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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Experiences from using SharePoint for collaboration (file sharing)

7:00:00 PM Posted by Oscar Berg , , , , No comments
From the comments to my post "SharePoint 2007 - Dream or Nightmare", I could tell that I need to give a little more detail about my experiences from using SharePoint as a collaboration platform. I will try to do that in this post, but I must first say that it is hard for me to tell if the issues that I am experiencing are the specific to the installation I am using or not. Although I have in-depth experience from developing and implementing ECMS, intranets, portals and web-based collaboration tools, I am just one end-user among others when it comes to SharePoint. I have no deeper insight into either the architecture or what features come out of the box of SharePoint and what needs to be added or customized by custom development as I do not work with SharePoint from an implementation perspective.

However, one of my main points in my critique against SharePoint is that SharePoint – as Microsoft claims SharePoint to be a collaboration platform - should provide better capabilities for a smooth collaboration experience out of the box. As end-user I am not interested in investing time and effort to know the architecture of SharePoint in order to use it. I also suppose that most businesses are not happy about having to invest a lot of time and money in customization and custom development to get the basic capabilities for collaboration when they purchase a product that claims to be a collaboration platform (such as SharePoint).

I would like to utilize the collective intelligence of the readers of this blog to help me identify the root causes of my problems and suggest solutions to them, as I know there are many of you who are skilled and experiences in relevant areas (such as SharePoint 2007) and since I might just having problems with symptoms of something else than actual flaws in SharePoint. To get you started I will try to describe my usage context:

As IT management consultant, I often team up with colleagues for team deliveries. As we might work from different locations and have other assignments in parallel, we have to do much of the work on distance. So we need some collaboration tools besides phone and e-mail to support us. Our basic need - which I believe can be addressed by SharePoint - is to be able to share and collaborate on files, primarily MS Office documents, together. We simply need to be able to store the files somewhere we all can access, find and update them in a controlled manner. More specifically, this is what I personally expect from a collaboration tool that supports file sharing:
  • Easy access to the files so that we can access the files from any computer or device equipped with a web browser
  • A user interface is simple to use so that occasional users can find their way around and perform their tasks without the need for education
  • The possibility to organize and tag the files so that users can find them easily by browsing and / or searching
  • The possibility to share the documents with anyone we want to share them with, includes notifying them how and where to access the files

Now back to SharePoint. I have trouble doing the following in SharePoint:

  • Accessing my files in an easy way - I can access SharePoint from a web browser via a secure gateway, but it is a process that navigation wise takes a lot of time. I would like my SharePoint sites to appear as virtual drives on my computer even though I am not logged on to the domain with the computer.
  • Finding my way around – I have had to invest a great deal of time in getting to know the SharePoint environment to be able to find my way around in SharePoint. Options that are likely to be used frequently are hidden with a lot of other options in cascading menus.
  • I have found no possibility to tag files with my own tags and to organize the files in folders is anything but a smooth experience. To move a file from the web interface, I first need to know the URL of the destination folder! In addition, instead of copying a document which is already located somewhere else in SharePoint (or even outside of SharePoint), I would like to link to the document from a folder but I have found no easy way to do this.
  • It is not possible to share documents with users outside our domain. I would like to be able to send an e-mail with a link to the document and that the receiver of the document can download. Or, I should be able to select a document from within SharePoint and send it as an attachment via e-mail.

I have already invested time and effort in trying to understand the SharePoint environment. My key concern however is to get the people I need to collaborate with to use the SharePoint for collaboration. The main obstacle is, besides the usability of MOSS 2007, that it is hard to access files and resources in SharePoint when we are outside of our domain or using computers provided to us by our clients.

Please enlighten me on how to make the collaboration experience smoother.


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