Note: When used correctly
SharePoint is a like a tip of an iceberg in the technical world. Even considering all the user-friendly features, it still has its own complex interface – making things confusing at times to end users. As an administrator or a developer, we understand its complexity very well. But from a layman’s understanding, it’s not the same.
Just take an example of an accountant, who has never worked in the server-side or technical side before. Usually, work begins with a calculator and, for complex calculations uses Excel very well with all formulas known. But then all of a sudden determines that the Excel calculation method and all the files used before are outdated and no longer required. Now it’s a matter of creating list and libraries in SharePoint and enter data or upload files, that’s it.
Put yourself in the accountant’s shoes… you’d be confused, frustrated, and maybe angry. I’m sure that in every organization, among 5:1 or 6:1 corporate users have faced a similar situation while working with SharePoint. So I want to help by showing the importance of some basic features in SharePoint and how to use it correctly.
Understand List and Libraries
In SharePoint, although lists and libraries are two different entities, however in the background every document library is a list, but every list cannot be a document library. Huh? Yes, it’s just a matter of template which we are using by default, but that’s not what we are going to discuss here. Let’s consider both are different from end user’s point of view. So what we can do with it? Well, there are lots of cool things you can do with it! Just take a look at list below:
List and libraries have to be used as a tool and not a data dump. If you are using it as a data dump then you may not get good performance in the long run. The good way to store data with good performance is:
- Use multiple lists to store data by categorizing it.
- Sometimes users create N numbers of columns in the list and library, though it’s required for some process it may break your page look and feel and also degrade performance.
- Use only required columns.
- If some columns are less important remove it (after all you want to make it user-friendly).
- Make a smart column instead of just a data-driven column (Ex. Calculated, Lookup, Links etc.).
- Use site columns instead of creating the one from scratch. Site columns can be reused.
- List and libraries are also used as an application by adding workflow logics as per business requirements.
- It has one common feature called Views. The user can use it to display added data in multiple formats and its also included as best practice. So even if you have large data you can still suppress it using views.
- List data can be exported to Access or Excel, whereas document libraries can be synced with computers folders.
- The document library is also open in Explorer view through Internet Explorer. Which makes it more user-friendly than normal SP UI.
- Using Document Sets and Folders can create multiple layers of storing the document. Which helps the user add data to the categorized way.
Task list is one of the unique lists in SharePoint. Though it looks similar to Outlook to-do list, it’s more powerful than Outlook list. Let’s see what you can do with tasks list as follows:
- You can create as many tasks list as you want. Which means you can classify your work into multiple tasks lists as per usage, importance and priority.
- You can give access to other users to modify your tasks items, this means if you are working on a project with the team then other team members can check and modify this task list’s items with the current progress of the project. So you don’t need to follow up each and every member for project status.
- You can export this task list to Excel or Project (if you are licensed) and make a nice report out of it.
- You can also do an analysis of your current project by using Gantt Chart for more clarity.
- You can also add custom columns in tasks list and make it more user-friendly.
- If you want custom action as and when the task is created or updated, use a custom workflow as per your logic and never get missed out on tasks progress.
We have a calendar application in Outlook, in our laptop or desktop. How is SharePoint Calendar list different?
Just like any other list, SharePoint Calendar list is also unique and very interesting. The good thing is that it has the option to sync with Outlook list. So if you have any meeting, event or ongoing tasks you can see it in SharePoint and as well as in Outlook. So once you update anything in Outlook calendar it will also get updated into SharePoint Calendar. Check benefits for calendar list as below:
- Create events, vacation list, or your own placemarks in calendar.
- Add custom columns to the calendar and use it extensively for all types of event management.
- By using calendar list web part the user can actually create an automated event management dashboard.
- Use overlay calendar and use multiple calendars within one calendar.
- Add resources (a feature in Outlook to manage meeting rooms) in the calendar and get updated information about when the room is free or occupied.
- Add reservation feature into the calendar and some application settings in the background… and done! You have created your own reservation system such as online booking for any events in the organization, or for a department trip or any type of event where you have limited audience.
Workflow is a very interesting feature in SharePoint. It can be very simple or can be very complex based on logic. It’s not very difficult to create. By using workflows you can achieve the following:
- Attach workflows to the list and get updated about every move in list or libraries.
- Attach a InfoPath form to workflow and it will be working as electronic forms. This means with good logic you can create a paper-free environment in the organization and that will be free of cost.
- Add a Workflow to the task list and map progress columns into workflow and use some calculations as per your project. You will get your own project management tool and that’s again free of cost.
- Add Workflow in a document library and set it on any params (Ex. Set workflow on document versioning and get email alert if the version changes) so you will come to know who has modified your document and what is the current version.
The above options are just like the tip of the iceberg. The more options you choose for workflow the more interesting it gets. So use all your creativity for this.
Metadata Term Store
SharePoint is all about Metadata Term Store. It’s a little complex part of SharePoint, but still a cool way to use it. Metadata is stored within a term store service application. Term store data is an only component which acts differently in SharePoint. It’s all over in SharePoint. There are some advantages of using metadata term store as follows:
- You can create custom navigation and use it all over subsite and site collection. Custom navigation is also easy to blend with custom branding options.
- Metadata term store can be also used in list and libraries using metadata columns.
- Any item linked with metadata is always indexed and easy to appear in search.
- Term store data tagging keyword is considered as the best method for tagging in SharePoint.
- List or document libraries with metadata fields have the best performance.
- Good structure of term store is easy to manage.
- We can create custom search application using term store and CAML combination and it’s one of the faster search option using limited search scope.
Even though SharePoint is an office tool it acts like a website within a domain. Because of website ability Pages are having an important role in SharePoint. Pages are stored in “Pages” or “Site Pages” document library by default, but a user can create custom pages library or document library and store pages in it.
Pages are mostly in form of .aspx and .html format. There are many page templates in SharePoint, and the user can create a page template as well. SharePoint pages can be anything and everything in SharePoint. Let’s check it out what we can do with Pages.
- SharePoint Page can contain plain text content, dynamic content, images, web parts, user control, java applet or even out of box or custom applications.
- Pages are easy to customize branding.
- Using some awesome web parts the user can change the look and feel through the user interface of SharePoint.
- Pages can act like information, report, dashboard or form in SharePoint.
- It has literally no limit in using.
- Pages are created on the basis of the master page. So don’t worry if you have multiple pages created. Just change in master page to reflect same change in multiple pages.
- If out of box pages are having multiple layouts, and the user can change it even if contents are added to the page.
- Pages can be checked in and checked out and also contain versioning. So if you delete anything in Pages don’t worry, just check the last updated version and you will get your content back.
This topic covered just the highlights of Pages, but in the next article, I will add some more information about Pages in detail. Remember a good and simple page structure is always welcome by end user rather than adding complex content.
Security settings are the most vital settings in SharePoint. If this part is messed up then there is no use of SharePoint sites – even if it’s the best architecture, best branding. Security settings have to be managed by SharePoint Administrator and AD Administrator. A good combination of AD and SP group is always less headache. The following are some highlights about how to use Security Groups.
- By default, SharePoint is having readers, Viewers, Contributors and Owners group in SharePoint. But as per site template, you may also see Designers, Approvers groups on site.
- The administrator can create a custom group with custom user rights or modify default groups rights.
- A good way to handle multiple users in one group is always create AD groups as per department and department owners. Also create or use same level groups in SharePoint. So once the AD is updated SharePoint groups will also get updated.
- A single item in SharePoint can be shared with the individual user or by groups.
- SharePoint groups are easy to use in workflows instead of adding a direct user in the flow.
- It’s always best practice to share access to groups other than the individual user.
This is just basic information about to how to use content correctly from a layman’s point of view. Other SharePoint users may have different views. But this just a beginning and tip of an iceberg. I will come with more technical and theoretical information about SharePoint in my next blogs. Stay tuned.
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SharePoint can store a large amount of information, if employees can’t find the documents they need quickly, usage of the system will decrease quickly.