What does Lightning Tools bring to Microsoft Teams?

Learn how Lightning Tools apps such as DeliverPoint, Social Squared, Lightning Conductor, Data Viewer, Lightning Forms, and List Actions can benefit you in Teams as well as SharePoint.

As of last month, Lightning Tools has been developing tools and web parts for Microsoft SharePoint for over 15 years! We were one of the first (within the top ten) to have Add-Ins available for Office 365 and the app store. In fact, two out of the ten apps that were available at the launch of the Office 365 App Store were Lightning Tools products. We were then one of the first companies to redevelop our add-ins as SPFx apps for SharePoint Online, and one of the first companies to make our SPFx apps available within Microsoft Teams.

Our SPFx Apps however, are not just SharePoint apps that happen to also work in Microsoft Teams. We researched how they would be of benefit to Microsoft Teams users, and developed some functionality that is specific to Microsoft Teams.

Within this post, we’ll explore how your organization would benefit by using the Lightning Tools SPFx Apps listed below within Microsoft Teams.

Social Squared Discussion Board for Microsoft Teams

Social Squared is a discussion board tool that helps users ask questions, discuss topics, and brainstorm within structured forums. Many ask us why they would use discussion boards in Teams when it already contains the Posts tab and Chat features. This is a great question since many of the features in the Posts tab and the Chat feature of Microsoft Teams are similar to that of Social Squared. The difference is the structure of the forums. Have you ever searched Google or Bing for an answer or advice to a problem that you are experiencing? Perhaps it’s a problem with your car, or you were researching a legal question? The answer is almost always within an internet-based forum. These forums provide a community where people help each other by answering questions. If a warning light displayed on your car, you would likely find that someone experienced the same question and it was answered by an experienced mechanic. If you asked a legal question, a lawyer would likely respond. These questions and answers are not displayed in a continual feed similar to the posts tab, but structured into forum groups. A car forum may be specific to a manufacturer, with forum groups for vehicle models, and forums within those forum groups for types of problems such as suspension, brakes, and bodywork. Likewise with Legal forums. There are forums for specific types of law such as Family Law, Human Rights Law, Property Law, and Criminal Law. Each of these would also have subcategories.

Social Squared Discussion Boards bring that same solution to Microsoft Teams. Discussion Boards can be created as a Teams Tab within your Teams Channels. Forum Groups and Forums can then be created within those tabs to categorise the conversations. The questions people ask, and the answers that are provided, serve your team the day the question was answered, but also into the future as new employees join and research answers to similar questions.

In the below example, Forum Groups are created to provide forums for technical software questions. The Forum Groups represent Applications, while the Forums within those Forum Groups provide for more channelled questions based on the technology.

Social Squared Discussion Board in Microsoft Teams

Lightning Conductor Content Aggregation

The Lightning Conductor was originally created in 2007 to overcome a common issue in Microsoft SharePoint 2007. The problem was that while Microsoft recommended building multiple site collections rather than large single site collections, there wasn’t a way whereby you could aggregate across Site Collections. The Lightning Conductor was the first cross-site collection rollup web part that resolved this problem. The Lightning Conductor was therefore able to save you tremendous amounts of time looking for content that was stored away in folders within Lists and Libraries buried in subsites within site collections. We surface that content within flexible views that provide features such as grouping, conditional formatting, and aggregate functions. This aggregation saved you from looking for the content at all! The content was always available to you within a single view.

Fifteen years later, a similar problem is still being solved by the Lightning Conductor in its modern SPFx guise. Content can reside in Document Libraries within Sites. The Sites may be Site Collections or Hub Sites. The content could also reside in OneDrive, or Teams Files tabs. Tasks could be found in SharePoint Task lists, Microsoft To Do, or Planner. Events could be in Microsoft Teams, Calendar Lists, or Outlook. Finding content or knowing of its existence is still challenging.

The Lightning Conductor has evolved to still allow for List and Library aggregation from anywhere in SharePoint, but also extends to Search, Microsoft Graph, and Microsoft 365 Groups for finding content. Through Microsoft Graph (No Code Required), you can build powerful OneDrive views, Planner views, or Event views.

With everyone now spending more time within Microsoft Teams collaborating and joining meetings, having your content such as Tasks, Documents, and Calendar events (no matter where they are housed) right there in Teams is of huge benefit.

Lightning Conductor displaying documents from a Hub Site and its Associated Sites within Microsoft Teams

DeliverPoint Permissions Management

DeliverPoint for many organizations has been a blessing when trying to resolve SharePoint permission related issues. How do you even begin to report on and manage permissions when you can only report on a single site, single list, single library, or single file or folder at a time. I know for the technically-minded there are PowerShell scripts that you could author. But what about in a decentralised permissions management model where Site Owners and Team Owners have the responsibility to report on and manage permissions? The Site Owners don’t have the luxury of knowing who the members are in AD Security Groups, or knowing about nested AD Security Groups. They carry a burden on their shoulders when it comes to managing security within a site with little in the way of tooling or technical experience.

DeliverPoint has been making that challenge simple for over fifteen years. Site Owners, Site Collection Administrators, and Team Owners can report on and manage permissions, manage Sharing Links, change permissions, and manage inheritance with ease, all within the context of SharePoint or Teams.

If a user were to change roles or leave the organization, Teams Owners can remove the user’s permissions or transfer their permissions across many Teams in bulk which would also include any lists, libraries, folders, or files that were in the scope of the selected Teams.

DeliverPoint Permissions Manager in the context of Microsoft Teams

Lightning Forms – SharePoint list form designer

Lightning Forms is available for SharePoint 2016 and SharePoint Online Classic List Forms as well as the new Modern SharePoint List Forms via the SharePoint Framework (SPFx).

Using Lightning Forms, you can transform a standard SharePoint list form into a powerful business form with improved layout and business logic. Layouts can be designed with sections, multiple columns, and tabs. Styling and conditional formatting can be added to provide visual clues as to how to complete the form. And calculations, expressions, and actions can bring powerful scenarios to meet your business form needs. All of this can be accomplished in an intuitive design experience without the need to write code.

While by design Lightning Forms is a SharePoint list form design tool, those list forms can be very powerful when accessed through Microsoft Teams. In the below example, a Purchase Order form with Purchase Order subitems can be accessed simply by clicking the Purchase Order tab within your Microsoft Teams channel.

Lightning Forms – Custom Form displayed within Teams via the SharePoint Teams Tab

Lightning List Actions – Command Bar Action Button Builder

Lightning List Actions is a relatively new tool that brings the power of customized action buttons to the SharePoint list command bar. Action buttons can be configured with a series of actions that can run against a single item, multiple items, or an entire list of items. The actions include Send Email, Update List Item, Generate Document, Execute Script, and much more. Creating an “Approve” button, for example, could be achieved easily using the Update List Item action to update the field ‘Status’ to ‘Approved’. It could also populate the ‘Approved By’ field and ‘Approval Date’ while also informing the item creator that their item is approved. Buttons can also be hidden or disabled from unauthorised users. For example, being a member of an Approvers Group would allow the Approve button to be displayed for you.

While like Lightning Forms, List Actions was created with the intention of using it in SharePoint lists, the lists can be displayed for convenience within Microsoft Teams. This therefore provides the added benefit of command bar buttons with an intuitive action builder.

Lightning List Actions within Microsoft Teams

Data Viewer – Data Visualization

The Data Viewer also began life back in 2007 when Lightning Tools was first founded. The Data Viewer in its current form provides powerful data views and charts that can be built easily by business users against data sources such as SharePoint Lists, Excel worksheets, OData Services, Business Connectivity Services External Content Types, and SQL Azure. The views or charts can be displayed within Teams either as a standalone Teams Channel tab, or as a web part on a SharePoint page on a Teams tab. The second option allows you to display dashboards of data within a Teams tab.

Lightning Data Viewer in Microsoft Teams

Lightning Tools SharePoint Framework Apps have an added advantage over many other Teams apps: all of your content is stored and processed within your tenant with security and performance provided by Microsoft. Other Microsoft Teams apps are provided with the Software as a Service model where you need to ensure that security and data privacy meets your needs and commitments to your customers. This does however mean that there is one additional step to use the Lightning Tools products within Teams. Simply click the ‘Add to Teams’ button on the SharePoint Manage Apps page against any of your Lightning Tools products, and they will be made available to Team Owners within Microsoft Teams when clicking ‘Add a tab’.

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