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SharePoint has become quite the buzzword in many organizations today. It seems to be the Swiss Army Knife that can be a tool to solve any problem at any time. There are many good reasons, and some not so good reasons that have created this reputation. But, regardless of your current impressions of SharePoint, it is important to be fully educated before making any decisions about the product.

In this article we are going to create a quick overview of the product and look at the value it can provide to the enterprise from several different viewpoints. In future articles in this series we will dive into the key components included in the product and discuss how they can directly relate to Information Workers.

The goal is that by the end of this series you have a clear and comprehensive understanding of what SharePoint can do for you and your organization. Since SharePoint is such a large product, it is very likely that you will review the different aspects and then begin to work with the elements that are relevant to your specific needs.

One Tool, Many Uses

One of the greatest things about SharePoint is that it does many things. When you first hear this you may wonder if that is a good thing or a bad thing. I challenge you to think about it this way -- by being able to use one tool for many things you are able to reduce the amount of time it takes to learn how to work with a system.

We have all been at the point where we have to learn a new tool for every new system we need to access. What if we had one tool that allowed us to submit expenses, view monthly status reports and share documents with our team?

Now logically, if all of those items were in one single spot we would likely become overwhelmed with too many items in one spot. But imagine if all of those solutions existed within several different locations but all used the same tool? Once you learned how to work with one, you would be ready to tackle another. By being able to learn once and apply in multiple ways you are able to greatly reduce the amount of training required.

General Concepts, Specific Implementations

Another thing to realize about SharePoint is that, by design, it is a tool that can and should be customized to meet very specific needs. SharePoint by default provides you with many templates that can be used as a starting point to build many business solutions. But each of these templates can be customized to meet your specific requirements. Listed below are just a few of the customizations that it can be made to do:

  • Versioning: Within the lists and libraries inside of SharePoint you can configure that versions are created for each new item. When an item is modified, the previous versions are saved and associated with that item. This will allow you to save your progress over time. An example of this in action would be a contract library. With each change in the contract you could keep the previous version and reference it in the future as needed.
  • Required Approval: SharePoint allows for you to require that all content that is added be approved before it becomes visible to any of the users that have access to the site. Using this configuration allows you to ensure that only approved and reviewed content is distributed on the site, but still allows for a way to manage and collaborate on the in-progress content. Since this is just a configuration setting, you can use this when needed and turn it off when not needed.
  • Task Management: SharePoint also has different templates that can be used as part of your task management solution, including a task list and an issues list. These include all the basic information needed to track tasks and still allow for you to easily add additional items that you would like to track.

Above I have listed just three of the many features available in SharePoint. But too cover all the different features would take several volumes! What I really want you to understand and take away from this is the concept that you are given a set of Legos and it’s up to you how you want to configure and use them to build something.

The ability to customize solutions is a great feature within SharePoint because it allows a general tool to become a very specific and unique solution for your individual needs and requirements.

Focus Areas

There are several key areas within SharePoint that are foundations to the product, including:

  • Sites
  • Communities
  • Content
  • Search
  • Insights
  • Composites

Each of these areas relates to various types of solutions or requirements that are common to many organizations. In the remainder of this series we will be looking at each of these components and reviewing how they can impact Information Workers. We will review the different elements that are included in each of the areas and discuss how you can get started with solution development.

Getting Stared

The questions I get asked the most about SharePoint all have to do with “what is it” and “how do I get started.” People want to know and understand the high level overview and then use that knowledge to dive into the details and get started.

This series is designed to answer both of these questions for each of the primary areas within SharePoint. At the conclusion of the series you will have a roadmap that includes a high level summary, real world examples and common resources and links to help you get started.

Title Image courtesy of marekuliasz (Shutterstock).

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