Why SharePoint notifications don’t do the job
If you have been using SharePoint as your external collaboration platform with partners, customers, vendors, contractors or any other third parties you must share data with, you most likely have already reaped many benefits:
- Permanent storage: emails are by nature transient and people come and go. Whenever you change jobs or your partner/customer/vendor counterparts leave theirs, you must transition with your replacement or start sharing the same documents and information with your new contacts all over again, which is clearly a waste of your time. With SharePoint, your content is available for a long time and readily available to all (which brings us to the second benefit).
- One single version of the truth: Emails or personal cloud “boxes” are essentially controlled by one person, you. If for some reason your account is no longer accessible or you leave, all that information is no longer available to your colleagues and trusted external contacts. SharePoint ensures that all the content is centralized in one single location, accessible by all who have the suitable permissions.
- Security: Most cloud sharing platforms have a basic permission engine. With SharePoint, you can fine-tune who gets access to which site, library, list or even document or item, based on your security needs. This allows for a very flexible architecture of your extranet and allows the platform to meet your needs as more content gets added over time.
- Audit Logs: Alongside the ability to assign fine-grained permissions to external users, knowing who gets access to what and when is a critical requirement for extranets. Fortunately, SharePoint provides an out-of-the-box auditing engine to track the pages and documents that both internal and external users access. In addition to the out-of-the-box auditing capabilities of SharePoint, Extradium Professional Edition adds an additional layer of auditing by tracking user events, such as sign in, password update, profile update, etc…
- Version History: A major benefit of SharePoint is its ability to store and access multiple versions of the same document or list item. Whenever you update a document (or list item), you don’t have to worry that you’re going to lose its current version and append the version number to the document name. Simply overwrite your document and SharePoint takes care of the rest. This is particularly useful for extranets where you would want both your colleagues and external users to easily review previous versions of an evolving document, such as a corporate policy, a user guide or a legal contract.
- Notifications: Sharing data securely with external users is great, but making sure all parties (both internal and external) actually consume the extranet content on a regular basis is a challenge. Fortunately, SharePoint provides an alerts engine that can be leveraged to notify your third-party users that existing content has been updated or new content added.
However, SharePoint’s notifications engine is seriously limited when it comes to notifying your external users:
- Customization: The content of the out-of-the-box SharePoint alerts are notoriously difficult to customize, let alone personalize. Your internal and external users probably already receive scores of such alerts, so how likely are they to open those alert emails when they receive them? Without any contextual information, they might as well ignore them altogether.
- Management: Alerts can be either set up by the user herself or an administrator. In most situations, external users won’t instinctively set up SharePoint alerts, so the onus will be on you to create those alerts for your external users. This can prove to be a tedious task, because you will have to add alerts for each of your external user in each of the locations where those alerts are needed (this is especially true if you rely on forms-based authentication for your external users, since security groups cannot be distribution lists in that situation). Even if you do so, external users have the option to remove or modify those alerts, so you can never be sure that your external users will receive your alerts.
- Alert Triggers: Alerts can be configured to be sent when some specific events occur, such as the creation, modification or deletion of documents or items. But by default, SharePoint doesn’t provide much flexibility when it comes to have more fine-grained alert triggers, such as when a major version of a document is published. That means you must be extra careful when updating content on your SharePoint extranet and only do so when you want your users to receive alerts. Additionally, if you set up alerts at the library or list level, users will be notified whenever ANY document or list item is created, updated or deleted, not just select ones that you deem more critical than others to your third-party users.
The case for a genuine compliance management solution
All in all, SharePoint alerts tend not to be very practical in an extranet context and you will soon realize that you need a more robust and efficient system to notify your users that some specific content requires their attention. To be more accurate, there are two main types of custom notifications you will probably like your external users to receive:
- Notifications about new or updated content that should be of interest to external users and which we will call Recommended Readings (the terminology we user here obviously applies to documents because that’s the most common content type that is shared on SharePoint extranets, but this concept also applies to list items, such as events, news, tasks, or any other type of SharePoint list). Recommended readings are useful for instance when you update your product documentation and want to let your partners and customers broadly about those changes. In this case, your objective is to highlight that a new guide or resource is available and to send a targeted email with contextual information about the document to all your external users or to a subset of those users.
- Notifications about new or updated content that you require your external users to read or review and which we will call Required Readings. Required readings are useful when you update your vendor policies, customer contracts and partner agreements, to name a few legal types of document that your third-party users sign with your organization. For these types of documents, you not only want to send a specific email to all the external users or a specific group of those users, but to enforce that they actually open the document, read it and optionally, respond to a survey so that you can verify that they have actually read and understood your new (or updated) policy, contract or agreement.
While you might think this is wishful thinking, we are glad to let you know it is not! DocRead by Collaboris fills exactly that gap and provides the robust, efficient compliance management system you expect for your SharePoint Extranet, especially when powered by Extradium. We are indeed happy to announce that we have worked closely with the Collaboris team to make sure that our respective products integrate well with each together and that we have now entered into a formal partnership with Collaboris.
When combining DocRead with Extradium, you can easily leverage your Extradium groups (as well as SharePoint groups) to notify a specific group or sub-set of external users. Those users receive a nicely crafted email with a link to the document they should read or must review (depending on whether you chose to send a Recommended Reading or a Required Reading). Once they complete their reading, end users receive a confirmation email that serves as evidence they did do their part of the job. In the case of required readings, users who have failed to fulfill their tasks receive multiple reminders on a set schedule to make sure they eventually take action and complete their task. On the administrative side, DocRead is highly flexible and configurable and provides a powerful reporting engine that allows your site administrators and power users to have a bird view of the status of all the recommended or required readings they have set up.by