Lists are one of the undersung workhorses of SharePoint. A built in feature of SharePoint since its inception, lists can transform Excel spreadsheets into efficient solutions. But in my day to day work as a consultant, I still see users treat SharePoint as a glorified document repository rather than taking advantage of helpful features like this.
Let's change that.
What follows are a few simple steps to help you get started with lists, with some links to further information.
Creating a list in SharePoint is easy. For those working with SharePoint 2013, add the Custom List app directly to your site and configure it to meet your needs (more on that in the next step). To save time, you may want to utilize the Import Spreadsheet app to create your list. This app transfers spreadsheet columns into list columns and automatically uploads the rows of content as items in your new list. This method isn’t perfect for every spreadsheet, but can be a great option for creating a quick and easy solution.
One feature which can come in handy is the ability to create item level permissions. While regular SharePoint permissions can be used on any given list, further controls are available in the list settings. With these, you can restrict item access to those who created it and those with design or full control. You can configure this for both read and edit access.
Use Columns Views
Without effective use of columns and views, you may as well ignore the rest of this advice. Columns can be created for text fields, date fields, choosing people (linked to SharePoint user accounts), as well as choice columns. Choice columns are regularly used because they allow you to control user input. Columns can be managed on the list, site and globally with managed metadata. Calculated columns can combine fields, pull the year from a date, etc. — basically perform all of the formulas that you traditionally use in Excel.
Views allow you to aggregate and display information in many different ways. You can decide what columns to show, what column(s) to group or sort by, and what values to filter on. For example, a column for department makes it possible to group and discover items that apply to a specific department — which can save wasted effort and time spent searching. Depending on your permissions, you can create public or private views. Click the links for further details on list columns and views.
Customize and Alert
Once you've configured your list, columns and views, you can dig into features that will automate your business solutions even more.
SharePoint includes built-in InfoPath features which allow those with access to make simple customizations to the out of the box list forms. Use the Customize Form button in the list's menu to make simple modifications, such as adding colors and logos to input forms, or complex ones, such as building logic into the form which pulls in information from outside data sources. This video provides a great introduction to creating SharePoint lists forms.
Another handy feature in lists are the alerts, which can notify individual users or groups of users when new items are created, items are changed or items are deleted. You can set the frequency of these alerts to automatic or as a daily or weekly digest. If you want to customize the generic email the alert generates, you can by creating a SharePoint Designer workflow.
These are just three quick steps for turning Excel spreadsheets into useful SharePoint solutions. In my next article I will cover SharePoint Designer workflows and dashboard pages.