How can Microsoft SharePoint help my business?

By James Cook

12 March 2009

You might be thinking what is SharePoint? It is a company intranet technology, written and expandable using Microsoft .Net; in layman’s terms it is a place to store company information in the form of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, all standard document formats, providing simple ways to share information, manage version control, blogs, wiki’s and a whole lot more.

One thing that can sometimes cause confusion is Microsoft’s re-branding efforts – what IS the difference between WSS, SharePoint Portal Server and MOSS??? WSS is the core building block of the technology and is included free on Windows 2003 and 2008 servers, it allows you to create sites and do the basic “SharePoint” stuff. SharePoint Portal Server (2003) is the old name for the full bells and whistles system which is now called Microsoft Office SharePoint Server.

Ok then, now onto the point of this post, MOSS 2007 can greatly improve organisational effectiveness, to such a degree that it matters to everyone who runs a business. As with most, if not all software, there is the caveat of the requirement for proper deployment and training, but that is another post all together.

I have just made quite a bold statement, which I am sure other people would love to debate so please feel free to comment at the bottom of the post. I will do my best to explain the core reasons that make SharePoint completely indispensable for SpiderGroup and our clients.

The first thing that I will cite is the ability to access vital company information anywhere you can get an internet connection, which in itself is not that remarkable seeing the current usage of the internet. I guess at this point I should let you into my own personal loathing of VPN’s (Virtual Private Networks), all of our support people here at SpiderGroup know not to answer any question I pose to them as “log on to the VPN”, with that in mind the network file store has never been a great solution for allowing everyone to access vital company documents. What’s more with a network file store there is the inherent problem with people overwriting important files and the hassle trying to work out which is the most recent version of a document. One of the core strengths of SharePoint is its document management features, fully integrated into the Office Suite (probably the main reason they re-branded it to MOSS). It provides you with a much better way of working, saving hours of wasted time and prevents heartbreak when you realise someone has overwritten the proposal you spent all last night working on.

Whilst we are on the subject of documents, I guess it is worth pointing out that 99% of businesses I know run on Excel. Yes they will have an accounting package that they use for their general ledger and do their invoicing from, but the real nitty gritty of planning, budgeting and management reporting is done in Excel, whether you like it or not Excel has a fundamental part to play in modern business. With that said, one of the “killer” features of MOSS is something called Excel Services, which is a way of presenting real-time excel information through a web page without the need to have Excel running. This might not seem particularly noteworthy, but it actually provides a critical bridge between operational documents and live reporting dashboards.

Meeting workspaces are an area worth mentioning, if like us you having repeating weekly or monthly meetings, you can create a meeting site that has a list of all the dates of the meeting allowing you to easily navigate forward and backward to see what was done in the last meeting. This is really useful as it is a single place for reports, minutes and actions and easily allows people that are joining the meeting over the phone or video conference to see the same information as everyone else.

Due to the way that security is handled and coupled with the system being web based, it is relatively simple to create special sections for your clients, supplier and partners. We use this extensively with our clients, allowing us to collaborate and share vital information whilst we are working on a project with them. What kind of added value do you think your clients will perceive in your service if you are able to provide a simple, attractive repository of all information related to your work together. When a client says, where is that document that you were talking about? You can direct them to the relevant section of their portal. One killer feature added in to this is alerting, with a couple of clicks you can make sure that when any content is added or updated that you receive an email informing you that there has been a change. This is particularly useful if you have lots of areas that are important to you.

The last key benefit that I will highlight in this post is that SharePoint should be considered to be your Official Company Knowledge Repository. The system should be setup so that all policies, procedures, templates, contracts … in fact anything that is important for the company to function. This then allows any member of staff to find the knowledge they require to properly perform the companies business, the way to best think about this is, if the office we are in burnt down could we continue to do business. If the correct knowledge is stored in SharePoint, then once people have somewhere to sit, a computer and a phone (at home?) then your business will continue.

There is so much more to this technology that i don’t have time to go into now – such as personal sites, custom databases, intelligent forms and workflow management and of course the live reporting dashboards that get managers so excited. There will be more about these to come in my next few posts but hope you enjoyed the intro to one of the most visionary products from Microsoft.

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