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This chapter is from the book

Sharing, Managing, and Finding Documents Made Easier

Although most organizations have a mechanism for sharing documents, such as attaching them to emails, storing them on a shared network drive or on some other shared medium such as an Exchange Public Folder, or creating copies on a CD or diskette, these methods can be inefficient and result in a document management nightmare. For example, attaching documents to email messages leads to a proliferation of the document on the network, eating up storage space and causing potential confusion among users. Changes to the document are not managed, so one person's changes may end up overriding someone else's. In addition, finding a specific document or the most current version of a document can take hours. Some organizations have minimized the document management issues by purchasing third-party software applications used to ensure the integrity of document editing, manage approval processing, and maintain version history. However, these applications are generally expensive, don't do much more than manage document editing and versioning, and require the user to learn a new application interface for accessing the documents.

Other organizations may use a "manual" process where the user stores the document in his own storage area until completed, then sends it to a reviewer, and then when approved, copies or moves it to a "completed documents" area with a manually created version number attached to the name. The problem with manual processes are that the human error factor comes into play.

SharePoint can be used to alleviate many of these issues. An organization that uses SharePoint realizes the "standard" benefits of a document management system, including

  • A central shared area for storing documents as opposed to all over the network, resulting in improved organization and improved storage efficiency.

  • Automatic indexing, providing the ability to find documents in less time and thereby improving employee productivity.

  • Document check-in/check-out ensures that updates are controlled and users don't overwrite someone else's work.

  • Automatic versioning of documents, enabling history to be maintained and providing roll-back capabilities.

However, SharePoint provides additional features, not found in the typical document management system. These unique benefits are discussed in the following sections.

Reducing the Training Curve and Achieving Acceptance Using Microsoft Office 2003

In general, it is difficult to get users to buy in to a whole new way of performing functions that they have been doing for years. This is one of the problems that many organizations face when trying to implement a portal solution, especially for document management. However, using SharePoint with Microsoft Office 2003 means that users can access the primary document management functions directly from the Office applications they are currently using. When a user is already using Word 2003 or Excel 2003 every day to create and modify documents, having them perform a simple set of commands from within Word to set up collaboration (choose Tools, Shared Workspace, Create) is much easier than trying to teach them a whole new application interface. The user does not have to leave the safety of the application she is familiar with to use the collaboration features of SharePoint. By making only a few minor changes in process, the user will begin to realize the benefits of SharePoint. If a user is creating a document and it needs to be shared with other people, people who will be contributing to the final product, the user can create a shared workspace directly from the Microsoft Office 2003 application, save the document to the shared workspace, add members to the workspace, add tasks associated with the document, set up an alert to be notified when the document changes, review the version history for the document, see which members of the workspace are online, and send email to the members, all without ever leaving the Microsoft Office 2003 application. Whenever the user opens the document in the Microsoft Office 2003 application, the Shared Workspace task pane is made available to the user, and updates can be applied both to the workspace and from the workspace.

Starting simple by using Microsoft Office 2003 applications to get users familiar with the shared workspace concept will break down some of the barriers people have to change in process. After the barriers are down, people generally want to see what else they can do and begin accessing the sites and workspaces through the portal interface, which provides additional functionality.

Collaborating in the Workspace for Producing Quality Documents

When creating documents, a common practice is to have multiple people working on the document. There may be one primary writer and then several reviewers, each adding his own input. When a group of people collaborate on a document, SharePoint's check-in/check-out ensures that only one person is working on it at a time. If the document needs to be approved by someone before it is considered finished, an approval process can be set up within SharePoint.

Users can create shared document workspaces when working on documents and then when the document is complete, move the final document to a portal available to the general public. For example, a company stores Human Resources forms and procedures on a SharePoint site that all users have access to. When a form or procedure needs to be changed, the person responsible for making the change creates a shared workspace for the document and provides access only to the people involved in the change. When the change has been completed and approved by the department manager, the updated document gets put back out on the public Human Resources site.

Using Document Libraries in the Real World

The concept of shared libraries is being used by an airline for procedural manuals. Before SharePoint was implemented, manuals were printed and sent to the pilots, flight attendants, and other associated personnel. When updates were made to the manuals (a process that occurred at least on a weekly basis), the updated pages were printed and sent out and then the "end users" would remove old pages of the manual and put in the revised pages.

With SharePoint, all the documentation is stored online. The pilots use laptops to access the manuals, and what they see in SharePoint is always current. No more time is wasted updating pages in a notebook, and the company saves in paper and mailing costs. In addition, it is easy to find information using SharePoint's searching capabilities.

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