SharePoint for Everyone

SharePoint for Everyone

SharePoint for Everyone! Yes, Even for Your Family!

I have been working with Microsoft (MSFT) SharePoint for 6 years and have become a strong evangelist for it’s use. I have seen many other website platforms like Joomla and 1&1 and found them weak compared to SharePoint.  They run $40-60 per month and are limited in capability and clunky to use.  For SharePoint online, I have found the E1 level (Enterprise 1) to be the most cost effective for the power and capabilities it brings. In this “article”, I’m going to cover a lot of ground and be kind of  abrupt plus I am not a great writer. So hang on and try to keep up ;-).

Yes, I build sites for businesses.  Still, I see so much potential for SharePoint.  Whether you call it Office 365, SharePoint Online, or just SharePoint, it is a powerful collaboration tool.  It gets you a public (and\or private) website to share your thoughts (blogs like this one), documents, forms, pictures (slideshows), videos, favorite links, etc.  It also has social capabilities like discussion boards, likes, etc. It is like having your own Facebook for your family\organization\group.  For those of you familiar with My Yahoo and Google+, you can also create your own news feed page(s).  Imagine being free of the whims of My Yahoo, etc. who change offerings and layouts forcing you to change.

So what is SharePoint?  It is a “collaboration website”.  That means you can share content – documents, pictures, videos, etc. and assign who can see\edit\download that content by assigning rights (even to groups).  There is a lot to SharePoint and I won’t attempt it here.  I suggest you Google SharePoint and learn more.  But consider getting yourself a site for $8 per month, get the Plain & Simple SharePoint book at Amazon to learn about it.  I guarantee you’ll be impressed.

Let’s go over the plans MSFT offers. There are around 9 offerings from Microsoft (it changes often) and like everything they do, it is a complicated and tangled mess to sort through.  Prices and plans change and are charged per user, per month. You can compare them in detail here, but here is an overview:

  • Kiosk 1 & 2 are for viewing information or ordering products, say in a mall.
  • Plans 1 & 2 offer cheap collaboration sites but limited multimedia.
  • P site, a “Personal” site with limited capabilities but a good basic collaboration site that includes email. This level may no longer be offered and is kind of hard to find.
  • E1-E4 – supposedly for “Enterprises”. These offer everything, including multimedia, online meetings, email, office apps, strong customization and more. E3-4 offer other server tools like SQL and Exchange.

As I mentioned, I build sites, mostly using my offshore developers but sometimes just me (when no .Net is involved). But you really do not need me if you are patient, adventurous and willing to do a little research.  With SharePoint online, you can build a basic site using WYSIWYG menus (though a knowledge of HTML helps).  You get a nice public (and/or private) webpage. You can control who sees what, who can download, contribute, edit content.  You can get really complicated with customization with JQuery, .Net, SQL, and other really complicated components. But it is not necessary.

If you need help, someone like me can add branding (think logos and custom design) and other custom components for anywhere from $500 to thousands of dollars, depending on your need.  There are also a ton of third party apps out there, many free.  Most sites do not need such complexity.  We also offer training for less than $250.  The best place to start is a book I recommend: SharePoint Plain and Simple (see it at Amazon, $20 paperback, $11 Kindle)

Here are most of the feature highlights:

  • Slideshows
  • Document sharing
  • Videos
  • Links to external sites
  • Social features
  • Powerful custom pages
  • Blogs (like this one)
  • Alerts (when something changes)
  • Email
  • and much more!

If you share a license among groups, you can have a powerful yet low cost site.  Here is an example E1 site I built for our church:

  • 4 licenses for total $32\month (plus your annual domain cost, about $20)
  • Admin (me) controls everything
  • Pastors can access everything and have a private library
  • Elders\Officers can share everything the members see AND sensitive documents like financial spreadsheet\database, documents, reports, etc.
  • Members can share church documents like the member directory plus they can collaborate and meet among themselves like Facebook & Skype combined.
  • Visitors (general public) can view limited documents and videos (sermons, messages, etc). submit queries, request prayer, contact me request.
  • Online video meetings, IM, shared docs (see Skydrive), share desktops, post sermons, shared discussion board, announcements, email lists, and much, much more!

I have just barely skimmed the surface of Office 365 (also called SharePoint online).  It is not just for businesses or organizations.  I can see families using it to share family information, photos and videos, kind of like their own family Facebook.

I hope Microsoft does not ruin this with price increases or major changes.  This is a gold mine waiting to be discovered!  You can try it free for 30 days.

Everyone I’ve talked to that has had a support issue and was on an Enterprise Office 365 plan had nothing but rave reviews for the Microsoft support staff. They were able to pick up the phone and get their issues resolved immediately. While there are cheaper plans, the E1 plan is only $8 a month (per licensed user. You don’t need to license all your users!). Not too mention you also get full blown Office 365 including Exchange and Lync. You do get a TON more for a few more dollars a month.  

Just think, a family site to share albums, chats, files, video meetings, etc.  Or perhaps a site for you programmers to test your code.  How about a site for your church, club, other organization?  Do you have a small business that you would like available on the web?  Consider trying out SharePoint online (Office 365).  I will bet you will be pleasantly surprised.

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SharePoint Adds to the War Between IT & Users

By Rob Moses, SharePoint Consultant, Caladan Consulting Inc.

I read with interest Scott Robinson’s blog “Why SharePoint Sucks Part II“.  While he made some excellent points about how SharePoint is under utilized and often mis-configured, he did not delve into the common war between users and IT found in many companies.  Yes, SharePoint IS absolutely under utilized and mis-configured (for example: using folders in libraries defeats the purpose of SharePoint).   There are many reasons for this and each deserves their own article.  But today I will focus on the “war” between users and IT that I’ve seen repeatedly in companies where I’ve worked as either an employee or a consultant.  I hope you will forgive my weak attempt at shedding light on this complex subject.  I’m no great writer even though I do have some good moments.  Just not often enough to satisfy everyone.

I find myself being denied work by IT managers as a SharePoint expert as I come down solidly on the side of business rather then what IT thinks is best for business. I can see both sides and both sides have legitimate gripes.  This subtle war going on at many businesses between the users and their IT departments and resentment is sometimes palpable and uncomfortable for us consultants.

Users want solutions to their challenges.  Something to make their jobs easier.  They don’t care about the complexity of designing a precise solution to do their job, they just want it.  It seems pretty simple to them. Frequently, a user’s favorite complaint is that IT dictates solutions that only complicates their jobs by adding new challenges like learning complex new software that is not, in their opinion, intuitive nor easy to master.  They see IT has living in their own world of cold server rooms interacting with their bits & bytes and complex electronic worlds where a piece of code solves all the world’s problems.

IT, on the other hand, has the challenge of meeting a wide variety of user needs and do it in a cost efficient way.  They know users often want the world, a precise solution to their specific job. Yet the (often overworked) experts in IT are tasked by management with finding a solution that has the widest application within the company and meets the needs of most users, even if those users have to adjust to an application that is complex and/or not quite right for their job. IT has the problem of being seen as geniuses who make excuses to avoid creating the perfect solution so they’ll have more time for their computer games (that must be what they do in there all day, right?).

Many consulting firms will tell you “the user is always right”.  Yet we all know the price of providing a precise solution can be expensive.  A good consultant will provide a variety of solutions with the advantages and disadvantages of each laid out, especially cost.  I know SharePoint can be the answer, even using just the OOB (out of the box) solutions…..if you are able to put in the time to research that solution and accept that maybe it is just not possible (rare) or worth the investment in time and resources to develop that solution when a third party solution or custom coded solution can provide exactly what you want (See Bamboo Solutions for a good example of prepackaged solutions).

One of my favorite complaints about those third party and custom solutions is that they lock the client into the present version of SharePoint requiring hiring a consultant or programmer to make adjustments or find new solutions when migrating to the latest version (Note that Microsoft tries to upgrade their apps every 3-4 years to add new functionality and of course, generate new income).

SharePoint has functionality that is as yet undiscovered by the majority of users.  Scott Robinson’s article correctly pointed out that even simple document management libraries are often mis-used as repositories to dump documents, articles, photos, multimedia, etc. instead of organizing them (which needs workflows (notification and archiving) and a library administrator using Approve and admin rights to assign permissions and develop views – that’s article in itself).  There are a myriad of functions within SharEPoint that require developer and frequent Administrative attention – projects, custom content (another large subject), current news and graphics, links, blog management, up to date wikis and many more you could fill a book with.

Back to the war though, IT members come from a background of hard won knowledge about providing solutions, often through fading technology like programmed solutions where a few hundred (or thousand) lines of custom code solved the issue.  Unfortunately, rather then dive into SharePoint (ANOTHER program to learn!” is a valid complaint for weary IT experts), they write a long coded solution and have SharePoint call it. Problem solved, at least in the short term.  Business users who don’t care about the effort required to constantly stay up on new apps, especially one as complex as SharePoint, feel roadblocks are being thrown into their paths and excuses are being made.  Both sides have valid arguments.

But then what I run into is hardened positions in IT blocking me from providing a solution or even letting business users know that someone like me exists to solve their issues!  Because this would cause business users to expect ever better service, no matter the exhausting effort required to meet those higher expectations.  Given that IT staff often work long hours hidden in refrigerated server rooms makes their hard work go unappreciated by business users. You think they like staring at code all day? (Ok, they do like it, but they’d also like to have a life outside the server room).

Yeah, I see both sides of it. I too want the user to be satisfied with a solution that meets their needs, makes their job easier, and gives them more time to surf the internet (oops, we aren’t’ supposed to notice that habit).   I want IT experts to have a life outside of the server room.  Both sides need to give a little, and many do.  But many do not.  When I am in between projects, being turned away from poroviding my skills and (sometimes limited) expertise, I too get a little emotional as I don’t like having too much time on my hands in the prime of my career.  But I too have to step back and acknowledge IT managers have valid concerns in offering to meet every single department’s needs too precisely by throwing unlimited resources at creating that perfected application that makes user’s jobs so easy that they have more free time for surfing or management can reduce staff, or add new tasks, etc.  Any way you go, the IT manager will only be a hero for a short while and trust me, he/she understands that very well.

So next time you complain about the other side (IT or users), try a little understanding.  SharePoint brings out the best and worst in this war.  It is powerful and huge in scope.  It CAN provide very nice solutions and it is very commonly under utilized and poorly managed.  But that is due to human nature, not IT or business user’s selfishness.   Not everyone is as diligent, perfectly balanced and fair-minded as you are (My ex-wife makes sure I know that I am way too flawed to make such a claim).

Rob Moses