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SharePoint Consulting Services

Why Would an Organization Want to Use SharePoint?

a) Sharing, Managing, and Finding Documents Made Easier:
Although most organizations have a mechanism for sharing documents, such as attaching them to emails, storing them on a shared network drive or on some other shared medium such as an Exchange Public Folder, or creating copies on a CD or diskette, these methods can be inefficient and result in a document management nightmare. Other organizations may use a "manual" process where the user stores the document in his own storage area until completed, then sends it to a reviewer, and then when approved, copies or moves it to a "completed documents" area with a manually created version number attached to the name.

The problem with manual processes are that the human error factor comes into play. SharePoint can be used to alleviate many of these issues.

An organization that uses SharePoint realizes the "standard" benefits of a document management system, including:
  • A central shared area for storing documents as opposed to all over the network, resulting in improved organization and improved storage efficiency.
  • Automatic indexing, providing the ability to find documents in less time and thereby improving employee productivity.
  • Document check-in/check-out ensures that updates are controlled and users don't overwrite someone else's work.
  • Automatic versioning of documents, enabling history to be maintained and providing roll-back capabilities.

b) Collaborating in the Workspace for Producing Quality Documents
When creating documents, a common practice is to have multiple people working on the document. There may be one primary writer and then several reviewers, each adding his own input. When a group of people collaborate on a document, SharePoint's check-in/check-out ensures that only one person is working on it at a time. If the document needs to be approved by someone before it is considered finished, an approval process can be set up within SharePoint. Users can create shared document workspaces when working on documents and then when the document is complete, move the final document to a portal available to the general public.

c) Finding Relevant Information and Organizing Information into Areas
The proliferation of remote and mobile computing, combined with the increased sophistication of the average business employee, has created information islands. Each remote device becomes an island of information. These islands can be on a mobile device, on a user's home computer, on a corporate file share, in an application, or on a corporate intranet. There may or may not be communications between these resources for information sharing. However, most organizations do have a way to find information. A document indexing and search utility might be used. An email might be sent out describing what the user is looking for with the hope that someone will respond. Colleagues may be pinged to see whether they know where a specific document is located. A manual search of shared network resources might be performed. This leads to a concern shared by many organizations—employees spend too much time looking for information. The SharePoint technologies contain a variety of features to enable users to stop searching for information, and start organizing and finding it instead.

d) Informing Users with Announcements and News Items
Most organizations have a way of distributing information and announcements to employees. An email containing the information can be sent to everyone, the information can be stored on some publicly accessible network resource such as an Exchange Public Folder, or the information can be printed and posted on bulletin boards throughout the organization.

However, wouldn't it be nice to have all company announcements and news items in one place, easily accessible, and available for a set amount of time? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to view only the applicable information and not have to sift through ones you don't care about? If users are going to the portal on a daily basis, having important company announcements and news items right in front of them where they can't be removed or deleted is an efficient way of disseminating information to the users. Placing them in a portal also removes the load of sending information to all users off the email server. An expiration date can be placed on announcements so that they can be on the home page for as long as necessary and then automatically removed. Using the SharePoint audience feature, announcements and news items can be targeted to a specific group or department. This saves users having to sort through a long list of items to find the one(s) that apply to them.

e) Spanning the Organization Using an Enterprise-Level Portal Site
When you install SharePoint Portal Server, a portal site is created. The value of having a SharePoint Portal Server site is that it can bring together information from other SharePoint Services sites and outside sources through its search capabilities. Most organizations will use the top-level portal as the central site (enterprise level) for the organization, or in a very large or international organization, top-level portals may be created for separate divisions or locations. In general, the top-level portal should be designed to handle minimal access on a daily basis by most members of the organization, and as the access point for enterprise-level searching.

Most users will use the enterprise-level portal as the "home" page, or starting point to access other sites, and thus will not spend much time at the enterprise portal. Announcements, events, and news items that apply to the entire organization are generally stored on the enterprise-level portal, as well as links to departmental sites, team/project sites, internal or external sites that are of interest to all users (for example, the organization's own public Web site, a training Web site, an IT help desk site, a site for the company newsletter), and the user's own personal site. In addition, the enterprise site can provide access to enterprisewide applications and will have the ability to search all organizational sites as well as other relevant content from within the organization, and outside the organization.

f) Collaborating Using a Team/Project-Based Site
The team or project site is used by a group of people (the "team") working collaboratively toward a common goal or end point. The team shares documents, shares information, has meetings, and performs other types of communication with each other.

Within SharePoint, there are three basic types of collaboration sites: document workspaces, meeting workspaces, and team sites.

g) Communicating with Partners and Customers Through a SharePoint Extranet
The security and configuration tools within SharePoint make it easy to set up an extranet for working with external partners. External users can be invited to the site for collaboration and/or sharing of information. For example, an organization that uses a marketing firm could set up a SharePoint document workspace site where the marketing company could post its work. A discussion board could be used for providing feedback and ideas regarding the final deliverables. Versions could be maintained to enable reverting to a previous document if the revised one doesn't meet the client needs. If outside users are uploading documents, antivirus protection can be used, along with SharePoint's "block file extension" feature to protect the server from undesirable files.

Another use for a SharePoint extranet that applies to many types of organizations is to use SharePoint as a document repository. Sites can easily and quickly be implemented for partners to search for relevant information. For example, product specs and user manuals can be maintained on a SharePoint site for retrieval by customers, reducing the number of calls to product specialists. Government agencies can store forms and procedures on a SharePoint site for retrieval by the public. The beauty of a SharePoint document management site is that it is easy to create, easy to update, and doesn't require IT intervention to maintain.

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