As we know, Microsoft is intertwined with the enterprise business world. In fact, this reputation has been the source of ridicule from Apple users and the like. However, it’s safe to assume that most businesses in the world have used a Microsoft product at some point in time.
SharePoint is considered one of the most important of these enterprise products, and since 2001 has been one of the world’s most popular collaborative document storage and content management systems.
With the development of cloud technology, an online storage location for important files has become increasingly essential to a modern and efficient business. More people want to access more information remotely, and this is one of the main benefits of SharePoint. So I spoke to some businesses about SharePoint, in order to gauge their opinions, praises, and frustrations about this Microsoft product. First, I asked how exactly they use it in theirbusiness; The Media Company:
Gareth Spencer, Managing Director of Dischromatics in Newport South Wales says;
“We use SharePoint primarily for storing documents which require secure access to certain users only, traceability and versioning. This assists us greatly in our ISO systems where we are able to track who has updated what and when….
"We also use the list functions to track staff training and development and plan targets for environmental performance and business development. Using similar functions, we are able to control our workflow, allocating tasks to different departments, for example from design to print or from video filming through to duplication, and this allows us to set deadlines and trace the progression of an order. In this way we can also assess performance and set plans for continual improvement.”
Dischromatics have got seven SharePoint users in their company, and they all access it in different ways, with four of them using their Nokia Lumia to get into it on the move. But there are some frustrations too. Gareth says he would love to see improved interface with MAC systems for a “fully integrated creative office” and would also love the ability to synchronise his SharePoint calendar onto his Windows Phone. Currently, Windows Phone users can only sync their Exchange calendar directly to their WP8 device.
The PR Agency:
I spoke to Anthony Aston from Syndicate Communications, who says that out of his team of 25, around a quarter of them actively use SharePoint.
"We are a relatively new company and have only been operating for a year. We have had SharePoint for around 9 months..."
He says, like the other smaller businesses I chatted to, that Syndicate Communications mainly use SharePoint to share documents across the team. His main frustration is no being able to use it to its full capability.
The Elite Dating Agency:
Natalie Bystram is a Director of Bowes-Lyon Partnership Ltd, an introduction company working exclusively with professionals. Here, they have 3 “prolific” users utilising SharePoint 2010. This is a recent development for them, as it was only this year they changed from their previous system, Kerio. I asked Natalie how exactly their three users make the most of SharePoint;
“We needed a cloud computing system that would allow the team to access, save, and edit internal documents either in the office or on the go and a system that enabled each user to edit the same files concurrently. We also needed a system that was completely secure, backed up regularly and one that would grow as our business grows. We use SharePoint every day and are editing documents continually throughout each day as we track all correspondence with each of our clients or view/edit other shared documents”
And what kind of stuff does Bowes-Lyon Partnership put on their SharePoint site?
“All business files are held on SharePoint to enable us to be as efficient as possible. We also use the ‘discussions’ section to keep business discussions moving forwards, we are often out at meetings but still need to keep internal dialogue going.”
So for this small business, it seems that SharePoint really is the solution, despite only having three users actively on-board. Natalie’s frustrations are limited to some minor navigation concerns about collapsible folders, and the benefits of using SharePoint are clear for her and the team.
The International Publishing House:
Paul King, Technical & Development Controller at large publishers Macmillan Education, paints a slightly different picture. They use SharePoint for collaboration between departments and divisions, but also as a base for third-party software. I asked him whether all users utilised SharePoint in the same way;
“Mostly, yes. But there has never been any clear direction on operations. We all use it the same but just as we please. When used in conjunction with third party software the company provides training and direction.”
Paul has no particular frustrations with SharePoint itself, and claims that one of the main problems is that many business users are not educated in how to use it properly. He is in no doubt that Macmillan Educationwill be keeping SharePoint for the foreseeable future. For a division of the company with around 200 users, it seems to be the appropriate tool.
It seems that the businesses I’ve spoken to are largely advocates of SharePoint. One thing they all agree is that they will be keeping it for the foreseeable future. For the smaller businesses, SharePoint is primarily used as a cloud-based file storage and collaboration solution, to keep versions of documents up-to-date and to keep everyone in the loop. For Macmillan Education, as a much larger company, SharePoint is also used as the base back-end for solutions such as the project scheduling tool we developed for them last year.
What this highlights is the flexibility of this Microsoft product. It can be developed to expand alongside the progression of your business.
It is also clear that for the most part, the ‘out-of-the-box’ product is initially adequate, as all three smaller businesses said that their solution is currently fit for purpose with the need to invest time or money in further development or customisation.
SharePoint can be used for simple or complex needs, for small, medium or large enterprise; and with its new social features, hopefully SharePoint 2013 can pick up this mantle and carry it successfully into the future.
Matt Goolding is Digital Marketing Assistant for RibbonFish Ltd, a London-based IT consulting firm who develop bespoke software solutions for businesses using various Microsoft technologies. Matt likes blogging about the RibbonFish areas of interest in CRM, SharePoint and web development, as well as the latest business IT & tech trends.
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