Some people think that Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 might be the file server “killer,” and that in the future, everyone will save their documents on the SharePoint portal, not a traditional file server. In some respects, they may be correct, because SharePoint does have some very compelling features that almost any company can use. It does have some limitations; however, if you are aware of these boundaries, SharePoint can be a valuable asset in almost any company. You almost have to be a Web developer to truly appreciate how easy it is to customize the built-in Web Parts of SharePoint. The Web Parts are easily customizable modules or “building blocks” that you can add to any SharePoint Web Page. It’s amazing how quickly and easily you can build and change the functionality of a SharePoint site just by using the features that are included with the base product.
There is a Standard and Enterprise version of MOSS 2007. The Enterprise version includes all the features that the Standard version includes, plus the following features:
1. InfoPath Form Services. Let’s you create custom forms with Infopath and store the form data on the SharePoint SQL Server.
2. Excel Services. Allows you to create, edit, and share Excel spreadsheets on the portal, without the need to have Excel installed on your computer.
3. Report Center. A Dedicated Site for creating Reports, including a data connection library to access other line of business (LOB) applications.
4. Business Data Catalog (BDC). Allows MOSS 2007 to connect to external data sources and other LOB applications to present Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other metrics of your company’s performance.
For more information about the different versions, refer to http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/products/FX101758691033.aspx. The MOSS 2007 interface can be a little confusing to end users at first, so be prepared to provide some basic training when you roll out the portal.
For any SharePoint project, we suggest prototyping rather than attempting to develop the all inclusive SharePoint site. We have had the most success with the prototyping approach. Start small with a few basic Web Parts and obtain feedback from the end users. Then make the necessary modifications, add more functionality, and repeat as necessary. Because you can easily create templates of existing sites and quickly add/modify/delete Web Parts, it usually doesn’t make sense to try and develop the entire site up front. If MOSS 2007 isn’t providing the functionality you require out of the box, you may be able to obtain the desired results with SharePoint Designer, Custom ASP.Net code, or third-party add-on modules.
SharePoint really shines for companies that have the following requirements.
1. Users are working on relatively complex tasks.
2. Users must have up-to-date timely information.
3. Key decisions are based on up-to-date information.
4. Users are geographically dispersed and may reside in different time zones and countries.
5. Multiple parties both internal and external to the company must collaborate on projects.
6. The company requires a master contact list, calendar.
7. Information on the portal must be quickly located.
8. The company wants to retain Business Data Intelligence when employees leave the company.
9. Everyone in the company buys into the concept of the portal, and contributes entries that allow the portal to gain “Critical Mass.”
In my consulting business, we use MOSS 2007 internally to handle a number of functions that make us more efficient. These include the following:
1. Knowledge Base. Using one of the Fab 40 templates (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/windowsserver/sharepoint/bb407286.aspx) as a starting point, we developed our own Knowledge Base (KB) to record issues that we encounter as part of our consulting business. This KB prevents us from needing to reinvent the wheel and allows us to share troubleshooting knowledge across the company. As a general rule, if a problem took more than several minutes to solve, we record the issue in our KB. We also use the KB to record installation notes and other tips, tricks, and pitfalls to avoid when installing major applications such as Exchange Server, SQL Server and SharePoint.
2. Intranet Site. We use SharePoint to handle HR and other internal company items.
3. Client Event Tracker. For any significant client event, we create an entry into your Client Event Tracker Web Part. This allows us to track important historical events for any client. There is a lookup field in this Web Part that ties an event to a specific client. It is especially helpful for project coordination when projects that last for longer periods of time and more than a few consultants are involved in the project.
4. Shared Contacts. This is a master contact list for all of our clients. We also use a notes section to handle all of the miscellaneous user accounts (licensing, product registration, etc.) that are incidental to any network implementation.
5. Shared Calendar. This helps coordinate major events and scheduling for our company. Whenever someone is out of town on a project or on vacation, we use this calendar to track their status.
Of course we have clients that are using SharePoint as well. Here are some examples of how our clients are using SharePoint to gain a competitive advantage:
1. Project Coordination. One of our clients is an architectural firm. In addition to using SharePoint for its Intranet site, the company uses SharePoint to coordinate projects with clients, contractors, engineers, consultants, interior designers, and city planners. It has become the authoritative location for the latest CAD drawings, communications and other important project information. It ensures that all parties are kept in the communication loop so important decisions can be made with up-to-date information. Using Infopath forms and some custom ASP.net scripts, project managers fill out a simple questionnaire and the necessary specification files are emailed to the user based on their answers in the questionnaire. Prior to this Spec-Wizard, a project manager had to be interviewed by the specifications manager to ensure a project manager would receive the correct specification files for a project.
2. New Store Opening. We have another client in the restaurant business. It is planning to open a new restaurant just before the busy Christmas season. Using the Store Opening Fab 40 template as a starting point, this site coordinates the numerous decisions that are necessary when opening a new restaurant. In the past, without SharePoint critical decisions were made and costly revisions arose because decision makers did not have access to current information. Task tracking with actual costs allows the company to compare how the project is performing financially by comparing budgeted to actual costs.
These are just a few examples of how different companies are using SharePoint. Almost any company can benefit from a SharePoint portal. Give SharePoint a try to help your company gain a competitive advantage.