Of the Four Promises of SharePoint  – 1. Enable Collaboration, 2. Manage Information, 3. Automate Processes and 4. Manage Business Performance – SharePoint provides many capabilities for 1. Enabling Collaboration.

When collaborating on a document, it is common to email that document to one or more colleagues to update.  However, it can get very confusing determining who has the most up to date version of the document or how to reconcile updates across all the emailed versions.

The first step towards a more efficient collaboration is to work on the same content stored in a central location.  However, only one person can make their updates at a time. You might be familiar with this type of SharePoint collaboration that uses the check in and check out document feature within SharePoint document libraries.  This process fine for infrequently updated documents, but it can be inefficient when you have to wait for another person to check in their document before you can make your edits or on the occasion when that person might forget to check the document back into the library altogether.

You can come closer to a real-time collaboration by scheduling a virtual meeting with virtual meeting software like Microsoft LiveMeeting or GoToMeeting. However, this is not truly real-time collaboration since only one person can physically be in control of updating the document over the virtual meeting.

So how can you achieve true real-time collaboration while leveraging your current Microsoft Office and SharePoint infrastructure?

The current version of SharePoint 2010 (and SharePoint Online on Microsoft Office 365) and Office 2010 provide co-authoring capabilities for real-time collaboration. SharePoint 2010 Office Web Apps provide online versions of the popular Office applications of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

If you open an Excel spreadsheet or OneNote in Office Web App stored on SharePoint 2010 document library, the Office Web App will also allow your colleagues to open the same file at the same time via Office Web App to make updates.  When others join, you will see a notification that they have joined in editing the document at the same time.

When using the Office Web App for Excel, the quantity of editors is indicated in the lower right corner of your status bar. Click on the down arrow to view editors by name.

If you and your colleagues have the Office 2010 desktop applications, you can also co-author Word, PowerPoint and OneNote documents stored in a SharePoint 2010 library.  When they make updates, you will see their changes highlighted with their initials.

Number of editors is visible in bottom status bar in Word 2010 desktop application. Click to view editors by name.

To enable this capability within the documents of a SharePoint library you will need to:

  • Either enable SharePoint 2010 Office Web Apps within SharePoint 2010 (or SharePoint Online on Microsoft Office 365) or have the Office 2010 desktop applications installed
  • Store the Office documents within the SharePoint 2010 document library**
  • Enable Contribute or higher permissions for the participants to update documents within the SharePoint 2010 document library
  • Turn off Check In/Check Out capability in the document library
  • If you are collaborating with OneNote notebook documents, turn off document versioning (or limit it to a limited number of major versions)

That is it! You can start achieving true real-time collaboration with your colleagues.