I am consistently surprised by Microsoft’s low key marketing around SharePoint lists and also by the fact that the power of lists is rarely mentioned by enterprises who select SharePoint for collaboration. The focus seems always to be on document libraries, blogs and wikis.
My surprise can be traced back to the fact that there is a LOT of focus within enterprises on the issues caused by the explosive growth of Microsoft Access databases and the concerns within the enterprise about their limiations for sharing information between far flung teams.
As many enterprises consider removing Access from the desktop in a heavy handed attempt to “solve” this “problem”, SharePoint lists are the easiest was to provide a simple level of database capability to these otherwise frustrated users and they provide a great way to improve team collaboration.
At the simplist level lists allow a team to work together from a single version of the truth, which might be:
- A list of requirements
- A list of tasks
- A list of risks, issues or change requests
- A list of assets
I have always thought that SharePoint lists are great, but SharePoint 2007 improves them in so many ways, I really like the improvements in subscription to change and RSS, the improvements in versioning and integration with Access.
But I am very disappointed by the fact that bi-directional sync with Excel is no longer, with this functionality now only available in Access.
For me the Integration with Excel is vital. Whilst SharePoint lists are an excellent way for teams to collaborate, they’re not so good for bulk data input, bulk data updates and for analysis and visualization (graphs, conditional highlights etc). So I was very pleased to discover however that it’s possible to get this sync capability back with the additional of a free Active X control from Softluent, who needed the capability for one of their own solutions.
My second favorite feature is the way that SharePoint promotes meta-data in office documents and Infopath forms into lists (creating databases from documents) and synchronizes changes in list meta-data back into the documents. People are lazy and this integration makes it much more likely that people will use document meta-data and that it will be kept up to date.
For more details on lists and how they can be used, check out this useful screencast by Jon Udell who demonstrates them in the context of Office Live.