SharePoint Made Simple: A Step-By-Step Guide

SharePoint?

Haven’t heard much about SharePoint before? If not, don’t worry.

You’re not the only one.

The question “What is SharePoint”? is the #1 SharePoint-related question searched on Google every month.

Recently, I asked a friend what he thought SharePoint was. He told me it sounds to him like something to do with slideshow sharing (SlideShare + PowerPoint?).

So what is SharePoint? 

This technology guide will help you understand SharePoint. 

Definition

Let’s try to define SharePoint.

Wikipedia’s definition is not so good:

SharePoint is a web-based collaborative platform that integrates with Microsoft Office.

Yikes!

We want to find a simple definition that is easy to understand and remember.

Here’s the best definition for SharePoint I found:

SharePoint is used by organizations to create websites.

Simple enough, right?

You can create websites by using a software called SharePoint!

Organizations use it.

What can you do with these websites?

You can use them as secure places to store, organize, share, and access information – from almost any device.

You might think of SharePoint as a Google Docs or DropBox.

SharePoint takes those offerings and adds way more functionality and customization options.

So why would an organization need to create websites that do all that?

Because people in them need information to do their work.

When an organization uses a website for this purpose, the website is called an Intranet. (not INTER-net – I’ll explain more on this later).

So, now you know that you SharePoint to make intranets!

But who makes SharePoint?

A company you may be familiar with: Microsoft.

What does SharePoint look like?

Here’s an sample:

[Source: Microsoft]

You can see from above that SharePoint looks like common web pages.

It shows you content that’s relevant to your work.

So what’s the deal with SharePoint?

Why SharePoint matters

Organizations face challenges when it comes to productivity.

For example, more than 65% of employees spend too much time searching for necessary information.

In your organization, make sure people are able to easily find what they need and get work done quickly.

SharePoint websites allow you to make your intranet do that.

What about costs?

SharePoint helps organizations save costs. 

People are not spending excessive time retrieving their work.

Instead, they are getting stuff done.

When was SharePoint released to the public?

Back in 2001.

Since then, organizations everywhere are using SharePoint more than any other similar software.

Over 85% of Fortune 500 companies are using it.

A few of these companies are UPS, Kraft Foods, and Dell.

In fact, there are over 300,000 organizations all over the world using SharePoint.

Impressive.

What’s more impressive? Organizations using SharePoint have had a real vocal part in making SharePoint better.

What if your organization asks for improved functionality, or even compliance?

Microsoft is willing to pursue those changes to keep you satisfied.

Why is SharePoint where it’s at today?

Because it’s become what’s been needed.

One clear example of this: using websites on mobile devices.

Mobile is now the main way people access information.

Intranets need to be mobile ready, or “responsive”. 

Microsoft has added mobile capabilities to SharePoint. That makes sure sites are looking like what people expect on their mobile devices.

[Image Source: Microsoft]

Another major need for organizations: Security.

Security is a huge concern today, as it should be.

More than 2.6 billion records in organizations have been compromised, lost or stolen. That’s up by 88% from the previous year!

Knowing those facts, make sure that your confidential information doesn’t get into the wrong hands.

Secure your information

We’ve seen a large amount of breaches during the past few years. So having solid software that has no vulnerabilities to expose is vital.

So, how does SharePoint stack up in security?

Strong.

Proof of this is by seeing that government entities are using SharePoint.

They show their confidence in its strong security features and compliance.

Microsoft spent roughly one billion dollars on improving infrastructure security for SharePoint Online – in just one year!

Microsoft has a solid determination to make sure SharePoint continues to stays secure.

Considerable time and effort is spent when creating a new intranet.  

One report reveals that the average time it takes for a company to create an intranet is 1.2 years.

So an important question rises:

Can you invest in using SharePoint while feeling confident in its future?

Yes!

The good news about SharePoint is: There’s a billion dollar company behind it.

[Image Source: Google Finance]

Microsoft isn’t going away anytime soon.

They has the resources and stability to stay behind SharePoint for a long time. 

And that’s exactly what they want to do.

So, how can you use SharePoint in a practical way?

Let’s look at an overview of using SharePoint.

Overview

We mentioned the concept of an intranet.

I’ll explain this term more. Then I’ll circle back later to how SharePoint helps create an intranet.

We’ve all seen and used loads of web pages on the internet.

You see that web pages on the internet allow you to do many things.

You read the latest news, send email, and keep track of information.

[Image Source: Google]

You use an intranet in the same way, with one big difference:

An intranet has information only for those within an organization.

You limit access to those within the organization.

Information is sometimes confidential and proprietary.

It’s possible to still allow outsiders to access to parts of your intranet if you so choose.

Yet, most information there is for company eyes only.

Do employees use an intranet much for work?

At least 50% of employees use their intranets daily for their work. Depending on the industry, that could be good or not so good.

But even so, an intranet is still needed.

Here are some examples of what an organization can use an intranet for: 

  • You can put an announcement on a highly visible page for everyone. 
  • You can writes an article in behalf of your department about a product launch.
  • You can create a dedicated website for your team. You can use it to create, store, and share documents. You can keep track of a project schedule, and leave comments for others on the team.

Can SharePoint do the above?

Yes, and quite well I’ll add.

That’s where SharePoint shines.

If you go ahead and ask someone what SharePoint is, you might be met with a confused look on the person’s face. 

Even so…

It’s affecting over 190 million people that are using it for their work.

People in any of the 300,000 organizations using their intranet may not even realize they are using SharePoint websites.

It’s like turning on a TV.

The physical aspect of the TV fades into the back of our minds as we binge watch our favorite show.

Popcorn, anyone?

TV stays out of the way.

It fades into the background.

So does SharePoint, if used correctly.

I won’t get into using how to use it correctly in this article too much, as I’ll be writing more on this in a future article.

Assuming we use it correctly, what does SharePoint offer?

I’ll show you. Let’s break down SharePoint into two main categories: Communication and Collaboration.

Communication

In your organization, internal communication with your wide audience is important.

You should communicate your organization’s purpose and goals.

Yet, if not done right, people won’t feel engaged.

73 percent of employees who say they work at a “purpose-driven” organization feel engaged.

Pockets are showing that this is needed:

Each year, 85% of organizations either keep the same internal communication budget or raise it.

Businesses are willing to spend big money to keep their whole company on the same page.

When your organization unites their thinking and culture, time and money is saved.

That’s why there are departments dedicated to communicating those things.

Think about departments like Marketing or Communication.

You commission them to broadcast thoughts to a wide audience of workers.

And they need to do it in an appealing way.

You can’t just wing it:

So how can you communicate effectively?

You could send out announcements in letters and memos to all departments on paper.

Paper can give an official feel and elevate the message when done well.

Yet, it does bring up some challenges in our time.

Workers are happier to work remotely.

91% of them feel they get more done when working away from the office.

Quick communication to your remote workers is important.

That’s hard to do with paper communication.

Making sure everyone has access to the same information at the same time can pose a challenge.

Posting information on a physical bulletin board is another option.

Yet, this presents other issues.

With a bulletin board, you’ll need to keep it up to date and relevant.

You spend time to moderate these physical boards.

If you don’t review them, any enthusiastic person could put anything on there.

What they put on there might not line up with the company culture.

Or worse – it could contain inappropriate content.

So those are offline methods.

What’s left?

Digital communication.

People all over the world are using computers to send and receive communications.

It’s only natural that they get what’s relevant to their work in their organization.

Email is an effective way to communicate to audiences.

If you need to update or edit something written in an email though, it gets a bit tricky.

Sending a correction to people in an organization can add more bulk to a person’s mailbox.

It looks unprofessional.

Email is still very much needed for work purposes. Yet, you can improve internal communication further.

How so?

An intranet is a very effective tool to communication to people in your organization.

In SharePoint, you’re able to put any communication on a site. You give people easy to read content, and allow them to interact with it all.

Here are examples of strategic communication that departments can do with minimal effort on SharePoint sites:

  • Your Marketing department puts the latest news in the media about the organization
  • Your Sales team posts a how-to guide on selling a product
  • Your HR department posts links to Policies and Procedures
  • Your IT department adds training for those on-boarding into the organization

You can also communicate information about events:

  • Announce any event that your organization is planning.
  • Get more information from people confirmed to attend an event.
  • Post an interactive map of the location of the event.

Communications can also be simple:

  • Place the weather for any location on a page.
  • Put shortcut links to important pages and applications.
  • Put a lunch truck schedule for your buildings (more common than you think).

How do you keep track of whether people are actually reading announcements?

SharePoint gives you analytics.

These analytics will show you how many people are visiting pages and engaging them.

You can limit publishing content to only approved people.

We don’t want anyone writing announcements for everyone to see.

With SharePoint, you can limit the ability to create announcements for everyone. You can give this access to only a small group of people.

You can then have fewer people review and approve content to go live for everyone to view.

With SharePoint, it’s just a few clicks to create these content.

It’s simple to add text, images, and create attractive pages.

This makes it possible to choose someone to contribute content without advanced technical skills.

You’ll need to make sure content and announcements are released at the right time.

You don’t want people knowing about something before it needs to be out there.

With SharePoint, you can design how the announcements will look. You can create them as drafts until you are ready to publish the page.

Viewing pages on a mobile device or tablet is important as well.

In many organizations, people are on the go.

Today, this is what many places are looking like:

More than 40 percent of government employees use mobile devices to perform work.

Half of those employees say they can’t do their jobs well without using their mobile devices.

In Britain, 60% of employees already use mobile apps for work-related activity.

By 2020, it’s predicted that in the U.S., mobile workers will make up 70% of the whole workforce.

Mobile isn’t an option anymore.

Make sure people get work-related information from a phone or tablet.

NASCAR uses a mobile-first strategy for their intranet using SharePoint.

Before, during, and after events, their logistics team need vital information.  

Using SharePoint with mobile devices has made a real difference for them.

It’s sure to make one for you.

With SharePoint, you can design a page that is responsive and usable on all mobile devices.

Mobile is here, and its predicted to continue to grow.

SharePoint is making sure to grow with it.

Part of communication is also about receiving communication from your workers.

Once you to get positive engagement from your audience, your communication is effective.

It may be a surprise that less than a third of U.S. employees are engaged with their jobs.

With SharePoint, you can use your intranet find out if your workers feel engaged or not.

You have the ability to put up a poll or survey to ask exactly what you’d like to know from everyone.

Make it easy to fill out.

Put it on a popular page on your intranet so they know it’s there.

Pose good questions.

If you do the above, people will be eager to fill it out. They’ll want to let you know how they feel and think. 

If you’re a small enough company, announce work anniversaries. This will build up morale and camaraderie. 

Happy people boost productivity

Build a knowledge base. Employees can go there for frequently asked questions, or internal questions.

How about a rewards program where people nominate others for recognition?

The above kind of effective communication will help your organization stay productive.

Using SharePoint, your organization will have the necessary tools to communicate well.

Collaboration 

Smaller audiences, such as a team, need helpful tools to be productive.  They need tools to work together on files and information.

Like what?

Email is a very popular method of communication in the world. 

Here are some facts:

  • 4.6 billion email accounts exist worldwide
  • 2.7 billion people use email worldwide
  • On average, 131 business emails are sent/received per day per person 
  • 212 billion business emails are sent/received daily
  • 45% of email traffic is actually SPAM
  • 9% percentage of SPAM actually gets delivered

What about using email to collaborate within organizations?

Too much email communication could easily cause email overload.

Because of overload, managers typically spend 100 hours a year on irrelevant email.

[Source: Inc]

People in organizations are familiar with email. So if left alone, they will send emails back and forth with edits on a document.

That can cause problems.

How so?

Duplicate files.  

Over time, once files getting spread around, you’ll get unnecessary copies.

You send a file to one person for review, and get a different file back with edits.

Then you’d send it to another person, and get yet another version back.

Imagine, you could have hundreds of versions of the same file on your computer.

When do you delete them? How does a company know what’s on your computer?

With all these files going back and forth, you get closer to a number limiting the amount of emails you can store.

If you reach that limit, you’ll need to clean up and delete old emails in your mailbox. The alternative would be to keep asking to raise your mailbox limit.

That’s just not practical.

To keep your emails organizations, you could create many folders in the email account.

But what if you leave the organization one day?

There might be valuable information there that needs to still exist for other people.

And no one is going to have time to comb through thousands of emails on someone’s way out the door.

Not ideal.

There is also the matter of retention.

Keeping information longer than you legally need can cause issues down the road.

Even the IRS tells you to how long to keep copies your tax return.

When information exists only in email, your organization can’t see content is growing, until it’s too much to process.

Who wants to sort through all that? Ugh.

There are some alternative services that are available to store and share documents. Two well-known ones are Dropbox and Google docs.

Some small businesses have begun using these instead.

Should you do so as well?

A key difference with SharePoint is how mature SharePoint is.

The maturity level of SharePoint is so much higher compared to these other services.

The amount of flexibility and customization you get with SharePoint is much greater. You can connect most Microsoft services to SharePoint through Office 365.

Time will tell if other competitors will catch up to the maturity of SharePoint.

In the meantime, SharePoint is a champion at team collaboration.

Part of that has to do with the built-in integration of tools that most people are already using.

I’m talking about Microsoft Office!

You’re most likely familiar with Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint presentations.

The files these products make work seamlessly with SharePoint.

You can create, view and edit these files right from a SharePoint site! No need to download the files to your computer.

With SharePoint, you can use popular internet browsers: Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari, FireFox, and more.

If you have a list of information you want to keep track of, you can use SharePoint to store this.

Want to create a products list?

Store all your product names, ids, descriptions, prices, and more in a SharePoint list.

What if you need to generate actionable tasks once you enter information?

Here is where a workflow can come into play. You can assign the necessary tasks, set calendar items, and send automatic emails.

All this without using any code or programming. 

Need to pick up work where you left off from yesterday?

SharePoint uncovers the files and information you last worked on. It shows you files that your team is working on.

It’s effortless for you to pick up where you left of, or see how things are going with other people’s tasks.

When you need to find a file, you can use the search box. It’s like using Google.

You type in what you need to find, and you get links to information in the search results.

What if you need more functionality that just what SharePoint offers? 

SharePoint is seamless when integrating with all the other Office 365 apps.

Here are some uses for these apps:

  • Forms
  • Email
  • Tasks
  • Calendars
  • Mobile Apps
  • Training
  • Notes
  • Social

What about wanting to connect with others who can help you?

You can use SharePoint to find people who can help you.

You can search a directory based on their role, skills, past projects, or more.

Is training needed to use SharePoint?

Definitely.

If done right, the training involved for users to collaborate together in minimal.

Tying both Communication and Team sites together, you get something like this:

 

[Image Source: Microsoft]

You should plan the structure for your intranet sites.  

Two ways you can organize your structure is: functionality or geography

Here’s an example of organizing your SharePoint sites by function:

What the future holds for SharePoint

Based on how mature it is, SharePoint isn’t going away anytime soon.

You can feel confident that the effort in using SharePoint will not be in vain. 

Microsoft is all in and heavily investing in SharePoint and its Office 365 suite.

It has become much easier to get started using SharePoint.

For a mid to large sized organization, more tools to assist in migrating lessens the load. You can move over to SharePoint from any other system.  

Companies outgrow their smaller scale software and methods. This has caused pain-points that SharePoint solves.

When you match up SharePoint with Office 365 on the cloud, you end up with most of the tools you need for your company.

With SharePoint Online, you don’t need to your own very high-powered computers. You don’t need to run it on your network. You don’t need to hire a large team to keep it running well.

That’s a lot of potential costs saved.

With SharePoint Online, Microsoft takes care of the technical details in the background.

You’ll still have many ways to customize and change SharePoint. That allows you to match how you need to work, even on a technical level. 

According to Google Trends, the interest in SharePoint Online has grown. 

People’s interest in it at its highest now. 

What about if you want to make a technical career out of SharePoint?  

There are many opportunities available for you. Also, the pay is usually competitive.

How to get started 

What if you wanted to get started in using SharePoint. How do you do it?

Sign up for an Office 365 subscription that includes SharePoint Online.

Microsoft’s site offers a free trial, with no need to even enter in payment information to try. Few details from you are needed to get started.

For more dedicated licensing help, buy licenses through a Microsoft Partner.

Another option is buying licenses to run SharePoint on your own computers (servers). This is usually done by medium or large businesses.

This takes more costs upfront, but offers the highest amount of control. Your IT department owns and controls all aspects of the software and hardware. They configure and maintain everything.

Even though Microsoft is a giant corporation, it shouldn’t excessively weigh down your budget.

SharePoint’s cost isn’t outrageous by any means.

In fact, the smaller the business, the more potential cost savings.

With SharePoint Online, you can leverage SharePoint on a monthly per user basis. And you won’t need a large IT team to support it.

Conclusion

That’s the guide of SharePoint. It offers many benefits to an organization. 

Here’s a summary of some points we went over:

  • You can use SharePoint to make websites
  • SharePoint is used mainly to provide an intranet and team collaboration
  • Communication and Collaboration are two major components in using SharePoint
  • You can use SharePoint with Microsoft’s servers using SharePoint Online and Office 365
  • You can SharePoint on your own servers by buying licenses

I hope this guide helped you to understand what SharePoint is.

Do you plan on using SharePoint soon?

How has SharePoint affected your organization?

Will you use any of the strategy I mentioned in your organization? 

Let me know your biggest takeaways in the comments.