When asked to explain what SharePoint is, the first word that springs to mind is “big”. The second word is “flexible.” SharePoint has a very wide range of capabilities and features that can be implemented in a wide range of ways. This makes it an incredibly powerful platform, but it also makes it a challenge to wrap your head around how it works and how it might fit with your business.
SharePoint can be used to make rich intranet sites or responsive websites. It can be used for simple file shares or full EDRMS (or electronic document and records management systems for those who don’t speak acronym). It can be used for process automation or business intelligence portals. Or all of the above.
When getting started with SharePoint, it’s easier to think about it in terms of a few, key principles.
The clue’s in the name: SharePoint is about sharing. This can be sharing of files, ideas, resources, information, or updates. SharePoint provides a central place where users can come together to work in a more collaborative way. This can be structured or unstructured, tightly regulated or unrestricted. In terms of features and functions, there are several ways this can be done, from shared task lists for projects, to discussion forums for informal discussions, but the core idea is around letting individuals come together and work, even if they’re physically separate.
SharePoint has its background in file sharing and management. I’ve heard early versions of SharePoint described as a “glorified file share” but it’s come a long way since those early days. SharePoint can be used for simple sharing, with users dragging files into a shared space and then inviting in colleagues or external parties to view or edit them, even working simultaneously on Office documents. But SharePoint brings the capabilities of true document management even to these simple shares, with version history, metadata, and approval processes out of the box. Where more control is needed, policies and procedures, archiving and automation, search and security, all come together to turn SharePoint into a full records management system.
An older release of SharePoint was known as SharePoint Portal Server because of this aspect of its capability. The concept of a portal is that you have a single point to act as a window onto other tools or applications within your business. SharePoint can pull information from other locations to be displayed on intranet pages, or interact with other applications through forms and workflow, letting SharePoint be the central hub connecting your whole infrastructure. With dashboards and reports, SharePoint can be the front end of a business intelligence solution that gives users insight on the organisation. Because all this information is gathered in a single tool, work becomes much more efficient.
Intranet and Websites
SharePoint consists of sites and pages, with everything displayed through web browsers. Hardly surprising then, that it can be used to create intranets and even websites. These can be used to provide the collaborative and portal capabilities described above, but also be used for an organisation to share news, updates, and announcements with staff. SharePoint can be a channel for company communications, delivered through a rich, interactive site experience.
This just scratches the surface on SharePoint’s capabilities and the interaction between these core aspects of functionality allow for highly flexible systems tailored to your organisation’s needs. If you want to know more about what it can offer, come to one of our SharePoint Explorer seminars or contact us to discuss how SharePoint might work for you.