Congrats to Manny Mandrusiak for having his article “Using SharePoint to Maintain Business Connectivity” published in the April 2013 edition of Automated Buildings.com, an online monthly magazine for building automation professionals. Already read by over 200 people, Manny’s article offers insight into the number of daily management challenges that result from having offices in different geographical locations and provides examples of how Microsoft SharePoint creates solutions to these stressful pain points. The following article is reprinted with permission from editor Ken Sinclair.
“Using SharePoint to
Maintain Business Connectivity”
Continually striving to improve the corporate bottom line has always been a primary driving factor for managers in almost every industry. Reducing overhead costs while maintaining a highly skilled and motivated workforce is taking on many new forms as corporations establish satellite offices in different parts of the world. A company that specializes in providing maintenance and support services for PLCs, RTUs, and SCADA systems will need to position their headquarters close to a target consumer market to do business. Setting up headquarters in Edmonton, AB would be prudent for a company attempting to provide services to oil sands-related businesses in northern Alberta.
As the business grows, establishing satellite offices in areas where sales reps and business developers can expand new markets and build business is standard practice. This same company may choose to set up a satellite office in Fort McMurray and perhaps one in Houston to expand their market into the Texas oil market.
Having offices in different geographical locations presents any number of daily management challenges. The management of personnel lists, schedules, documents, spreadsheets, project files, client lists, marketing collateral, and corporate knowledge can become a logistical nightmare without proper care. All of this data collect in pools in all the various offices and can cause administrative issues for managers who are trying to maintain one version of the truth that can be accessed easily by everyone.
Microsoft SharePoint has been around for over a decade, but often been considered complex and difficult to use. There have been many advances in SharePoint in recent years that have streamlined how it can be used to provide managers and CEOs with effective organizational tools to provide a robust internal infrastructure for the management of business processes.
The collaboration process begins with the establishment of a SharePoint Intranet portal. This portal acts as a gateway for staff to access a variety of information and tools through any web browser via a secure login. This eliminates the need for corporately shared drives and often cumbersome VPN connections to access data.
SharePoint also provides the ability to restrict access to single documents or entire document libraries and lists based on assigned permissions. An HR Manager also has the ability to access confidential employee files where employees would be restricted from viewing these files. SharePoint also provides the ability to assign read and write access to specific users. A Project Manager would be assigned complete read and write privileges for a specific project file where project team members may only be assigned read privileges. This functionality enables upper managers to assign “restricted access” to information the same way that they would in a paper-based office using locks on filing cabinets.
Department Team Sites
The main Intranet portal is then broken down into team sites or what would corporately be referred to as departments such as human resources, marketing, sales, administration, etc. A good example of how this can provide ease of access to one version of information would be accessing sales collateral. The marketing department has created new data sheets for company-produced PLCs and want to ensure that all sales reps are using the latest data sheets in their respective areas. These sheets are uploaded to the marketing portal and sales reps are notified via an email alert. As the new data sheets are uploaded the old ones are removed by marketing so no matter which area the sales rep is working, that rep has access to the latest collateral because it is stored in SharePoint and not on a computer desktop. Storing one version of the document on SharePoint ensures the sales reps are using the current data, and not accidentally sending out-of-date information to clients.
Meetings Made Easy
SharePoint also provides the capability to run paperless board meetings. Meeting agendas and task lists can be uploaded and stored online in SharePoint. Instead of printing these documents, they can be projected on a screen in a meeting boardroom. With all attendees focused on the screen, minutes, motions and notes can be opened and amended in real-time using the computer keyboard and saved directly to the SharePoint site. Tasks can also be assigned in real-time using the SharePoint task list, which can be synced with attendee’s Microsoft Outlook calendars so that there is no opportunity to forget that a task has been assigned.
Attendees who cannot physically attend the meeting can attend virtually by using Microsoft Lync. Microsoft Lync is the 2010 hybrid of Microsoft Communicator (instant messaging tool) and Microsoft LiveMeeting (video conferencing tool). A team member from the Houston office can attend the corporate board meeting in Edmonton as a remote attendee using Lync without losing the ability to actively contribute with the onsite participants. SharePoint Meeting Workspaces provides CEOs with the ability to be more time-efficient when coordinating board meetings by only needing to host the meeting once, instead of multiple times for multiple locations.
SharePoint and Lync also become extremely powerful tools for managers to provide time-efficient training for geographically dispersed or extremely time-restricted employees. An instructor can conduct an online webcast training session using Lync to explain the latest features of the new PLC produced by the company or demonstrate a newer version of software before the company rolls out an upgrade.
Employees are invited to attend a webcast on a specific date. This webcast can be recorded for those staff that cannot attend the actual broadcast and then stored in a SharePoint document library. All staff can then access the recording of the webcast later for a quick refresher if needed. SharePoint document libraries can be utilized as training library to provide self-directed training for new hires joining the company. Routine training such as WHIMIS or the basics of how to navigate and use the corporate SharePoint site can be taught and recorded once, and used for training many times. Recording training videos provides an extremely cost effective and efficient way to continue to provide professional development training for employees at all levels.
Retention of Corporate Knowledge
SharePoint contains the ability to create wikis. A wiki site within SharePoint can be used to be a reservoir of corporate knowledge and experience. As baby-boomers retire, as well as natural promotion/ attrition within an organization, corporate knowledge is lost as individuals move on or move up. A wiki is a fantastic place to share knowledge, brainstorm ideas and concepts, and store general office knowledge such as equipment instruction guides. A typical example would be an individual retiring from corporate life and using the wiki to store shortcuts and proven procedures learned while employed in that position. This repository of knowledge then becomes an easily accessible place to shorten the curve associated with learning the duties of a new position.
The above paragraphs illustrate only a few of the features that SharePoint possesses which can provide managers with the tools to streamline administrative processes and improve the passage of information to employees.
Director of Business Development,
Sector Learning Solutions