SharePoint 2012 for SME
The Small to Medium Enterprise of 2011 will have a keen interest in the emerging trend of substantial spending on ERP and CRM systems. A recent Forrester report suggests that 40% of SMEs will invest in content management software this year. Businesses that have a dependency on electronic operations will have been looking at such an investment can benefit them, and how costs could be saved, whether that be through equipment, location, staff and other general overheads. Often overlooked is the efficiency (or lack) of tasks being undertaken during the working hours of the business.
For example, staff members requesting holiday often would type up an absence request, hand to their line manager who checks and signs this off, before contacting the HR department, finance department and other interested parties to ensure all required records are amended. Perhaps not top priority, but over the course of a year within a company of 200 staff this totals 45 days in lost working time. With SharePoint Workflows, this can be reduced to virtually nothing, bar a single click of an option on a webpage, by all parties involved in the process, not to mention reduce paper wastage and other consumables, as well as the added bonus of all stakeholders being able to access the current staff listings with another click of the mouse, at a moment’s notice.
SharePoint 2010 is the latest collaboration platform from Microsoft which delivers the best web-based tools for information management and dissemination so far since its original inception in 2001. This release focuses on 6 engagement areas: Communities, Content, Search, Sites, Insights and Composites. Each area has a particular set of developed tools to help focus the content of the sites and contents on different needs, but collaboratively they all achieve the same goals: To store and retrieve all information for the organisation efficiently, quickly, accurately and present these to all or selected individuals within and outside of the business professionally.
It can be difficult to identify instantly what areas of any organisation can be improved; indeed there are entire businesses devoted to findings these out and relaying that back to the management. With a SharePoint implementation, significant and insignificant alike are given equal weight in terms of devising an electronic (or improved electronic) solution to efficiently translate business practices. These can range from booking annual leave, to processing bulk orders from customers to suppliers.
SharePoint offers centralised content storage as the means for core collaboration within the deploying organisation; with an underlying ethos that while security of information is still key, reordering and reanalysing current internal security policy can exponentially increase collaborative productivity. SharePoint stores all documents and other files (nearly every common file type is available for storage off-the-shelf) within document libraries, and in SharePoint 2010 this term can be aligned to the new ‘library’ concept available in the Windows 7 operating system. Documents are stored within the site pages, and instantly become accessible to all (with access), without the need to modify security as often with NTFS file stores, and without the need to inform everyone that this new file or new version is available. With these document stores, potentially everyone has the ability to access the information they require modify what they need and return these changes to the organisational public domain for all to see, and referring to the new suggestions from SharePoint of a more open and self-responsible security policy, collaboration will expand rapidly to all areas of the business.
Search & Retrieval
Coupled with the ability to store information within such a system, is the facility to retrieve it, and quickly. Previous versions and alternative options to document search have had mixed results, but SharePoint 2010 contains a highly efficient and detailed set of searching and indexing tools to accurately return information, not only matching the search criteria, but any related or closely matching data too. A concept often seen on popular shopping sites is also included, giving a side bar of different returned categories based on document metadata, allowing users to quickly filter out whole subsections of the search results. A search on ‘Computers’ will return hundreds of documents can be filtered to exclude particular authors, document types (Spread sheets, PDFs), creation dates and more. Search results are also limited by any security implemented on the site, so the sales staff cannot search for and return confidential HR documentation, but perhaps the company director can. Progressively, SharePoint offers Insights into statistical data by way of analysis services and data mining techniques adopted from SQL Server.
Office 2010 Integration
SharePoint 2010 integrates better than ever with Microsoft’s latest Office software, allowing modification and uploading or saving of existing or new documents directly from Word, Excel et al, as simply as saving to the local hard drive. Additional improvements to the likes of Word mean that the same document can be modified by several individuals at the same time when used in partnership with SharePoint 2010, in the case of Word, change prevention is applied to the paragraph level, and changes are automatically and immediately displayed to all user of said document. Microsoft Access could also be given a new lease of life in the corporate world with the facility to upload and interact with Access databases on the web pages of SharePoint, giving another centrality to data storage, this time at data record level.
One of SharePoint’s main efficiently showcases is the concept of the Workflow. The example (top of this document) is one simple example of how SharePoint can automate the simplest and most complex and unique organisational tasks by breaking them down into their individual decision points, and applying actions to documents, sites, data entries and more. A common built in workflow is the document change method, whereby a change to selected set of (or any) documents is notified to the responsible parties via email, where the changes can be review and then accepted or rejected, and based on that decision the document will either be available for use on SharePoint, or return to the user for further modification. In actual fact, the annual leave example in this document can be highly complex, but also highly efficient, when the workflow can include actions such as entering the leave dates onto a SharePoint calendar, recording them in the HR database, the finance database, producing documentation for the staff member and management, all with a few decisions marked as ‘approved’. Implementations have been used to control entire stock ordering, financial processing and customer enquiries through a set of workflows.
For the Business: Increased Efficiency
SharePoint is a tool; at its core is a set of composites: web pages of lists, which are interpreted in many different ways, such as calendars, document lists, forums, databases, picture galleries, catalogues and more. The benefit comes through improved individual and departmental, and ultimately company inter-communication, creating business communities. SharePoint offers a single resource point for all company information. Increased Efficiency is bound with staff understanding what information is available, and where, and how time can be saved with simple techniques to reduce the repetition of many actions that can be consumed by a SharePoint implementation; streamlining and expediting tasks in all areas of the business.