According to tradition, cats and dogs don’t get on. They can live in the same house, they know each other exist from catching fleeting glimpses, they see each other’s food bowls, but never the twain shall meet. And yet, every now and then, a happy household pops up in which everyone gets along fine and everyone wonders what the fuss was about.
It’s a similar story for large and small businesses. Small businesses know how large businesses work; they see the results; they know the tools, financial models and software; and yet somehow find themselves thinking, "ah, but that’s not for us".
Microsoft SharePoint is a great example. Most small businesses with a bit of exposure to technology know a little about SharePoint; and what they know goes something like this:
- It’s big and powerful, and does a lot of different things
- It’s very expensive and it’s used by big companies
- Ah, but it’s not for us
If that's your experience, it’s time to re-evaluate. SharePoint Online is a hosted (or 'Cloud') version of SharePoint, which it means it has all the functionality of SharePoint without any of the upfront technology expenditure because it’s delivered across the internet. And SharePoint online is available for L2.60 per month by itself, or as part of the bundled-up set of services in Office 365 from just L5.25 per month. At less than the price of a burger and fries (in fact, these days, forget the fries...) each month, SharePoint isn’t expensive, and therefore isn’t solely the preserve of big companies.
However, it is big and powerful, and it does do a lot of different things; which has in the past been a problem. SharePoint was perceived as a jack of all trades, but a master of none; requiring endless customisation to do what would otherwise be fairly simple tasks. Again, time has changed this: not only has a vibrant online and offline ecosystem developed to support SharePoint’s millions of users, there is also a wealth of free plug-and-go templates to solve typical business problems.
Master of All Trades
What sort of problems? Well, SharePoint is billed as a collaboration tool; and that’s certainly true. A better description would be to say that SharePoint connects people, information and the processes by which you deliver your business. As a simple example, let’s consider taking an order online. SharePoint can manage both your public website and an internal intranet where your orders are maintained. When a website visitor places and order, that order information can be popped into whichever databases are required (say, a packing list, delivery, scheduling and invoices) and shared with the right people to get the job done. All of this is searchable, and designed to fit in with the way you already work – so the technology works for you, rather than the other way round.
Here are just a few of the applications which SharePoint can fulfil or automate, quickly and simply:
- Share and manage documents internally or online. Grant or restrict rights to documents with complete control
- Invite partners, clients, freelancers etc. to collaborate on documents or entire projects
- Run intranets, project websites, personal sites or websites with elegant templates and powerful database functions
- Search anything within your SharePoint sites; and then slice and dice information so that it can be presented usefully to different audiences
- Stay compliant with automatic retention policies. If you need to keep documents, orders or financial records for compliance purposes, SharePoint can make this natural and simple.
- Build your own line-of-business tools (for client tracking, fulfilment, accounts payable etc. for example) easily and without requiring professional assistance
- Office Web Apps (OWA) is built in – OWA allows full-fidelity editing of Office documents through a browser
More importantly, of course, you can string all these applications together to get jobs in your business done more effectively. And with SharePoint Online, there’s no risk either: you can turn it off anytime.
Does any of this really matter?
That’s a good question, which harks back to where we started: the difference between smaller and larger companies. When twenty people are needed to get a job done, they obviously all need to be collaborating effectively. If there’s only five of you, perhaps the old paper job-cards and sticky notes will do just fine? Before we decide, let’s look at some evidence from professional analysts who assess this sort of thing for a living:
- Butler Group reported that 10% of staff value is lost because employees can’t find the right information to do their jobs
- Accenture say that middle managers spend over a quarter of their time looking for information – and when they find it, it’s often wrong
- And the New York Times reported that 15% of a typical information worker’s day is spent riffling through content
That’s an awful lot of wasted time. And here’s the simple point: a fiver a month is a lot less than 10% of the value of the productivity of your people. If spending some time and effort on deploying SharePoint rescues even one deal, or makes your employees even 1% more productive, it will comfortably pay for itself.
Three Steps to ‘doing SharePoint’ right
So, if you’re going to dip your toe into SharePoint, here, finally, are some words of advice for getting it right:
Work out the quick wins: begin with applications of SharePoint which are both of most utility to your business (i.e. solve big problems or bring in money) and which are easy and fast to deploy in SharePoint.
Keep it simple: SharePoint does lots of things, but don’t try to do everything at once. Your first project should have a clear objective, start date and finish date; and achieve one small function.
The team comes first: SharePoint integrates beautifully with tools like Outlook; tools with which your team are already familiar. That familiarity is worth its weight in gold; because not everyone is a techie! Build services which maintain that familiarity and simplicity.
Find out more:
SharePoint Online included with Office 365
Videos: Getting Started with SharePoint
SharePoint rollout tips from the National Computing Centre