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Enhancing SharePoint capabilities with OneNote

By using OneNote with SharePoint, you can enhance SharePoint capabilities, such as collaboration and data organization.

Enterprises that use Microsoft SharePoint for collaboration can fall into the trap of using SharePoint's native...

features only for collaborative efforts. Although there is no technical issue in using SharePoint's native capabilities, your company can benefit from augmenting SharePoint's capabilities with other tools.

Let's look at Microsoft OneNote -- though OneNote is far from the only application that can be used for collaborative purposes. Companies need to consider which technology will do the best job of meeting a company's unique needs.

By bringing SharePoint together with third-party tools, you can enhance some of the native collaboration capabilities within SharePoint. Tools like OneNote make it easier to share and locate data.

SharePoint native collaboration vs. third-party tools

Consider how a company might allow for SharePoint collaboration using only native features. In SharePoint, collaborative efforts often revolve around using team sites in a variety of ways. Some organizations create team sites for each individual department; others use team sites for groups collaborating on a project.

In the case of a project-based team site, a few features get a lot of play. For instance, such a site would typically include a document library that can store all the documents that are related to the project. Similarly, team members might create various types of lists within the team site, such as a project calendar or a task list.

The idea behind using Microsoft OneNote or a third-party application for collaborative purposes (in a SharePoint environment) is to move part of the collaborative process away from native SharePoint tools and allow the chosen application to handle the functionality instead. A SharePoint document library is great for storing and indexing documents. However, OneNote allows data to be stored in a more intuitive way, while allowing rich search capabilities and support for a wide variety of data types.

Structuring OneNote data

OneNote can serve a similar purpose as document libraries within SharePoint team sites. Technically, OneNote does not replace a SharePoint document library, but data that would normally reside in individual documents in a SharePoint document library can be stored in a OneNote notebook instead. When properly structured, this makes it easy for team members to locate project data or to add new data to the project.

To see how this works, consider how OneNote organizes data. By definition, OneNote structure is free-form, which can support creativity and productivity. Even so, structuring OneNote data is important.

A OneNote notebook is divided into sections. A section consists of one or more pages. Imagine that a team needed to collaborate on an upcoming conference and created a OneNote notebook for the conference. The sections within the conference notebook could relate to specific aspects of the conference, such as attendee invites, travel and speakers. If the team happened to be working on multiple conferences, they might create a separate notebook for each.

Each section can contain pages and subpages. As such, the Speakers section of the notebook might contain a page for each speaker. That page (or a series of subpages) could contain data that would normally have been kept in disparate documents within the SharePoint document library. For example, a speaker's pages could contain a speaker bio, expense report, and session abstracts and evaluation scores.

As you can see, a single notebook could replace myriad project-related documents.

There are three other reasons why a OneNote notebook might be a better tool for managing project data than a SharePoint document library. First, the notebook can be easily organized so that locating project-related information is intuitive. All the information in the notebook is also searchable, and it is possible to tag information within a notebook.

A second reason OneNote is beneficial for collaboration is that notebooks can be synchronized to user devices, such as PCs, tablets and even smartphones. Users can work offline using locally cached copies of the notebook. When the user goes back online, changes are synchronized.

Third, since OneNote notebooks are free-form, a notebook page can contain text-based data, but it can also contain audio notes, images and other kinds of data. In the case of my previous example in which a notebook organized conference data, the notebook could potentially contain audio recordings of the speakers, videos of the venue or even a Visio diagram of the exhibit hall layout. So, OneNote is extremely flexible regarding the data that can be stored within a notebook. Further, notebooks are designed for multiple users once the proper permissions have been granted.

Although SharePoint can natively store and index various data types, it may be advantageous to use OneNote or a third-party application to collaborate on individual projects, which can provide greater flexibility in terms of the data types that can be used, as well as offline portability.

Next Steps

A guide to SharePoint migration

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This was last published in October 2014

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