Simon Hudson from Cloud2

Author: Simon Hudson
Simon is one of the founding directors at Cloud2

SharePoint - a strategic platform for business productivity

SharePoint’s a Microsoft platform technology (running on servers or in the cloud) which allows a large range of business solutions to be rapidly built, deployed and managed for any size of organisation.

It includes a large number of capabilities as standard. We focus on the following five core business activities:

  • Content - it provides a means to store a very wide variety of information, including documents and files, webpages containing text and images, flexible lists of information and more.
  • Communication - it provides very powerful means for presenting content, with sophisticated methods for navigation, grouping and filtering of information, notifications and alerts via email, etc.
  • Collaboration - it includes worksites that group information, content and processes together and allow groups of users to interact with these and each other in real time.
  • People - SharePoint has built-in social features, user profiles, contact lists and a variety of tools to enable people to find each other, for each other’s activities and interact in ways not available without such technology.
  • Business process - the above capabilities are often combined with SharePoint’s electronic form capability and workflow capability to develop and manage sophisticated business processes.

Other important features include ubiquitous enterprise search, the ability to apply branding and rich user interface elements, connectivity with line of business systems, business intelligence capabilities and deep integration with other parts of the Microsoft stack, especially Microsoft Office.

SharePoint presents its features and the information it stores via any standards compliant browser.

Structure

Most elements of SharePoint are grouped together within a hierarchy of “sites” within a “portal”, with each site grouping together sets of features (such as document libraries, custom lists, views of information, calendars, navigation and links) and providing secure, permissions-based access for groups of users.

When architected, these different capabilities and the solutions developed using them form the basis for an enterprise intranet or other application that can transform the way an organisation operates.

Benefits are:

  • paperless working
  • agile remote working in collaboration
  • single point of access to all organisational information and processes
  • assured single version of the truth
  • rapid search and discovery of organisational knowledge
  • access to people
  • process management
  • ability to continue to develop streamlined solutions to emerging business needs.

As a platform, SharePoint’s considered to be best in its class and is the most broadly capable technology platform available from any vendor (SharePoint and the Microsoft stack appear in the top right-hand portion of the Gartner Magic quadrant for most of the things SharePoint delivers)

Implementing SharePoint

SharePoint is remarkably straightforward and flexible for developing solutions; applications can be developed by selecting features such as lists and libraries, configuring them using metadata and views, and aggregating these within a variety of functional sites within a portal. All this can be done directly through the browser without needing separate development and environmental tools.

However, the very breath and flexibility introduces complexity and a depth of knowledge and experience to effectively plan and build solutions that are efficient and supportable is needed. There are many ways to make mistakes and while SharePoint itself is a resilient and forgiving environment, if you build it badly, it’ll fail to meet the business needs and disappoint or disenfranchise users.

Finding the right people?

When building sophisticated solutions, it’s best to start with someone who already has the skills and experience to deliver configured SharePoint applications. To this end it’s often appropriate to engage a partner who can also transfer knowledge to the internal team during the development phase. This way they understand it and can develop it further themselves.

Making a plan

Of course it’s really important to plan your SharePoint project and specify the applications you want to build. However, SharePoint projects are not best suited, in my opinion, to pure waterfall project approaches and rigid specifications. SharePoint projects lend themselves more to agile processes. Don’t be afraid to build a proof of concept and throw it away, but don’t be surprised if your proof of concept tries to involve itself into production environment. Know when to stop.

We also recommend to avoid writing any new code. It’s amazing how many business solutions can be solved simply by configuring the capabilities that SharePoint already has or, with a newer version, by plugging in a SharePoint app or third-party technology.

Adopting SharePoint

There are a number of important activities to consider in order to drive success of SharePoint. These include:

  • seeking appropriate user input in the early stages
  • continuing to obtain user feedback for an extended period of time after deployment
  • being seen to act upon feedback
  • setting out a policy and set of standards for the way the solution is used
  • enabling a steering board to take decisions on the way intranet and the organisation should interact
  • ensuring that users are appropriately trained

Avoid the old ways

A combination of training, policy, good practice guides and support are needed to move users from the old ways of doing things to the new, more effective options. This is especially true in the early days of adoption in order to avoid users reverting to old habits or replicating poor structures that are difficult to later unpick.

Create the new

One of the things we really like about SharePoint is a tendency to make people review their existing processes. If introducing SharePoint doesn’t shake things up, you probably shouldn’t do it!

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