Let’s face it! You know you’ve been putting it off over and over. Many small and medium sized organisations are dealing with their policies and procedures in an unstructured and hap-hazard way. You are only making it worse by not doing anything about it. It’s time to bite the bullet in 2012 and start using the powerful tools you have invested in, such as Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 and implement a managed, structured, compliant and easy to use repository for policies and procedures (P&P).
The advantages are numerous, to name a few;
· Centralised and secure
· Standardised, consistent and easy to update
· Browser enabled, with access to search, taxonomies, metadata
· Automated, supported by workflows and reporting
· Always the correct version and access to previous versions
· Relevant and presented in context
· Return on investments in software and training
· Improved communication and monitoring of users understanding and use
· Environmentally friendly
In this post I’ll try to identify the various capabilities and features of Microsoft Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010 that make it such a great platform for a managed P&P repository. In following posts we’ll dive into the details and provide more information on the use of each one in the context of the entire solution.
Centralised and secure- where better than in SharePoint can you implement your central P&P repository?
Sure, lots of Intranets using SharePoint have some way allowing access to policy and procedure documents. In reality though, management is often delegated to (sub) site owners, departmental solutions or simply by ‘migrating’ files into SharePoint based document libraries with an attempt to assign metadata and usually a rudimentary form of access permissions. More often than not some users in the business use those SharePoint document libraries and others have not made the leap and still access the old file shares or have their own copies of the documents stored locally. Typically I’d say although the intention is good, the end result only makes things worse as there are now even more copies floating around unmanaged.
The challenge for the business is to provide a structured well organised repository that all users will use and trust, arguably the key success factor is to make it friendly, easy to use and offer business users a managed change process that will ensure they trust the new facilities and feel confident it is a better solution and saves them time and effort. For this to be successful, a project would certainly need to look at the existing content and provide a migration option into the new repository. I think all of us have at some point in time thought about this and considered what that would mean for our organisation, our documents typically being in binary word format (.doc) or even pdfs making this a daunting task to see the least. There is light at the end of the tunnel though, Microsoft has definitely made platform changes such as the OpenXML fiele format (.docx, .xslx etc.) and Enterprise Content types that will allow you to migrate to greener pastures and at the very least make these tasks easier in the future and ensure re-usability of the structured information that is hidden now in your existing policy and procedure documents. So it is for sure worth your while to improve the situation so that the organisation will benefit going forward and not keeps digging deeper and deeper holes. You owe to your employer and successors and need to make steps in the right direction now. This brings me to the next topic.
Standardised, consistent and easy to update – how to turn bits and bytes into structured information that can be used from various angles?
Much of the information captured in policy and procedure documents is only truly accessible by humans reading the documentation, at the very best relevant pieces of information such as a review date, a process owner, a description will have a set style but seldom is it structurally stored and accessible (and therefor manageable through automation) by computers or workflow processes. Because of this, it’s hard to ensure changes are consistently implemented which leads to problems with documents not being accurate or only partially accurate.
Let me give you an example of how SharePoint 2010 and Word 2010 could help solving these types of issues. SharePoint 2010 introduces a concept called Document Sets, basically a folder on steroids. The steroids being not just the ability to manage a set of documents as a whole, but also the ability to add behaviour (implemented as workflows) and metadata that can be managed at the set level. So, for example a document set for a business process would store the process diagrams, the related policy and procedures and retain consistent versioning so all the elements are all ‘in sync’. Also metadata would be managed top-down making it very easy to manage, a chance to the Business process owner at the set level would also change that information in all contained documents, completely transparently so instead having to open and change all documents a user would just update a value in one place. Structured documents written in Microsoft Word based on SharePoint content types and using content controls would contain and display those metadata elements and would automatically be updated. These documents would be saved using the OpenXML file format so that the structured information not only shows up consistently in the documents but can also be accessed by automated processes such as custom applications or workflows. Content controls can also be protected and have logic so that editing a document will be more like an electronic form (as a whole or partially) easily ensuring consistency and compliance. It does require an upfront investment in creating the right templates and content types but individual users will benefit immediately by the ease of use and efficiency and the organisation will directly benefit from happy users, consistent documentation and a better manageable central repository.
Browser enabled, with access to search, taxonomies, metadata – making SharePoint earn its keep.
Once you have invested in designing a structured repository and structured documents, it’s time to make all that richness available to your users, pick the low hanging fruit so to speak. One of the interesting features worth being aware of is that SharePoint 2010 and it’s Office Web Applications make all this functionality available right from within your browser, and not just with Internet Explorer, SharePoint 2010 is compatible with a range of industry standard browsers and keeps improving that compatibility with updates and service patches. So it is important to keep you SharePoint environment updated and in good shape.
Another aspect of empowering your users and improving the acceptance and usage of the repository can be achieved by making the most out of managed metadata, taxonomies and improved search capabilities. It is also very important to make use of search monitoring and analysis that is a standard component of SharePoint 2010 and augments the site statistics. Synonyms, keywords and best bets are essential to making the user experience a rewarding and fun one, A happy, satisfied user contributes positively to the organisation and is not wasting time on the hunt for important instructions.
Automated, supported by workflows and reporting – delivering the true return on investment.
Once the information management is in place and the repository is populated you’ll need to ensure the content is kept up to date and reviewed. Your compliance relies on having a process around that. Obviously now that we have everything in the SharePoint environment this becomes a relatively straight forward exercise. Using the managed metadata, workflows keep track of review dates, manage and monitor the running workflows and report through SharePoint based dashboard so business process owners and senior managers can at a glance assess progress and compliance according to self-applied policies. Microsoft Visio is a great tool to visualise the processes and workflows and provide business intelligence in a visual context.
Always the correct version and access to previous versions – document management tools in action.
This one comes ‘for free’ doesn’t it? It’s straight forward to enable versioning, approvals and use the version history, combine this with new 2010 features such as Document IDs and better policies for records management and the low hanging fruit is just dangling in front of you. Basics that are extremely valuable and don’t require a lot of effort, just a little careful planning and some good instructions to your users.
Relevant and presented in context – how to make it easier for users.
For sure, SharePoint has great search capabilities and makes it easy to create views, still it can be difficult for users to find what they, when they need it. This is where knowing your users and making use of that information adds value, and the use of pictures or other graphical user interfaces can make a world of difference. In SharePoint 2010 we now have Visio Services at our disposals allowing us to create appealing diagrams that can be made to interactively filter lists or navigate to the right policy or procedure, based on for example the current users’ role (stored in the profile) we can further present relevant documents easily. This would allow you to present only the documents a specific user needs in the context of for example a particular business process, modelled off course by a Visio BPM diagram.
I hope I’ve made you think a bit about going beyond merely storing your documents in SharePoint, I will follow up this post with posts going into some detail for each and very feature I have touched on above. Please stay tuned and check out the bog in the following weeks and subscribe to the RSS feed.MBUG is keen to help our members on this journey, please feel free to let us know how we can help you.
If after reading all this you can’t wait and don’t have the time or resources to seriously approach this challenge, please don’t hesitate to contact e-Agility. We have a vast experience in custom solutions using Microsoft Office and SharePoint and a framework to get your organisation off to a flying start. Alternatively we can provide coaching and training sessions to get your staff up to speed with building and maintaining a P&P repository by themselves.