Usually, I write about the things we do for others; like many people in IT I build solutions, but I don’t often use them. As we turn our focus to usability, I have started to pay attention to the way these solutions work. I’ve written about these features before, but I was truly impressed at how big a difference features like this make. I am beginning to understand what my users are talking about – hey, it’s only been 30 or so years. Here’s my SharePoint Story.
One of the first things I had to do upon arrival at the office on Thursday was to distribute the minutes of the AIIM New England chapter’s recent Board of Directors meeting. The document had been written using Word 2010, and distributed to the chapter president for review. I store the document in a document library called Committees, located on my “My Site”. Every time I write “my my site” I wish Microsoft had called that “personal SharePoint” or something like that; but I digress. The reason I have this library is because I am not only secretary of AIIM NE, I am also president of a local Toastmasters club, and I serve on a town committee supporting our school system. In other words, I was absent while a lot of nominations were made.
I usually distribute these minutes in both Word and PDF format, so the simple series of steps includes: saving the Word document as revised by the president, making a PDF copy of that document and attaching both to an email to my fellow board members. That is not a difficult process by any means, but it is a positively simple process for me. In fact, I never have to leave Outlook!
I have mentioned before that we have augmented our SharePoint implementation with add-on products from Harmon.ie and Muhimbi. Harmon.ie’s product integrates Outlook with SharePoint and Muhimbi provides a PDF converter. I’ve talked about these products before, but since I got to use them this week, let me walk you through my little process, to illustrate just how sweet SharePoint can be.
Step 1 – I draft the minutes in Word, and store them in My Site. I set a metadata field called Disposition to “Draft Out for Review”. Note: I set this, and two other metadata fields using Word’s Info panel, because once I put the document in that library, Word exposes the metadata fields in my document.
Step 2 – I compose an email to the chapter president regarding the draft minutes. I open the Harmon.ie Sidebar in my email message, I navigate to the Committee library in My Site and I drag the Word document into my email.
Step 4 – I drag the Word document from the email attachment line and drop it in the Harmon.ie Sidebar which is currently displaying the Committee library of My Site. SharePoint handles creating a new version of my document.
Step 5 – I change the Disposition property in the Harmon.ie Sidebar to “Final.”
Step 6 – A SharePoint Designer workflow runs (when document changes) and creates a PDF copy of the document, using Muhimbi’s PDF Converter. Because I asked it to, the SharePoint metadata will be included in the PDF.
Step 7 – I create a new email in Outlook addressed to the AIIM NE Board Members and anyone else receiving a copy of these minutes. After I write my message, I drag the Word copy of the minutes and the newly created PDF copy of the minutes, from the Harmon.ie Sidebar into my email.
Step 8 – Send!
This is a fairly simple process; it makes use of some very basic features of SharePoint, a dirt-simple workflow and the fundamental features of these two add-on products. The most significant thing about this entire process is I never opened a browser! Harmon.ie sits in Outlook and can be shown in any document I am reading or composing. Harmon.ie handles the interaction with SharePoint. My workflow does the work (using Muhimbi’s product) and SharePoint handles the tasks of changing versions and running the workflow.
It only took me a few minutes to wire up the SharePoint settings and write the workflow that makes this process possible. By taking that little extra time, I transformed a workable solution into a usable solution. Usability is rapidly becoming a key requirement of the solutions we develop. I want to be able to substitute SharePoint-based solutions for some fat-client applications as we develop our next generation systems. If that’s going to happen, we have to make SharePoint as usable as any other platform we have.