SharePoint Document Libraries vs. Network Sharing
Are you thinking of moving your company documents away from a network file share and into a SharePoint Document Center? If so, it’s important to understand what to expect from the transition. Setting up an effective document management strategy within SharePoint takes a considerable amount of time and work. You probably don’t want to take the plunge unless you are 100% sure that the shift will benefit your organization.
Luckily, in almost all cases, moving from a network file share to a SharePoint Document Center is the right choice. A simple file server setup may be fine for a small business with just a few hundred files, but it doesn’t offer the features or capabilities necessary for more extensive document management. SharePoint does provide those features and capabilities, making it an all-around superior choice for efficiency, usability, and scalability.
The biggest advantage of using SharePoint Document Libraries for storing your business documents, as opposed to storing them on a network drive, can be summed up in one word – metadata. What is metadata, you ask? Technically speaking, it means data about data. In the case of SharePoint Document Libraries, the document itself is the second “data” in this definition. So then metadata, in this context, refers specifically to additional information about the document.
If you are fortunate enough to have a fairly organized network share then you are probably already applying metadata to your document. You do this by choosing the specific folder and the folder hierarchy that you place the file/document in. This metadata may be the year created, the department that it is used in, or even a specific project that it is used in.
Folders vs. Metadata
The challenge with even the most organized approach to files in folders on a network share is that YOU have to remember what metadata you attached, i.e., what folder that file is stored in. Now with a Windows Explorer window you can type in a partial name to help, but you also have to remember at least a portion of the filename. Also, you have to commit to a specific folder and therefore a specific set of metadata – a file should go into one folder only. Otherwise, you take the risk of having different versions of the file in various folders (we will briefly describe the SharePoint versioning feature a little later).
With a SharePoint Document Library you can add columns that help categorize your documents (metadata).
You can then use these columns to sort the list of files based on metadata or filter the list to narrow it down. If you want to look at narrowed down lists of documents based on the metadata that you created, you can create a View. Views allow you to save a filtering criteria(s) so that you can easily access the current filtered list on a regular basis. With Views, you can also choose which columns display, control the sort order, and even group files together, all based on metadata.
In addition to the features previously discussed, here is a list some additional features/advantages of storing your documents in SharePoint Document Libraries:
- Versioning: Minor (0.1, 1.1) as well as major (1.0, 2.0) version controls. Version numbers are visible (as in ‘Last Modified By’). Previous versions are all accessible and can be ‘promoted’
- Check In/Out: Check out allows a user to lock down a document while it is being edited; the user who has checked out the document is clearly visible. When checked back in, the user can choose to create a new version or override the existing version.
- Alerts: Alerts will send out an e-mail to let you know when new documents have been added or changed. Daily and weekly digests are also available.
- Workflow: Includes simple ‘approval’ workflow out of the box, as well as a few other simple workflows allowing, for example, the user to request someone else to review a document with that approval recorded in the workflow.
- Group collaboration: Because SharePoint is a part of Office 365, it integrates seamlessly with all the other Microsoft tools in the Office 365 ecosystem.
- Search & Delve: Having all your files in SharePoint via a Document Center allows you to leverage the integrated tenant wide search that Office365 brings to your organization. Additionally, teaching your employees the benefit of Delve, will show them how to utilize Delve’s Machine Learning to assist them in finding and working on the documents most important to them.
- Availability: Users will be able to access files, collaborate on projects, and more—no matter where they are or what device they are using.
At the end of the day, you will have to decide whether your network file share configuration is delivering favorable results for your business. While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a standard network file server, there are inherent limitations. Your server can store files and make them accessible to people on your network, but that’s about it.
SharePoint’s Document Center, meanwhile, provides a more advanced system to store your company files. Not only is a Document Center a repository for documents, but it is also more accessible than your network file share (thanks to the cloud), provides smoother collaboration capabilities, and offers a lot more functionality regarding document and project management. Virtually any business with multiple departments and more than a few hundred files can benefit from making the jump to SharePoint.