Sunday, April 19, 2009

OneNote - redux

I’ve had instance to talk to a few people recently about some productivity and collaboration solutions, obviously based around SharePoint. One thing I always try and mention is OneNote and sadly, I find that most people have consigned it to the “seen it once, never used it” bin which is really unfortunate.

I will readily admit that for a long time I too considered OneNote in a similar way. That was until I attended a session given by Todd Colbeck at SMBNation 2008. Todd was able to readily demonstrate how effective and powerful OneNote can be. He also demonstrated what a great solution it was on which to build some revenue. This was probably the biggest eye opener of the conference and I went away with the goal to do more with OneNote.

Now days, I find OneNote an indispensible tool to the way that I do business. Because OneNote appears so simple to use many people get fooled into believing that it somehow just a “optional extra” for Microsoft Office.

So what can you use OneNote for? Well I find it is great for all that ad-hoc material you always have floating around that never really seems to want to live anywhere. Personally, I use a simply paper notebook to keep track of things (in the good GTD way), because it is the fastest and most convenient method of documentation. However, I regularly transfer information from this notebook into OneNote so I have an electronic copy. No matter what the information is I can always create new sections and pages within OneNote to store it.

When you start looking around you’ll actually find many of the existing applications on your computer are already OneNote enabled. Both Internet Explorer (above left) and Outlook (above right) are just two examples. If you find something interesting on a web page simply highlight it and click the Send to OneNote button. The same applies with emails and Outlook.

The power of OneNote becomes more obvious when you share notebooks via a network or SharePoint. This means that whenever you open a shared OneNote notebook all the information is sync’ed with your local copy. When you are working online anything you enter is also automatically updated for everyone else sharing the notebook to see. When you are ready you can disconnect and still retain a local copy of the notebook which you can continue to work with and then sync again next time you connect.

Even better, if you have SharePoint available via the Internet then your OneNote notebooks become available anywhere you have Internet access. You could, for example, create a notebook for each client and share that directly with the client. I find this solution great when designing SharePoint sites for a client because they can add information as well as keep up to date with the design progress. It is an excellent collaboration tool that once customers actually start to utilize appreciate its power and actually start rolling it out throughout their business.

OneNote has so many features including full search, tagging, freehand annotations and so on. Even better, if it is not already on your desktop via Microsoft Office then it is very cheap to purchase (a free 60 day trial is available). If you haven’t looked at OneNote in a while I recommend you take a look and I’m sure you’ll find how valuable it can be. Even better, consider combining it with an online SharePoint solution for true collaboration.