ACTS Blog

SharePoint Document Management Features

February 17, 2014

by Megan Sproles

If an army runs on its stomach, then a business runs on paper. Many organizations focus on the numbers of their business. To be sure, the numbers are very important, and of course they govern the objectives which you use to manage your business. Unfortunately, there is always a layer of paper between the people that need to do the work, and the outcomes that need to be measured. Managing this “paper layer” may not contribute to the bottom line directly, but just as axle grease doesn’t make an F1 win the race, the car won’t make it to the finish line if it’s not in place and taken care of. With the ​exception of some knowledge-based businesses, documents are generally a necessary evil. They are emailed or printed and filed, and once they do their job they are forgotten. This type of thinking ignores a huge opportunity to improve your business without a major investment. This is especially true if your business is running SharePoint.

Growing Beyond Lists and Libraries​

Groups that adopt SharePoint generally (and often grudgingly) will store some documents there, and perhaps make some lists. For them it’s a digital filing cabinet. Just like anyone who has a filing cabinet at home, finding older or arcane information is a paper chase through reams of documents. If the business is really lucky, then the person who set up the filing system is still around and knows how to find it. The first set of benefits is reactive, and most folks will see it coming. By taking better advantage of SharePoint’s enterprise search capabilities, you will find it can be much easier to discover the information you’re looking for. If you have even rudimentary tags on your documents, then search refiners can help you drill down to what you’re trying to find fairly quickly. To really see benefits from what SharePoint can offer, one should embrace document types, document sets, metadata, and routing rules. These “out of the box” tools in SharePoint can go a long way towards automatically organizing the paper that drives your business. Once your paperwork is under control, then there are ways to get business value out of it.

Understanding Document Types

For example, every business should adopt the idea of document types. In the real world we understand this implicitly. We talk about “invoices,” “purchase orders,” “work orders” and so on. It’s only in the digital world that we address documents by their file type: Word document, spreadsheet, PowerPoint, PDF… Even something as basic as an image will be called “gif” or “jpeg” instead of simply “image” or “photo.” SharePoint enables you to tag documents stored in sharepoint with what are called “content types” so you can focus on what is in the document instead of what kind of container it is. For example, you could have a “Purchase Order” content type that you tag on to whatever format your POs come in. Whether you are emailed a Word or Excel file, get a PDF from an efax service, or scan paper yourself to a TIFF you don’t have to care – they can all be purchase orders. Content types can have specific properties, so each purchase order could be tagged with the buyer, total purchase value, tax, fiscal year, and status. Now it’s trivial to look at a library full of purchase orders and filter out “orders from Customer X over $5000 last fiscal year” and get the actual documents that drove the orders​.

Document Sets

Often business documents aren’t self-contained in a single file. In the real world we may have a folder that contains detail documents, background, history, additional supporting data, and so on. The folder can be routed around and is essentially a “document” unto itself. We can do this in the SharePoint world, too. SharePoint has a concept called a “document set.” It’s a content type that acts as a container for other content. Think of it as a virtual folder that can be moved around SharePoint. In this document set we can add purchase orders (Word, Excel, PDF, etc), images (GIF, JPG, TIFF), maybe background presentations (PowerPoint, PDF), and so on. The document set can have a collection of templates for either required or optional documents that must be in the set, and properties can be copied from the set to individual documents. If the status of the set is “Pending Review” that status can be set on every file, so even if a Word document is stored separately, the status will read “Pending Review.” These basic concepts can enable your business to perform its operations in a more structured manner, and your record keeping will be less dependent on the organizational knowledge of a few individuals. Most importantly, these are “out of the box” features that can be adopted without needing an additional complex document routing system.​

 

 

SharePoint as a foundation for Records Management and eDiscovery

by Megan Sproles

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The term “e-discovery” gets thrown around a lot, and generally the perception is “we should do something about records management before we get sued.” While it’s true that there are companies that provide services to bring your business systems into compliance for records management, legal liability protection, and to prepare for dealing with e-discovery, the truth is that these are not “all or nothing” concepts. Even while you perhaps evaluate packages or solution providers, there are steps your business can be taking to improve your situation. If you are running SharePoint then you already have a lot of the tools you need in-house.

What is Records Management?

First, of course, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page:

  • Records Management: managing specific documents, which are considered the records of the business. Defining which documents are records is often half the problem, but once defined, there needs to be a structured multi-stage life cycle defined for the documents – when they will be archived, and when they will be destroyed.
  • e-discovery: this is not strictly speaking a certification for how documents are stored, but is more concerned with the ability to identify and deliver documents in answer to legal procedures. Of course one would hope these are rare, but the reality is that many businesses have to frequently produce documents for litigation. The goal of e-discovery is to reduce the administrative workload in complying with the request while still satisfying the legal requirements.

 

The primary concern with both e-discovery and records management is governance. Your business must have the policies to properly handle your business records and documents. Where this generally falls apart is in enforcing the rules. The problem isn’t that employees try to break the rules — it’s just that often complex or difficult rules can get in the way of getting the job done, and so they end up being ignored. Automation was supposed to solve this problem, but often creates more of a problem than it solves.

When “Good Enough” is Good Enough

Business records must be stored in an organized, managed manner. Records that are stored must also be either archived or destroyed at established times or milestones. Full compliance with various legal aspects of e-Discovery and/or records management require business review and possibly technical customization from an experienced partner. But taking care of the basic concepts is absolutely manageable by any business. Cleaning up document handling and record keeping using SharePoint’s existing capabilities will serve your business both in day to day operations and in the event of an audit or compliance review.

More senior SharePoint users are familiar with features like managed metadata and workflows. However not many businesses are using the advanced capabilities that SharePoint offers which can be quite powerful with the proper policies and governance in place:

  • Enterprise Content Types allow managing business documents in a standard way across the organization
  • ​​Retention Policies can prevent the shared drive buildup of documents and content by putting standard archive and expiration policies on content types. This ensures that legal documents are retained as necessary, but standard working documents are cleared out at a reasonable pace.
  • Document Sets provide a way of tracking a collection of related matter as a single unit, applying policies to all documents within the set in a single transaction.
  • ​​Document IDs enable SharePoint to assign a unique ID code to every document, making it easier to track and identify the document even as it is moved to different libraries or even different sites.
  • SharePoint’s Content Organizer feature provides a way to route documents based on content type and tag values. For example while all contracts are routed to purchasing, contracts tagged as being over $5,000 in value might be routed to the legal department first for review.

 

SharePoint also has a robust document conversion engine, so even though various documents may arrive in various formats, they can be filed in a uniform format. This feature is somewhat more advanced – the engine to perform the specific conversion must be available. However this document conversion is an open API, so it is possible to customize a conversion engine that, for example, extracts specific information from files and tags the destination file with the information.

Summary

To reiterate – for a proper Records Management program or eDiscovery preparation, a business should always seek the advice of a certified expert to implement the structure and business rules necessary to ensure legal and financial compliance. However, until that full process becomes necessary or mandatory, SharePoint can certainly provide the tools and framework to better organize and manage business documents and records.

 

 

 

SharePoint and Sales Team Management

by Megan Sproles

B​usiness Outcome Methodology (BOM) may seem to be an executive problem managed by a dedicated business intelligence group with high-powered (expensive) software. Actually the value of BOM can be realized by any team manager or leader with the tools available in an enterprise installation of SharePoint. The important concept is that you cannot manage what you cannot measure. In traditional sales management, the only outcome that an organization cares about is revenue produced. In enterprise sales, this can result in an “all or nothing” approach to accounts that can harm the long-term relationships necessary to continue engaging with customers year after year. A wise sales manager will evaluate business outcomes in the sales funnel before the deal is closed. By monitoring how account executives or sales teams are performing as they pursue leads, generate prospects, and grow opportunities a sales manager can actually be managing their sales process instead of simply watching the revenue flow.

SharePoint for Measuring Outcomes

This approach to sales leadership can be well served by using features in SharePoint that are often overlooked. Most organizations treat SharePoint as a collaboration tool at best. At worst, it’s essentially a shared drive and dumping ground for files. This is the equivalent of having an expensive 3D projection table with piles of books and papers on it. Sure it makes for a fine abstract filing system, but the people who leave their stuff there are completely missing out on the capabilities of the tool. Advanced SharePoint users will take advantage of document tagging, metadata and workflows. A small percentage will embrace the value of content types, templates, and document routing. Beyond that very few groups appreciate the analytic and reporting capabilities built into the SharePoint framework:

– Access and Excel Services give businesses a lightweight framework to take data that would traditionally be stored in a file on a shared drive and put that data somewhere accessible. Once this business data is in one of the SharePoint data services, analytics and reporting become much easier. – PerformancePoint Services enable the creation of performance indicators, scorecards, reports, and dashboards on data such as that stored in Access or Excel Services as well as other business systems.

– Business Connectivity Services can connect other data stores or databases so that SharePoint’s infrastructure can access it as though it were native SharePoint data.

– SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) can create analytic models and even perform data mining on aggregations of data from multiple sources.

– SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) provides enterprise-class reporting on the data collected. SSRS also has a virtually unknown geospatial reporting capability, making geographic mapping reports very easy to create “out of the box.”

– PowerPivot and PowerView “democratize” these tools to a large degree, allowing models and reports to be designed by power users instead of having design stuck in the IT Department. Consider a sales team that covers a geographic area. The “100 level” management approach would be to have account executives file leads, customer reports, projections, and maybe even a sales funnel. This kind of paperwork doesn’t reflect a “team.” Instead what the manager has is a herd of cats — a group of individuals each pursuing individual goals in the same office. SharePoint provides the tools to manage a sales organization as a team and better yet – to manage the team by outcome instead of by executive fiat.

SharePoint and SQL Server for Reporting

It’s very straightforward to create a sales reporting database in either SQL Server or SharePoint Access Services. By using InfoPath forms for data entry, your sales executives don’t have to worry about what the back end looks like. Once you’ve captured data on leads and prospects, you can start generating scorecards based on quotas using SharePoint’s built-in PerformancePoint Services. It gets more interesting when you add SQL Server’s geospatial features. How would you like a map of where in your district the revenue is coming from? Or a geographic map of where your leads are? Being able to track how your account executives are focusing their efforts can expose underserved areas, “green field” customers, or even possible overlap between accounts. There are two ways to manage a sales team – you can either be completely “hands off” and simply watch funnel reports. However, this frequently allows accounts with difficulties to escape attention until the end of the quarter (or worse – the end of the year). A manager can be more “hands on,” but cannot micromanage all of his or her sales professionals. Account insight reporting as described above gives a sales manager the information to better guide their team to success through actual performance instead of perceived activity.

 

 

 

People and Process Behavior Change using the Microsoft BI Stack and SharePoint

May 2, 2014
by Megan Sproles

More businesses than you suspect run their business by “the seat of their pants.” They have a business plan, and maintain their ledgers, but their strategies and tactics are often designed by reacting to patterns executives perceive in their quarterlies. The problem with this is that it’s a lumbering, subjective approach to running a business. Results are only reviewed every twelve weeks, and strategies adjusted based on subtotals of invoices.

Be Proactive, Not Reactive

A much healthier approach to running your business is to make tactical decisions based on real-time or near-real-time data. Instead of waiting until the end of June to review revenues and expenses, imagine if you had the ability to view booked and anticipated income any time you need to. In addition, you would be able to break down the data in various relevant ways – by geography, by product, by date, and so on. This data-driven perspective of your business enables you to review your sales and marketing plans and adjust them based on how your sales teams are performing. It’s the difference between running a slalom course like a skier and trying to steer around an iceberg with a passenger liner.

SharePoint for Business Intelligence

This type of solution can be easily built on the SharePoint platform using its PerformancePoint Services and features in SQL Server 2012. SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS), part of the SQL Server platform, enables unifying data from multiple silos across the business, and presenting a unified analytic perspective of the data in a manner relevant to the business. Once the data has been unified into an analytic cube, a user can generate reports or drill down into the data using familiar business dimensions as mentioned above.​

 

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PerformancePoint and Excel Services for Reporting

The analytic cube can be used as a data source by SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) to create standard reports and charts. Users can connect to the cube with Excel and create pivot tables and charts, then publish them back to SharePoint Excel Services for use by the rest of the organization. The new PowerView Service also gives users more abilities to create interactive reports which can even be published to Office 365 for access outside the organization.

Scorecards and Dashboards

All of these methods of presenting data – reports, charts, pivot tables, and analytic reports, can be combined into a dashboard using PerformancePoint Services. PerformancePoint has been part of SharePoint since 2007, and enables creation of business dashboards with analytic features so that they can present a uniform view of the business based on specified criteria or user-controlled filters. PerformancePoint also has a scorecard designer, making it easy to create a data-driven business scorecard that will give a quick “situational awareness” view of the business across multiple performance criteria. These criteria can be used to create key performance indicators which will turn complex data into an easy-to-understand red, yellow, green indicator.

Conclusion

If you’re running SharePoint Enterprise Edition, then you have access to the data and presentation tools necessary to create a robust data-driven business scorecard. Unify the data into an analytical cube, and use that cube as the data source for reporting, charts, and scorecards which can be assembled into dashboards providing the awareness of your business’ performance necessary to make timely, effective decisions.

 

 

 

 

Office 365: How To Determine The Right Package For Your Organization?

August 15, 2014
by Megan Sproles

image001The biggest drivers of change with regards to Information Technology are new software, lower costs, ease of access and utilization, enhanced productivity, and so on. Microsoft Office 365 is a cloud computing solution with significant impact on Information Technology and business systems. Indeed, Office 365 represents change. From traditional computing to robust integrated way of communication, sharing, and computing, proven benefits include lowering the cost of IT services and enabling higher user productivity.

A substantial benefit Office 365 is that Microsoft administers as well as maintains all hardware, software, backups, and network infrastructure. While it is the same Office you already know and use every day, Office 365 is powered by the cloud, allowing you to get to your applications and files from virtually anywhere using any device. A central question arises though: Which is the right package for my organization? The answer to this lies at the heart of Office 365. With three plans in the offering: Small Business, Midsize Business, and Enterprise, amidst host of valuable features, you need to ensure that the plan you opt for fits with your business setup.

Our goal is to provide you pertinent information and solutions in deciding which Office 365 subscription plan will bring the most value to your business. As a first step, selecting the right package subscription should start by identifying your business size, and matching that Microsoft Office 365 flexible packages. For instance, if you foresee having more than 25 employees in the near future, it is highly recommended to skip to the medium-scale subscription. Likewise, if you are definitive about your business size with no expansion plans, you can choose from two small business subscription packages.

Management also needs to take into consideration various organizational requirements and needs when choosing an appropriate package. Do they have a growing workforce of mobile employees, who require constant connectivity to the office? Would their organization benefit from facilitating home and remote working? Do they require basic technology infrastructure? Other issues may include costs, usability, training, etc.

Additionally, they need to consider both existing IT needs, and also those of their future workforce. The exponentially growing mobile technology is becoming increasingly popular, and employees want to be able to capitalize on innovative and sophisticated IT implements and applications on their machines. Invariably, employees are keen to explore the opportunities afforded by flexible and remote working. Measure twice, cut once – this adage explains the value of pausing and making sure you know the potential results of your decisions.

Effective planning is key! Execution and implementation follow effective planning, resulting in increased productivity as well as profitability. Based on your requirements or conducting needs assessment, our experienced certified team with proven track record has the ability to deliver optimal and cost effective solutions.

ACTS is a Florida-based technology solution provider working with businesses to leverage technology for competitive advantage and market share growth. With work grounded in a business outcome methodology, ACTS has been helping clients – from regional SMBs to global Fortune 500 enterprises. As an experienced Microsoft partner specializing in both IT Solutions and Professional Services utilizing SharePoint, Microsoft BI and Dynamics CRM, ACTS’ ability to deliver on-premise, hosted, cloud based, or fully managed with 24/7 support and guaranteed two-hour response time.
Do you have a world-changing idea for a project? Ready to take your business to the next step? We can help. If you want the best when it comes to network consulting or IT solutions or to find out more about the services we offer and how it can revitalize your business, email us at info@actsolution.net or call us at (904) 317-2140.

 

 

 

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