Compliance and Document Collection with External Parties
Thu April 8, 2021
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Remember when offices would have full rooms dedicated to filing cabinets? So much real estate, manual processing and paper cuts just to track and save financial and compliance documentation. Thankfully, technology has given us the tools to collect, file and save necessary documentation securely without the threat to our fingers.
Microsoft 365 is used by over one million companies worldwide, with over 650,000 companies in the United States alone using the office suite software.ᶦ While Microsoft’s suite of applications diminishes our need for cabinets, it still is reliant on manual processing when businesses need to collect and file documentation.
Making Document Collection Less Painful for External Users
The File Request function in OneDrive works well for ad hoc document collection. If you want to capture a few documents from one or two different groups, then File Request works well. Likewise for using the External Sharing features in SharePoint Online.
“With the File Request feature in OneDrive, you can choose a folder where others can upload files using a link that you send them. People you request files from can only upload files; they can't see the content of the folder, edit, delete, or download files, or even see who else has uploaded files.” ᶦᶦ
However, File Request isn’t enough if your company has recurring document collection, for example, a parent organization with many subsidiaries under it. In that case a company might have monthly, quarterly and annual reporting schedules that require a more structured process.
If you are collecting similar documents from external users regularly, then you want the ability to streamline and simplify the document collection process. Managing that type of digital paper trail through OneDrive doesn’t make sense because those files aren’t just a sales PowerPoint – they contain highly sensitive information.
SharePoint out-of-the-box (OOTB) also works well for simple scenarios. Users can login and upload documents. The challenge with SharePoint comes when the documents need to be tagged and organized, which allows tracking and dashboards to ensure compliance. Someone has to manually tag all those documents, and if they’re not familiar with SharePoint Online, that can be challenging.
That creates a painful user experience, especially if it’s the same person having to repeatedly engage in the work every month or quarter. Put yourself in the shoes of the unfortunate individual who is responsible for submitting and tagging the documentation for ten different subsidiaries – even papercuts may start to look appealing.
A Few Clicks to a Simpler Document Collection Process
There is a better, simpler way for users to share documents. A structured document collection solution removes the mind-numbing manual processing and tagging while increasing document security.
The Extranet User Manager (EUM) team extended SharePoint Online to make this much easier:
- users drag and drop one or more documents on a new Document Upload webpart
- they are prompted for the minimal set of metadata that needs to be filled in through a simple to use dialog
- the metadata to be filled in is defined in the SharePoint library making the solution very extensible
- additional metadata is automatically filled in by leveraging document sets. For example, the subsidiary, reporting period, and type of reporting can all be pre-defined in the document set so no additional tagging is needed
- submitted documents are uploaded and posted to a Logic App workflow that follows specific business requirements for file renaming, metadata and security
- files and metadata are all uploaded to a SharePoint library
When a new month or quarter starts, the solution automatically creates a new reporting period and builds a document set and designated area into which an external user can directly upload their documents.
In the newly created area, the user sees the different subsidiaries within a specific site collection. They can click on one of those site collections, select the reporting period, and from there access the document upload functionality.
Streamlining the External User Submission Process
Instead of having a user manually upload their documents into a normal SharePoint library, we've flipped that on its head, allowing them to drag and drop multiple documents onto the webpart. A prompt will appear, and most of the tagging for those documents is completed upon uploading with the use of documents sets.
With just one or two fields associated with each document, the rest of the sorting and filing is completed as part of the underlying workflow that puts documents into the right folder.
Extranet User Manager can also provide a simplified, branded front-end experience for external users to onboard and log in. They enter the familiar SharePoint environment and go to a single site collection. They drag and drop their documents, do the minimal tagging required, submit the form, and then the solution does the rest of the sorting on the back end.
There's huge value from a user-experience perspective in using this more structured way of uploading documents.
We have also built a Power BI dashboard that tracks document collection inside of a specific reporting period. The dashboard shows:
- who is compliant
- who has uploaded the documents that are required for this period
- who has outstanding documents that you need to chase
The webpart can also be made part of a larger logic output flow. For example, when a new reporting period starts, you could have the automated workflow send an email to all the individual external users notifying them that a new reporting period is available and reminding them to upload the necessary documents by a specified date.
Make Life Easier for Yourself and Your External Users
To recap, OneDrive is great for ad hoc document collection. SharePoint OOTB supports larger and repetitive document collections, but the user experience and tagging can be complex.
We built the solution to simplify document uploading. It also gives clients the full compliance story, rounded out with a Power BI dashboard, so that everybody has visibility into what documents are outstanding.
Want to learn more and see the solution in action? Register for our upcoming webinar happening on April 8th.
- ᶦ Statista, “Number of Office 365 company users worldwide as of November 2020, by country.” https://www.statista.com/statistics/983321/.
- ᶦᶦ Microsoft, “Create a request file.” https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/create-a-file-request-f54aa7f8-2589-4421-b351-d415fc3b83af