Request Management with SharePoint – A Primer
New hardware, office supplies, access to databases, purchase approvals, leave requests, benefit updates, travel reimbursements – these are just some of the many types of requests that an organization has to contend with every day. Without an organized system in place to manage the requests, a company will suffer from wasted time and lost efficiency due to delayed and unanswered requests – along with the consternation and frustration of employees and customers.
Requests need to go into an orderly system so they can be handled properly and resolved quickly. The requests must be sent to the right person or group; relevant parties have to be notified; workflows need to run that automate the request processing; there have to be ways to reassign and escalate the request, as well as send alerts and status reports as the request makes its way to completion.
How can efficient request handling happen in SharePoint, whether on-premises or in Office 365? A Request Management System is needed, one that gives users a friendly, intuitive interface to enter and view their requests; that provides powerful workflows and action builders that automate and streamline the process; and that has the reporting and analytic tools necessary to continually improve request management.
What is this Request Management System (RMS) powered by? SharePoint, of course, provides a base layer for authentication and permissions, as well as sites, lists, and libraries to structure the data. But much more is needed. That is why we at Crow Canyon Software developed the NITRO Studio™ application service layer. NITRO Studio provides tools for forms, workflows, custom actions, reporting, portals, print managers, email handling, and much more. This set of tools provides critical functionality that enables SharePoint and Office 365 to efficiently handle the many types of requests that come in from users and customers.
Let’s look at this in more detail.
Upgrading the SharePoint User Experience
The Request Management System must provide options for forms, portals, and email handling that enhance the user experience over and above native SharePoint capabilities.
Forms and portals provide an intuitive interface for users to create a request and view ones they have already submitted. The forms are customized to be appropriate for the type of request. User or customer information is filled in automatically, based on who is making the request. The forms are dynamic, with cascading lookups and linked lists. The forms can run on desktops, tablets, or mobile devices.
Portals provide even more possibilities. They are highly configurable to show whatever constitutes a friendly, easy-to-use interface, with colors, images, buttons, FAQs, Knowledge Base searches and more. The goal is for users to enjoy the experience rather than struggle with archaic and cumbersome systems.
A portal can also embrace multiple request queues, providing end users with a common interface for entering and viewing a variety of requests, no matter what particular group or department manages those requests.
If users want to “forgo the forms” and prefer to use email, the system will manage email communications, sending and receiving emails while recording all relevant ones on the request record.
Streamlining and Automating Requests with Workflows
The Request Management System needs a powerful and easily configured workflow engine that is capable of streamlining many aspects of the request processing. The more steps that can be automated, the better.
When a request is submitted, a number of automated processes can be kicked off – notifications, assignment, approvals, setting priority and due date, etc. The information entered by the user – type of request, when needed, user location, and more – can be used to determine the actions to take.
During the request processing, workflows can inform the user and other parties of status changes; workflows can escalate requests, reassign them, change the priority, generate sub-tasks, move the request to other queues, close the request, and more – thereby automating many of the routine tasks.
A custom action builder can further enhance request management by providing staff with the ability to run a set of scripted actions with the click of a button. This can be used to run a workflow intentionally (rather than wait for a system event or timer to kick it off). Also, actions can be used to interact with other systems, such as sending the request to a third-party, running a web service, or writing information to a database.
In this way, workflows and actions in a Request Management System provide functionality over and above standard SharePoint and Office 365. The system’s processing capabilities can be easily modified as needed to meet the specific requirements of any kind of request.
Reporting in SharePoint that Drives Improvement
A third component of a Request Management System is the reporting and analytics tools that show where the bottlenecks are and identify areas of improvement.
Reports display historical data and trends using charts (bars, columns, lines, pie charts) and tables. These reports need to show the data in ways that provide insights and highlight actionable items.
Information such as what kinds of requests, where and when they were generated, how long they took to close, how many of them needed escalation or reassignment, etc., can help managers determine where improvements can be made and what resources can be developed to facilitate user request fulfillment.
Perhaps there is a need for more FAQs or information resources; maybe user or staff training is needed; it could be that a procedure is cumbersome and needs refinement; or possibly hardware or software needs to be replaced or upgraded.
In addition, real-time data that is displayed in dashboards and other graphical elements helps to identify immediate bottlenecks and staff overloads, as well as critical and overdue tickets, so that the day-to-day request management runs as smoothly as possible.
Request Management System for SharePoint & Office 365
A Request Management System that provides the extra boost that SharePoint and Office 365 need, while being highly configurable to meet the specific needs of your organization, will bring significant gains in productivity, efficiency, and user satisfaction.
In fact, our NITRO Studio platform came out of our work delivering these systems and learning what tools are needed to enhance the SharePoint and Office 365 environments.
With NITRO Studio as base, along with Site templates we have created, we are able quickly and easily create any number of request queues. We can create one queue for one type of request or multiple queues to manage multiple request processes. Whatever the type of request or number of request queues, users can use one common “Employee Portal” to submit and view their requests.
Realistically, it does not make sense to continue on the path of inefficient operations. With an enhanced user interface, improved workflow engine, and advanced reporting, SharePoint and Office 365 can replace legacy programs and email or spreadsheet-based systems. Many organizations have taken the leap to optimize request management – your company can too!