This is the second installment of my “Wag the Dog” series of posts on what we would like to see in the next major release of SharePoint, known as Wave 15. I am hoping that there is enough time for the Microsoft SharePoint team to add these features if they are not already part of the product plan.
The previous post was a request for the concept of document “renditions” establishing a relationship between a document and its digital doppelganger (the PDF). This post continues on the theme of relationships between documents managed in SharePoint with a request for virtual documents. Leave your own "wish list" for Wave 15 in the Comments section at the end of this blog post.
Dear Microsoft SharePoint Team:
Please introduce the concept of virtual documents in Wave 15. What I mean by a virtual document is one that is made up of separate, but related documents within SharePoint. When creating a virtual document, users should be able to select documents from various locations (document libraries, Document Sets, Folders) and organize them in the desired order. This isn’t a new concept, products like Documentum include virtual document capabilities.
The ability to group related content improved in SharePoint 2010 with the introduction of Document Sets. We took advantage of this capability and made it easy to merge files in a Document Set into a single PDF file, but our customers are looking for something that is more in line with the way they manage their content. Document Sets are useful but not practical in many cases because documents that are used for a common purpose do not necessarily reside in the same location – Document Set, Document Library, Folder, etc.
Here are just a couple of examples of where virtual documents would be valuable:
Sales Proposals / Project Plans - To create documents that includes marketing material, technical specifications and CAD drawings from Engineering, and financial information
Board/Executive Meetings – Collections of planning, strategy and financial results from multiple departments and divisions for evaluation by the board or executive management team
The advantages of using virtual documents for these business applications are:
- Allows content to reside in its natural habitat instead of being moved or copied (a huge no-no) into a separate area within or outside of SharePoint
- Common documents can be referenced by multiple projects for more efficient re-use and ensuring the latest version is being used
- Reduces time and therefore the cost of managing projects that involve content submitted from multiple sources
Once virtual documents are available in SharePoint, we can enable them to transform into a single document in the form of a PDF file that includes all of its components with our document assembly capabilities. This result can be enhanced to improve navigation with PDF bookmarks, a Table of Contents, page numbering and more. This will be great news to those people responsible for putting together proposals, RFP responses and creating the material for board meetings. No more all-nighters manually pulling together material with documents arriving late or at the last-minute.
As you can see, there is a lot of value in virtual documents for companies using SharePoint. Please consider adding this feature to Wave 15.