Over the last few years, we’ve helped a number of businesses adopt SharePoint to solve many different business problems. The product has gradually become the standard way to store and share information within a company.
Each client uses SharePoint a different way, but 3 primary uses stand out: Document Management, Workflows, and Collaboration.
SharePoint for Document Management
Many businesses still use sub-folder structures to store documents and use email to distribute them. This has some intrinsic limitations. Finding documents in a deep set of subfolders can be a real chore and email is so overwhelming that some companies are even forbidding their employees from using it.
SharePoint can solve these problems. As a central location for all documents, employees (who have proper permission) can quickly find and access the documents they need.
Instead of having to look through sub-folders, users can sort or filter SharePoint document libraries with metadata to create quick lists of documents. These filtered views of the library can be saved for quick access so that the same library of agreements, for example, can be sorted and listed by sales rep, by date, or both.
Major and minor versions of a document allow an individual or department to make changes to a document but not publish those changes until it is entirely ready. For example, the HR department can collaborate internally to update the employee handbook but not publish those changes outside of the department until it has final approval.
The SharePoint check in and check out feature prevents the version conflicts problem, and certain configurations of SharePoint can even enable simultaneous editing of the same document.
SharePoint also makes documents available for out-of-office or traveling employees, even if they want to use an iPad to find, open, and edit their documents.
SharePoint for Workflows
SharePoint is a great tool for solving business problems because it allows rapid development and empowers non-technical users with the ability fix efficiency problems.
It isn’t possible for IT to know about the extra steps the accounting department takes to approve a document or prepare for a board meeting. The users in accounting know about the problem, but cannot resolve it without technical support. Without SharePoint, the problem doesn’t get solved because the people who can, don’t know about it, and the people who know about it can’t. Without SharePoint the problem remains unsolved.
SharePoint bridges this gap by giving the employees who know about the issues the ability to solve them without involving IT. SharePoint workflows are one example of this principle in action.
Consider a vacation request. Without SharePoint an employee fills out a paper form and puts it on his manager’s desk. She initials the request and passes it on a human resources employee who types it into a big spreadsheet and passes it on to accounting. They then forward it back to HR to be filed in 3 different places.
Bringing this workflow into SharePoint may speed up the process, remove unnecessary steps, reduce errors, improve communication, and provide better documentation.
A simple workflow with out-of-the-box SharePoint functionality would use a SharePoint form to record the initial request then notify each department in turn as it is approved. Finally, the series of approvals would be automatically recorded for future reference.
A SharePoint solution could also be developed to move a document through approval process, reroute the approval depending on the actions of the individuals in the process, or even update or draw information from other software programs and databases.
SharePoint is best known as a collaboration portal, which is a place for asynchronous communication around an object, like a meeting, document, event, calendar, client, etc.
Coworkers, partners, clients, investors or other stakeholders can share information and ideas on dedicated SharePoint pages that store information pertinent to that specific project.
For example, the HR team rewriting the employee handbook may create a dedicated page to house the collaboration for that document. The page could contain document drafts, links to resources, a bulletin board, surveys, and a production calendar that can be viewed as a Gantt chart, calendar, or list.
One of our clients uses SharePoint to collaborate with company investors. A secure page is available inside and outside of the company network, containing a calendar of stockholders meetings, financial documents, presentations, space for questions, and alerts.
Offices with employees who work remotely use SharePoint to promote a team environment, despite the infrequency with which team members see each other. They create this environment by adding personal photos and “water-cooler” conversations to reserved pages.