Microsoft SharePoint has been around since 2001 and was originally developed to allow businesses to collaborate and communicate through a central intranet. It was the first mainstream tool of its kind and SharePoint has always been looked upon as a useful business product but since the 2010 release, Microsoft has put all available resources into making SharePoint an indispensable asset for businesses. It has few limitations in being a corporate business management tool. So what is it that draws businesses to SharePoint and what can it offer to small and large companies alike?
Today, there is an ever-emerging pattern with the evolution of technology and its driven by two key factors: Demand and expectation. Lets step back to 1999 for a moment. The new millennium was approaching and IT staff were busy worrying about the Y2K bug and what would happen if their IT systems failed and how their businesses could operate without them. This was the first time that a widespread illustration was clear, showing just how dependent we are on technology. You probably wonder what this is to do with SharePoint…well the demand on computer systems in general and how much they have had to accommodate our demands is the same principle for each system itself – SharePoint in this instance.
Technology goes through iterative cycles of evolution and all are dependent on each other – complex web applications need the internet connections to sustain them and internet connections need the infrastructure to make sure they’re both fast and reliable. The list goes on but in terms of SharePoint, when were less reliant on widespread and fragmented ways of working, tools such as SharePoint were less attractive, certainly to the smaller company whose ROI would be less clear, especially those not working outside of one or two offices. The licensing methods also drove smaller customers away given the expense of purchasing the product.
It was however, still a fantastic tool – one which allowed people to feel unified within a company, and be able to quickly track where people are, any latest news announcements and easy (despite basic) document management methods.
Since 2001, SharePoint has come on leaps and bounds and today, the sky’s the limit in terms of what it can do. The licensing has made it accessible for small businesses and anything from a simple intranet site, right up to powerful company finance and resource planning tools can be created. The latter of course will rely on developers’ assistance but the capability is there and based on their standard framework, a lot can be achieved through the configuration area.
The key areas that SharePoint focuses on are illustrated in the wheel below.
The wheel should really be drawn as a Venn diagram, illustrating that each area overlaps with one and another – because they do. The sites act as the stage for which each other area performs on and from within it, site administrators can create communities in the form of discussion boards, shared calendars, contact area and whereabouts information.
Then there’s content – lists and document storage areas can be created and configured. All this information is of course unhelpful unless there are effective means of finding it. That’s where SharePoint search comes in…and the insights of course.
Insights could be configured to offer a dashboard area of statistics, calendar entries, recent documents, tag clouds and so much more. Finally, there’s composites – as the name suggests, utilizing various pieces of information together with SharePoint capabilities, to produce powerful applications, forms or information sources.
All this functionality is helpful in itself and clearly beneficial within companies – a central area to communicate, collaborate (although we dislike this “buzz” word) and distribute key information. You might be a company where people are working outside the office, perhaps with clients, on a regular basis – wouldn’t it be nice to have an area for people to update, giving their whereabouts throughout the week – this would help co-workers plan meetings and administrators help people to get in touch.
How about document management – all companies have the need to control documents within their office – it might be versioning, collaboration (there’s that word again!) or unique numbering that’s important to your company – these can be achieved in a fully flexible configuration area. Lawyers and other professional services firms need very strict document control. It might also be helpful to your colleagues or clients (via the extranet feature) to know when documents of interest to them have been uploaded or changed – this can all be achieved through SharePoint too.
They key business systems required today from project management, budgeting, accounting, resourcing, document management, CRM and knowledge handling are all achievable in SharePoint – and wouldn’t it be nice to have one area to store things, rather than six or seven?
Now, you are probably thinking at this point something like “I’ve found countless tools that do this” or “I bet the configuration takes time and costs a fortune.” Both of these are untrue but of course SharePoint has its rivals – that’s what keeps Microsoft on its toes to push the boundaries on each new release.
The beauty of SharePoint is that not only is the foundation version free, which encompasses an awful lot of features, but the system is designed to interact with other Microsoft tools – Microsoft Exchange, Office, Lync and Active Directory. We can’t help but agree with those who say ‘integrate Microsoft with Microsoft.’ It’s true – could you imagine a scenario where a 3rd party understood Microsoft’s APIs and integration with its products, better than Microsoft themselves?
If your company uses Microsoft Lync, SharePoint will show the status of everyone’s availability in realtime, wherever their username appears in SharePoint. Emails and calendars too – they’ can be configured to be received through both forums. Since the middle of 2012 as well, there has been the integration with Office 365 – Office on the web. If you have a SharePoint site which people can reach from anywhere, Office 365 ensures they can also open their Microsoft Office documents by providing an on-the-web version. This is of course fully functional and integral within the user’s SharePoint license. Its fast too, only downloading the components the user needs for what they’re trying to do – meaning even offices with slow internet connections can join in and feel the benefit.
Then there’s a support aspect – with too many parties linked together, it takes much longer to resolve technical issues – each party will want to wash their hands of the issue, being adamant that the issue is related to something other than their product. Microsoft have a huge technical support database on the web and through resellers, an excellent technical support help desk. Microsoft might not be the most stable platform, but it’s certainly got better over the years and troubleshooting an issue with them will be much quicker if you embrace their products wholly.
SharePoint is used both as an internal and external business tool – many companies create websites within SharePoint. There are advanced editing tools – the SharePoint Designer is very advanced at creating exactly what is visualized and makes customizing and configuring SharePoint a walk in the park.
Those who will be responsible for the installation, configuration and customization of SharePoint might like to consider some of thetraining courses – invest a little time here and you could help your business run smoothly in no time at all.
Overall, Microsoft SharePoint is a hugely popular and useful business tool. It enables users to share and display information however they want it to look which is a very important part of productivity. While some of the benefits might seem cliché, they are essential to every business. Afterall, we all need to communicate effectively, we all need to work on documents together and we all have a need for that feel of belonging – SharePoint really creates the cyber community feel that is expected in business environments.
- What do you mean you haven’t installed SharePoint 2013 yet 😉 (blogs.like10.com)
- SharePoint Advanced Email Integration (virtual-strategy.com)
- Official SharePoint app now available for Windows Phone (wpcentral.com)
- Five Tips For Getting the Most Out of SharePoint (techwench.com)
- SharePoint Solutions Announces New Business Intelligence Training Course (virtual-strategy.com)