What Is SharePoint?

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Thousands of companies use SharePoint, and more join their ranks each day, yet some still ask the fundamental question: "what is SharePoint?". In fact, more than three quarters of Fortune 500 companies use SharePoint. But, how do so many companies with different operational needs use a single platform? What does it do and how is it so flexible? Why are so many companies using it?

SharePoint is a multifaceted tool for business and enterprise users. SharePoint can become different things, depending on the needs of the organization in question. SharePoint is truly a platform from which a number of other programs launch. Thus, it is not something an end user buys and installs on single computer; rather, it is a network-based environment designed to make creativity and collaboration between co-workers easy and intuitive.

If deployed correctly, SharePoint allows massive companies with hundreds of employees to work as tightly and efficiently as a small office with only a handful of employees who work in close proximity. How does it do that? By creating an environment that allows companies to add functions they need in order to improve productivity. Here are 10 of the top features that make this possible:

1. Intranet

An intranet is a web location that only serves those within a company. Typically, this is where a company communicates things like news, announcements, scheduled tasks, and useful resources.

Intranet functionality was among the first features of SharePoint and has only gotten better with each subsequent release. The modern version offers features that allow an intuitive user interface, with feeds and communication tools similar to those found on popular social media sites. It also provides tools to create wikis—encyclopedic web pages full of useful information.

2. Document Management

Another of the original SharePoint features, document management makes collaboration among co-workers simple. SharePoint allows for a common space where multiple users can access the same files. That means people do not have to maintain multiple hard copies, and companies do not have to contend with the possibility of multiple revisions to the same document floating about or security leaks thanks to accidental or intentional printing and distribution of sensitive materials. Instead, everything a business and its employees need can be stored and in a single, highly secure location.

3. Collaboration

With its built in collaboration tools, SharePoint makes it easy for everyone in an organization to work together and stay up-to-date on various projects. Rather than running down the hall to ask a co-worker for a status update, anyone on a team can look in the system and follow along in real time as changes and updates occur. This also facilitates long distance team-ups, as users can sign in to SharePoint from any desktop or mobile device that has access to the Internet. A worker in Chicago can collaborate with an editor in New York on a project that has to be delivered by the office in Tokyo, all without catching a single flight.

4. Extranet

Inward facing services are great, but what about integrating data between the company and an interactive extranet website? SharePoint can do it. SharePoint allows companies to set up a public-facing website that can be shared with clients and partner businesses. Using SharePoint’s built-in collaboration and document management features, the outside user can be granted complete access to the company’s data, or limited and secure access to just the information critical to the person or entity performing work. It also allows outside users to upload new content into a shared environment, facilitating better communication both downstream and upstream in supply chains and customer-facing services.

5. Websites

Extranets are good, but for dealing with customers and clients, fully functional websites are better. With SharePoint, an organization can create publicly-facing, powerful websites, as well. As a Content Management System (CMS), SharePoint is every bit as functional and powerful as other well-known platforms like Joomla, WordPress, and Magento. But, because SharePoint lives on an organization’s own servers, it is more customizable and allows for easy use of existing shared content that can update automatically and continuously as employees within the organization modify the file.

6. Analytics / Business Intelligence

The digital age is full of data. Data can be useful for identifying trends, figuring out what works and what does not, and making the best plays to capture the largest part of the market possible. But, there is so much data available today that it can become overwhelming and meaningless. Fortunately, SharePoint provides a way to capture, organize, and analyze data in one simple platform. It can automate many data analysis functions, giving companies only the information they need, when they need it, and in an easy to understand format.

7. Add-Ons/Scalability

SharePoint’s versatility is thanks, in large part, to its ability to integrate with other applications. Now bundled with the powerful productivity suite of Microsoft Office, SharePoint can also integrate with a number of third-party programs. This allows companies to run as many different functions as they need to get the job done or to stay as light as possible for simple, nimble collaboration and productivity.

8. Mobile Ready

A growing amount of the world’s Internet traffic originates from devices using mobile browsers. That means business is happening everyday on smartphones and tablets, as well as desktops and laptop computers. Thus, a truly connected productivity suite needs to have mobile functionality. SharePoint does. SharePoint is optimized for viewing across many different mobile platforms, meaning one site can have various renderings without requiring any additional work by a programmer or network administrator. SharePoint also integrates common mobile features like push notifications, geolocation, and integration with Microsoft Office Web Apps—including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

9. Search

Anyone who has attempted to use a collaboration or document management tool that lacked a search function knows just how valuable such a tool can be. SharePoint has a smooth and user-friendly search interface that allows team members to find exactly what they need when they need it with minimal effort. SharePoint continuously crawls through databases, indexing everything that it needs to deliver near instantaneous search results. While possibly one of the most underrated features, SharePoint’s search functionality is probably the one function that everyone in a company will find invaluable.

10. Powered by Microsoft

Possibly SharePoint’s greatest asset is the brand that makes it. Unlike open source platforms, Microsoft is a recognized leader in enterprise technology solutions. Microsoft Windows remains one of the most popular operating systems in the world, and the ubiquity, reliability, and stability of the Microsoft brand means SharePoint enjoys some of the best third-party add-ons, technical support, and pre-release vetting of any enterprise-level software in the world.

How to Start Using SharePoint

SharePoint is powerful, useful, and popular, but it is not for total amateurs to network administration. A proper deployment of SharePoint requires careful planning: giving thought to things like architecture, security, functionality, and more. If your organization does not yet have a network administrator, find one that is both knowledgeable and certified to work with SharePoint. Thoroughly discuss your company’s needs and expectations, and work closely to create the correct SharePoint environment that fits all of your wants and requirements. Once your organization converts to a properly executed deployment of SharePoint, you will wonder how you ever functioned without it.