Microsoft’s Office 365 is gaining a dominant position in the small to midsized businesses (SMB) market. The ability to have enterprise-class email, collaboration and social platforms that integrate seamlessly with the Office platform has transformed the way these companies can collaborate using the cloud. Migration to the cloud is allowing companies to cut costs by reducing or eliminating on-premises infrastructure or third-party hosting and is leveling the marketplace playing field. SMBs can now compete with larger enterprise competitors by using Office 365 solutions.

A key component of the Office 365 platform is SharePoint Online (now called “Sites”). The capabilities of the SharePoint Online platform are somewhat reduced from the on-premises version, but the platform is still capable and powerful from a collaboration features perspective. 

One of the biggest issues companies have had with on-premises SharePoint deployments over the years is the “Swiss Army Knife” approach to features that Microsoft has built into the platform: Team Collaboration, Records Management, Enterprise Search, Content Management and Publishing, Social Collaboration, and Business Intelligence are features that make up the SharePoint Server product stack. 

A major challenge has been integrating business processes into SharePoint. The process of building out an enterprise-grade intranet platform that includes workflow, forms and integration with back-end systems has been difficult for many organizations. Companies that have made this leap have invested a significant amount of money and time on internal cost and consulting fees. Many of these intranet portal projects fail due to cost overruns, overly complex process structures and/or lack of focus on governance and end-user training. 

These issues are still very much front-of-mind with SMBs looking to develop SharePoint Online Intranets. Developing business-focused integrated solutions in Office 365 is expensive, and SMBs are balking at the scope of effort needed to drive digital transformation within their organizations. 

SP Marketplace to the Rescue

SP Marketplace is focused on providing functional business-process-based SharePoint templates for SharePoint Online in Office 365. Its Human Resources, Employee Self Service, IT Support, Sales and Marketing (CRM), Customer Service, Facilities Management, Training, Project Management, Board of Directors Portal and Department Collaboration templates offer companies the ability to stand up a fully functional SharePoint-based intranet portal in a very short period of time.

Deploying SP Marketplace templates can significantly lower costs compared to developing and building these functional components from scratch. Organizations can select individual modules or suites of modules to deploy. The SharePoint templates provide powerful business capabilities that can be installed into an existing Office 365 Tenant. 

In many SMBs, various departments have created manual, labor-intensive processes — often using tools like Excel or Microsoft Access — to manage their business information. Each SP Marketplace template is designed to automate the specific business functions for each department. For instance, the HR Site template has support for general HR inquiries, recruiting, job requisition, time-off requests, time-sheet submittal and so on. The SP Marketplace modules include forms for data entry, PDF forms integration, Excel data extract capabilities and business-related workflow for approvals and task management.

(It should be noted that organizations that have SharePoint 2010 or 2013 on-premises can install the SP Marketplace templates as well, but these modules were designed specifically for SharePoint Online.) 

SP Marketplace Site Structure

The top level of the Intranet portal is designed for global corporate communication where employees can see general information related to what is happening across the company. The next level of the portal is designated for employee self-service capabilities where employees can submit requests, view policies, access documents, track projects, use forms, etc. The third level is dedicated to the departments that provide services across the company (HR, IT, Marketing, etc.). These are portals where department-specific services are managed. This structure follows a best-practice approach for a SharePoint Portal implementation and allows for cross-site communication and workflow. 

SP Marketplace Site Structure

SP Marketplace Templates

SP Marketplace templates are built using HTML5, CSS, JQuery and JavaScript. These technologies are the standard for SharePoint Online development and will ensure that future SharePoint Online upgrades don’t affect the SP Marketplace components. The templates are configurable based on your specific business processes, in terms of menus, forms, lists and workflows.

SP Marketplace Templates 

Task-Based Architecture

The key technology behind the SP Marketplace Templates is its task-based architecture. The sites are designed to manage the business-related tasks for the specific department or service module implemented. Users see specific tasks based on their role in the company. For example, when employees navigate to the HR site they can initiate a task and see any of their open tasks. They can see the specific service request or task and its current status or disposition. When members of the HR Department navigates to the site they see tasks that are assigned specifically to them and any open tasks that are not yet assigned that they can work on.

This architecture ensures that employees can request or initiate services on each of the sites based on the function they are looking to execute. For example, the Employee Services Site (or the Department Site — depending on where the request needs to live) may have an expense submittal process where the employee can submit expenses for reimbursement. When the submitted expenses are saved they are routed to the delegated managers for approval and then on for further processing and payment. Each SP Marketplace module is designed for the specific business purpose needed. Organizations can map their processes to the templates or can modify the templates to meet their business processes. 

Customizable Templates

The SP Marketplace templates are customizable from configuration and branding perspectives. The configuration can be completely adjusted to modify the menu structure and functional components to ensure the solution meets your specific business needs. The design of the portal can be modified to match your corporate standard for fonts, colors and images to ensure the site looks and feels like your corporate brand. These templates can be modified using no-code solutions to ensure they are configured to the specific business processes and can be managed by Business Users instead of developers.

The Bottom Line

SP Marketplace solutions allow your company to implement a fully functional, business-process-based, employee-focused portal in a shorter period of time and at less cost than it would to build these solutions from scratch. The ability to take manual or cumbersome processes and automate them using the power of SharePoint and Office 365 is significant when it comes to managing a small to mid-sized business. 

The capability-to-cost ratio for SP Marketplace is off the charts when you look at what the SharePoint Templates can do for your organization. SP Marketplace is a clear leader in this segment of the market, and it will continue to dominate as Office 365 continues to drive market share.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by Ian Muttoo.