What is Microsoft SharePoint?
Microsoft SharePoint is a web-based collaboration and content management system that integrates with Microsoft’s popular Office 365 suite of applications. In short, organizations use SharePoint to create websites. These SharePoint websites are more prominently used for internal purposes (commonly referred to as intranets or portals), however you can also use SharePoint to create external public-facing websites. SharePoint intranets allow you to create a secure place to store, organize, manage, share and access information across any digital device, such as smartphones, tablets or laptop/desktop computers, and are accessible through common web browsers (such as Google Chrome or Firefox) or on mobile iOS or Android applications.
The Main Benefits of Microsoft SharePoint
Sharing and Collaboration
SharePoint enables organizations to work better together. When you use SharePoint, employees are able to communicate efficiently and securely through the company intranet and share all of the critical information and content your organization needs to succeed. With SharePoint, you can work with coworkers on documents/content creation and share thoughts and ideas regardless of physical location, transcending physical boundaries that traditionally hinder collaboration.
SharePoint can keep your employees informed on what’s happening around your company through fast, seamless dissemination of company content and information. Personalized news feeds, employee profiles and beautiful, cross-device/mobile-responsive communication sites mean at any time your employees can tap into the office and feel a greater level of connectivity and engagement with your organization.
SharePoint can increase employee productivity by quickly giving them access to the resources they need to succeed and by automating tedious processes. From important documents to coworkers’ contact information, employees can find what they’re looking for through the company SharePoint intranet and Microsoft’s intelligent search capabilities. And powerful tools and integrations such as Microsoft Flow and PowerApps can automate workflow processes (such as approvals, document routing and storing, etc.) so that they can focus on the core tasks that take your business to the next level.
Who uses Microsoft SharePoint?
Regardless of your industry – whether banking and finance, manufacturing, government/not-for-profit, retail, etc. – your organization can benefit from using Microsoft SharePoint. Consider:
- More than 200,000 organizations have adopted and use SharePoint
- 190 million people use SharePoint intranets daily at their workplaces
In our experience, we have worked with organizations across diverse industries who use SharePoint for various different business needs and use cases, including:
- A major credit union uses SharePoint as an intranet to boost employee communications and disseminate news in a social media style format
- A prominent manufacturer uses SharePoint to automate quality control processes and store critical quality assurance (QA) information, connecting frontline QA representatives with business decision-makers
- A community not-for-profit organization deployed a SharePoint intranet to share news, updates and announcements with all members and employees
- A “Big 5” Canadian bank leveraged the SharePoint platform as a frontend user-interface for business intelligence and analytics dashboards from Microsoft Power BI
SharePoint Key Terms and Concepts
To understand the content structure of SharePoint and how all the various pieces fit together, it is critical to understand a few of the key terms and concepts that lay the foundation for how the system/application works.
SharePoint Sites, Team Sites and Communication Sites
As stated above, organizations use SharePoint to create websites. For most organizations, there are various teams and departments which require segregated collaboration and communication, and therefore a separate site beyond the organization-wide SharePoint site. For example, a member of your product design department may want to publish a memo to the entire department about an upcoming meeting, but not to everyone in the organization. This department may also want to create a shared workspace to store documents pertaining to their duties. This is when SharePoint team and communication sites come in to play.
A SharePoint team site connects you and your team/department to the content, information and applications you rely on to work together on tasks and duties specific to that team/department. On each team site home page, you can view important team files, web pages, applications and recent activity by team members. Each team site can even have its own navigation menu, separate from the organization-wide SharePoint site header, to optimize the user experience for each team.
A SharePoint communication site serves as a place to share news, reports, statuses and other information in a visually appealing format based on the desired topic. The core difference between a team site and a communication site is that teams sites are more adept as a deeper collaboration space (such as working together on creating content and storing a teams’ specific content), whereas communication sites are simply a way to broadcast information, usually to a wider audience.
Simply put, a SharePoint page is web page that you can access through your web browser or application. An example could be the team site home page, or a specific page you created such as “Competitor Analysis” page or “Quarterly Results” page. Based on the taxonomy your organization finds most effective, you can decide whether to create completely new pages on a concept or include that information as a web part on another page.
SharePoint Web Parts
A web part is a widget – or a block of content – that can be placed on a page to display desired information or perform a certain functionality. An example of a web part in SharePoint is a block of the most recently added files. Web parts thus lay the foundation for building your SharePoint site without having to use code to create blocks of content.
A list in SharePoint is a collection of data that gives you a flexible way to organize information. With lists, you can add columns for different types of data and information based on your use case. For example, your customer support department may want to track the problems customers are having and a collection of information pertaining to each customer complaint. You can create a list titled, say, “Customer Support Details”, and add columns based on the information you want to track, such as the customers name, the date, the nature of the complaint, and whether or not the issue has been resolved yet. A SharePoint list is therefore a powerful way to log information with the custom fields you need for each use case.
SharePoint Online Vs. SharePoint Server
There are different ways to deploy SharePoint at your organization depending on your approach, unique needs, business strategy and in-house resources. The two notable ways to deploy SharePoint are through utilizing SharePoint Online or SharePoint Server.
SharePoint Online is the cloud-based service (hosted in a public cloud by Microsoft) of SharePoint. This means that instead of installing, deploying, running and managing your SharePoint environment (SharePoint Server) in your own data center/infrastructure, you benefit from the fully managed infrastructure of the Microsoft cloud and the accompanying benefits this includes, such as:
- No need for infrastructure management or complex deployment processes
- Cloud-based website content management gives you access to your information remotely
- Advanced security features of the Microsoft cloud to keep your critical content secure
- Scalability to fit your needs: pay as you go and don’t pay for more than what you need
In today’s cloud-first business environment, many businesses running SharePoint are doing so via SharePoint Online to take advantage of the benefits noted above. To do this, you can either subscribe to an Office 365 plan – which gives you the full benefits and access to the complete Office 365 suite of applications – or purchase the standalone SharePoint Online service.
Organizations can deploy the SharePoint Server on-premises – that is, on their own servers – or with an Office 365 Enterprise subscription. This option allows you to take full advantage of all the latest features and capabilities of Microsoft SharePoint while hosting it in your own data center. This is usually the route selected by organizations that seek greater control over their infrastructure and the behavior or design of their SharePoint architecture.
Why would I choose one of SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server over the other?
To opt for SharePoint Server means running SharePoint on-premises, therefore requiring the necessary in-house resources to so. This includes:
- Server space: running SharePoint Server requires having room on your servers to deploy the system and house information and data. If your server space is inadequate, you will either have to choose SharePoint Online or weigh the costs and benefits of investing in increasing your server capacity.
- IT team: opting for SharePoint Server requires adequate IT skills to be able to deploy and manage your own infrastructure. Thus it is important to gauge the capabilities of your IT team to adequately manage these servers, weigh the costs of outsourcing this work, or again, opt for SharePoint Online
SharePoint Server therefore requires greater investments in people and infrastructure/hardware while with SharePoint Online, your internal resource requirements are reduced.
Where do you want your information stored? What are your information policies?
With SharePoint Online, your information is stored remotely on Microsoft’s cloud servers. This means that highly critical and sensitive data and information is essentially being held away from your company’s premises and managed by someone else. Many organizations are simply unwilling to take this risk. Your organization may even have compliance/legal policies that strictly forbid this practice. It is therefore critical to consider the significance of where your information is stored and what your information policies are when deciding between SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server.
As with any business decision, cost considerations come in to play. However, when choosing between SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server, there isn’t a simple answer as to which is the cheaper option. Again, it depends on various factors of your organization. Generally, opting for SharePoint Server will require a greater initial capital expense, whereas opting for SharePoint Online will require greater ongoing operational expenses.
Some organizations may have preexisting server space they are willing to allocate to SharePoint as well as already possessing the in-house skills required to deploy SharePoint Server. For these organizations, the potential upfront costs of opting for SharePoint Server may be lower and thus be a more cost-effective solution than purchasing on Office 365 subscription that increases ongoing operational expenses. However, for organizations without the necessary resources, additional hardware costs, employee on-boarding and/or outsourced IT support may drive up the cost of deploying SharePoint Server and thus encourage the adoption of SharePoint Online.
Again, the unique scenario of each business plays a significant role in weighing the benefits of SharePoint Server vs. SharePoint Online.
MRS and SharePoint
MRS is a leading provider of Microsoft SharePoint solutions for businesses. If your organization is considering adopting SharePoint, you are curious as to what it can do for you, or you are looking to find a long-term SharePoint partner than can help you maximize ROI, we are here to help.
Highlights on the MRS SharePoint practice include:
- 15+ years of SharePoint experience
- 200+ SharePoint projects completed for medium-sized business to enterprise
- Premier Microsoft Gold partner for 20 years
- Full-service SharePoint practice, including custom development, consulting, SharePoint intranet services, modernization and branding, deployment, upgrades and migrations
- Experienced in both SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server solutions