Earlier this week, I added a comment to a SharePoint discussion on LinkedIn. The discussion began with the question “How do I send a file from a SharePoint 2010 Library to someone outside of our enterprise?” Simple enough, right? Well, if you read the responses, you will realize, the answer is not so simple. In the comment that I added, I suggested that the person investigate Harmon.ie. Others had suggested other products, free work-around options and teaching users the various ways of moving documents around using nothing but out-of-box features like the Explorer View. Others suggested using SharePoint’s extranet functionality to eliminate the need for email in the first place.
I am all for eliminating email attachments, but I’m reasonably certain I won’t see that happen until well after we establish the paperless office. I’m going to leave that discussion for a different day. On the other hand, I do want to tackle the issue of looking for the cheapest solution possible to this important problem. Like it or not, a lot of office workers use email to send files, and making it easy to do that is not a task we should cut corners on. When we were running SharePoint 2007, we had installed an inexpensive bit of software that added a “Send as Attachment” option to the Document menu. It even let you attach multiple documents to the same email, provided they were all in the same library. Unfortunately, it was a “typical IT solution”, by that I mean it was affordable and it met the requirements. The feature didn’t get a lot of use. Our users often had to send documents from different libraries and, more importantly, they wanted to be able to move incoming attachments into SharePoint. In fact, on occasion, they wanted to move the entire email into SharePoint, since it was part of the record of the transaction. The need for those features is what led us to Harmon.ie. The additional benefit that Harmon.ie brings to the table is the fact that it exposes SharePoint in Outlook. That fact makes an amazing difference to the person involved – let’s face it, if they are working with email, they started in their inbox. The fact that they don’t have to switch to SharePoint, or potentially copy the text from a partially complete email to paste into the new email the SharePoint app is going to open, is huge. One of our users now boasts: “I don’t ever have to go to SharePoint!” That may sound like a negative outcome, but I don’t see it that way. SharePoint is delivering the service; Outlook and Harmon.ie are simply the conduit.
Going through the selection process with some of our users reminded me of the value of focusing on the user experience, in addition to the technical requirements. There are lots of ways to meet the requirements of your users in SharePoint. If you always opt for the lowest cost, easiest to implement, easiest to maintain solution, you will always be “those people in IT”. If you work with your users to find products or to develop solutions that truly meet their needs, you become part of their team.