I’ve been working some shorter weeks lately, so to keep this blog alive I decided to take the best idea, question, problem or product and make it part of a series of summer shorts. I thought that I was going to come up empty this week but fortunately a question came in after I had left for a long weekend on Thursday afternoon.
One of the systems we have in our engineering department has the ability to export a bunch of data into an Excel spreadsheet. The data lands on a series of tabs in the spreadsheet, some of which feature the data in a table, some of which display the data in graphic form. When printed, the various sheets form a report which can be presented to our customers. The benefit of this process is the ease with which it works. The system simply has to select certain data from SQL Server, manipulate it a little bit and convert it to a series of CSV files. Excel does the heavy lifting in terms of formatting, drawing and rendering. The downside of this process is that Excel is mutable. It is my experience that if you give an engineer something that can be changed, you can expect it to be changed.
The engineer who is responsible for the system generates the baseline spreadsheet. He wants to be able to fall back on that in case one of his coworkers makes a mistake or creates a spreadsheet that is customized with a very narrow focus in mind. A woman who is supporting this engineer asked me if we could use versioning in SharePoint to store these variations on a theme. What a good idea!
We normally think of SharePoint versions as being incremental snapshots of a work-in-progress. Versions are a chronological record from which we really only want to extract the latest version bearing the imprimatur of the document’s owner. However, there is no reason why SharePoint’s versioning capability can’t be used to store multiple useful versions of a document. In fact, the system is very supportive of this concept.
We are proposing that minor version numbers be used while an individual engineer works his or her way to the perfect collection of tables and charts. When they like what they have, they can publish it, saving the major version and deleting the minor ones. Useful version comments will serve to explain what each version was used for, and why someone else may want to view it as opposed to the other published versions that are available. The “master” or standard version will remain available as Version 1.0 This is so much better than a collection of reports with variations of the same data but with a long list of creative yet barely descriptive names.