What Is SharePoint: all You Need to Know

If you are thinking about how to establish or improve enterprise collaboration, this article is right for you. Read on to learn the key things about SharePoint, its strong and weak points, and alternatives.

What is SharePoint?

SharePoint is a secure platform for enterprise collaboration and document management, which can be organized in the form of a website, corporate intranet, DMS, or knowledge base. On the whole, SharePoint can mean one of the following things:

  • SharePoint Online, a cloud version of the platform;
  • SharePoint Server, a platform for on-premises solutions;
  • SharePoint Foundation, the basis for SharePoint Sites, free software for on-premises implementation;
  • SharePoint Designer 2013, a gratis solution for workflow automation.

The above versions differ in deployment costs and available features. For example, SharePoint Server includes more capabilities to create sites, web parts, lists, and libraries. To learn about the exact differences, check official SharePoint documentation

In general, SharePoint is used to optimize collaboration and information exchange, as well as manage team workflows. It provides managing access to documents based on employees’ roles in the organization. Employees can work with the metadata of documents and get information about them without even opening (tags, authors, and last changers). 

What is SharePoint used for?

There are three popular use cases of SharePoint solutions: corporate intranets, document management systems, and knowledge management tools. 

Intranet

A lot of large enterprises use SharePoint as an Intranet. Software developers can fine-tune the platform to support the needed business workflows and social functions. 

A SharePoint-based Intranet can provide a variety of tools and capabilities, such as:

  • corporate landing page
  • convenient navigation
  • company policy
  • employee profiles
  • user access control
  • project and task planning
  • meeting management
  • mobile access
  • multipurpose web parts and add-ons
  • communication tools
  • onboarding tutorials

Document management system

A SharePoint-driven DMS is a popular tool for collaboration on documents. It provides a hub for secure and centralized document storage, simplified document processing, as well as allows working together on documents, from the moment of template-based creating to archiving outdated versions. Employees can share content directly via SharePoint or use personal storage and provide links to the docs. 

Document management systems eliminate such problems as unstructured document storage, inefficient search, duplicate data, and inability to track changes. The functionality of SharePoint document management system can include: 

  • indexing
  • enterprise search
  • version control
  • real-time collaboration
  • approval workflows 
  • audit trail

Knowledge management system 

A knowledge management system based on SharePoint makes information available to users with a push-and-pull model (with the searching and learning opportunities).

It also helps companies manage tacit and explicit knowledge, including ideas, experience, instructions, and documents. 

Like any software, SharePoint has advantages and disadvantages. Let’s review both below.

What are the advantages of SharePoint?

Affordable prices 

The subscription fee of SharePoint Online is charged per month and calculated according to the number of employees. Usually, the costs are acceptable for medium and large companies.

Powerful functionality

You can access ready-made blocks of features, such as web-pages, which simplifies configuration and customization.

High-level integration

SharePoint integrates well with different Microsoft products and other business software, such as CRM, ERP, HRM, etc.

Flexible settings

SharePoint is suitable for companies of any scale; you can use and pay for only the required tools.

Convenient access control

SharePoint allows managing different levels of access. You can choose who can view, edit, delete, or approve actions.

Constant information exchange 

Thanks to cloud deployment, employees can use SharePoint from any place, while being  at home or during a business trip. It helps teams better manage time and increase overall efficiency.

Centralized project management

SharePoint accumulates documents and information about the project in one place. This way, team members can better control the timing and efforts, as well as review history and collaborate in real-time.

Accurate reporting

SharePoint keeps track of all employees’ activities. Because of it, you can create reports automatically and evaluate the performance of team members based on the required parameters.

Going beyond the company

SharePoint can be used to support communication not only between departments but also between the company and its partners.

What are the drawbacks of SharePoint?

High total cost of implementation

Despite the availability of cloud SharePoint, its on-premises implementation can be costly. 

Need for training

The effective usage of SharePoint takes constant training, as the platform’s functions are being updated and modified. The necessity of training also depends on the customization level of SharePoint: the more complex functionality you add, the more important it is to train your staff to use it.

Connection with Office 365

SharePoint Online requires an Office 365 license for each user. It can be a problem if the company doesn’t have a license yet and there are a lot of employers who need it. 

Difficult access for external users

External users can encounter multiple credential requests and get errors when trying to access SharePoint.

What are SharePoint alternatives?

SharePoint is the most popular decision for enterprise collaboration, but there are other platforms with their benefits and disadvantages which can be more suitable in some cases.

Confluence

It is good for managing projects and documents as well as creating a knowledge base.

For: Confluence has intuitive UI and UX and is easy to set up. It allows for fast file uploading and sharing. The software can integrate with Jira, HipChat, and Google Apps. 

Against: Confluence has a complicated organization of documents. You cannot find the file if you don’t know its name. 

eXo platform

It is open-source software for large companies, which can be used for social networking, content management, and collaboration of employers.

For: eXo platform is easy to use, good for document management, and convenient for mobile access. eXo has a lot of capabilities for integration and customization, supports internal social messages, forums, and wikis.

Against: There is no reporting and analytics in eXo platform, which reduces the effectiveness of collaboration.

HyperOffice

HyperOffice is the multifunction solution with an integrated suite for collaboration. 

For: HyperOffice includes email service, Outlook integration, calendar, task management, content management, real-time collaboration (Synchronous editing), and version control.

Against: You need to train employees to help them master all the functionality of the package. It can take time.

Box

Box is a cloud solution for storing, managing and sharing files. It is accessible from any place in the world. Box has clear UI, high security and mobility, group calendar, and capabilities for audio and video conferences.

Conclusion

SharePoint is one of the most popular platforms with flexible settings, powerful functionality, and a high level of security. Most often, companies use it to get a corporate intranet, a document management system, or a KB. Depending on the needs of your business, you can choose to customize SharePoint Online, SharePoint Server, SharePoint Foundation or Designer 2013, or even try an alternative tool, such as Confluence, eXo platform, Box, or HyperOffice.

Which platform do you prefer for your business? Let’s discuss in the comments below!