IT Connect

Information technology tools and resources at the UW

Versatile SharePoint

Teams in UW departments are discovering that SharePoint helps manage a large volume information and facilitate routine administrative tasks, and that its versatility helps to meet a range of needs. Some departments are content to use built-in SharePoint features without further development or customization, while others will customize and take advantage of SharePoint’s advanced features.

The iSchool

SharePoint’s built-in features, with a bit of configuration, sufficiently meets needs of the iSchool. They use SharePoint as an intranet, making it the go-to place for policy, procedure and process documents. Its 245 sites keep customizations to a minimum, with a standard scheme and the iSchool logo. The iSchool’s support organization can provision new sites as the need arises and provide help and guidance. The creation of standard practices and recommendations make it easier for teams to collaborate across different sites. For example, iSchool Facilities site (managed by Carmen Cook) and the iSchool IT site (managed by Martin Criminale), feature common elements, such as contact names and phone numbers on the main page and a link to people in the left navigation.

The following list illustrates some of the ways that iSchool uses SharePoint to facilitate routine administrative tasks and track important inventory:

  • Archiving official iSchool IT Announcements, which frees individuals from saving email
  • Inventories: furniture, keys, hardware
  • Reservation calendar for shared office, classrooms, meeting rooms
  • Requests for help with maintenance issues
  • Templates for forms and documents, signs
  • Calendars for all IT staff and student employees
  • Tracking: software licenses, shared UW NetIDs
  • Project tracking and budget monitoring – great for shared work and collaboration
  • Staff meeting calendar, agendas and document archives
  • DNS info: with a list and views for each subnet that we manage, IP addresses are easily tracked.
  • Internal documentation posted on a SharePoint wiki.
The iSchool's SharePoint instance, showing elements common to many SharePoint sites

The iSchool’s SharePoint instance, showing elements common to many SharePoint sites

SharePoint Online

In addition to their existing SharePoint site, the iSchool is currently evaluating SharePoint Online as a future location for their SharePoint content.

Some of the points they are considering include:

  • SharePoint Online costs less.
  • Updates to SharePoint Online are automatically applied by Microsoft, making updated features available sooner. However, this can be disruptive to some users when the look and feel changes without notice.
  • SharePoint Online uses the same Web login page that many other UW websites use.
  • SharePoint Online does not provide public website functionality.

These and other points need to be weighed against their intended usage. In some cases a department may choose to use both SharePoint Online and SharePoint in UW Data Centers. The low cost of SharePoint Online makes this a feasible solution.

SharePoint Online sites are available, and people interested in learning more about the pilot program can send a request to help@uw.edu.

School of Medicine Dept of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

At the other end of the spectrum of SharePoint use, the School of Medicine (SoM) Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences uses UW SharePoint quite differently to meet their business goals, heavily branding and customizing their SharePoint site. Some years ago they started by building sites to provide specific solutions, such as managing the Faculty Promotion process. SharePoint helped them transform a labor intensive manual process that filled entire shelves with binders into a much more efficient web-based process that combined smart forms with automated workflows. Encouraged by their successes, leadership in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences invested in staff to develop additional solutions and tie these solutions together in a branded and cohesive intranet.

Later, as a leadership team within the School of Medicine developed a shared services model that would provide common process solutions to multiple SoM departments, it was natural for them to leverage the talent and expertise in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences to develop the Administrative Business Center (ABC).

On March 10th the governance and leadership team for the ABC displayed their poster and described their accomplishments at the UW Organizational Excellence Showcase. Like the iSchool, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences uses SharePoint to post online forms such as travel arrangement forms, travel reimbursement, and general reimbursement, to facilitate these routine administrative transactions; payroll change requests and IT hardware inventory are also tracked on SharePoint. The ABC leveraged the knowledge from Psychiatry to build their online tools which include a Pre-Award Intake Form and online Visa Submissions process.  The collaboration has been successful in leveraging tools across multiple departments that use the ABC services. As Rosemary Whitright of the ABC team observed, “This use of SharePoint helps speed the process of getting reimbursements and payroll changes and assists in the management of the volume of information that the team must process.”

SharePoint site for the School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

SharePoint site for the School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Both approaches to using SharePoint successfully meet departmental needs, demonstrating the range of possibilities that SharePoint offers for helping teams collaborate more productively. Although the iSchool and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences sites differ, the sites share factors key to productive use of SharePoint: Both departments have support staff that provide first-tier support, they have established standards on site design and configuration, and they have management support for the scope of their SharePoint usage. These factors are critical because they ensure continuity of service and contribute to creating a culture of sharing knowledge – a fundamental need that SharePoint can address.