Home > Uncategorized > OneNote for Team Collaboration – hitting the sweet spot

OneNote for Team Collaboration – hitting the sweet spot

I’ve recently moved job, and I’m now working in a small, driven team of adaptable IT Pros. As such, everyone’s open to new, productive, powerful tools, as long as they really help get the job done.

Enter OneNote.

I spent a year or two mulling over my main notetaking tool, mostly flitting between OneNote and Evernote. Evernote has the stronger Partner Ecosystem, but OneNote has stronger MS Office integration. This was all for personal (or personal cloud) use, but then, moving into a team, OneNote takes on a whole new dimension.

Suddenly, we’re using OneNote for:

  • Collaboration
  • Task Tracking
  • Document Versioning
  • Wiki / Knowledge sharing

 

You see, there are a few killer features of OneNote that you may not notice at first:

 

Shared Storage

Whereas most apps use a public cloud service, OneNote can store workbooks on a standard network share. What’s more, it can seamlessly sync those to a local offline cache on your laptop. This is a killer feature! All you have to do, is create a new notebook, File->Save it to a network drive, and send your colleagues the link. And then, suddenly, you have:

  • Full online automatically synced collaboration and offline local copy
  • Role-based access control, based on your network share access rights
  • Seamless automatic sync to team (automatically available offline via cached copy)
  • Easy introduction of a new member – just send them the link, or let them find the Notebook on the network share
  • Complies with existing corporate policies for security, access, backup, etc. – it’s just a file on a network share (plus local laptop copy)
  • Backup through existing network or local backup system
  • Security in transit/rest as for network share – using your corporate  VPN for the network share if working remotely
  • Security for access as for network share – usually very secure, if using VPN / tokens

 

Offline / Online Working

One thing with Evernote, is that it’s generally online, and you need to pay, and use specific features, to make it available offline. With OneNote, by default, everything on the share is synced in its entirely to a local cached copy. So you don’t even have to think “Oh, did I sync that? Will I have internet at the customer? I wonder if there’s a more recent copy on the network?”

 

Versioning and Attribution

This is pretty good with OneNote – granularity goes down to individual lines and files within a page. You get:

  • Page versioning, deletion tracking/restore
  • User edit tracking/attribution (even down to individual lines)
  • Conflict resolution  (storing both copies)

 

Inline Objects, Test and Annotations

Again, this is awesome. When I received some documents that needed analysis, I imported them into OneNote as printouts. Then I could write notes, highlight, add comments – which I did just as I went through, for my own purposes. But those notes are then immediately available to everyone else. So – if someone asks me “What did you think of that document”, I just send them the link to the page, and they can see what I thought. And then they can write their own comments directly inline, and I can read them.

Sure, you can do this with Acrobat. But only for PDFs. And then the comments might be hidden, or minimised. Various versions might float around. With OneNote, there’s one page, one version, in front of you, already open, with the comments, notes, doodles, etc. all right in your face, in a consistent manner, no matter what the document.

 

Seamless Use

I have OneNote open all the time – so, whichever project I’m working on, whether I’m reading a printed PDF, writing meeting minutes, checking task lists, there’s no lag, no delay, no opening multiple applications, no losing track. If I need multiple instances, I can just open them.

And most people have MS Office. So most have OneNote. So they can just open the file on the network share, and start work. No faffing around with new applications, new logins, setting up access control, etc.

 

Search

OneNote features full text search, including OCR’ing to detect text inside scans/printouts/images, and make them searchable. Not just searchable to you, but to the entire team. So if someone searches for “Dave Smith”, they might find new meeting minutes where Dave was in attendance, or find his photographed and added business card.

 

Mobile Apps

The OneNote mobile app is pretty horrible and basic, and syncs via SkyDrive (public cloud). But hey – at least it’s there. Worst case, I can take out my phone, start writing an unfiled note, snap a shot of a whiteboard or two, and the notes will sync to my (separate) cloud-synced notebook, and I can then simply move them into the correct project folder.

There are also other apps – such as Outline for iOS, which can sync on a local WiFi network direct to a PC app, or iTunes, via Dropbox. So there are other options that can be entirely secure, with data not being held in the cloud. Again, these can provide full offline sync, and some are really quite good.

 

Why It’s So Awesome

One thing that really frustrates me, is repeated or wasted effort. 4 people taking the same notes in the same meeting. Someone emailing you for the latest version of a document. Someone emailing you their update. Someone doing an analysis, saving their notes, then someone else doing the same analysis, writing different notes. Interviewing a customer, being unaware that someone else asked all the same questions and got answers, yesterday. 

With OneNote, you get… well…. One Note.

With OneNote, the answer to every question is “It’s on OneNote”. No emails. No updates. No time wasted. No effort duplicated.

 

So… that’s enough enthusing. I’ll add some screenshots here at a later date to demonstrate how it works, but for now, I just had to share 🙂

 

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  1. July 1, 2013 at 9:23 am

    That’s quite a thorough review, damo – thank you so much for taking the time to write it all down! I agree document versioning, and cloud sync in combination with locally synchronized copies are crucial when editing collaboratively, as are the many other features you describe. What strikes me is that people who come to understand the potential of OneNote most times become very enthused about the product.

    FYI: I’ve taken the liberty to bookmark your post for the next edition of the OneNote News Radar. Maybe this is of interest to you also: http://paper.li/CleverClogs/1372102261

    You may also be interested to know that there’s a budding LinkedIn group about OneNote where people like to share ideas on how they use OneNote in their specific profession. It’s here, should you want to join in: http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=1177247

    BTW, I notice you tagged your post as “One Note”, not “OneNote”, which made it a bit harder to find it. Was this just a glitch or somethign intentional?

  2. Darrell
    March 26, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Damo
    I would agree with everything you said. I’m attempting to use OneNote for Project Management and, as Marjolein can attest, I’ve run into what could be seen as a “fatal flaw” in OneNote when it comes to PM. That is, the inability of section and page links to stay with a notebook when copied for another project renders OneNote so incredibly frustrating that I’m not sure I’ll continue using it. If you work in a Project Management environment, you’ll appreciate that you have more than one and that consistency across all of them is crucial to a PMO (Project Management Organization). If I create an amazing notebook for PM that contains many internal links and then copy that notebook for use on other projects, the links take you back to the original notebook. Useless for PM with multiple projects.

    I believe Marjolein has tried to help with this by getting me in contact with another Microsoft person who is working with me now on it. We’ll see if he can help. If not, OneNote may just fall out of favour with me as a tool to use in Project Management.

    • damo
      March 27, 2016 at 1:40 am

      I wonder if relative links can be inserted – since these are file-based, something like a “..\root_directory\project_n\link….”. I suspect it may not work due to the UIDs that are used, but worth investigating.

  3. Darrell
    March 27, 2016 at 2:40 am

    Hmmm. I’m not really sure how to do that. Sounds interesting, though.

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