November 19, 2010

Being asked a common question by client wanting to adopt SharePoint and I thought it a good idea to share this with you all – “why should I use SharePoint, and what can it be used for”?

Ok, here’s my pennyworth (or three pennies)

  1. SharePoint has been provisioned to provide a platform and framework that can be used for many different types of functions. The extent of what this platform can do is limited only by the creativity and imagination of the users. The aim of SharePoint is to improve the efficiency and decision-making power of their employees by allowing them to create and manage their own online content spaces.
  2. SharePoint is not simply a software application developed for a specific purpose (for example, an email application for sending messages back and forth, a calendaring application for managing appointments and meetings, an accounting application to maintain financial records).
  3. SharePoint, from an end-user viewpoint, provides features such as being able to tell when specific group members are online so that “chat sessions” or instant messaging can occur, and the ability to set up a personal Web page with things such as the latest local weather report.

However, SharePoint isn’t simply installed so that its employees can have instant messaging services or create their own customised Web pages. SharePoint has been implemented to enhance the productivity of employees; which is a managerial imperative, and their vision. However, as you know, there would be many obstacles resulting in reduced productivity.

So what are some of the reasons for using SharePoint? What is the proper use of SharePoint designed to prevent to improve productivity? Here’s another 3 pennies…

  1. Preventing the lack of an efficient mechanism for sharing knowledge, resulting in duplication of effort. For example, User A needs to create a document and does not know that User B created a similar document, which could have saved User A many hours of work.
  2. Preventing the inability to find information which results in wasted time. Carrying the previous example one step further, even if User A knows that User B created a document similar to what User A needs to produce, User A spends an hour trying to find the document and then finally gives up and starts from scratch.
  3. Preventing inefficient manual ways of doing things. IT Support is backlogged with requests for granting employees access to applications or information and/or application customisation. An example of this situation is a department that wants to make information available online to employees, and thus has put in a request to IT Support to make this happen.

Are your users using SharePoint for the following?

Lets’ itemise some of the popular usages of SharePoint. These are provided so that if you have a client who needs to know answers covered by this topic, here they are. By the way, these are mine, so there may be others and some even directly related to the below – question is – are you using these ‘features‘ or destined to use them?

  • Document Management. SharePoint is being seen as ideal for managing manuals, policies and procedure documents. Companies are starting to further embrace the document management model of creation, storage, retention and expiry and SharePoint is certainly strong in those areas.
  • Record Keeping. SharePoint is used to keep electronic records of customers, employees or suppliers. There is a movement to starting the storage of information directly on the platform as opposed to a network share.
  • Inventory Management. SharePoint is used to quickly keep track of equipment or supplies.
    Helpdesk Systems are an example of this. Easy and cost effective way to manage and monitor Helpdesk Requests. These could be IT Helpdesk or service requests from customers. In some cases helpdesk systems are connected directly into SharePoint to provide automation and logging.
  • Websites. People use SharePoint to not only manage content of their Websites but also to be their website. The key strategy of SharePoint is to allow individuals to create and manage their own Websites.
  • Electronic Forms. Forms are used to automate systems like Expense Claims, Travel Requests, Holiday Requests or Purchase Orders. These are not just list item forms from inside SharePoint. They include InfoPath forms what provide even more functionality external connectivity, validation and automation that SharePoint provides out of the box.
  • Reference Centre (Wiki).  People can use Wikis to help store and share information. Information that an employee found helpful can quickly be available to other employees.
  • Reporting. SharePoint is used to take data from many different data sources including SQL and Oracle databases. This means it is easier to compile reports and produce Business Intelligence.
  • Contact Details.  SharePoint is used to store information concerning internal or external contacts and provides a detailed user directory. Saves the issue of the company telephone directory always being out of date.
  • News Distribution. SharePoint is used to share company or department news on a global basis and automatically by user location.
  • Surveys.  SharePoint is used to get feedback from say training courses or the performance of a department.
  • Appointment Management. Calendars and event repositories is available, for example to display weekly movements of key members of staff.
  • Catalogues. SharePoint to list items, view them in customised ways, filter and search.
  • Discussions. Discussion boards are available so that users can chat on various subjects and share ideas.
  • Storage of Digital Media. SharePoint is used to store many forms of digital media including photographs, videos and podcasts – it is also used to provide audio and video feeds.
  • Information Searching.  SharePoint is used index documents and repositories and use features allowing them to search and retrieve company information.
  • Projects Management. SharePoint can be used to monitor and track multiple projects.
  • Time Management. SharePoint is used to record time taken on individual projects or to manage work streams.
  • Meeting Management. Some departments use SharePoint Meeting Templates to plan agendas, create minutes and check on follow-up actions.
  • Blogging.  SharePoint Blogging is a powerful feature allowing quick dissemination of internal business blogs. Users are also investigating the use of ‘comment’ on these blogs.

These are just a selection of the business uses of SharePoint – however, companies are starting to embrace some more social and light-hearted aspects of the product. I suspect this is so the idea is that a happy staff will be a productive staff. For example, sections where employees can win prizes and see some funny pictures of themselves on company outings are emerging. These kinds of social pages can not only help morale but also get employees using SharePoint. The reason why Social Networking is not listed is because it is such a massive topic to cover and hits on quite a few of the above and introduces other features (Organization Management, User Directory, User Status / Presence and a lot more).

So, there you have it, my list of SharePoint uses – of course, as said, there are more, and if you’d like to get them added on please by all means drop me a note!

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