Custom Software Apps & SharePoint Consulting

Why Business Collaboration is kinda a big deal:

No matter what industry we find ourselves in, we can all benefit from collaborating with other people in our business, whether those people are sitting next to us, down the hall, on a different floor or clear across the globe we benefit from others’ experience and knowledge.  We already do it – work on documents, learn who knows what, categorize our work and work through data to try and make our best decisions. But Share Point software has revolutionized mundane activities and made them true business insights. Businesses profit most when collaboration is seamless and, let’s face it, captured to build a knowledge base for the future. And it’s is a proven model for growth: “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

Share Point has become synonymous with business collaboration and the latest version, SP 2010 software, provides your end users with a number of possibilities for business collaboration that include: document collaboration, discussion boards, wikis, blogs, RSS viewers, contact lists, calendars, announcements, alerts, workflow, MySites and search.  All of this and it provides a highly intuitive user interface that interacts seamlessly with the programs your organization is already using on a daily basis such as Word, Outlook, Power Point, Excel, Access, OneNote and Visio.  SharePoint Workspace 2010 is a new addition to the SP toolbox that allows your team to take their collaboration offline whether they are in the field or in the air and sync their changes with other users’ changes when they are reconnected.

Document Management

SharePoint has been proven to deliver solid business collaboration through its document management capabilities.  It seamlessly improves our ability to track versioning including who and when the file was created and modified, capturing these details behind the scenes with zero additional effort by your team.  It provides us the ability to do major or major/minor versioning.  Major is good enough for most needs, but major/minor versioning allows us to granularly control who is seeing a minor version and who sees a major version.  Add in a publishing workflow and suddenly you can edit your policies and procedures in place, only allowing Policy Owners to view minor versions and everyone to see major versions.  Once the workflow collects all required approvals it can publish a major version making new changes visible to all consumers.  Add to it an automated alert based on publishing a major version and you can keep all those who need to know in the know.  Not to mention, your file names can become so much more meaningful because we no longer have to track version and date information in the title.

MySites

How many times have you needed to collaborate with someone on a task in front of you and aren’t sure who to ask?!  SharePoint’s MySites, when implemented and championed correctly, can take the guess work out of who has the knowledge/experience you are looking for.  2010 improves on previous MySite functionality with colleague suggestions that recommend colleagues based on your reporting structure, communities memberships, email distribution lists, office communicator contact lists and analysis of the most common office outlook e-mail recipients.  It also offers an organization browser to navigate your organizational structure to see managers, peers, and direct reports.  My Profile page allows your team to enter information about themselves including interests, skills, and previous projects they’ve participated in.  My content gives your users a place to store documents, favorite links, personal blogs and wiki pages. The added benefit of having a picture and presence available should not be discounted either.  It can turn your business collaboration a much more personal experience.

Ratings & Tags

2010 improves Business Collaboration over previous versions of SP software with Ratings & Tags.  We’ve all seen ratings used in online websites.  Ratings allow the consumer/user to rate a particular item, basically ranking its value as good or bad, positive or negative.  The potential consumer benefits from previous consumers’ experiences being captured and can information can help them to make a decision about which item is going to perform best for them and their needs.  SharePoint introduces this new feature to empower your users to rank the content in your portal.  Administrators can use this information to find content with poor ratings in order to improve upon it or simply remove it.  It’s also used by Share Point to promote higher ranked content to the top of the search results list.  The new tagging feature improves business collaboration by allowing users to apply either a set of predefined tags i.e. Taxonomy or to apply their own tags i.e. Folksonomy to content including files and sites.  Being able to quickly say ‘I Like It!’ or ‘Helpful’ can help build buy in, while simultaneously providing administrators and power users feedback on the portal.  This business collaborative tagging also builds a tag cloud that can be accessed via a Tag Cloud web part to further empower your users to find content that is meaningful to them.

Business Process Automation

Business collaboration is often hampered by paper intensive processes.  How do you track down a paper form, contract or AFE?  Unless you are tagging it with and RFID tag, you have to hope it’s on the last desk you left it or do the old door to door routine.  The data in these forms is just as hard to find as is the paper it’s written on.  By moving away from these archaic and inefficient processes we can take our business collaboration to the next level.  Data in InfoPath forms is captured in a SQL database where it is available for reporting and dashboards.  Workflows driving what used to be a paper process allows us to keep track of where in the process an item is without going desk to desk and gives greater insight into where bottlenecks or inefficiencies are occurring.  Instead of just trying to accomplish a task, with business process automation we can spend more time improving and collaborating on our deliverables.

Business Intelligence

Where, oh where is all the data I need to make an informed decision!?!?  Chances are its spread across multiple lines of business systems.  Our Information Workers and Executives spend large amounts of time looking for the data they need, not because it isn’t there, but because it isn’t easy to get to.  Think about the number of user names and passwords your staff need to do their jobs effectively.  I’ve personally worked at a facility where I maintained no less than twenty user names and passwords to access the data and systems to complete my assignments. It’s common to hear the complaint from users that they do not have access to all systems they wish/need to make informed decisions.  In this scenario instead of having access to the primary source of data, they are forced to rely on reports run by other users, which we have to admit is no replacement for up to the moment data.  Business intelligence brings that data to a central location with single sign on, and it’s another of our tools in the SP toolbox.

In SP 2010 software business intelligence is expanded upon with Dashboards, decomposition tree and Visio services.  Dashboards can provide us up to the minute data, aggregated from multiple sources and display it in a web browser as a table, chart or graphical interface where your users can collaborate and interact with it in real time, drilling down into information that raise questions and allowing them to quickly define key opportunities and trends.  In the Houston area we see this feature used by numerous Oil & Gas firms.  Their multiple business units and the executives all operate more efficiently when they can go to a single screen and see data points coming out of multiple systems.  These data points typically include accounting information such as sales data, production data, and forecasting data.  The decomposition tree in Share Point 2010 allows you to perform root cause analyses on mission critical data via powerful analytics only showing you the most important and pertinent information.

SharePoint Best Practices

Remember: any tool worth having is worth knowing how to use.  When considering SP as a solution for your business collaboration needs, keep in mind while it is highly intuitive and user friendly a little bit of marketing and training for your end users will go a long way towards gaining user acceptance and buy in.  Marketing should focus on the why – all the ways this new tool will make your users’ work lives easier and all the possibilities that come with it.  While training should focus on the how – starting small and building on the basics as your user base becomes more savvy and advanced in their share point skills.  Now, let’s go out there and collaborate!


Carol Donnelly
Director of Consulting @ Entrance
Carol has close to a decade of experience leveraging software technologies to create enterprise content management, bi & analytics, collaboration, and need-specific software solutions that help businesses transform into a modern digital enterprise. She has helped clients address challenges related to contract and records management, contract and AFE approval workflow, lease digitization, and offshore extranets.
Carol Entrance Software Consulting making software better