It is Microsoft’s attempt at creating Lotus Notes. Ok. Lotus Notes was very unique. A little technical stuff here. If you want to create a database of information you have to first create a structure to hold that information. Why you have to hire someone is to build that structure, to know how to organize the data to be fast, not repetitive, etc. You have to know what fields need to be stored, how it needs to be sorted and organized, it can in some systems take weeks or months just to lay out the right structure for the underlying “tables” as the database files are called before you can even begin putting data records into them. Smaller systems like building a DVD collection database can be done in minutes. But Lotus Notes was so amazing because you didn’t have to build any structure at all. Think about your life. How many forms you fill out. All those forms have fields and all those fields go into tables to make up the data of a database. But what if all you had to do was type up the form with the blanks to fill in and then just fill them in and it all worked? That was and is Lotus Notes. No building the structure. Start with the form. Build the input form and add the fields to that form. Then let people type into those forms and it builds the data. Now you want to see a certain subset of data. No problem. You create a view. Think of it as using an Excel spreadsheet. Let’s say I have expense reports. I want to see Joe’s expenses. No problem. Create a view that shows the name, the amount and the date. Viola. New view. Save it and you can use it over again. Ok. But it shows me everyone’s expenses not just Joes. No problem. Click the little filter button and you can say you only want to see Joe’s. You can sort them by any column. It was so simple. We used it at a large defense department contractor and my job was to help people with it because all the engineers were building their own databases because it was that simple. When they needed a little more robustness to it I got called in to tweak it and tune it but the end users were the ones writing their own systems. It integrated email and schedules and everything so it was easy to process flow documents. You wanted a new document to be sent to the boss for review. No problem. Put the review process on it and it goes when you hit save. It was AMAZING. But as I said…I cannot afford it and they have yet to roll out CloudNotes. So enter Microsoft. They see that Notes has this amazing thing and everyone that uses it loves it and it is…well it’s just amazing and it’s worlflow and it’s easy and it’s seamless and well Microsoft tried to compete with it and SharePoint is what came of it.
SharePoint. It’s not amazing. It’s kludgy. It’s difficult. It’s not the most intuitive to buid, it isn’t Notes. But it has it’s uses and since it was included…I figured out how best to use it.
For me I put all our school onto SharePoint. So the kids can click on the icon on their kid homepage that I created with links to places I want them to visit for education or for fun and they are presented with a page that gives them along the left side links I have saved to help them with their school work. This part is easy. Click at the bottom, add link, type in the URL and a name and save. Then move it up the list by dragging it where you want it. To give you an example. We study the Bible and hymns so in the list to the left is a link to a hymn web site where they can research it and a bible lexicon web site to do word studies, and there’s a link to CourseUSA, and Khan academy and at least a dozen or two web sites I’ve decided are either good for research for them or has free classes they can take. That was easy. I also have a document repository created. That too was pretty simple. When I decided we had too much paper and I got tired of hearing the kids say they “lost” their school book again and therefore couldn’t do their school work I started ripping apart every book he had and scanning it on the Neat Desk scanner and saving it as a PDF. Now every language arts, every character quality booket, every worksheet, everything I want to assign them other than text books is saved on the SharePoint server. Now when they say they lost their language arts booklet they have to go to SharePoint find the booklet reprint it and do it over again! Each child prints their own work. Some have chosen to do their language arts electronicially. Some have found PDF editors they can use on their tablet to actually write on the tablet and never print paper! I love those kids! They can do the grammar assignments and email them to me. Actually at this point they do their language arts on line or off line and then they upload their finished work to their directory on the SharePoint server. I have Sharepoint set up to notify me when this happens so I know they added their work and I can go review it. If I want to see how they are doing I hop over to their directory and look at the view and see how many things are in there and based on the name and properties I know what they’ve done and what is missing.
As I said SharePoint was Microsofts answer to Lotus Notes and it works but it needs a lot more programming than Notes ever did. But it can be useful. We do 3 worksheets for each booklet we study. I took those worksheets and created a SharePoint form for each one. The kids were doing them on paper and giving them to me and honestly where I fail in organization is in grading papers. UGH! YUCK! So I did this for me. I created a form for each one and they go on line and type in the answers and save it and the view that I can see shows me all their answers on one page! Yep…insetad of opening 6 differnet documents and reading all their answers I just pull up the view for let’s say the character quality and all down the left side it gives me their names and across from their name is their answers. Think of views like a spreadsheet. So basically SharePoint built me a spreadsheet of all their data. I can easily see which children didn’t do their work because their name is missing. I can easily see if any child copied their brother or sister because their answers all lined up one under the other quickly show me one person was just copying.
SharePoint can do a whole lot more than I have it doing but if you only use it as a document repository it’s worth looking at. We have an app on our tablets and phones that can easily access Sharepoint and the Sharepoint web interface now works fairly well on a phone. Sharepoint has process flows called workflows where you can trigger things. I haven’t fully figured this one out yet and this is where putting in a support call helps. I’m a software developer I know how to build things and I know databases but SharePoint isn’t normal so sometimes I know what I want but not how to do it. They have always helped. I’ve called numerous times and said I’d like to make it do X Y Z but I cannot figure out how and they will walk me through it. SO it deserves a look. If you have anything that you need to share with a group of people consider it.