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Microsoft SharePoint is the Best Home for OneNote

OneNote is Awesome

Microsoft OneNote is freakin’ awesome. That’s a subjective opinion, I know, but if you try it, I’m sure you’ll agree with me. I’ve been using OneNote daily for several years now, and I’m still constantly impressed with how flexible it is, and how rock solid the platform is. I keep daily logs of what I’m working on in OneNote, I take notes during meetings, I even compose emails in OneNote sometimes, because it’s WAY better for crafting a nice looking email with tables and images and calculations, etc. than Outlook is. I just copy and paste everything from OneNote into Outlook when I’m done. My fellow Wizard, Randy, has written several blog posts about getting the most from OneNote, and they’re worth a read. I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m a fan of OneNote. There are tons of cool little tricks you learn along the way, but one of OneNote’s best features is its collaboration support. Multiple people can access the same OneNote Notebook simultaneously, and OneNote keeps track of the changes each person is making and maintains a log of all of it (built-in versioning!), and it annotates sections of a page to show who edited what and when.  Considering this multi-user functionality, combined with its wiki-style, easy-to-use interface, OneNote makes for a great knowledge base for a company. In fact, every Microsoft SharePoint team site comes preloaded with a landing page, a Document Library, a Newsfeed and a OneNote Notebook, because all four of those make a great starting point for collaboration!
 

OneNote Hierarchy

A OneNote Notebook can be stored on your device (e.g. in your Documents folder), but is often best saved to a cloud storage account like OneDrive. But OneNote is very hierarchal. A Notebook can contain Sections, that themselves can be contained inside Section Groups. Sections contain Pages, which can be set to three levels of “depth” (i.e. a subpage of a subpage of a page, under a section contained in a section group, stored in a Notebook). Because of this, it’s tempting to just combine everything into one monolithic OneNote Notebook, but it’s a much better practice to create a brand new OneNote Notebook for anything that will have a unique group of people accessing it. A good example would be a single company-wide Notebook for HR documentation, meeting notes, etc., and then separate OneNote Notebooks for each department. This works well, because you can then grant specific permissions within a department to have access to a Notebook. The beauty of the OneNote app is that you can open multiple Notebooks simultaneously. This is true for Windows, Mac, iPhone or Android, and because they’re all accessing the same Notebook, you can keep everything synchronized across multiple devices, instantly.
 

Storing OneNote Notebooks

So where should you create and save new Notebooks? The simple answer is “SharePoint.” If you store your company-wide Notebooks in SharePoint, you can very easily control permissions and availability. This is SharePoint governance at its finest.

Having said that, from my personal experience, many OneNote Notebooks don’t start out as a collaborative effort. Often they are created and stored on a user’s personal OneDrive or OneDrive for Business account, but then—using OneNote’s share feature—they are shared with other people who are also granted access to the Notebook. The big problem with this is that the individual is in complete control of the Notebook, which isn’t good in a corporate environment. If something were to happen to that person, everyone else would lose the ability to manage that Notebook.

Recently I was tasked with organizing the corporate Notebooks at Bit-Wizards (since I’m the SharePoint guy) and I turned up nearly a dozen OneNote Notebooks that were in active use within the company, but were stored in personal accounts… some of people who haven’t worked here in years! So I decided it was time to do it correctly, consolidate everything to SharePoint Online, and stick to best practices along the way.
 

Migrate, Don’t Move!

I can’t stress this point enough: Don’t move a OneNote Notebook if it’s shared. It is quite simple to move a Notebook: Just right-click on the Notebook in the left panel of OneNote, select Properties and then click the Change location button. However, this will break functionality for everyone else who is sharing the Notebook. So we should find a better way.

The trick is to recreate the Notebook from scratch in SharePoint. Don’t worry; this isn’t as daunting as it sounds, and by the end of this walkthrough you’ll see why I suggest this. Find where you need to move the Notebook to in SharePoint—company-wide Notebooks should be stored in the top level team site, department-specific Notebooks should be stored in Document Libraries or SharePoint subsites with unique permissions.
 

Do It!

Creating a new OneNote Notebook is super simple in SharePoint. Navigate to the Document Library where you microsoft sharepoint new file menuwant to move to, click the “New” button at the top of the screen, and select “OneNote Notebook.” Once you’ve created the Notebook in SharePoint, click on it to launch it in the OneNote Web App, then click on “Edit in OneNote’ at the top of the screen. This method will connect the Notebook to your OneNote App on your PC.

From here it’s a simple matter of moving the Sections (and section groups) from the existing Notebook into the newly created one in SharePoint. Just right click on a section or section group and select “Move or copy” then specify the new Notebook you just connected to the app and click “Move”. VERY simple!
moving a onenote notebook
Now that you’ve moved the sections to the new Notebook, the old one (that everyone is still synchronizing) should be empty. We now need to redirect our users to the correct location to find the new Notebook. Right-click on the new Notebook and select “Copy link to Notebook.” You can now create a new section in the old Notebook and title it “This Notebook has moved!” and then on the Page it automatically creates, you can just paste the link to the new Notebook. For your users to access the new Notebook, you’ll have to grant them permission, and we’ll do this in SharePoint!
 

Access Granted

Technically, you can “manage” some permissions from within OneNote itself by only sharing the Notebook with people you specifically invite. You can also block off pages and sections within OneNote by setting a password on them. Let me stress: THIS IS A BAD IDEA!

If you forget the password to that section, you have no recourse. If the person with the password leaves the company, you have no recourse. There is no governance model for managing passwords and shares from within OneNote, so you shouldn’t do it. Password-locked sections in OneNote are designed for you to secure your journal or sensitive information in your own personal Notebook. (FYI, the same applies to password-locking Excel Spreadsheets… manage access from the intranet, not the file itself!)

Go back to SharePoint in the browser and locate the Document Library in which you created the new Notebook, then go to the permissions for that Document Library. If you’re okay with granting anyone in the company access to that Notebook you don’t need to set any unique permissions. However, if the Notebook is to be limited to a group of people you’ll need to convert the Document Library to have unique permissions. Then you’ll need to remove all the parent permissions groups and create your own permission group, and add the people who should have access to the Notebook. (Another FYI: even though you technically can assign individuals specific permissions to specific files, it’s a very bad idea, and impossible to manage. Instead, create a permissions group and assign people to that group… even if it’s only one person!)

Now all the people who were previously synchronizing a Notebook stored in your personal OneDrive will see that all the sections are missing, but you’ve conveniently left them a link in place to redirect them to the new location. Upon clicking the link they’ll be redirected to the Notebook in SharePoint, which will open in the OneNote Web App, and they can then synchronize that Notebook with their OneNote app.
 

Don’t Go it Alone

If setting up unique permissions in SharePoint Online is intimidating to you, don’t hesitate to give us a call!
 
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Author

Samuel O. Blowes, Director of IT
Samuel O. Blowes

Director of IT

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