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.
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:
- Task Tracking
- Document Versioning
- Wiki / Knowledge sharing
You see, there are a few killer features of OneNote that you may not notice at first:
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂