Thursday, December 14, 2017

Knowledge Chat Bot (No Code)

Recently my customers was looking for a solution where on-field guys can search for answers related to their tasks and it was a perfect scenario to develop a Chat Bot. Microsoft Bot Framework has been available for quite some time now and its functionality is keep on getting enhanced with different aspect of Artificial Intelligence like speech recognition, face recognition etc. With yesterday's announcement of GA of Azure Bot Services, now we have one place to develop, deploy and expose our intelligent bots to channels like Web, Skype, FB Messenger etc.

In this post, I will walk you through Azure Bot Services( to build and connect a bot but first we need to build our bot's brain and fill it with the knowledge using QnAMaker(

This post is divided into following three sections:
  1. Architecture
  2. Building the Knowledge Base (KB)
  3. Building the Chat Bot
Note: You need Azure subscription to build this bot.


Following is the architecture of our solution where we will build a service (bot's brain) in QnA Maker and then fill it with our Knowledge Base. Then we will create our bot in Azure Bot Services and link it to the bot's brain (MyBotService) and then we can publish our bot via different channels. We can use Channels to display our bot inside a SharePoint Page, Skype, Teams, Facebook Messenger etc.

Building the Knowledge Base (KB)

  1. Log on to QnA Maker at
  2. Select Create New Service tab and provide name of the bot service e.g. MyBotService, leave remaining fields as it is and hit Create button to create the service which will serve as brain of the bot.
  3. You should see the screen where you can provide the knowledge base for your bot. Add couple of questions and their answers by selecting + Add QnA Pair. Once you add few QnA pairs, hit Save and retrain to train your model. You can also provide the questions and answers in text, pdf and document format.
  4. You can select Test tab to test the knowledge base in chat format.
  5. Hit Publish once testing is done, and then hit publish again on the next screen to publish MyBotService to the web. We will consumed this service through our Bot.
  6. Once the MyBotService is published, Save the two values highlighted in the screen shot below as QnAKnowledgebaseId and QnASubscriptionKey. We need this information in our Bot's settings.
Note: You can access further documentation about QnA Maker at

Building the Chat Bot 

  1. Log on to Azure at
  2. Select New and go to AI + Cognitive Services section and choose Web App Bot.
  3. Provide a unique Bot Name (e.g. DemoBot101), select Subscription and then choose Bot template as Question and Answer. You can also choose between C# or Node.js SDK which doesn't matter in this case as we are not writing any code. Select Create button at the end to create the Bot.
  4. Once the basic bot has been created you will be notified and select Go to resources from the notification section to see the Bot's details, settings etc.
  5. Select Application Settings of the bot and go to the App settings section and provide the value of the keys QnAKnowledgebaseId and QnASubscriptionKey which we copied while creating the MyBotService and hit Save.
  6. Now you can test the bot from Test in Web Chat tab.
  7. Once the testing is completed, this Chat Bot can be published to web, Skype, Teams, MSN Messenger etc via Channels.
Note: You can access Azure Bot Services documentation here:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Publishing Sites vs Communication Sites

It was announced in SharePoint Virtual Summit in May 2017, a more modern way of content publishing is released called Communication Sites. Now you can read all about Communication sites here and here, I am going to focus on the major differences between the daddy (Publishing Sites) and the newborn (Communication Sites) since both are geared towards a similar requirement.....Content Publishing.

When NOT to use Publishing & Communication Sites?
If you have a scenario where few people (generally one or two) are creating content for a larger audience (generally whole organization) then use publishing sites or more recommended communication sites.
If a smaller group is communicating/collaborating among them solves (just like a team would do) then use Team Sites. Do not use Publishing Sites or Communication Sites for such scenarios. Its an over kill. Also between small groups the communication is generally two way.

Publishing Sites vs Communication Sites:

Publishing SitesCommunication Sites
1Not so mobile ready. We have to make use of developers to create master page for mobile and then configure device channels to redirect mobile traffic to different site design.

Mobile ready with responsive design. :o)

2More development work to setup a complete solution as developer's involvement is needed for developing custom Master Pages, writing HTML/CSS, designing Page Layouts with SharePoint Designer.

Developer's involvement is not required for common requirements like responsive UI, Page Layouts with multiple columns, light weight web parts (e.g. Hero web part).

3Not so modern UI even with HTML5. Very SharePoint type look an feel.

Modern UI.

4Publishing a page needs more steps like check-out, , save, check-in, publish.

One step publishing. Just click publishing.

Now that we have learned the major differences between the both site types, here is what we should do in order to choose between them.

We should start designing publishing solutions with Communication sites in mind. It gives many features OOB which have been requested by customer again and again, specially the responsive UI. It is quicker to create content, faster to publish and cleaner to manage Communication sites without any developer's involvement. At this point it does not have features like cross-site publishing, Approval workflow, multi language etc but many(not all) of these features are in pipeline as told in community forum :o).

Note: Publishing Sites are not deprecated at this point.

On the other hand Publishing Site have more functionality at this point and gives you more control over branding as you can introduce your own HTML/CSS and can write custom MasterPages. But this great functionality comes at the cost of custom code and developer's involvement which can result in higher cost for publishing.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Microsoft Flow - HTTP REST Call

In this blog post, I will cover what is a workflow and how we can create a workflow using Microsoft Flow that can make HTTP REST calls to bring the stock price and then I will discuss how we can use this workflow in a iPhone app in following sections:
  1. Workflow
  2. Microsoft Flow
  3. HTTP REST Call from MS Flow
  4. Using the Workflow in the Flow App
My definition of a workflow is, steps to complete a task. That's it :o).
For example, if you want to get your driving license then you follow the steps provided on the DMV's site (1-Bring documents, 2-Fill paper work, 3-Get your photo taken, 4-Pay fee). In this example, our task is to get the driving license and in order to complete this task we have to follow four steps.

Microsoft Flow:
In SharePoint world we used to have SharePoint Designer (which we all love) to create workflows and do other stuff. Now that there is not going to be a newer version of SPD, Microsoft has provided another awesome way of creating workflows called Microsoft Flow. Its a cloud based service which lives outside the SharePoint world, can be used on a mobile phone and can interact with many services like SPO list/lib, Outlook, Azure, Salesforce, Twitter, Google Drive, Gmail and the list goes on and on. Microsoft Flow is a no-code/low-code solution and it can also interact with SharePoint on-prem.

So without further due lets create a workflow which will make HTTP REST call to grab stock quote of a provided ticker....and we will be using this workflow in our iPhone.

HTTP REST Call from MS Flow:
  1. Go to Microsoft Flow, sign-in and create an empty flow "Stock Price".
  2. Now I am going to add steps to trigger the workflow manually which will make an HTTP REST call and then parse the results and show me the price in a mobile notification.
  3. For that my workflow will have following steps: An input button, HTTP Request step, Compose step, Parse JSON step and then Mobile Notification step as shown in the diagram below:
  4. Manually trigger a workflow step adds a button on your iPhone app which takes a stock ticker input. You have to install the Flow app from the App Store in order to view it.
  5. HTTP step will make REST call to google finance API via GET method by providing the stock ticker taken in the previous step. e.g.
  6. As a result we will get JSON response. I added Compose step to strip out the special characters in the response by using a WDL(Workflow Definition Language) function: "@replace(body('HTTP'), '// ', '')".
  7. After removing the special characters I should be able to parse JSON by providing a valid schema. You can generate schema by adding your response to the blue link provided at the bottom of this step.
  8. Now lets add the notification step and add Ticker and l outputs to the Text field of this step. Note that notification step will be placed inside the loop automatically as JSON response can have multiple results for l.
Using the Workflow in the Flow App
  1. Install the Flow app from App Store in your iPhone.
  2. Sign-in and go to the Buttons. You should be able to see all your buttons there.
  3. Click "Stock Price" button and provide the symbol MSFT and then hit Done.
  4. This will start the workflow and you should get the push notification with the stock ticker with the price quote in it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

SharePoint Online Page Load Time with JavaScript

We know that Microsoft don't recommend any kind of load testing against SharePoint Online pages as mentioned here but still customers want to know how much time it takes to load a page to get a feel of the end user experience.

To find the page load times, browsers (Edge, Chrome & Firefox) now have built-in support of Navigation Timing which is a JavaScript API to measure the performance of a web page. This API is exposed via performance.timing object. Performance Timing API provides following events of for a web page, which we can use in JavaScript to get the different times of page load:

Here is an example of JavaScript that calculates the complete page load time, starting from the user pressing the Go button in the browser till the page renders completely:
Load Time: <div id="LoadTime"> </div>

<script type="text/javascript" >

window.onload = function(){
    var t = performance.timing;
    document.getElementById('LoadTime').innerHTML = t.loadEventEnd - t.navigationStart;
  }, 0);

Note that above script is calculating difference between loadEvendEnd (very last event) and navigationStart (very first event) which is simulating the end user experience. The time will be displayed in milliseconds. 

Similarly we can calculate the time between the request sent to server and response that came back from the server by calculating the difference between responseEnd and requestStart events. 

Official SharePoint Documentation

I have recently contributed to the official SharePoint documentation for developement. Check it out here: