SP13_plus_c5Over my many years in the IT service industry, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of various people and clients.  Over the last few months I’ve been doing a lot of SharePoint training related work, and got me thinking that there’s not a ton of content targeted to the end user, the non-power users.  While it is important that they know how to create the various sites / lists and libraries used by everyone in SharePoint, I wanted to take a step back and provide some information to the folks who USE SharePoint.  So I have decided to start a multi-part blog series on this topic.  I haven’t quite decided yet where I will end on this blog series, but I will do my best to cover the end users, as well as provide some information to the power users as well.  So far in this series:

  • Part 1 – What is SharePoint? (this post)
  • Part 2 – Creating Content
  • Part 3- Working with Views

    To start with and ensure we’re all talking the same thing, we need to level the foundation.  It’s easy to assume otherwise, but I continually find people at any given company across a variety of industries who don’t even know what SharePoint is.  They have heard the term perhaps, but don’t know what it is, much less all it can do (beyond the dumping ground for your documents).  So let’s get started with Part 1:

    What is this SharePoint Thing Anyway?

    Great question, I’m so glad you asked, you must the smart kid in your class.  The first step is admitting you don’t know what you don’t know.  You may have heard many say that SharePoint isn't the easiest thing to define, and that’s true.  It’s not the same thing to you as it might be to someone else in terms of who it is used.  I could talk for hours on this topic, but I will try to give you a good basic understanding.  Let’s see how the Microsoft Marketing machine defines its’ own product:

    Some have commented that while cool, it’s very high level and not technical.  It’s not meant to be.  This was made using the SharePoint 2013 version of the platform, and is meant to show you how SharePoint can connect, empower and dare I say inspire people across a company.  To help get this message out, Microsoft created a website called Discover SharePoint.  It goes into a little more detail:


    Discover SharePoint Get Started

    The site goes on to give you examples of ways common departments in a company might use SharePoint to “get things done together” with use cases and some basic configurations videos:

    • HR & Internal Communications
    • Finance & Accounting
    • Sales / Marketing
    • R&D / Production / Operations
    • Legal
    • Information Technology

    Having said all that, let’s talk a little more technical turkey.  First, SharePoint is a web-based technology and is not something IT or the help desk has to install on your computer.  SharePoint is “server” software that runs on servers in a secret back room somewhere, or it could even be hosted by another company or even by Microsoft.  Maybe SharePoint is what you call your “intranet”, maybe it’s just that website you go to upload some documents.  SharePoint is those things, but also much more.  It’s not one thing, it’s many things, which is why it’s called a platform and not just a single application.

    SharePoint Capabilities

    I like to think of the SharePoint platform like a bunch of legos.  Under its covers are many parts (single bricks), structures and different objects that provide the “framework” that build the “platform” you see in the interface.  I won’t go into all of the details of all of it’s capabilities, but I will try to outline the basic purposes of what it can do. 


    • Sites

    SharePoint is after all a web-based platform, but the point here is that it can be purposed for intranets, extranets, or a public-facing internet site (check out Chilis.com, yea that’s SharePoint!).

    • Communities

    This is the social arm of SharePoint, providing all of the features you use to connect and collaborate with other users across an organization.  This is taken to another level with SharePoint 2013.  It now provides a very similar social experience that a lot of users are used to with Twitter, Facebook, etc.  You can follow people, sites and documents in your newsfeed, make posts in a microblog with an interface to handle internet videos, pictures and links, and can include # hashtags and @ mentions.   With the acquisition of Yammer by Microsoft, they provide the capability to replacing the built-in social feed with Yammer

    • Content

    SharePoint has always provided enterprise content management (ECM), but with SharePoint 2013 that has gone further.  Of course it can still store folders and files, but it’s so much more.  If that’s all you are doing with SharePoint, you are missing out!!  You now have the ability to upload documents by drag-n-drop in any browser!  Like with previous versions, you can also do things like:

      • Enable major and/or minor versioning to eliminate the need to keep multiple copies of a document
      • Allow users to draft/published versions of documents via content approval
      • Automatically copy/move documents between locations based on metadata via the content organizer
      • Declare documents as records either in-place or in a Record Center, to prevent even admins from modifying or deleting them unless defined by policy
      • Provide the ability for content to be rated by either a 1-5 star style or like/dislike style function
      • Define a corporate taxonomy structure to ensure content classification consistency with Managed Metadata
      • Store various types of content as either documents (Word, Excel, PDF, etc.), rich media assets (pictures, videos, etc.) electronic forms and others
      • Sync content offline with OneDrive for Business
      • Sync content with Office apps like Outlook, Excel and Project

    • Search

    SharePoint includes a rich platform for searching and retrieving content from within SharePoint, file shares as well as from the internet to provide the user a robust set of accurate results and filtering capabilities. 

    • Insights

    Insights are all about Business Intelligence.  This includes the back-end pieces that provide the data needed as well as the tools needed to visualize very large datasets in interactive and engaging ways.  This includes major pushes with the Microsoft-hosted Office 365 and Power BI, to improvements for any user of Excel with new free add-ins Power Pivot, Power View, Power Query and Power Map (more info on all here).

    • Composites

    SharePoint can also hook into other enterprise business applications / systems to access data and help automate complex business processes that cross systems like HR on-boarding and Accounts Receivable Invoicing just to name a few. 

    SharePoint Editions

    Now that you are more familiar with SharePoint’s capabilities, I wanted to close this out with the various flavors in which SharePoint is available as this does come into play with what features are available to you.

    1. Microsoft Hosted – Office 365

      Microsoft provides a platform of applications and solutions hosted by Microsoft and offered in a subscription-based offering where SharePoint is one of many different solutions that can be chosen.  When referring to SharePoint in this offering, it is called SharePoint Online.  Subscriptions can be purchased for SharePoint as part of a larger Office 365 plan, or as a SharePoint Online-only subscription.  When using SharePoint Online, not all of the features available are available as they would be if SharePoint was hosted by the local company.

      These next versions are either installed locally by the company or hosted by a 3rd-party SharePoint hosting vendor.

    2. SharePoint 2013 Server – Foundation

      The Foundation version is actually free, and provides basic functionality.  The few features that are included are basic and limited.  But if all you need is some basic content storage and basic search, this works fine. 

    3. SharePoint 2013 Server – Standard

      The Standard edition steps up and provides all the good stuff, all of the more robust features you would want like advanced search, metadata, social, etc.

    4. SharePoint 2013 Server – Enterprise

      The Enterprise edition builds on top of the Standard edition, adding features for Office integration like Visio services, Excel services, Access services and InfoPath services.  These various services allow you to load Visio drawings, Excel workbooks and Access databases in the web browser, without having to install the Office client.  InfoPath services allows users to create rich forms and allow others to fill out and submit the forms in the browser.

    I hope I have opened your eyes and cleared the clouds somewhat on the basics of the technology that is SharePoint.  Stay tuned for more articles where I will dive into the basics of SharePoint usage! 

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