Use Case: Collaborating in the Cloud

Collaboration is everywhere, and Cloud Services are proving to be a wonderful collaboration tool. Take this weekend for example. I was helping a husband and wife team with some marketing for their business. They had cards with their customer contact information, they had some printed articles written by a colleague, and copies of old brochures that they wanted to refresh with a new look.

While one of them entered the contact list into a cloud spreadsheet, the other used the text-to-voice feature on a smart phone to dictate the articles and brochure content into a word processing document that was located in the cloud. After dictating the content from the phone, he edited the content directly in the online document on his computer. While they were doing the data entry and copy creation, I worked on making the brochures, using the content that had been edited in these documents.

We were working on three separate machines, all in the same room. My team’s knowledge of computers was fairly basic, and thus the cloud experience offered a very calm space where we could all see the work at the same time and talk through the work, without the need to talk through the steps of transmitting the work or walking around the desk to view someone’s monitor. I was able to access the content without the pesky need to email or upload files, and it was almost pure heaven.

When a field was missing in the contact list, I was able to add it to the spreadsheet in my browser, and when it showed up on her end, she could enter the necessary information. When he needed bullets in his content, I could just give him bullets without needing to talk him through how to create them, or walk over to his machine to add them.

Before working in the cloud, we would have needed a local server, USB sticks, or sent copious emails to each other, wasting a lot of time, a lot of bandwidth, but most of all, causing a lot of confusion. Work would have stopped every time another person needed to review the files because having more than one person in the same file was almost impossible.

Another benefit of working in the cloud is that the content is saved every few seconds. That meant that if someone accidentally closed a browser, the work just waited for them to return whenever they were ready. There was no panic of having forgotten to save the document. Remember those days of panic? Yea, me too.

This was their first experience truly working in the cloud and I think they were impressed. From my standpoint, I enjoyed not having to take over someone’s machine to fix issues here and there. Whenever I have to do that, I feel like I am in someone’s space, invading their computer. And while I am always happy to teach anyone what they need, sometimes all that learning can be overwhelming and take away from the creativity needed to develop content. Being able to resolve things from my own machine while leaving them in their space and their own thoughts was an added benefit of working in this collaborative environment.


Building a central communication hub

To help improve communications for our division, we created a central communication hub for announcements, discussions, and a community calendar.

The Announcements list is a one-way communication tool. It connects to Outlook only through RSS; and you can only post to the Announcements list by logging in to SharePoint.

The Discussion List is a two-way communication tool and it connects to Outlook very well. You can create posts to the discussion list directly from Outlook and also send replies directly as well. The only thing to watch with connecting to Outlook is that you’ll need to train your users to not delete posts from Outlook. They can only delete their own posts but you want to make sure they don’t do that. When you first get people connected to Outlook, they should use the “Mark all as Read” setting.

The Calendar has helped build our community. We encourage all our users to post events on the calendar, and it too connects very well to Outlook and allows your users to view their own calendar side by side. Because of the number of events that can get loaded on there, I recommend that people set up a daily or weekly summary alert on the calendar so that they can be made aware of new events being added, so they can choose whether or not to copy those events to their own calendars.


Feedback from our people after SharePoint adoption

It’s been almost a year since I took this position of SharePoint Business Architect and Administrator for our division. We have seen quite a bit of use of SharePoint in that time, and we have also seen usage become more accepted and are finding a more positive outlook on this software.

I thought I would share some of the feedback from the site owners around the division.

“We have begun to share resources with team members via SharePoint and look forward to transitioning to that platform along with the Division of Student Affairs!”

“I have had a great experience so far, but have not delved too deeply into it. The challenge is setting aside time to learn.”

“We just need time to sit down and figure out how to implement it for our department.”

“We just need time to sit down and figure out how to implement it for our department.”

“SharePoint can be a little confusing—perhaps not as intuitive as I would like—but I am committed to making the system work because I believe it will be a useful tool for DSA and for our department.”

“We have used SharePoint in the past, we just need to familiarize ourselves with this new program. [We plan to use it] to have a central location for our policies and procedures.”

“I need to be very knowledgeable on this before I approach moving to this direction. This means finding time in my schedule to work with it outside the training I’m receiving. Finding that time will be another challenge.”

“It seems overwhelming at first, but with patience and the courage to try something unfamiliar, it’s a great system to use!”

“I plan to use it to get the word out there about [our] initiatives including resources and how various departments … can be involved. It is a learning process and we can all help each other get there!”

“I think it can be really useful for us. Be flexible and keep trying!”

“[Unfortunately,] on every project we want to use SharePoint for, we have non-VT users/members of that group [making it difficult logistically for us].”

“It has potential to allow us to access important communications within the DSA, as well as storage of frequently needed resources and documents within our team. [SharePoint] is not that scary 🙂 “

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 – Assessment and Professional Development

Our Assessment and Professional Development team have embraced the use of SharePoint and Office365 for two of their main processes: Program Review and area Assessment Plans.

Program Review

Each department is responsible for completing a program review every five years, much like our campus accreditation process in my previous employment. The process includes reviewers from multiple departments, students, and people from throughout the university.

Starting last year, all the Program Reviews were moved to SharePoint, which has helped everyone stay connected. With everyone able to access and review the documents at any given time, it has cut down on the amount of meeting time needed, and those working more extensively on these reviews are able to work together in the same document as appropriate. The results of the Program Reviews are then kept online in a secure environment, limiting access only to those need to know.

Assessment Plans

Each area in the division is responsible for completing annual assessment plans including missions, goals, and objectives. They work with representatives from each department. Previously, each of the departments housed the plans either on their own shared drives, or within the Assessment shared drive. In both cases, by keeping those documents on physical file servers, they were not living documents, and it made collaboration difficult. By moving those files into the SharePoint environment, all of the stakeholders have access to the files and can work together.

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 – 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!