was appointed SharePoint Developer in July 2020 within the SharePoint Solutions Service (SPSS) at ISG.

Don was tasked by Claire Bradford, SharePoint Solutions Manager, and Robert Beaton, SharePoint Technical Lead, to develop a roadmap/timeline ‘web part’ for UoE’s SharePoint sites.

This was done to help enhance Don’s SharePoint Framework (SPFX) development skills and produce a reusable ‘web part’ – that is a web part not tied to one particular SharePoint site.

After early experimentation with various forms for the web part, including a Gantt chart format, Don determined that a one-dimensional timeline format would be the most beneficial due to its relative simplicity.

Throughout the process of the web part’s development, Don has also collaborated with ISG colleagues to acquire feedback and suggestions for possible improvements which he has integrated and applied to further enhance the tool.

As a result, Don’s web part can read in event-based SharePoint list data (such as the data shown in the image below) and provide a chronological timeline representation of that data.

Example of SharePoint list data

Through this, SharePoint users are provided with an at-a-glance view of event-based data. Such data – which represents an activity, task, or development with a start and end date – is created and utilised across ISG and the wider UoE.

An example of the web part in configuration mode, i.e. showing the options the site owner can choose from when deploying the web part to a page in the site; can be seen below.

A screenshot of the web part in configuration mode,

Don said: “Besides all the valuable skills I have developed working on the web part, it has also all been great fun!

“I have really seen the value in sharing the web part with colleagues in the SharePoint Solutions Service Team and in Service Management, at various stages of the web part’s development, to get their feedback.

“I took each round of feedback into account in working on the next version and ultimately was able to implement nearly all the enhancements/features suggested by colleagues. This iterative process of feedback-building-sharing I think led to the web part being quite in tune with the form and functionality my sample users (i.e. my colleagues) envisaged for the web part.

“Given that the requirement to record and access event-based data is quite common (by “event”, I mean piece of data with a start and end date), and that users often wish to have an at-a-glance view of such data, I can see the web part being of value to various business units within ISG and the University of Edinburgh.”

Don’s web part is currently a ‘work in progress’ in the ‘targeted release’ stage and is presently deployed only to several targeted production SharePoints sites in IS Apps

Among the first sites to utilise the web part during this initial stage is the IS Apps Journalism SharePoint. An example of how this appears can be seen below.

A screenshot of the timeline web part in the IS Apps Journalism SharePoint, including the Hovercard users can see when moving their cursor over an event

Don said: “We will see how this targeted release goes, but assuming it goes well and the feedback from real users is positive, we could then consider making the web part available throughout the University’s SharePoint tenancy, so that any site owner can have the option of adding the web part to their site.”

As this web part is a work-in-progress, Don is welcoming any suggestions to develop it further, such as requests for additional features or configuration options.

He is additionally inviting anyone who wishes to try out the web part to email him to provide access to the demo site and add any ideas they have for its development into the “Suggested Enhancements” list.

Beyond its practical applications development of the timeline web part has also proven of immense personal and experiential benefit to Don, enabling him to gain and grow his SharePoint skills and to apply these to new challenges and other software.  

He said: “I have been able to use the SPFX skills that I acquired through developing the web part in many different projects where web parts in general are part of the solutions.

“In addition, SPFX uses many technologies that are not specific to SharePoint, e.g. React, Git, and REST APIS, and I have enhanced my knowledge of these technologies through my work on the web part.”

For more information or to trial the new web part and/or pass on any feedback contact Don Stuckey via email on: don.stuckey@ed.ac.uk

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