I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a while. I work with customers and students all around the country on a weekly basis. In conversations with each new class or new customer there is always one thing I can count on hearing, “For the most part, we use SharePoint for document storage. IT simply migrated our network drives over to SharePoint”. I used to cringe when I’d hear that, but I don’t as much anymore. I see it as an indication of all of the opportunities that we will have in working together to really understand and implement the powerful tools in SharePoint. Using SharePoint as a network drive replacement indicates the level of SharePoint maturity an organization has achieved.
First and foremost SharePoint is an Enterprise Collaboration portal. Sites in SharePoint give teams a place to share knowledge in the form of discussions, micro blogs, Wikis, blogs, and other things. Through the use of Lists, teams can facilitate project management and implement processes to help improve team efficiency and productivity as well as store information relevant to the team. Using Libraries, teams can implement intentional oversight and management of the lifecycle of content like documents through features such as Version Control and Content Approval as well as Workflow. Using the powerful Search capabilities in SharePoint, users can find enterprise knowledge that helps them more quickly complete the job tasks they have been assigned and to derive insights about the health of their organization.
Using the Enterprise Content Management features of SharePoint, an organization can implement a formal system of classification and categorization of information. From Site Columns to Content Types, to Managed Metadata for Enterprise Taxonomy, a suite of tools exists giving Site Owners and users a method of declaring what information is relevant to an organization.
Now, let’s talk about Network Drives. Not much to say here except they were created so that users could have centralized access to shared information and they were simply file cabinets, which like real-world file cabinets, contained folders. Many folders within folders within folders were a futile attempt to classify and categorize information. I won’t get into the many reasons why folders were never an efficient system of classification and categorization. (See my previous posts regarding How To Implement a Folder-Less SharePoint 2013 ). Network Drives were rarely ever managed from the content lifecycle point-of-view. Document owners assumed IT was taking care of bloat, and IT assumed document owners were cleaning up and purging their old content. So the result was that network drives continued to grow. Not only did space requirements grow, but also there was no system of classification and categorization, so we never really thought of fast searching through the use of keywords or search terms to find information. Information was just not indexed for quick retrieval unless you purchased some enterprise search engine. Either we knew what the folder structure was or we didn’t find documents. And if we didn’t know exactly which folder something was in, because it couldn’t live in multiple folders, we could rarely come up with reports based on the contents. The content in network drives just continued to grow, whether it was relevant or not. They were used partly to house relevant organizational content, but mostly they were just holding archival content that may or may not have actually been required to be archived. If you had regulatory or organizational requirements to maintain content, you certainly were doing that because nothing was ever thrown away.
So, as you can see, SharePoint provides tools and features for Site Owners and Content Managers to have intentional control over the team information. Team information is stored in sites, which is under the management of Site Owners instead of IT. SharePoint is not simply a place to store your documents. It’s way too expensive for that and creates a totally different disaster recovery and business continuity model since the data is not in SQL server databases. Trying to envision SharePoint as a network drive is very limiting. Sure, you can store/archive content in SharePoint, but rarely would you use the SharePoint tools, like Version Control, on archive content. You can certainly use SharePoint and its Records Management features for archive, but that is usually something that comes later after the true intentions of SharePoint have been implemented.
So, think a while before you just assume SharePoint is a network drive replacement. I equate it to putting all of your files on Facebook. WHY? It wasn’t designed for that. You upload relevant content to social platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. You don’t just assume they are designed as a new place to archive all of your stuff.