SharePoint is Microsoft’s fastest-growing product ever, with half of companies surveyed on LinkedIn last year already employing it for their intranet portal and collaboration solution, Ciba Solutions reports. It is used by Fortune 500 companies like Chrysler, Kraft, Northwestern Mutual, and UPS.
SharePoint also leads enterprise content management systems, used by more high-traffic sites than Drupal, Blogger, WordPress, Magento, or Joomla. Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer’s enterprise social platform potentially adds appeal to companies seeking interoffice communication solutions. While some feel SharePoint needs enhancements for the cloud, general sentiment indicates it is making this transition successfully, and its popularity will continue. Considering SharePoint as an option is essential for any business evaluating its IT alternatives.
What SharePoint Does
SharePoint tutorials commonly use a wheel to communicate the platform’s features. These divide into six groups: sites, communities, content, search, insights, and composites.
SharePoint lets enterprises create intranet sites accessible by organizations and teams, which can double as Internet access portals for vendors and customers. With a familiar look resembling Microsoft Office, these sites consist of pages equivalent to website pages — lists of stored data; libraries, which are specialized lists organized by user, or by application for file management; and templates for quick site creation and duplication.
SharePoint sites serve as a community, enabling users to communicate, share, and collaborate. Interoffice users typically communicate through other Microsoft tools that integrate with SharePoint, such as Exchange’s email server and calendar program, and Lync’s instant messaging and conferencing tools. SharePoint organizes communications into groups for interoffice social networking and collaboration.
SharePoint communities can share content using document management tools. This lets teams store, share, edit, and archive documents, while keeping track of file version updates. Documents can be shared within a site or among multiple sites. SharePoint’s content management system integrates with Exchange and Lync for accessing emails and documents across multiple platforms.
SharePoint users can query sites using powerful search tools. Users can search by site, user, community, or content.
SharePoint’s insights features enable site business intelligence data to be filtered and presented in customized displays, including dashboards, charts and diagrams. Excel workbook data can be imported and organized for analytics purposes via Excel Services and PowerPivot.
Without ever having to write any code, SharePoint’s composites feature can create mash-up combinations of various applications by using visual diagrams. These make it easy to visually manage workflow among applications.
Site developers can extend SharePoint’s standard features through apps. Some apps serve internal users, while others can be installed on public websites to offer customers features resembling smartphone apps.
According to Gartner, enterprises use SharePoint for three main applications: portals, collaboration and content management. These in turn serve related business functions.
SharePoint portals provide enterprises centralized access to information and applications in a secure, managed environment. This facilitates training and project management, while controlling vendor and customer access to networks. SharePoint’s security features, in conjunction with document tracking features, make the platform’s portal application suitable for governance, risk management and compliance.
SharePoint’s integration with other Microsoft tools supports collaboration applications by enterprises accustomed to an Office environment. Shared communications and calendars help increase productivity, and cut costs across company networks. This is especially useful for interoffice communication within enterprises whose employees are widely spread out over different departments or geographic locations.
SharePoint’s integrated functionality also makes it an excellent enterprise content management tool. The software’s CMS functions help companies manage vast stores of internal information, such as email archives and spreadsheet data. Enterprises can also use SharePoint’s content applications to deliver information and digital products to customers, facilitating customer service and e-commerce.
These applications of SharePoint can be extended through apps. For instance, one app adds functionality such as online document previewing without downloading, SkyDrive file syncing, and Yammer email integration.
Keys to Successful SharePoint Implementation
Like any comprehensive enterprise solution, SharePoint can be challenging to implement. Fortunately, some common mistakes have been identified, and best practices have been developed to avoid these.
First, enterprises considering SharePoint should develop a plan detailing how the software will serve the company’s overall business goals. This should include a determination of whether SharePoint will replace or supplement existing solutions.
Second, the development team should decide on whether to use an on-premise, cloud or hybrid network architecture. This decision-making process should include a review of SharePoint Hosting options to determine costs and other risks and benefits.
Third, executing this decision may require selecting hosting services. Evaluating other third-party tools needed to supplement SharePoint applications also comes into play at this point.
The fourth step is building the new architecture. This involves assigning personnel, setting schedules and benchmarks, and applying policies and procedures to stay on schedule and avoid project delays or abandonment.
The final step is putting the new deployment into operation. This is best approached as an ongoing process, where employee and customer feedback stimulates adaptations and improvement.
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