Optimising software to manage the flow of informationQuestion by: Sascha Noar
My company is in the process of migrating onto Microsoft 365, for the latest apps for Word , Excel etc. I am wondering how best to restructure a) bid library for documents and evidence, and b) what tools to use to the flow of information among the Subject matter experts (SMEs).
The Bid team use EasyPQQ to write and edit responses, though uptake from the SMEs has been very low, as they tend to email updates to the Bids team. We have built the Bid library using File explorer based on a new folder per project/bid each year.
Now we are being asked to consider Microsoft SharePoint to hold documents and manage permissions (read only v. read/write etc), and use Communication and Teams to ‘chat’ about the bid with a new ‘channel’ set up for each Bid and allocate the bid team to each channel. Microsoft Outlook remains as another route to communicate.
I am happy to change and strive for continuous improvement, whilst keen to avoid duplication of effort and want the simplest set up. Do you have any suggestions on how to get the most out of Microsoft 365?
Thanks for the great question! It’s a topic that comes up quite often as more and more businesses take the plunge and migrate to Microsoft 365.
For bid teams, SMEs, and content managers, there are loads of useful features that can help you manage the content lifecycle and make collaboration easier right out of the box.
If later you decide you want to add automation and AI capabilities that speed up your workflow, there are third-party RFP response solutions, like QorusDocs, that work really well with the Microsoft 365 suite and that you can add on at any time.
Your bid library for documents and evidence
Your current bid library organised by project/bid each year is a great start.
I’d recommend creating a SharePoint Online site, with at least two libraries – one for completed bids (think of this as your proposal archive), and one for re-usable content and write-ups that you can use in future bids.
· For completed bids
You can use the ‘Sync’ option in the completed bids library to quickly migrate your current bid library exactly as it is today. This will serve as a reference point as you build out the next library for reusable content.
· For content that can be re-used in future bids
Why you need a re-usable content library
Looking for bid content in past RFPs takes a long time, and if you’re copying and pasting from a past response, you run the risk of including information about another customer in your current response, which can be a bit embarrassing to say the least. To overcome this, you’ll want to create a library of well-curated snippets of content, or proposal parts, that you can quickly insert and re-use in future bids without too much rework.
Microsoft’s ‘Reuse Files’
Microsoft Office introduced a feature called ‘Tap’ a while back, and that has now been renamed to ‘Reuse Files’. It basically allows you to search through a library of content and insert reusable snippets into your current document in one click. You can learn more about how that works here: Find and use the content you need, when you need, without leaving Word (microsoft.com) A simple way to start with creating a re-usable content library is to go back to your top 3 most recent bids, genericize the bid response by removing any customer specific information, and create a whole bunch of small Word documents from it, where each snippet deals with one section, topic, question, or requirement at a time.
Organizing your content library
You can then upload these to your re-usable content library and organize your content. One way to do that is to create a folder structure. A better way though is to use content metadata to label your content. This will allow you to categorize your content along multiple dimensions, giving you more ways to search and find the content you need quickly.
Here’s an old but still accurate blog post from SharePoint Maven that provides an excellent introduction to metadata: 2 ways to create metadata in SharePoint – SharePoint Maven . I recommend using “Method 2: Managed Metadata (Term Store)”. It makes things easier in the long run and gives you more options. You can also learn more here: Introduction to managed metadata – SharePoint in Microsoft 365 | Microsoft Docs
Manually labeling your content takes time but is well worth the effort as your library grows. If you’d rather go the automated route, Microsoft launched a service called Syntex last year that can analyze your content, extract key information, and use that information to categorize and label your content automatically. I have not tried it personally, but it looks really promising and is worth checking out.
Managing the content lifecycle
Beyond labeling your content for findability, you can also label it so you can better manage the content lifecycle and have SMEs review the content periodically for accuracy. You can use SharePoint columns to assign a SME to each piece of content (create a person/group column), and a date or an interval by which you want them to review the content. You can learn more on how to do this here: List and library column types and options (microsoft.com)
You can then periodically, for example, once a month, export a list of content that is up for review in Excel format and send that to each SME. For the SME, the process is simple. They open the Excel spreadsheet, click on a document link, that opens it in Word, where they can then review and/or update it. Here’s how to export a list of documents and their associated metadata to Excel: Export to Excel from SharePoint (microsoft.com)
Alternatively, you can use Power Automate to create a flow that would automatically notify the right person at the right time that there’s content for them to review while keeping track of the approval process: Overview of the cloud flows – Power Automate | Microsoft Docs This is a bit more technical and has a learning curve, but it might be well worth it if the manual work becomes too much.
This should ease some of the stress of having SMEs collaborate with you only when there’s a live bid with a deadline. If the content you’re re-using is being reviewed and updated regularly, it reduces the workload for everyone when it’s crunch time.
To improve the flow of information among SMEs
I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the reasons you’re seeing poor adoption from SMEs of your current solution is because SMEs don’t want to have to log on to another system and/or have the time to learn how to use it. Teams is a great tool for collaboration and creating a new channel for each bid project is a good approach. Making it possible for your SMEs to work with you and collaborate directly in their familiar Office Apps can also make a huge difference and put an end to lengthy email trails.
· Teams vs SharePoint for file storage
What a lot of people don’t realise is that the file storage in Microsoft Teams is actually powered by SharePoint Online: How SharePoint and OneDrive interact with Microsoft Teams – Microsoft Teams | Microsoft Docs When you create a new Team in Microsoft Teams, Microsoft 365 spins up a new SharePoint Online site. When you create a new channel in Teams, a new folder is created in the default SharePoint document library. This means that you won’t need to create a space in SharePoint Online to store your files. Teams will do it for you.
· Permissions around Teams and Channels
If different people work on different types of bids, and confidentiality is an issue, I recommend creating multiple Teams, since you can have different members in each Team. That way, when you have a new bid, you simply create a Channel within the right Team. The Channel inherits permissions from the Team and the right people will be able to instantly access it.
· Collaborating in MS Office
With Microsoft 365, you get real-time co-authoring, allowing multiple people to work on the same document at the same time. This can be a massive time saver and will avoid you having to collate responses in Outlook since everyone’s working in the response doc. You can learn more about this here: Document collaboration and co-authoring (microsoft.com) That said, it can be scary having more than one person editing at the same time. Thankfully, MS Office does a good job of locking out sections where other people are working, so you don’t have to worry about overwriting someone else’s work. As a failsafe though, it’s a good idea to turn on ‘Track Changes’. You can also access, download, and compare the last 500 versions of each content item stored in SharePoint Online in case something goes wrong: Enable and configure versioning for a list or library (microsoft.com)
· Tell SMEs where to work and what’s expected of them with comments
With Microsoft 365, you can ‘@mention’ people in comments: Use @mention in comments to tag someone for feedback (microsoft.com) . This is a great way to draw people’s attention to where they are needed. It also has the added benefit of automatically sending them an email, informing them that a comment has been left for them in a doc, a brief snippet of that comment, and a link to access the document. Using the ‘Reviewing Pane’ (find it in the Review > Tracking ribbon in Word), they can quickly jump to the right spot in the document.
And there you have it! My top suggestions on how to get the most out of Microsoft 365 and streamline your RFP process.
This is just the beginning though and there are a lot more automation, AI-enabled functionality, structured collaboration, and reporting available on Microsoft 365 with integrated solutions like QorusDocs. Qorus also has an expert team who can help you figure out the best way to structure and organize your content. You can request a demo here if that sounds like something you might be interested in: Demo Request | QorusDocs
I hope you’ve found this useful!
Have a wonderful day,