Use Case – Finance Department

Our Finance department embraced one important benefit of SharePoint/Office365 – the ability to transform the financial aspect of the division into a paperless process. The goal for the department is to have all of their processes and files in an electronic format.

During the 2015-16 fiscal year they piloted the process of engaging the various departments within the division into submitting invoices using OneNote. Initially piloted through one of their team members’ OneDrive, where files in OneDrive were shared individually with the responsible parties in each department, they moved the process to their SharePoint site for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Using OneNote for this purpose has helped the Finance department in a number of ways:

  • As new invoices are added by division staff, the OneNote notebook will reveal that change by turning the notebook name bold, an easy visual notification to the Finance team that a new document has been added.
  • All of the invoices related to each month, and each type of expense, are attached to the OneNote file.
  • The invoices are organized by sections with the budget code and subsections for each month, so at a glance, the team can review the current months’ bills for a specific budget code.
  • Invoices are not lost through interoffice mail, and the department’s representative is able to review any prior invoices at any given time.

Prior to moving everything to SharePoint and Office 365, the finance department was buying 10 cases of paper. Not anymore. What a great savings story!


Use Case – Document Templates

One of the first projects I worked on within our division was the creation of a document library featuring document templates. We have an internal student-facing initiative called the Keystone Experience, and departments that work with students are encouraged to submit “Happenings” for our students to attend throughout the semester.

The initial idea of just placing a template in the library for people to download was quickly rejected due to the nature of human error – someone could go in and place their own “Happening” within the template document rather than upload a new file, the result of which would mean lost files.

The solution was to use SharePoint’s Content Type feature and create a template for the document library to use. Employees can simply click “New” from within the document library and a blank form appears for them to use. By using a template directly within SharePoint, we eliminated the need for people to download a template file from the site and thus reducing the margin for error. Users can just create a file, rename it in the black bar, and the committee has all the information they need to approve or reject the “Happenings” and therefore whether or not it is included in the Keystone Experience.

Use Case – Scheduling

Virginia Tech has more than 20 residence halls and our Housing and Residence Life area maintains a large roster of resident advisers who monitor their respective residence halls.

Scheduling these resident advisers was accomplished by completing monthly schedules in spreadsheets for each residence hall. Those spreadsheets were then sent to three central communicators who would compile those monthly spreadsheets into a weekly schedule to be emailed to the various stakeholders.

Any changes in schedules would be communicated to those three central folks, who would edit the schedules and email them to the stakeholders. Stakeholders could receive up to 15 emails a week with edits, and keeping the weekly schedules up to date could take up to 3 hours a week collectively. 

We centralized all the information into SharePoint using a variety of lists and data points. The schedules are still compiled on spreadsheets, which now live within the SharePoint site and have been automated to only require the email address of the student. All other information matches the data in SharePoint, and the data is copied from the Excel spreadsheet into SharePoint in the beginning of the month.

From there, the Senior Resident Advisers have the capability of making schedule changes for their respective buildings. The stakeholders no longer receive 15 emails a week; they now can view an up-to-date schedule directly on SharePoint, showing the supervisory staff as well as the resident advisers on call.

We estimate this new process will save the central communicators upwards of 20 hours a month while saving the stakeholders much time in retrieving the information they need.

Use Case – Learning Modules

Our division’s Human Resources department was one of the first adopters of SharePoint, and their main focus initially was the development and delivery of course material for three very different courses: DSA Foundations, The Leadership Legacy Certificate and The Service Institute.

They wanted to make these resources available to the participants of the program without making them available on the world wide web. They are able to contain the content and make it available to current and past participants by the use of subsites. Each course has its own subsite, with its own document and media libraries.

By making the resources available on SharePoint, Human Resources has been able to have participants be more actively engaged with the course material. They are able to watch videos on their own time and review course notes prior to attending the next class.

Use Case – Leave Calendar

Several departments in our division decided to implement a leave calendar for their areas. Some decided to use it as a “notification” calendar, where people post their personal time off without the need for approvals, where as some areas wanted to include an approval work flow for their leave calendars.

This good work was started with by a new administrative person who thought capturing the leave request approvals on the team’s SharePoint calendar would be a good place to start. When I asked team leaders if they wanted to attach that to an approval workflow and make this an electronic process, their eyes lit up and we scheduled a meeting to implement this process for them.

We replaced their paper form with an electronic one in SharePoint and set up a workflow that emails approvers the leave requests, provides them a link to approve or reject the leave requests, and then shows the leave requests on the calendar. The requester will also receive confirmation emails of completion with either approval or rejection noted in the email.

Since then, other departments have taken this approach and it’s helped keep track of employee status within their respective areas, reducing the amount of paperwork and tracking.

Use Case – Marketing Department

In meeting with a number of departments, I see some basic interest in this new platform, some healthy skepticism, and mostly just an overall question of What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)?

To answer the WIIFM question, it comes down to having just one project, or one piece of the puzzle where SharePoint can help you.

Maximizer is one of my strengths, which means that I recognize we’re already doing fantastic work. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel and move everything to SharePoint and spend months in the implementation of it. We just need SharePoint to be the (or at least an) answer to a problem.

I thought I would spend the remainder of the year exploring the use cases that we’re seeing in our division, and I’ll start off with the use case from my experience in my previous employment.

SharePoint Use Case – Marketing Department

When I worked in my last educational environment, SharePoint was the answer to one useless process that cost us a lot of wasted time. One person was spending 2 solid weeks each quarter making 30 binders for campuses to capture marketing materials. After some probing into the usefulness of these binders, we found that nobody referred to the binders except once every 5 years when they were pulled out of a closet for accreditation purposes. The main reason: the binders were already out of date before they were created, and so they were used for archival purposes only.

I connected with our SharePoint team and asked for a better solution. I think they gave us a document library on each campus subsite. Either that, or they created 30 document libraries on our site and linked them to the campus subsites.

The end result was the same: we had “folders” in which we placed all marketing materials for each campus as they were created.

  • This meant that campuses could view the latest creatives as they appeared on TV or in the newspapers, and not 3 months later.
  • It also meant that they could remove the 20 binders from their closets and repurpose that space for something else.
  • And the accreditation team was happy because they could just skim through the creatives electronically, and not have to deal with 5 years’ worth of binders.
  • It also saved our team needing to scramble to provide materials for our internal accreditation team if they forgot to notify us of upcoming accreditation visits.

Just this one project saved us 8 weeks of work for one of our employees per year. That translated into 320 hours of work time that we could repurpose for other projects.

Use Case – Communications

Since I had experience with SharePoint in my previous educational environment, I was asked to be one of the SharePoint Coordinators for our team. I knew that SharePoint could be a helpful tool for us, but it does have somewhat of a steep learning curve. We needed a reason to go there.

I decided to learn a little bit about the person who keeps us all on track, and the central communicator on our team. If I could make her life a little easier with little implementations, perhaps we could get more of the team to use SharePoint.

I started with placing our meeting notes on SharePoint, and then implementing a template for our Tuesday meetings and another for our Thursday Project Meetings.

A couple of things happened as a result of this:

  • We now had a reason to go to SharePoint
  • Everyone had access to the meeting notes and could make our own updates or enter “all star nominations”
  • If we are out of the office, we can still add items to the agenda for notification and discussion
  • We don’t need to email the meeting notes to all recipients anymore – we can review them on SharePoint
  • We have close to a full year’s worth of meeting archives in one document, which means searches are a lot easier.