Saturday, May 28, 2011

Top 4 Signs that your Users are embracing SharePoint

{my article published at – June 2011}

Have you ever been in an organization, big or small, where SharePoint has been in place for months (or years?), but when you look around, you realize it’s not being used to its full potential? I’m not talking about something big like they’re not using InfoPath for their forms automation, or not using Business Connectivity Services to expose their data through external content types. I’m talking about the organizations who are simply storing old archived documents in a library still named “Shared Documents”, and whose most elaborate web part is the one that shows today’s weather forecast. :) I’m talking about the organization that installed SharePoint, but obviously never heard a good speech about how SharePoint can be used effectively to make their work life more productive.

2011-06-13-Top4Signs-01.pngSo let’s say, one day they finally get to hear the speech, and they’re now armed with enough knowledge to get some good end-user SharePoint collaboration going. Other than seeing someone running down the hall with a cowbell screaming “I gotta have more SharePoint, baby!”, how do you know that your users are finally starting to drink the SharePoint kool-aid and use it collaboratively? Well, in true Letterman-style, here are my Top 4 Signs that your Users are embracing SharePoint:

#4 - They use SharePoint Search

2011-06-13-Top4Signs-02.pngPeople tend to browse & click around SharePoint sites and libraries looking for documents, instead of using the nifty little Search box at the top of every SharePoint site. In some ways, it’s understandable – in the past, the information worker’s main experience with searching for documents in their office involved the old-school search option in Windows XP and earlier, with a little animated puppy trying to keep us entertained while we waited for our computer to scan each document looking for what we’re searching for. But what people now have to embrace is the fact that their SharePoint portal includes indexed search, which means you’ll get almost instantaneous search results, even when searching tons of documents across the enterprise. And when you add to this the features of SharePoint 2010 Search like refiners, metadata-driven navigation, and expertise search, or even SharePoint search integration with Internet Explorer or Windows 7 Explorer, I think people will soon start to wonder why they didn’t get rid of that little yellow Search puppy sooner.

#3 - They ditch Spreadsheets for SharePoint lists whenever possible

Excel can certainly create some elaborate and macro-powered spreadsheet monsters. But in a majority of cases, most of the spreadsheets we use are simply basic tabular representations of some data that we need to track. If this is true, then most of the time, a SharePoint List is the better option over using an Excel spreadsheet. Aside from the fact of gaining greater ability to collaborate on the data, list features like Views, Sorting/Filtering, and having your spreadsheet data exposed to Search (see #4) are very strong selling points. Is someone complaining that they don’t like the look-n-feel of the SharePoint list? Make the default view be the DataSheet View – now what’s left to complain about? Is someone complaining that they’ve already got a huge spreadsheet completed in Excel? Tell them about the Import Spreadsheet feature. Soon, anytime someone sees words in a document placed in something that even looks like a table, they’ll start asking “why isn’t this in a SharePoint List?”

#2 - They use hyperlinks to SharePoint documents in their emails

2011-06-13-Top4Signs-03.pngIf you’ve got SharePoint, you should be using that Attachment button in your emails a lot less. Why send a copy of that large document to all 20 of your team members, creating 20 copies for your mail server to route, and creating isolated documents that have no idea about any changes other team members may want to make to that document? Store the document once in SharePoint, and then send a link to the document in your email. Not only has your emails file size decreased to a fraction of its size (your mobile team members will thank you), but your team is now comfortable knowing that they’re looking at the one true and up-to-date copy of the document. Worried that the link might change in the future, thus making your email link obselete? Take a look at Document IDs in SharePoint 2010.

#1 - They use SharePoint versioning instead of file renaming

Okay, so you’ve convinced me to store all my documents in SharePoint document libraries. Fine. I’ll put my FinanceReport.doc file in SharePoint. And next week, when I add the new finance data to the document, I’ll store that in SharePoint also – FinanceReport-v02.doc. And oh, Bruce just reminded me of another change I need – no problem - in goes FinanceReport-v03.doc. Or maybe even FinanceReport-2011-05-28.doc …Please, stop. Please turn on Versioning for your document library. Don’t ever change the filename, just update the file itself, and let SharePoint manage all the versions for you. But how will people see previous versions? They’ll click Version History and get a list of all the previous versions, who modified them, when they did it, and (most importantly) even Comments describing what changes were made. Take that a step further by using the integration in Office for viewing and comparing previous versions of documents stored in SharePoint.


Life is now groovy.

<insert Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra musical interlude here> :)

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