SharePoint Online in Office 365 – Introduction

Many have heard of it. But few actually venture and see what it can do for THEM. This article will try to explain what Sharepoint is, why you should use it (or not) and hopefully make you a bit wiser.

I usually describe SharePoint to my customer like so:

SharePoint is a place where you gather information, filter it and share it in different ways (internally and with external users such as customers), using different containers (such as lists, document libraries and even WIKI’s).

These containers can connect to different solutions (such as Outlook, Onedrive, Excel). SharePoint has a built in search engine that allows you to find information very quickly – and only the information that you have the right to see.

Now, not all people understand the description, but they get a general idéa. I tend to show a demo and let them click around.

”So this is like G: or H: drive?” – Spontaneous reaction by bewildered user.

Actually yes, but on steroids.

SharePoint – Whats the deal?

So what is the difference between using SharePoint vs just stuffing files in a folder and keeping records in Excel?

 

Metadata

Basically, small pieces of information that you can ”stamp” on each document automatically in SharePoint. When you then search for it (on your computer or in Sharepoint) you can search on the specific metadata that you have entered – such as ”customer name” or ”Project name” for example.

 

Information that was earlier in Excel can now be standalone lists

These lists can be updated in realtime by all users, filtered and searched instantly online. You can even have a copy of the list on your desktop if you just want to view the information instantly. Want to connect it to PowerBI? No problem.

 

Setup document library with rules, filters and workflows

Want a document sent to the archive once a field has been updated? A flow/workflow can do that. Want to group all documents that belong to the same project without using folders? Maybe regroup them by author? Yes. You can.

 

Search quick. Very quick

You can search millions of documents/list records in seconds and then filter the results. Not having to wait on your computer to dig through C:/ anymore.

 

Always the latest version

When you edit a document you can select to check it in or out. Basically its locked until someone saves OR you can edit the same document at the same time. If you want an older version, you can right click on the document and open an earlier version (you can do this now directly from word).

 

Last but not least – it’s usually already included in you Office 365 subscription. So in a sense, it’s a done deal.

The building blocks of SharePoint

What can you do in SharePoint? Well, basically whatever you need –
that’s based on the following:

 

Lists

Basically a web based excel sheet (with added features). You can:

Create different types of fields (such as date/phone/sum/attachments/text/numbers and so on).

Add rules to the lists using Microsoft flow or by creating a workflow that does something depending on the value of a field.

Group the different fields how you want and create views so only certain fields are shown IF a value is Y.

Everyone can reach it and edit records at the same time. You can even sync the list to an excel sheet on your computer if you want.

 

You can for example create a simple timesheet, expense reports, list of spareparts or anything else which is needed in your business. Especially if it was in Excel before….

 

Document libraries

A collection of document/folders with metadata.  You can have rules and group views just like with lists (which renders folders quite useless if you have metadata). You can sync the document library to your computer using Onedrive or Onedrive for mobile. When you drag a document to a folder it can stamp the information automatically if you want. Or fill in metadata yourself.

 

Contacts

A contactlist which you can connect to Outlook. It syncs with SharePoint and all contacts can be found in SharePoint (or in Outlook if you have synced the list to Outlook).

 

Tasks (todo lists)

Simple project management with tasks and todos. You can edit tasks in a datasheet and view all the entries as a calender. You can even sync the calender to Outlook and see the projects there.

 

WIKI

A WIKI which is great for new users. You can create entries to show how things work in the company and publish them on the intranet. Instructions/knowledge/helparticles that anyone can edit.

 

Onenote

Have a Onenote in your intranet so that anyone can access small notes such as meeting annotations and work on those together (syncs to mobile aswell).

And also…

Other functions such as forum, blog, pages (create your own page), share a subsite with a customer, create a customer portal and much more!

 

So we have established that SharePoint can be used as a company intranet with an advanced searchengine. Greatnow what?

What can you build in SharePoint besides an intranet? Anything! (Almost)

Well – intranet is a broad term.

I think SharePoint should be used to store and filter information.

Period.

But you decide on WHAT kind of information,

HOW it should be presented –

and WHO can have access to it.

Some examples of SharePoint solutions.

 

A small law firm…

..would want a document library that can hold their templates.

A list that have all their ongoing cases (with updates that anyone can follow).

A contactlist that can be synced to Outlook but edited in SharePoint (with information about other lawyers/suppliers/courts etc).

 

A small plumbing firm…

…wants to have a shared calendar that can be viewed in SharePoint (and connected to outlook).

Lists containing sparepart-numbers and contact information to suppliers.

They also want all their offers to customers to be saved and indexed so they can search on a invoice ID or customer ID and find ALL related documents instantly. Whether it be offers, projects or pictures.

 

A large company…

…wants to use SharePoint only for document storage. Once the document has been marked as old, it launches a workflow that send that document to an archive and the document can’t be edited or deleted. It’s all indexed and all the metadata is available in all documents.

They also want an easy way for the manager to verify the document before its sent to the archive. This can be done with a workflow.

They have a small subsite for external users (customers) where they keeps separate documents for each customer.

 

This means basically that for smaller firms a bigger part of their workflows and company processes can be moved to SharePoint.

Larger companies are not as agile and normally use SharePoint only for it’s document/search engine capability.

Will SharePoint work for me and my company?

My answer is always the same – yes, if you:

  • Do workshops.
  • Train your personnel and let them be a part of the development.
  • Let it grow organically. Dont build a huge solutions and smack it in the users face.

 

When SharePoint is used right – it helps out. No more looking for lost versions, mailing documents back and forward, not finding the documents – problems sharing etc. but it does take a bit of practice. And people hate change. Unless they find it useful. There lies the trick.

 

If people learn how one functions works that they love (usually document libraries) its MUCH easier to get them onboard for other cool functions. If the users see a huge intranet, with no instructions or training – they will fall back to the folders faster then lightning – because they simply don’t understand how or why they should use it.

So can I build it myself?

Yes. And no.

Like with all things, it takes time and knowledge to know when to use what and how. It’s very easy to build a solutions which ultimately leads you in a corner and then you are stuck there. Like any other platform – it has it’s limitations (check them out here).

Mostly its permissions and HOW to work with documents which are the main causes to problems in SharePoint. And the whole no strategy is the biggest one.

Also – If you don’t want to – get someone else to BUILD it. If you can deliver on paper the following checklist to a SharePoint dev – roughly 70% of the work is done. It will be cheaper in the end.

Sharepoint Checklist – first things first! 

So take out a pen and paper for this exercise.

Try to answer the following questions:

  • How do we work today?
  • Can the processes be made easier. Are all documents necessary?
  • What metadata do we want to track?
  • What do we do with current documents/information?
  • Can we get rid of all our documents? How long time is the information necessary?
  • What information has to be shared?
  • Who is responsible for the data and how do we divide it?
  • How many will use the solution?
  • What do we want to do?
  • Do we want to share with external people
  • Are we only going to use Sharepoint as a document solution and not other functions such as lists?
  • How much data are we going to import into Sharepoint?
  • How can we make our workflow simpler?

 

You are probably looking at the paper and have NO idea what to write down/scribble or draw. Don’t worry…

 

So lets review the questions in detail again:

 

How do we work today?

Pen and paper? No clue? – Map out how you work alone and with each other! 

Many companies mail the documents once they are done and let one poor soul assemble everything into a report. Just work in the same workarea and let people know where they will find the relevant information.

 

Can the processes be made easier. Are all documents necessary?

Do you need word and excel? Really? This step calls for honesty as much of the data is actually useless. This step has to involve people from all departments – as some info might be very useful for some but not for others.

I often find that 50-60% of the data is redundant.

And most of it can be changed into a simple list in SharePoint for everyone to access and edit at the same time.

 

What metadata do we want to track?

Company name? Or maybe the products? Make a list of the 10 most important “columns” and pass the note around. The columns left in the top 10 are the winners…

 

What do we do with current documents/information?

Archive it? Dump it somewhere? Have an intern convert them into lists? My vote would go for making a searchable archive that users can’t write new data to.

 

How long time is the information necessary?

When does data get old? Do you really need the documents from 1989? Usually I would go for an Archive and after 5 years – delete approach (if noone has opened the document in 5 years, it’s probably redundant data).

This way it cleans itself. But most company are hoarders by default.

 

What information has to be shared?

This is more of a security policy? What data should be able to leave the house and which data shouldn’t even be viewed by certain people in the company.

Usually the finance department has their own little private library for example.

 

Who is responsible for the data and how do we divide it?

Each department needs to have one person that’s in charge of the data – that makes sure that it doesn’t get clogged with unnecessary documents and that it looks neat and clean.

And how do we divide the data?

Often it’s done by departments – but there are other ways that are better depending on how you work.

 

How many will use the solution?

You will need to take in account the number of users. The more people, the longer you will need to train people on how to use the solution.

Usually this also means more information and more/longer workflows.

This all depends if you are a small/medium/large company and if you have a mandate to change workflows/make things simpler. If you don’t, abandon all hope and stick with Onedrive instead.

Thank me later.

 

What do we want to do?

A hard question to answer if you don’t know what can be done in Sharepoint.

My suggestions is that you kill all those loose excel sheets and convert them into SharePoint lists. Crete a small project site where all the TODOs of customer and internal things are kept and updated.

Have a couple of document libraries and start uploading documents – but don’t just cram the library with the old G: drive – clean it first. Or kill it even.

 

Do we want to share with external people?

This is a hard one. It can quickly get out of hand if you let users share to external parties as there is no regard for security or such things.

So make sure to have it in mind when you design your SharePoint site – that you keeps hush hush secret things in a different box then the documents that your users share with the customers.

I personally do not allow end users to share as they please, although they can always request for something to be shared.

 

Are we only going to use Sharepoint as a document solution and not other functions such as lists?

It’s fine to do so – but if you are going to do that, just use Onedrive. The advantage of using a Sharepoint library is the search and permissions. Also that the library is in Sharepoint and Shared with the users. Using Onedrive means that one user sits on all the documents that are shared, which is fine in some cases.

 

How much data are we going to import into Sharepoint?

I almost always advice to not just dump all the data in Sharepoint.

The best way is to remove what is not used and just upload everything to a read only archive. That way, it will clean out itself after a while.

If your company creates a massive amount of information, then maybe SharePoint isn’t even for you. Reason being that uploading terabytes of data each year will make sure that it will break eventually. SharePoint was built for massive document libraries, but not images/videos and so on.

And it rarely is terabytes of documents that are uploaded….

 

How can we make our workflow simpler?

This is the most important part. Can you make it simpler? Do your really have to create that many documents for a project? What data do you REALLY use?

Be surprised. Usually over 60% of the data is pure junk that is only noted, but never read.

Talk to the employees/colleagues and ask them. If they would have to choose to only have half of the information presented in a documents, what information would that be?

 

 

But lets face it – not all solutions work with all companies….

Don’t bother with SharePoint if:

  • You or your coworkers don’t have time or are willing to change how you work (for the better).
  • You only use folders and don’t have that many documents/information. (Go with Onedrive)
  • Work alone. (Again, Onedrive)
  • Use another platform that you are happy with. There is no shame in it 😊

What NOT to do with SharePoint

This is from experience (so I’ll save some pain hopefully).

 

Dump all the files in one folder and expect it to perform well

This is a classic. So someone in the company thought SharePoint would be a great idea, copied the whole folder with 300 GB of data and just dumped it in a document library. If it doesn’t error out due to sync issues or just crashes your browser, then the questions comes to mind – why? If it’s a folder you want, you are better off using Onedrive or just a small NAS/Fileserver (onsite or in the cloud). SharePoint is about only having the information you need and presented to you as you want. Not the same thing as we have done the last 30 years with folders.

 

Build a huge solution from start

Also a mistake. A company builds a serious intranet solutions with thirdparty API:s and big functions. No training is given, people just want to open the file and can’t see the advantages to the solutions itself. Doomed to failure and is abandoned.

 

Have a Sharepoint site with lots of thirdparty solutions

Here is a tricky one. I had a client that had purchased a small thirdparty app which was connected to SharePoint and they designed their workflow through the app. Not a problem, until the dev went belly-up and the app stopped working. I would say, go OOB (Out of the box) as much as possible – and if there is a small function that a thirdparty can help you with, fine – but don’t build your whole workflow through a thirdparty app.

 

Think it will solve all your problems

SharePoint is a tool like any other. Thinking you can only use a hammer to build a house is a bit optimistic, but I encounter people that think that SharePoint is the solution to all of their intranet/software needs. In most cases its not.

 

Use it without having a strategy

Do you need it? How would you work with it? Are the users on board? Alot of questions that has to be answered before even trying to build the intranet.

Usually it’s 70% planning and 30% execution.

 

 

 

Good resources / Resource links

Microsoft own presentation of SharePoint.