In the SharePoint consulting I do, I try to look beyond just basic uses of SharePoint, where SharePoint acts as a basic replacement for shared folders on file servers. SharePoint can of course do document storage and does bring some added features beyond a file server, but if you're paying attention to the Excel files being shipped around your business network and email system, then you're likely very close to a business process that could be much better supported by SharePoint's workflow and document management capabilities.
There can be some very tangible benefits to keeping Excel files off the Exchange server and managing them through SharePoint. By emailing Excel files, I mean emailing them more than just to share them with someone else.
Excel files often serve as a transmittable workflow package, containing signoffs, data you might find in a database, and implicit circulation and approval lists represented by who the Excel file is emailed to, when, and why. Maybe it's to document your SOX process. Or it may be a budgeting exercise. It could also be a data collection repository as the Excel file gets emailed around to the appropriate people.
SharePoint doesn't necessarily have to replace the Excel file. It may or may not, there can be multiple ways to implement the business process, such as using SharePoint Workflow to send a spreadsheet out for review and approval. Or you may opt to take the data out of the Excel file, using SharePoint Lists or a SQL database to manage the data it contains along with other SharePoint capabilities like workflow.
Here are a few of the benefits gained by using SharePoint to implement business processes, replacing emailed Excel files.
1. Most current data. First and most obvious is to make sure every person who needs to touch information is getting the latest, most accurate version. Who's to say that Excel file in your inbox is the most recent one, or you didn't click on an earlier version accidentally? SharePoint can guide the business process, making sure every step has the right version of the data or file(s) required.
2. Failures in the process. When a failure in a business process happens, who knows about it and who gets things back on track... that's assuming you know there's a failure. SharePoint can handle exceptions, escalations, notifications, alerts, custom conditions and more to handle situations when failures occur.
3. Audit trail. How do you know someone didn't change a file inappropriately, skipped a step in the process, or steps were performed by the wrong person. SharePoint keeps track of each step, who did it, and when. Auditors and business process owners alike appreciate this.
4. Stops in the process. Vacations, illness, job changes, errors and even forgetfulness can bring any business process relying on Excel files and email to a grinding halt. SharePoint workflow, document approval processes, etc., can help keep things moving along, or let someone know the process hit a snag.
5. Visibility. Once that Excel file leaves your inbox, how do you really know what happened: who modified it, what changed, did the necessary approvals happen, etc. Since SharePoint implements the business process, it can also show the owners what's happening, by whom, where and when.
I've only scratched the surface here about what SharePoint can do to implement business processes. Next week I'll be posting a podcast with Best Buy's Sarah Haase about how Best Buy uses SharePoint to implement and manage business processes. Stay on the lookout for the podcast.
Like this? Here are some of Mitchell's recent posts.
- Will Apple's multi-touch tablet steal Windows 7's multi-touch thunder?
- Is Open Source The Enemy Within Chipping Away at Proprietary Microsoft?
- The Hidden Cost of Out-of-Cycle Security Patches
- Apple Tablet - Expensive Netbook or iTouch on Steroids?
- Microsoft... Coming to a New Store Near You
Mitchell's book recommendations:
- Sam Ramji, Microsoft. Why Microsoft contributed to open source.
- Matt Brezina, Xobni. Xobni's quest for revenue
Also visit Mitchell's other blogs and podcasts: Visit Microsoft Subnet for more news, blogs, opinion from around the Web. Sign up for the bi-weekly Microsoft newsletter. (Click on News/Microsoft News Alert.)
- Beginning SharePoint 2007 Administration: Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
- Beginning Ruby: From Novice to Professional, Second Edition
- Beginning C# 3.0: An Introduction to Object Oriented Programming
- Programming .NET 3.5