For many small businesses, Microsoft Excel is the default software application used to store company information, communicate with team members, and control content. However, as businesses grow and their needs increase, they often find Excel cannot meet emerging challenges that demand faster, more efficient communication, more control over information, and better organization. Excel is independent in nature and it is therefore it is difficult to connect external parts of a business. Due to Excel’s structure, it is cumbersome to manage large amounts of data, especially if they involve disparate parts of an organization. Businesses may be wasting untold time and resources trying to stretch the use of an outmoded program that can no longer keep up with their needs.
For these businesses, it may be time to step up to a SharePoint solution. SharePoint enhances sharing and communication by providing a central repository where information can be easily managed, controlled, and distributed. SharePoint breaks down the different areas of a business and provides tools for connecting them in meaningful ways.
However, a lot of businesses are skeptical about Microsoft’s rapidly growing SharePoint technology. This may be because they are unsure about what it does and how it can be applied to their business operations. The purpose of this article is to define SharePoint, discuss its uses, and help you consider how it can be applied to deliver a positive return on your investment.
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What is SharePoint?
Microsoft SharePoint is a multi-purpose web application platform that can make communications, collaboration, and content management more fluid and effective for many businesses. The SharePoint platform assists with information sharing, enterprise search implementation, business processes, and business intelligence to streamline business operations, increase productivity, and ultimately save time and money. The three main themes of SharePoint are communication, information, and organization.
SharePoint’s communication features improve the way people work together, helping teams stay on top of who did what, when, and to which documents.
SharePoint assists with sharing and information distribution to enhance teamwork. Content is kept in a central repository rather than spread throughout the organization, making it easier to access, assign, control, and share. Tasks are assigned and team members are automatically notified of their jobs. Upcoming events are easily found and sent to appropriate parties. Blogs and discussion forums provide a platform to share information and ideas.
SharePoint gives users more control over information. Content management is more fluid and effective for businesses by keeping it in a centralized location and synchronized to all members. Here, information is in a secure and private place where it can be shared with assigned team members, clients, or partners. Using efficient check-in/ check-out management features, users can add, edit, and delete the same documents while maintaining version control. Companies can gain more control over their documents with content approval functions. And if mistakes are made, they can restore earlier versions.
Organization is also enhanced through SharePoint. Content can be added in the form of a table or lists where users can easily search and assign tasks. By storing content within a manageable database, it becomes much simpler to access and share. With the calendar tool, an event can be created and stored with related documents and other media. Automatic notifications can alert relevant parties about upcoming events or document changes. Data can be accessed with Internet-enabled mobile devices so all parties can have information at their fingertips, no matter where they are in the world.
Essentially, SharePoint is a collaboration tool, improving the way people work together in an organization by providing tools that allow information to move fluidly among users and departments. Users are able to collaborate, share ideas, discover information, and stay in sync with the challenges of the organization. Better collaboration leads to better productivity, innovation, and more informed decisions that ultimately reduce costs and save resources without adding any overhead to an organization.
How Can a SharePoint Solution Help Your Business?
1. Increased Productivity
SharePoint is intended to increase productivity through a variety of features and tools that get the right information to the right people at the right time, while eliminating unnecessary tasks through automated processes. Team projects are better managed with centralized locations for task management systems and workflow solutions that keep members apprised of task status, deadlines, and milestones. Workflow solutions define project processes and automatically send appropriate notifications, updates, and alerts. SharePoint allows users to work offline on files, project tasks, discussions, contacts, calendars, blogs, and other documents and then synchronize the updated information at a later date.
2. Better Decisions
The decisions a business makes ultimately determine its future. Successful businesses know how to collect, access, and analyze important business information and marketing data to gain effective, strategic, tactical, and operational insights and make better decisions.
A SharePoint Services allows businesses to quickly respond to a changing marketplace and rapidly evolving business needs by easily accessing readily-available information. For example, a project dashboard allows users to view and filter company and project information so they can have an overview of a particular business issue at their fingertips. Accessing and distributing the right business information allows a business to make better decisions regarding the a company’s future.
3. Unlocked Innovation
Innovation is a creative process of coming up with a new idea and successfully applying it. Innovation can help a business improve productivity, reduce costs, be more competitive, find new customers, and increase profitability. A business that fails to innovate loses market share and fails to get ahead.
SharePoint is an innovation assistance tool that helps unlock creativity through information discovery and sharing. SharePoint’s discussion features allow users to share ideas, offer expertise, and create custom solutions for specific needs. For example, a user can start a private company blog to share ideas with a team that’s only viewable to those with given access. With better team communication and brainstorming sessions, SharePoint creates a platform where all team members can participate and push each other to trigger their creative potential.
4. Benefits of SharePoint
SharePoint reduces costs by consolidating intranet, extranet, and Internet sites on a single platform, either in-house or by using the cloud. Training costs can be cut by using SharePoint to distribute training materials to teams, clients, and partners through a password-protected website that is accessible anywhere. Resources, time, and effort are saved by SharePoint’s productivity and collaboration features, allowing businesses to focus more energy on higher business priorities. Maintenance costs are also cut by having SharePoint take care of much of the ongoing software application needs of a business. SharePoint delivers these benefits without the increased overhead of more staff or dedicated resources.
Useful SharePoint Tools
Often the reason businesses are reluctant to switch to SharePoint is because they fail to envision how it can be applied to their specific business to deliver tangible benefits. While there are many tools associated with SharePoint, the following tools usually have the most understandable applications to business operations.
1. CRM Tools
With SharePoint, businesses can more easily implement a strategy for managing their company’s interactions with customers, clients, distributors, and sales prospects. CRM tools afforded by SharePoint can assist with marketing endeavors, customer support, and even technical services. SharePoint can share CRM data with customers, partners, and distributors, enabling them to submit requests, track status, and view information. Content management features can be extended to your customers or clients – you can create secure central documents that your clients can view and edit. These documents are synchronized so updates are accessible with a click of a button so they can be shared among clients and partners. SharePoint makes it easy to offer training materials or other customer information available in a password-protected website that can be accessed anywhere in the world.
A SharePoint calendar will keep your users apprised of upcoming events, meetings, deadlines, milestones, and other important dates to remember. Users remain focused and teams are more cohesive when all users are aware of calendar events. Customers also are kept aware of company or product events through email updates. You can overlay a SharePoint calendar with Outlook calendars or with other SharePoint calendars so that you can filter events or see them all at once.
3. Workflow Solution
All businesses, no matter their size or scope, have workflows that dictate a pattern of activity enabled by the systematic organization of resources, defined roles, and flow of information into a tangible process that can be documented and learned. In SharePoint, workflow is defined as the automated movement of documents or items through a sequence of actions or tasks that are related to a business process. Using SharePoint business logic, a set of instructions that specifies and controls the actions that happen to a document or item can be attached to workflows. This can streamline the cost and time required to coordinate common business processes.
For example, by attaching the right business logic to a project approval or document review process, you can quicken the process and improve accuracy. When the document author starts the approval workflow, the approval tasks are automatically created and assigned to workflow participants and sent as email alerts with instructions and a link to the document to be approved. The workflow owner is automatically notified when the tasks are completed, and can check the workflow status at any time to see which participants have finished their tasks.
4. Dashboard Tools
SharePoint allows you to create a project dashboard to help keep people synchronized and on task. You can view and filter project elements, such as project details, project documents, project tasks, project issues, project calendars, project milestones, project lessons learned, project risks, project change orders, and others. Effective use of the dashboard can help you monitor business metrics, analyze issue causes, and enhance business intelligence to improve decision making. You can customize the SharePoint dashboard to make essential tools readily available to manage your contents and users.
Is SharePoint Right For Your Business?
There are sound business reasons for using SharePoint, but it is up to each business owner to take a hard look at their business case and calculate the true cost of ownership. Consider your number of users, licenses, and servers, and any extra modules of functionality you’re likely to require. Overall, if deployed seamlessly and used effectively, SharePoint should reduce costs, save resources, and ensure accuracy while delivering tangible business benefits, including improved productivity, better decision-making, and increased innovation.
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