Microsoft SharePoint is a product that invades your company culture, in a good way.
“In its most basic sense, SharePoint is an intranet, used primarily by companies to increase collaboration and efficiency,” says Zack Schuler, founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. “The current version is SharePoint 2010, but it has been out in some form or fashion for the last eight to 10 years.”
Smart Business spoke with Schuler about how SharePoint works and how to determine whether it makes sense for your organization.
How does SharePoint change the way your company operates?
Again, it is an intranet, which means it is a place where workers will spend their time when it comes to tasks like document management, or when they need a central place to collaborate on a new project or idea. It can be used as a portal where you can post metrics and key performance indicators of how your company is doing in different areas. SharePoint displays that data in a way that is meaningful to your employees. It is also frequently used for workflow applications.
How can SharePoint improve workflow?
Here’s a basic example. Let’s say an employee wants to request time off. At Cal Net, they will go to the HR SharePoint team site and enter the days they want off. The SharePoint site integrates with our HR information system and notifies the employee how many hours they have accrued for time off. The employee will submit the form, which will automatically be routed to their manager as well as the HR manager, then get electronically approved or denied, all through an automated routing system.
SharePoint can handle just about any business workflow you can think of, and it does an exceptional job with it.
It integrates well with Outlook and the entire Microsoft Office stack. It integrates natively with SQL server, so it can integrate with an accounting application to pull and display data that is meaningful to employees.
How does SharePoint help employees make better decisions?
Let’s say the company shares the gross margin percentages of each department with the department head. There are three ways to do that. The first way is to have the CFO or controller log into the accounting system, look at the gross margin and e-mail that to the department head. That is a lot of work.
The second way is to give the department head access to the accounting application and let them look themselves. Most companies probably aren’t going to do that.
The best way to do it is to pass that data along in an automated fashion to the SharePoint team site and present that department head with the data they need to see: the gross margin or sales of that department. Then, the department head can use that information to make better decisions.
How does SharePoint foster collaboration in the workplace?
Here’s an example of how SharePoint can be used in collaboration. If three people in a department are all working on a procedure manual, the traditional way of accomplishing that task is for one person to work on it, then e-mail it to the next person. As the document goes back and forth, it becomes difficult to figure out what changes were made or who has the latest version. With SharePoint, you would simply post that procedure manual on the SharePoint server, then different people can check in and edit that document.
How can SharePoint eliminate the traditional computer files, folders and e-mail attachments?
Rather than documents getting stored in a particular folder, they are stored on the SharePoint site. Then, you assign ‘audiences’ who are able to view particular documents.
For example, if a document is one that all the staff needs to see, like an employee handbook, we will store that on what we call our ‘people’ site. This is where all employees would go for anything related to HR: handbook, insurance forms, company phone directory and calendar of days off.
Instead of sending file attachments, if someone asks you for the latest phone list, you send a link in their e-mail that takes them to the document on the SharePoint server. Then you don’t have to worry about a company phone directory floating all over the place.
What about security and difficulty of setup?
All of the individual SharePoint team sites are set up on the SharePoint server. For example, you can have a management team site where you would store all management-related information. You would have to be in the management group to get to that site. If you’re not in that group, you won’t even know it exists. When you go to the listing of sites, only the ones available to you are shown. No one will click on a group site and get an access denied message – they just won’t see it in the first place.
At its most simplistic form, it is a day or two worth of work. But when you start digging into it, the possibilities are limitless. That can take more time.
How can a company determine if SharePoint would help them?
Every company has documents, so it’s going to be valuable for every company. However, it is especially useful for companies with no formal automated workflow or document management system.
If a company already has a business automation system in some sort of software application, there might not be an advantage. But most small and medium-size companies don’t. Those are the companies that can benefit the most from SharePoint.
Zack Schuler is the founder and CEO of Cal Net Technology Group. Reach him at ZSchuler@CalNetTech.com with any questions about SharePoint.