Microsoft SharePoint

What it is and why it matters

SharePoint is a document management and collaboration tool developed by Microsoft. It's basically an intranet and content management system that is used for internal purposes to assist with bringing an organisation together.

SharePoint is comprised of a multipurpose set of technologies that has tight integration with Office 365 as well as handy document management capabilities.

According to Microsoft, SharePoint is used by 78% of Fortune 500 companies. Between 2006 and 2011, Microsoft sold over 36.5 million user licenses.

Why Microsoft SharePoint is important

SharePoint’s core functions are a) to store documents in a more effective format than a regular folder system, and b) bring an organisation together so that everyone receives critical information that’s relevant to them.

Here are some benefits your organisation can get from using SharePoint:

Context around documents and folders

A traditional document storage facility is usually a folder on a server somewhere. The reason why SharePoint is more effective than the traditional method is because it brings context around the folder itself by tracking versions of the document. For example, in a traditional folder setup, you can’t have a running version history for each document or see any changes to the file name. Whereas with SharePoint, there’s more information provided about the file. It’s not just some file sitting in a folder; it’s an evolving piece of information that has a history as well as context.

Enable constant communication with all staff

In the past you might send a group email and copy everyone. The problem with that approach is a lot of information gets ignored or even lost, so some people might not get the information they need. For example, maybe you lost a company document and you missed an important discussion. Or maybe you did read it but afterwards it was very difficult to find and reference that information. SharePoint brings collaboration to the table so that all staff can see the important information and communication accordingly.

Store all information in a central location

This can range from things such as updates from the CEO to important meetings or events. SharePoint brings all the information to one internal place so staff can quickly find the information they need. Other use cases might be general warnings about particular customers or even incidents that everyone needs to be aware of. With SharePoint, simply post the message and everyone can access it from there. Forget email or announcement boards; simply post it on SharePoint.

Encourage collaboration

SharePoint is really designed around getting the organisation into a central point where they can collaborate. This is particularly important for organisations that are not geographically connected. With some branches working in a very isolated format, SharePoint provides staff with the ability to connect with each other via a portal. Where in the past some staff might only interact with the company during a company meeting, SharePoint brings those people together so everyone can work together, all the time. Collaboration fosters innovation and builds a company culture that spawns creative ideas.

Challenges of Microsoft SharePoint

  • Support for certain industry standards. SharePoint's records-management capabilities give it the ability to save documents for legal or historic reasons. This can be a challenge in some industries (medical and financial) where there are complex regulatory requirements for record keeping. In those cases, you should consult a professional about an industry-specific solution.
  • Customise out of the box with third-party solutions. Some organisations won’t find what they need out of the box. A third-party solution can help you build something you want. This can be easily achieved if you work with an IT service provider that has SharePoint experience.

Three keys to successfully implement Microsoft SharePoint

Implementing the SharePoint software is the easiest step. It’s the work that you do before the implementation that determines whether it’s successful. Assessing your requirements and determining what you need SharePoint to do for your company is what will make or break your implementation.

Start the process off with a SharePoint consultant or someone that has the capability to do the business analysis with you. Then put together a sitemap, put together how it’s going to work, and leverage their best practice experience. Ask the consultant what other companies are doing. Finally, once implemented, you must provide staff with training so they can manage it on an ongoing basis.

Here are the three keys to a successful SharePoint implementation:

  • Carry out a business analysis and assess requirements
  • Determine the SharePoint service model that’s right for you
  • Train staff to use SharePoint

Carry out a business analysis and assess requirements

In terms of how you go about implementing SharePoint, you really need to first do a business analysis to assess your requirements. Implementing SharePoint is pretty easy but the real important steps include understanding what you need from SharePoint, what SharePoint can do for you, and what it can’t do for you.

You should look at your existing shared documents drive and break it all down. Ask yourself these questions: “Okay, what do we need? What don’t we need?”

There’s often a lot of crap in there. Think about what you want from a collaboration perspective. What calendars need setting up? Do you want a forum for new ideas? Do you want a CEO Newsfeed?”

All of these different elements can be created in SharePoint, but you must determine which ones are most appropriate for you. That’s where the consultant can help by leveraging some of their experience.

Determine the SharePoint service model that’s right for you

There are a few different flavours of SharePoint.

The first one is a free version. You actually get a free version of SharePoint if you’re running Windows Server. There are some limitations with the free version, so make sure to consult your IT guy.

The second option you’ve got is to leverage Office 365, which is Microsoft’s cloud SharePoint solution. This service model gives you quite a lot of storage—up to 100GB per site allocation.

The third option you have is to get your SharePoint solution hosted with a third-party provider such as R&G Technologies. If you don’t want your data stored in Singapore, you will want to take this option.

All in all, the Office 365 version of SharePoint is the cheapest option—significantly cheaper than any Australian provider.

Train staff on how to use SharePoint

SharePoint is designed to allow basic non-IT people to administrate, update, and change it, with an appropriate level of training. It’s all based on what they call WYSIWYG, which is point and click.

Training courses are available for SharePoint. You can access them via the Microsoft support website. Download the video tutorials or share the links around the office.

As with any new technology, there will be a learning curve for staff. Training them on the best practices of SharePoint and how to use it will help with the transition.

Are you interested in learning how SharePoint can improve office productivity and increase collaboration?

R & G Technologies is a Brisbane IT Support and IT Consulting firm that helps organisations across Australia. We can help you make better use of new technologies like Microsoft SharePoint. Call us on 1300 562 886 or visit our contact page.

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