Thursday, March 28, 2019

File versioning with... SharePoint?

Problem: You need to share files with your team and all you use is a Windows network folder, which might even be a mapped drive. No matter how easy Windows folders are, they're a great idea that few people like to use. The preferred way to share files continues to be an e-mail attachment. Even with all the unintended hiccups such as the missing attachment, or knowing which file is really the latest one, or having to unzip a bunch of files, people still gravitate toward that because it seems quicker. I believe another reason why people continue to e-mail files over and over could be that there's a sense of accountability. You can always see when you sent your attachment. So in essence, e-mailing files serves as some type of poor man's version control.
If you're going to be doing that, then there's something better, but only if you already have it: SharePoint. If you're in a medium to large organization, it's possible that your team is using SharePoint. If that's the case, then you should be considering using it as your upgrade to e-mail version control.

You might say: Sharepoint for version control? Why not use something intended for file version control, like Git? Well, sometimes there are organization levels where you can't implement another application, or not everyone is on board with installation or adoption.

Using Sharepoint for versioning is a quick and easy way to set up your small team to share files that are continuously changing. This is perfect for report files.

The versioning functionality doesn't make the process easier or more fun. However, it adds value to the files, by adding a layer of information that is not available in a regular Windows folder.

So, what are the benefits of doing this? First of all, there are older versions preserved. Versioning is like insurance for your files. If you upload a bad file, you can go and get the previous version. Trust me. Going back to older versions is something you will seldom do, but when you need it you will be very thankful for having gone the extra mile.

The value you get from versioning is that your SharePoint folder can become the place that holds the ultimate version of the truth.

In order to make it work right, however, first you have to set up your Document Library to work with versions; it usually does by default. If your Sharepoint is post-2015, there's a new layout called "new experience", which you will have to switch back to classic. This is done in the Advanced Settings for the Document Library. Apparently this "new experience” is more streamlined, but in my opinion, for document libraries, it's like "The New Coke". Why have it if the classic works fine? Something I would like to tell Microsoft (or any app designer) is: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

At any rate. Once you have your classic experience, you will see the menu ribbon. This is how you want it. 

When you are ready to bring in a new file, just hit the “upload” button. You will see that it lets you add comments. The comments section is the main reason you're using this. You can specify what change you did. The devil is in the details, and this becomes an easy way to track little details.

Then it's very easy to share the link with your co-workers (make sure they're invited) and gently encourage them to upload documents and add their version comments. Pretty soon it will become commonplace, and you won't have to track e-mail attachments.

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