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5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Microsoft SharePoint

Collaborate Better in Microsoft SharePoint With These Tips

5 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Microsoft SharePointOver the last decade, a large number of novel enterprise software applications, business suites, and robust Information Technology (IT) platforms have been created by a number of vendors, giving rise to new workplace opportunities, more refined business operations, increased productivity, and better operational efficiency. Typically, modern IT enterprise systems have a specific focus on integration, collaboration, and the usage of analyzed business data (Business Intelligence) to better increase internal operations and meet the needs of customers in a more efficient manner. From public cloud systems, to mobile tablets, to Big Data analysis and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, a number of new technologies have greatly impacted the global ecosystem of businesses in a number of ways. While such technologies can be readily adopted by SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and large businesses alike, in order to increase their operational efficiency and productivity and to increase the bottom line of the enterprise, such technologies must be leveraged correctly.

 

One of the most robust, powerful enterprise software systems today is the Microsoft SharePoint system. While Google offers Google Sites/Docs for document creation, sharing, storage and collaboration, Microsoft offers a number of equally powerful solutions that can be integrated into the IT infrastructure of most enterprises in order to allow greater, more seamless and integrated operations and daily workflows, allowing all personnel of a company to use the robust tools of Microsoft SharePoint for daily collaboration and data sharing. Microsoft SharePoint is a platform and set of packages, applications, and tools, which are installed on a backend server and connected via an enterprise’s intranet. Thus, along with Microsoft OneDrive - or a private company cloud system - SharePoint allows the community of an enterprise to operate together in a collaborative manner via a central, online IT software hub. Microsoft SharePoint, thus, is a cloud-based online server and collaborative management, development, storage, and enterprise data analysis platform that can be used to create documents or files, share data across networks, collaborate and update information in real time, analyze data to generate reports (based on Business Intelligence), store and upload data to the central system, manage workflows and operations, develop dynamic (Web 2.0) websites, and much more.

It is important to recognize that Microsoft SharePoint is not a single program, but is a suite of online (server/cloud-based) tools, and thus operates as a platform for web development, data sharing, and collaboration. Regarding the latter, one of the core functions of SharePoint is to help establish an efficient, productive workplace community by allowing all personnel in an organization to work together in a seamless, integrated manner. While certain tools associated with SharePoint can be installed locally on a desktop/laptop or other workstation - such as SharePoint Workspace, and, previously, SharePoint Designer - most tools associated with the SharePoint platform are utilized via a local intranet and accessed via a browser or other online/network gateway. SharePoint can also work alongside Microsoft Office and its included suites, including Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft PowerPoint, etc. Integrating local Microsoft suites with the cloud-based SharePoint system allows for seamless integration of workplace workflows, documents and data, along with the feasible sharing of files, efficient collaboration, and the real-time updating of business files, all of which allows enterprise workflows to be created, managed, and updated across organizational teams in a feasible manner.

Microsoft SharePoint has the added benefit of allowing for centralized management of all workplace operations, which creates an interface for executives to utilize SharePoint as a central management hub. As noted by Microsoft, SharePoint’s core functionalities can be divided into six key areas:

  • Sites: Microsoft SharePoint is largely a powerful, efficient web-site development engine and platform, allowing businesses to create dynamic websites (not simply static, read-only webpages) for specific teams, for an entire department or company, or for the public. Additionally, it is important to note that most of SharePoint’s functionalities are delivered to a business via a series of intranet sites, with a specific organizational hierarchy.
  • Communities: SharePoint’s functions allow for the creation of an integrated, closely-knit community of contributors, allowing teams, or other personnel, to update, comment, edit, create and/or share files/documents across a team, department, or enterprise.
  • Content: SharePoint operates in conjunction with cloud storage and cloud computing systems, allowing an enterprise to securely upload crucial business documents and/or files into the central hub (SharePoint system), while specifically allowing certain documents to be uploaded, or the entirety of the documents/files created by specific personnel. For instance, in being integrated with Microsoft Office, local files created on local workstations can be automatically uploaded into the SharePoint system, allowing for immediate organizational collaboration.
  • Search: Microsoft SharePoint offers a powerful solution for locating, viewing, and accessing specific pieces of data among a large pool of files and contents, all while maintaining the correct viewing permissions and the secure integrity of crucial business files so that all personnel are able to view/access only the appropriate files/documents at any given time.
  • Insights: The uploading of contents and collaboratory workflows associated with a large pool of business data does not give any actionable insights to data scientists and executives. To this end, SharePoint allows the seamless integration of Business Intelligence and data analysis applications with the core system in order to allow the data associated with the SharePoint system to be leveraged in a way that can give executives new strategies and business operational tactics.
  • Composites: SharePoint allows businesses to customize modules and create add-ons without the need for code, in order to allow additional functions that suit an enterprise's specific needs, such as a composite allowing specific workflows and operations/projects to be created and managed in a certain way, and/or an add-on giving executives the ability to generate specific reports based on the analysis of specific business data-sets.

As noted by Viftech, Microsoft SharePoint gives enterprises several key advantages and benefits with regard to managing, implementing and carrying out business strategies and enterprise operations. These benefits include the ability to apply and utilize an increased magnitude of Business Intelligence solutions - with feasible integration with other areas of the enterprise’s IT infrastructure - along with the ability to manage corporate risks, increase collaboration throughout a project’s life cycle, and establish better workplace communication between - and within - teams. Additionally, SharePoint allows better content management, a more scalable infrastructure, centralized administration of all workplace operations, site consolidation, security and integrity of data, and a customizable system to meet every business's needs.

Other features that allow SharePoint to be a flexible and robust enterprise solution for most businesses is its ability to connect with legacy systems, the ability to integrate data analysis, Big Data and Business Intelligence systems with the platform in order to gain insights into business operations and activities, and its ability to be greatly customized with custom add-ons and modules (without the need to code) to suit the specific goals of an enterprise. While Microsoft SharePoint is a powerful and robust platform, it is a complex one, and in order for it to be leveraged correctly by businesses, its functions must be thoroughly understood, and certain best practices should be followed.

 

Plan Your Information Structure in Advance

Business Productivity is one of the most important aspects of any organization’s daily and continued operations. Increased productivity and efficiency directly correlate with an increased bottom line. As noted by Microsoft, the McKinsey Global Institute and a Gallup Poll, respectively, noted that “productivity improves by up to 25% in organizations where employees are connected.” Additionally, they noted that “disengaged employees cost the US more than $500 billion each year in lost productivity”.

Although Microsoft SharePoint can greatly increase an enterprise’s productivity and efficiency, its functions must be leveraged correctly and with an overall business strategy in mind. While SharePoint allows an immense amount of content and data to be stored and accessed via its system, that information must be structured and modeled in a particular manner if it is to increase business productivity and the efficiency of continuous workflows and operations. Within the intranet SharePoint system, how personnel access the information within the system is entirely based on the Information Architecture associated with an enterprise’s information management and governance model.

Information Architecture and The Importance of Planning Ahead

Per the above, in order for an IT system (including the SharePoint system) to operate in a way that benefits a business, the Information Architecture (IA) must be well-organized and based on a strategic plan. The overarching IT strategic plan of a business should include a section detailing how the information within the SharePoint portal is to be organized, governed, and maintained. In order for the most optimal information structure to be realized for any given enterprise, a carefully-crafted plan must be created, and the development of the information architecture must be carried out accordingly.

Several factors are associated with an enterprise's optimal IA, including the objectives and model of the business, the type of content being dealt with, the classification of content and privacy/associated content permissions, the life cycle of the content, and the personnel (teams, departments, etc) who will be accessing the content.

Site Hierarchy

With regard to an optimal SharePoint structure and architecture, the organization, or hierarchy, of the SharePoint websites - through which SharePoint’s features are delivered - determines how the system can be leveraged, and is thus an important factor that businesses should take into account. Since the features of SharePoint are delivered via a series of intranet sites, the site hierarchy also helps to determine accessibility and administration of information/data. Essentially, the deployment of a specific intranet hierarchy allows different teams, departments and personnel to potentially access, manage and control their own documents, information, data, security, integrity and workgroups in a specific way.

There are several models associated with proper intranet hierarchy, but,  regardless of the specific enterprise or department using SharePoint, there are some best practices and common options available:

  • Separate Site Collection: With this option, each department gets its own site collection. This option is good for scalability, where very large enterprises have departments that are not connected to - and rarely communicate with - other departments, but has the downside of requiring a great amount of administrative overhead to manage the potentially large number of separate site collections being utilized.
  • Departmental-subsite Single Site Collection: With this option, all departmental sites reside in a single site collection one level below the homepage (the root). This allows for easy administration, feasible creation of new departmental sub sites (residing under the homepage), and optimal management of metadata, security, etc.
  • Functional-subsite single site collection: With this option, instead of all departmental sites residing below the homepage, adding another level of sub sites based on departmental function allows for easier administration and management of sub sites by site owners.

It is important to note that sites are where content is stored, and that each site collection can be managed for administration, permission, and security, and can be crafted for a number of departments with a large number of unique sub sites.

 

Track What Users Are Searching for In Your Intranet

As has been noted, the SharePoint intranet system allows personnel to conduct robust searches for specific pieces of data/content within the system. It is possible to harness the data associated with user searches in order to determine notable and significant trends, and to pinpoint patterns and specific metrics associated with key business documents. This can help executives to make better, more informed decisions in the future based on having an understanding of how users are interacting with specific SharePoint sites. SharePoint provides a robust usage analytics report system that can allow managers, site owners and/or executives to have a better understanding of what users are searching for within the enterprise’s intranet.

Tracking user queries and analyzing keyword/search patterns to generate usage reports is a feasible operation within the SharePoint system. The usage analytics report system displays a myriad of different user statistics and metrics that are used to generate two usage reports that are updated automatically every 24 hours, along with generating a collective view of all user activity within a site - the usage summary report.

 

Understand Meta Data

Metadata typically entails information about a piece of data that allows it to be easily accessed, organized, classified, categorized, and/or managed. Within the SharePoint system, metadata is the information about the stored files, such as author, title, creation date, modified date, file size, etc. It is important to note that some metadata in SharePoint is generated automatically, while others must be manually entered by the user. The more refined a file’s metadata is, the better the file can be categorized and managed.

What is Metadata and How is it Used in Microsoft SharePoint?

Per the above, metadata allows site owners and personnel to create detailed, custom metadata tags and categories within the SharePoint system in order to better organize files and site content. Additionally, SharePoint supports both local and global (site-wide) metadata, all of which helps to increase the efficiency of data-accessibility based on the robust search function. Essentially, detailed metadata categories allow for refined, filtered search operations so that users can locate and access specific pieces of data when it is needed.

Make Sure Employees Understand It’s Function, So They Can Properly Search and Upload in The Intranet.

The significance of detailed and customized metadata categories and tags must be understood by personnel as they upload and create content within the SharePoint system. This practice helps to ensure that all content is categorized correctly and can be found when it is needed. If personnel do not understand or implement correct metadata best practices, productivity can greatly decrease due to the resulting inefficient search operations that do not allow users to find the pertinent content/data, that they require, when it is needed.

 

Keep Private Documents Out of The Public Search

The SharePoint system is largely permissions-driven, and also allows for the secure storage of private documents. When using the intranet system linked with externally-facing public websites, it is important for executives and managers to ensure that all private documents are kept out of public search operations. Thus, the effective management of all private and public information - associated with all internal/external sites within the overarching enterprise SharePoint system - is key in order to ensure that only authorized users are able to view private documents.

How to See What Permissions a User Has

Once a SharePoint site is created, setting user permissions is a crucial task in order to ensure that only specific users, teams or departments have access to critical information. It is important to note the differing aspects of user permissions. For example, having permission to access a file is different than editing permissions and sharing permissions. Depending on the specific project and/or management model, a site owner or manager may want to determine who is permitted to take certain actions within a site or subsite. Additionally, it is possible to establish SharePoint groups, which is a set of users with the same permission level. To view the permission level of specific users or groups, managers or site owners need only open the list/library with the pertinent user/groups, and use the list settings option to check the permissions and management information for the associated list/library. The same operation can be done to view the permissions of users/groups associated with folders, documents and files.

How to Keep Private Company Documents from Being Available to All Employees

In addition to viewing the permissions of a user within the SharePoint system, the Microsoft platform allows for the feasible management of user and site permissions within all sites and subsites. As noted by Microsoft, “by default, all sites, lists and libraries in a site collection inherit permission settings from the site that is directly above them in the site hierarchy.” Assigning unique permissions to a list/library to keep certain documents private requires the breaking of permission inheritance, followed by the assignment of unique permissions, all via the Permissions page. Additionally, the use of the SharePoint classification screen helps certain documents from being published in the wrong (non-private) categories, and the use of private sites also keeps private documents from being accessible to inappropriate users.

 

Master the Mobile App

In an age of globalism and corporate-wide collaboration, coupled with remote workers and/or traveling personnel, it is important for key systems to be available to all personnel on the go. To this end, SharePoint offers both iOS and Android apps that should be leveraged by businesses - along with a VPN service to encrypt communications when accessing backend services - in order to keep up business productivity. An enterprise’s intranet should be organized with an effective, non-cluttered Information Architecture in order to ensure that mobile users are able to access the pertinent files in order to remain productive. Essentially, the SharePoint intranet should be mobile-friendly.

 

Remember That Your Intranet Is Only As Powerful As The People That Use It

An effective SharePoint Intranet is only powerful if the users are able to leverage its functionalities appropriately. In order to do this, it is important for personnel to understand how to use SharePoint services correctly. Keeping business productivity up is always a primary goal, and can be done by creating a business environment where personnel are constantly engaged and active. SharePoint helps to create such a business community and environment, while management can aid this by implementing an appropriate employee checklist that helps to ensure that everyone is using SharePoint effectively.

In conjunction with other business tools and suites, Microsoft SharePoint is able to operate as a powerful enterprise tool that can dramatically transform modern businesses, if it is used correctly.

 

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