SharePoint 2010 vs network shares for managing documents and records

I am often asked, or asked to justify, why users should use SharePoint 2010 instead of network drive folders (shares), which they love and have been using for 20+ years, to manage their documents and records.

Here is a summary:

User interface & naming

  • Network drives: Nested folders. Users will give a document a name that makes sense to them. Not necessarily anyone else.
  • SharePoint: Users access their information via browser based ‘sites’. Sites not only store documents but also include a wide range of other functionality, including information about (or for) the business area storing the documents, calendars, tasks, discussions, announcements etc (the range is more or less unlimited). Users will also give a name that makes sense to them.

Metadata

  • Network drives: Although additional metadata options are available, very few users use it.
  • SharePoint: Business areas can define what (unlimited) metadata, in addition to the name, is required and can make some of it mandatory. Metadata can be pre-defined centrally, automatically attached to documents, control how a document will be used, or it can be user-defined (‘folksonomy’). Metadata fields can be displayed in a document (e.g., as a template), and can be used in various ways to search for and display information.

Storage options

  • Network drives: Business user (or user) defined folders with no control over naming of folders. Frequent duplication.
  • SharePoint: Documents are stored in browser-accessible sites, in document ‘libraries’ or document sets in libraries. (Document sets are similar to folders but with unique IDs and their own, inheritable, metadata and access controls). User defined folders are available but not recommended (as it is hard to navigate). Document Libraries can be displayed as network drives, allowing drag and drop from drives.

Single source of truth

  • Network drives: Copies of documents everywhere (including as attachments to emails), hard to identify the single authoritative version.
  • SharePoint: Single copy, with a unique ID, accessible by anyone with permission.

Numbering

  • Network drives: Documents do not have unique IDs.
  • SharePoint: Documents have persistent, unique IDs. This aids in identification and retrieval.

Hyperlinks

  • Network drives: Documents do not have hyperlinks. As a result, to let someone know about a document, common practice is to attach it to an email (rather than send a description of the folder location). Copies of documents are everywhere.
  • SharePoint: Documents have hyperlinks. Users can include the hyperlink in other documents, and send the unique ID hyperlink to the single document that anyone can access. Reduced duplication.

Version controls and history

  • Network drives: Version controls exist (in Windows 7) but are generally not used and not visible. ‘View previous versions’ is an option.
  • SharePoint: Minor (0.1, 1.1) as well as major (1.0, 2.0) version controls. Version numbers are visible (as is ‘Last modified by’). Previous versions are all accessible and can be ‘promoted’.

Check in/out

  • Network drives: Documents are editable by anyone, at any time.
  • SharePoint: Check out allows a user to lock down a document while it is being edited; the user to whom the document is checked out to is clearly visile. When checked back in, the user can choose to create a new version or override the existing version.

Workflow

  • Network drives: The only ‘workflow’ available to most users is to attach the document to an email.
  • SharePoint: Includes simple ‘approval’ workflow out of the box, as well as a couple of other simple workflows allowing, for example, the user to request anyone else to review a document, with that approval recorded in the workflow. Visual displays of the current status of a workflow.

Access controls/permissions

  • Network drives: Access controls are difficult to maintain and not easily visible.
  • SharePoint: Access controls are easier to maintain by business areas, and are ‘inherited’ downwards (and can be restricted/widened at any level).

Audit trails

  • Network drives: No audit trails to show who saw, or did what, to a document.
  • SharePoint: Audit trails can show (if enabled) everything that was done to a document, by whom.

Alerts

  • Network drives: No alerts when something changes.
  • SharePoint: Extensive alerts available, including at the document, document set, library or site level.

Records management

  • Network drives: No records management capability.
  • SharePoint: Incorporates records management capability (including records retention requirements), mostly invisible to end users.
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