One of the themes that keeps coming up whenever I talk to members of Aptera’s SharePoint team is that many of the businesses they work with could be getting a lot more out of their investments—except they often don’t know what all SharePoint can actually do. The proportion of Fortune 500 companies that use SharePoint has increased in recent years from about 75 to 80%. Of the companies surveyed, 83% report that they rely on it for document management. But an increasing number of businesses are also using it for things like reporting, social networking, and, with help from third-party tools like Nintex, advanced process automation.
Even within the category of document management, though, many of these companies could be benefiting from more of the technology’s capabilities than they currently are. So, to give you a better sense of what all SharePoint does and what all you could be doing with it beyond the most basic document storage and sharing tasks, we’ve put together a few mini case studies from projects we’ve either completed in the past or are working on now.
Global Sourcing, Manufacturing, and Logistics for Metal Components
The solution for this company is noteworthy first of all because of the sheer volume of documents it handles. The company’s own employees, along with those of several external partners, can search, access, share, edit, or collaborate on something like 70,000 documents. But the marquee part of the solution is the automated process for quote requests.
When a client puts in an RFQ, it kicks off a workflow with multiple stages—Initiation, Feasibility Review, Technical Review, Supply Chain Review, and so on all the way to Customer Quote Generation. At each stage, the necessary documentation is automatically sent to the designated personnel so they can submit the relevant information to keep the process moving forward. You can set up simple workflows using Designer, SharePoint’s own tool, but in this case the team used Nintex because the workflows were just too complex for Designer to have been a viable option.
Metal Frame Manufacturer and Distributer
When the Aptera team first began working with this company, their reams of documents were in serious disarray. A large percentage of them were blueprints for the huge variety of parts the company had on offer. During discovery, the team found that a certain product had 42 different blueprints associated with it, and there was no way to tell which was the most up to date.
So the document management tools alone came in handy enough. But what this company does that’s a little different is use SharePoint to surface their analytics. Business Intelligence is one of the areas where the technology can do quite a bit more than most people are aware. If you’re using the cloud version—SharePoint Online in Office 365—you can connect your company’s data to Power BI’s impressive array of visualization and analysis tools.
This was another case in which the company uses SharePoint for an advanced workflow. Whenever a client submits an application for a loan, it begins the automated process by sending the relevant documents to a representative from each of the departments involved so it can be approved or denied at each stage. The process even incorporates an appraisal from a third-party organization. Client and partner extranets are a common way for businesses to share documents, and these external access points can also be incorporated into workflows.
Heavy Construction Equipment Rental
This company also uses SharePoint for document and workflow management. But the workflows are remarkable for how simple they make otherwise complex regulatory audits. You can actually submit completed Excel spread sheets to the system—without having to manually enter any of the included data points—and once the documents are approved the individual items are automatically implemented by the system.
Industrial Chemical Manufacturing
The global incident reporting workflows this company relies on are launched whenever an employee fills out a form on a mobile app. Nintex provides templates for mobile forms like this that feature geolocation from GPS, cascading fields, barcode scanning, “lazy approval,” and all kinds of other capabilities. To report on an incident in one of the laboratories, you take a photo with your device, upload it to the form before entering the information for all the other fields, and then send it off to start the automated review process that takes it all the way through a resolution phase.
The information from every incident report gets channeled into Power BI, so the company can track incidents by location, severity, classification, time of day, or any of countless other variables. This kind of analysis provides important insights into measures the company can take in the future to reduce risks and ensure the safety of its workers.
One More Function: Advanced Custom Search
A lot of these companies deal with exceedingly large numbers of documents, so sifting through them presents a serious challenge. One of SharePoint’s more underused capabilities is customizable search. The goal here is to help you find the documents that you’re looking for or that will be the most helpful without overwhelming you with long lists of titles that aren’t what you need.
The ways you can tag and access documents are pretty much endless. You can store them on departmental sites, label them by associated products, or even list them in order of the ones most likely to be relevant to people in each role. One of the companies we’re working with now, for instance, has search set up in such a way that phone operators can pull up information on which department they should connect each caller to so they’ll be most likely to get answers to their questions.
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