The world of information management is only rarely marked by feel-good moments so when one happens, you have to talk about it. My moment starts in in the office of my alter ego. You see, in a small company, everyone wears multiple hats. One of my hats is the dreaded administration budget. I pay the rent, I make sure the plants are watered and I buy the postage. Actually someone else does most of the work; I just approve the orders and payments. This budget includes furniture and fixtures, so when one of our employees wanted the “system furniture” in his office reconfigured, he had to work with me.
He wanted to rotate the “desk” surface 90°. Initially, I told him no. Moving the unit would involve uninstalling the shelving and bins and moving them which would leave holes that would have to be repaired. That was more work than I wanted to deal with. He said:
“I only want to move the desk part, you can leave the file cabinets and binder bins over there. I don’t have anything in those cabinets and I never put anything in binders. I’m working to keep everything electronically.”
Anybody associated with information management would have felt exactly the way I did when he said that, I would have moved that furniture myself.
Sure, it’s only one guy, and he’s a relative new hire. He doesn’t have years’ worth of legacy paper to deal with, but I’m just happy that he doesn’t want to start his collection. We have done a couple of small projects in SharePoint for him, but one that we have been working on recently is a very cool use of SharePoint.
Although we insure a niche market, we do receive requests for quotations and our underwriters do have to prepare those quotes. Of course, we want to be able to keep track of the quotes, the people asking for the insurance and all that other pesky metadata. File cabinet? No! The same guy who is rearranging his office asked us to prepare a better solution. Unfortunately, another thing about working in a small company, especially one serving a niche market is that you can’t justify investing too much time in any one solution. On the other hand, we can justify investing in tools that will let us build solutions quickly. One of those is the HarePoint Extensions for SharePoint workflows. This is still a work-in-progress, but a working version is in place and the basic process goes like this (although I might have the order wrong, this is one of those solutions I’m not actually involved with – see Stories Yet to Come):
A new item is created in a SharePoint Library from one of several Excel spreadsheets that are templates for the Content Types related to the business we quote.
Information about the person making the request is entered into various metadata columns
A SharePoint Designer workflow picks up the metadata, reads values out of the spreadsheet and creates an email to the person requesting the quote. The body of the email contains other information from the spreadsheet.
Additional metadata is updated to indicate the status of the quote.
This is a perfect solution. It didn’t require a ton of work, it lets us keep the entire process paper-free (unless someone steps in and requires a “file copy” – I’m keeping my fingers crossed that that doesn’t happen). The process also illustrates several of the benefits and design guidelines that I am trying to get people to understand:
SharePoint can benefit everybody in an organization and the people supporting SharePoint should be willing to work with anyone who has a requirement.
SharePoint can and should be mapped to a business process in a way that adds value to that process or reduces the work involved in that process.
Handling the business process as well as the information management associated with it is a good way to add enough value to justify handling a small need. It’s a bundle, just like the ones the cable companies offer.
SharePoint isn’t an independent technology.
Whether you are adding custom code to a SharePoint page, bolting on a third-party product or using some behind the scenes tool like we are, SharePoint can be made to work the way Microsoft imagined. SharePoint is one of the tools available to us. Combining it with the other tools can result in some pretty cool solutions.