(Part 1 of a series of how to use SharePoint posts)
There are thousands of blogs about configuring and customizing SharePoint, but very few about how to use SharePoint. The problem this creates is a knowledge gap between IT and the end-users which often generates some angst among users and frustration within IT.
One of the pain points present in many SharePoint implementations is slow user adoption. There may be any number of reasons for this, but one commonality is an unfamiliarity of how to use SharePoint properly; meaning, how to use it efficiently. It often times ends up as an electronic wasteland or dumping ground, and users are often times frustrated when trying to find content… which makes them ask, why are we using this thing anyway?
So we’re going to write a series on how to use SharePoint. But before we know how to use SharePoint, it’s important to know why. Ultimately, users want to know one thing whenever presented with learning a new technology: How is it going to make my life easier? This series of blog posts aims to answer that question as it relates to SharePoint.
We’ll start simple… with lists. Lists are undoubtedly one of the basic building blocks of SharePoint. Understanding why and how to use lists is essential when striving to use SharePoint efficiently. Many people are familiar with Excel documents. We’ve been using them for decades, we know how they function, we know how to quickly extract data. In many large corporations hundreds of Excel files contain critical information. When SharePoint came around, many decided to just throw the Excel documents in a library. This is fine… but it isn’t the best use of SharePoint.
Excel Sheet vs. SharePoint List
A bulk of information saved in these Excel sheets should be moved to SharePoint lists. Consider the following:
- A SharePoint list is a single source of truth. When Excel sheets are saved in SharePoint, there’s a high likelihood that several versions of that same document are spread throughout the organization. Why? Because Bob, Sandy, and Randy all save copies on their local machines. Sandy may change something and now Bob and Randy’s versions are suddenly outdated. And no one knows. Saving the information in a SharePoint list makes it a single source of truth, all the time, for everyone.
Looks like an Excel Sheet (But it’s better)
- Versioning. When versioning is enabled on a SharePoint list every change to a record creates a new version. If Bob enters erroneous information for a single record, it can be easily reverted to its appropriate value. Versioning with Excel files are usually accomplished by a naming convention such as MyExcel-v1.0, MyExcel-v2.0, MyExcel-v3.0 and so forth. And knowing which version contains what information can only be done by opening every file.
- Audibility. Along with versioning, when changes are made to a SharePoint list, you not only know what was changed, but you know who and when… for each individual record. In an Excel sheet, you may know that Randy modified the document. But there’s no way of knowing exactly what information he changed. He may not have changed anything! He may have just opened the document, hit the spacebar, and press save. With SharePoint, you know exactly the value changed.
I Didn’t Do It (Matt Changed the Value of the Artist Last Name field to Judas Priest on 1/27/2018)
· Workflow. You can automate processes with SharePoint workflow that are triggered by certain events in a SharePoint list. The most obvious examples are approval workflows for vacation requests and requisitions. But you can create workflows to automate the most mundane tasks. You can have an email auto-generated for a client in a contact list by simply flagging a field. You can generate email alerts when an item in an inventory list is critically low. The more familiar you become with SharePoint lists and the more you recognize the manual processes performed around the data in the list, the more you’ll start recognizing opportunities to create workflows.
· No locks. Even if you solve the issue of multiple versions of an Excel file throughout an organization, and you manage to commit everyone to opening the file from the same location, you may still run into a problem of file locks. If Paul tries to save a change while Saul also has the document opened, Paul may find himself locked out. And then what happens? Paul does a Save As because he just spent a lot of time making changes and doesn’t want to redo the work. With a SharePoint list, Paul and Saul can go about making changes to different records, unaware, and uncaring of the other’s activities.
· Alerts. Quick! Johnny is changing something! You can set alerts on a SharePoint list so that you are made aware whenever a new item is added or a change is made to an existing item, or both. This is much more effective than changing a spreadsheet and sending an email blast making people aware of the changes.
As you can see, there are many advantages to why you’d want to use a SharePoint list instead of maintaining data in a spreadsheet. The more critical the data is to the organization, the more it is necessary to get it out of an Excel sheet and into a shareable and protected SharePoint list.
Admittedly, there are occasions when a SharePoint list won’t suffice, such as when more advanced Excel functions are required like graphing, pivot tables, and reporting. But in general, most of the data in Excel sheets that remain forever floating around in an enterprise would be better utilized in a SharePoint list.
In the next entry of this blog series on how to use SharePoint, we’ll detail using lists to maximize efficiency!
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