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Microsoft SharePoint Online is a web-based collaboration tool created by Microsoft. This article will look at how such a tool can be implemented in a business, its pros and cons and whether or not it is suited to your company’s needs.

Introduction

SharePoint has been around for nearly two decades and is becoming increasingly popular in the workplace. Indeed, as of 2017 Microsoft reported that over 250,000 organisations were using SharePoint in some capacity, and the numbers are growing. However, it is important to know why this collaborative platform has proven to be so popular and analysing whether this tool could be implemented in your business.

What is SharePoint?

Firstly, it is important to know what exactly SharePoint is and what it is capable of as it is a feature rich and powerful tool to integrate into your company.

Microsoft have made clear that ‘SharePoint’ can refer to a number of SharePoint products, with each product providing a different function. These are:

  • SharePoint Online – This is a cloud-based tool that allows employees to create sites and share documents. As it is cloud-based, no on-premise infrastructure is required and companies can subscribe to it via Office 365 or as a standalone service.
  • SharePoint Server – It is basically the same as SharePoint online but is installed and managed on-premise and has additional features SharePoint Online does not offer.
  • SharePoint Designer 2013 – This is a free product used to design and compliment the creation of sites in SharePoint.
  • OneDrive for Business sync – This allows you to sync files between your PC and the Cloud. This means you can access files from anywhere and on any device (as long as you have installed the Sync tool) and any changes made to the files will sync up as long as you have internet connection.

We are going to focus on SharePoint Online predominantly as this is the tool we feel could most transform your business’ way of working. This is because SharePoint is just so feature rich. For example, it is capable of the following:

  • Document Management – SharePoint is a dedicated document management system (also known as a DMS). This means you can control the lifecycle of a document in your organisation – ie how they are created, published, reviewed and deleted. You can also manage permissions and access levels to various documents.
  • Document Sharing – As well as configuring access to certain files and folders for your colleagues, you can also share documents and folders to external users you are working for/with. You can do this by granting them access to your SharePoint site itself, or you can just share via other methods such as email attachments or social media link.
  • Security and Compliance Management – Data loss prevention is available in SharePoint to help protect sensitive data. Businesses can configure policies to prevent sensitive or personal data from leaving the environment in a breach. This will also ensure your company is GDPR compliant.
  • Delve Search – This is an intelligent search feature that applies machine learning in order to be able to suggest relevant content based on the user’s activities and what is in their profile – thus helping the user find what they need quicker and more efficiently.
  • Office 365 Integration – Integrates with Office 365 tools such as all the productivity suite applications (Excel, Word etc) as well as Sway, Exchange and Office Graph.
  • Intranet Creation – SharePoint allows you to create an Intranet site for your company easily and securely. An Intranet site is a website that only your company’s employees can access. Your Intranet can include anything from news and announcements to Internal resources and calls-to-action (For example, all employees might be asked to fill in a survey shared on the Intranet).

This is only a fraction of what SharePoint can do. If any of these examples look like they could benefit your business, then it should be seriously considered.

Reasons to choose SharePoint

  1. Web based - As it can be a web-based platform, it can be accessed anywhere from any device as long as you have internet connection. Many tools and applications appear to be heading this way as it is such a convenient and straightforward process to access data in an increasingly online world.
  2. Desktop app - There is also a desktop app available that allows you to access any files and documents via a shortcut in Windows Explorer. The benefit of this is that you can work on files without an internet connection as files are downloaded locally to your computer, and when you are back online any changes you made will sync back up to the Cloud or On-Premise SharePoint.
  3. Familiar layout - As it is a Microsoft product, you would expect it looks and feels very much like OneDrive or Office 365 and as each product evolves and improves, they do so concurrently. Having a piece of software users are familiar with not only makes it less daunting to use, but it also means less employee training is required as the process and layout is so similar.
  4. DMS – It is a very good document management system. Traditionally, businesses and users would access documents saved somewhere on a simple folder-based file server. Whilst this is considerably better than sharing documents by email or another method, it is not perfect. SharePoint gives you the ability track, manage and store documents centrally with ease. It is even capable of keeping records of previous versions created and modified by different users – so you know exactly what changes have been made to a document, who made these changes and roll back to an older version if needed. Users can also work on the same document at the same time and even setup alerts when a new document is uploaded.
  5. Folder Hierarchy/Metadata hybrid – Finding what you need should be easier in SharePoint. Traditionally when organising files, you would create various folders and subfolders and save files into the appropriate folder. Over time the various hierarchies would become nested, over complicated and thus making it difficult to find what you need. SharePoint realised this and now use a combination of the traditional method described above and ‘Metadata’ fields that allow you to organise and tag documents appropriately, and independently of a folder based system. For example, you would be able to search for documents created by a particular author, on a particular date or just search for documents containing a keyword. For permissions, this is really straightforward. Once permissions have been configured, any documents uploaded are automatically secured based on the rules set. Likewise, if any documents or folders need to be locked down this can be configured globally and granularly with ease.
  6. Infrastructure-free - No infrastructure is required as everything is in the Cloud. This just means that all data is hosted on servers elsewhere that Microsoft manage – so you just have to be online/connected to the internet to get access. This can save a lot of money and hassle as you don’t have to purchase or manage the appropriate hardware needed to host SharePoint and any physical or security needs/issues are entrusted to someone else.
  7. Form of back up (sort of) - It is evident that SharePoint’s accessibility options are a big positive, and it is also important to note that it offers, loosely, a form of backup. For example, if you have downloaded the SharePoint desktop app and you are working on a document on your laptop and then all of a sudden your PC fails and you appear to have lost everything, fear not, as SharePoint will have all your documents available online. So once you get a replacement PC you simply have to download the SharePoint app again and just download the files to your new machine. Although this sounds like it is a backup of your data, it is in fact simply a duplicate of your data – which is different. So as business you should still look to back up your entire SharePoint site/library using a tool that does exactly this. You can backup via SharePoint itself or a third party tool like CloudBerry, its up to you. More on backups can be found in our latest backup article.

As you can see, there are a number of benefits SharePoint can bring to your business. However, it is important to highlight the downsides to this as it will not suit every company.

Reasons to avoid SharePoint

  1. Internet Connection – As mentioned above, an internet connection is required in order to access SharePoint and sync up files and folders with the Cloud and device. Whilst SharePoint allows you to work on files offline using the Sync tool, it still leaves you vulnerable to potentially losing your data or changes made in a document if something were to occur before you got internet access (eg hardware fault or application issue).
  2. GDPR/Compliance – Data privacy is more on everyone’s radar than ever now with GDPR in full effect and various other regulations in place for privacy and security reasons. With some regulators requiring data to be stored in specific countries/continents, and sometimes even require data to hosted in a particular building only, this should be considered when thinking about implementing SharePoint Online as Microsoft can’t guarantee where exactly data will be held at any given time as they have servers located all over the world.
  3. Overkill – As SharePoint can provide so much functionality through all the various features it has, sometimes this can be a bit too much. For example, if a company just wanted a cloud location to store and organise files, other products such as DropBox could offer this but at a cheaper price, and be far less complicated.
  4. Subscription Payments – SharePoint Online is most commonly offered as a subscription-based service via various SharePoint plans or through Office 365 subscriptions. Therefore, if a company experienced any cashflow problems that prevented it being unable to fulfil the subscription payment, access to files, Intranet etc could be completely halted for the entire company. Whereas buying outright any non-subscription-based software means you have that indefinitely.

Conclusion

There are a lot of things to consider if looking to purchase/implement SharePoint in your company. SharePoint is a very powerful tool and could potentially revolutionise your company’s way of working, however, as it has so many capabilities it should carefully researched and considered before adopting it, and it doesn’t come without a few caveats. Hopefully this article helps in the decision-making process – contact us if you would like more information or would like us to help with your review.