It's easy to forget there is a whole other world out there that does not use or know SharePoint.
I was recently invited to a Podcast to try and explain why SharePoint has been so successful -- or rather implemented -- in businesses. The question came from a Visual Studio or developer community as they were curious why they kept hearing SharePoint everywhere. Here's how I explained its success.
Wait, What is SharePoint?
I think anyone that knows SharePoint very well is scared of that question, myself included. But if I had to give you a short description, I would say it’s a web-based platform that allows you to build on without necessarily knowing code or databases. It has a very basic structure for you to work with.
- Sites: A container where you work and store objects like Lists and Libraries.
- Lists: Similar to an Excel spreadsheet, rows and columns to help you manage data directly on the web.
- Libraries: Similar to a list mentioned above but used to store documents instead.
Of course there’s a lot more to it than that but it helps us get to the very core.
For more advanced users, I like to refer SharePoint as being a friendly version of a Database Server like SQL or Access.
The SharePoint Site, very similar to a “Database” -- a container of sorts.
The lists and libraries are the tables where you store your data within a database.
You can create views in both SharePoint and a Database server; they are close to being the same.
Finally, where traditionally we would have developed an application to connect to and show what is in this database, in SharePoint, we create pages with Web Parts to show what is within it.
If you think about it, SharePoint has given the Power Users and the people in the company a way to create web-based database applications with little to no effort.
Problems Faced by Businesses
That dreaded “P:\” drive or whichever letter was used in your company (even if you have more than one you know exactly what I am talking about). Up to at least a few years ago, you could walk up to anyone in the street, ask about their Shared Drive and you could expect the same reaction every time. What exactly are the problems with Shared Drives?
- Can’t find your documents
- You can only have documents (or files if you want)
- No versioning of documents
- No Content Approval
- Files and Documents can only be physically at one location
Let’s say you only have two folders in this wonderful Shared Drive; one called “Contracts” the other called “Customers.” You are a new employee in my company and I ask you to work or save a file that is a contract for customer x. What do you do? Either you lose time trying to find the right document or, if you are saving it, you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right.
Now take into perspective the thousands of folders you have, with scenarios a little more complicated than the one I used. How much time do you think is lost or wasted navigating through the Shared Drive? Research shows that 30% is the average time wasted searching for documents.
Emails and the Endless CC’s
Ever been CCed in an email that feels like a conversation between other people you simply cannot get out of? Reminds me of when Facebook used to do the same -- you’d get invited to a conversation without your permission and had to endure it.
Email is one of the biggest problems to face you and your colleague’s productivity. Even when it is a valuable email with information that will help you in the future, chances are you will lose time trying to find it. When you receive an email, it might not be relevant for you or your work at the moment. However, three months from now when you are working on a different project or task where that information is pertinent, you will have to “attempt” to find it through your emails.
I hesitated creating a separate category for “collaboration” but it can easily be joined to email problems today. There is no collaboration, teams try to work together but again everything is sent through emails with no real way to organize a smaller, more efficient team, with email or the tools we have.
Complicated for Users to access
In a world of BYOD and the increase in working remotely or from home, it has become very difficult for you and your colleagues to access information. VPNs, Routers, Networks, FTPs -- all these things you endure just to see a bunch of files.
Of course there are many other problems the enterprise faces, but these are the more obvious ones.
How SharePoint Helps Increase Productivity
If SharePoint is remembered for one thing, it won’t be for the confusion around what Skydrive Pro is, but how it replaced many File Shares in our businesses. It offered an easy concept -- Lists to store your data and Libraries to store your documents. But it helped improve the File Share experience by adding:
- Columns or “Document Tags”
- Content Approval
- Web Based access
As always I am not including the thousands of other things that can be done with this platform. With a few configurations of your Team Site, you can become the hero of your team.
Collaboration is taken to another level; bear with me for a second as I try to explain how it has completely changed the way we work.
Why did we try to fit an entire organization into one File Share? In many cases, teams and larger teams would only work within the same folder structure that was their own. SharePoint introduced the “Team Site,” which has taken over the word SharePoint when looking at Office 365.
This resulted in a huge reduction in emails because now the information was available, searchable directly from the Web Based SharePoint Team Site. I emphasize the Web-Based aspect of SharePoint, which allows it to be accessible through almost any device, at any time. And instead of everyone in the company trying to fit into a File Share, we are all working from a highly customizable “Team” environment.
Another advantage is its use of “open communication.” When sending information you are no longer sharing it between just you and the people in the email, you store it in the “Team Site.” This is a huge benefit not only for your teammates, who can easily find and access that information, but for the employer that doesn’t have to worry as much when an employee decided to leave. A lot of employee's expertise will still be available in SharePoint as Wikis, Blogs, Community Sites with answered forums, etc....
But WHY has it Become so Successful?
For me there is one reason as to how this platform became so successful in the past years; It’s easy and accessible to many more than just IT. SharePoint was definitely not the first to introduce a Content Management System or a “tagging” approach to document management. But it did it in a way for it to be easy to create, use and manipulate by the Power Users.
In my opinion, the Power Users in the enterprise are what made SharePoint so successful. The abundance of help and expertise both online and in the field played a big part in it. As a web-based platform Designers, Web Developers and many other communities could easily switch over to it.
A great benefit in starting to use SharePoint, say to replace a File Share, is knowing that the expertise earned during that time can be reused in other verticals. SharePoint can be used to build an Intranet, Extranet or almost any web-based application.
Personally, I believe SharePoint will become as core to the enterprise as Active Directory has become today. Though it might still transform and -- who knows -- even change its name, it is here to stay.
Editor's Note: Read Benjamin's Stop Selling SharePoint Social as Facebook for the Enterprise