An Introduction to Sharepoint

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Portals are very much on the minds of business and government leaders. When information does not flow horizontally across different parts of a company, units behave like silos, forfeiting economies of scale and the transfer of best practice. Moreover, the organisation as a whole loses its opportunity to develop a cadre of up and coming managers well versed in all aspects of the company’s operations.

According to Gartner, enterprise portals are on most CIO’s lists of top ten technology focus areas.

Successful businesses are those that can provide timely information to employees through technology so they can deliver an excellent, branded experience at every customer touch point.

Whilst portal technology is not a silver bullet, it can become the conduit for communication and information flow across an organisation. This article identifies the ten most important benefits that a portal initiative can bring to an organisation.

Portals are very much on the minds of business and government leaders. When information does not flow horizontally across different parts of a company, units behave like silos, forfeiting economies of scale and the transfer of best practice. Moreover, the organisation as a whole loses its opportunity to develop a cadre of up and coming managers well versed in all aspects of the company’s operations.

According to Gartner, enterprise portals are on most CIO’s lists of top ten technology focus areas.
Successful businesses are those that can provide timely information to employees through technology so they can deliver an excellent, branded experience at every customer touch point.
Whilst portal technology is not a silver bullet, it can become the conduit for communication and information flow across an organisation. This article identifies the ten most important benefits that a portal initiative can bring to an organisation.
1. Enterprise Content Management
Within many organisations there is a wide array of knowledge which has often grown over a period of many years. This knowledge comes in many forms such as documents, briefs, proposals to presentations and policies and is often managed in very different ways by different people. A need for enterprise content management commonly arises when multiple versions of key information exist in different locations and when information cannot be found and shared across the organisation. Portals provide a platform for storing content in a central location and enable information to be managed in a consistent manner.
Traditionally, organisations have stored their IP on a machine basis – local hard drive, local server, shared server – allowing users to create folders within folders and applying very little control or governance over the location, classification or structure of the files in an enterprise context. ECM attempts to address this issue. It reflects best practices and organisational processes by applying organisation or even sector-specific classification to all files, allowing them to be made easily available to all accredited personnel wherever the author or user resides. Without the ability for Information Workers to find information that is accurate and relevant to them, there is potential for major process inefficiencies – and cost.

2. Business Process Management
Business processes are a set of activities that require completion to achieve a specific business task. Automating these processes using software applications has been heavily discussed over the years and early attempts at reflecting real life processes were fraught with failure. However, this technology is now generally considered to have come of age. It is now possible and practical to use systems which both reflect and improve on current organisational practices across the enterprise. A simple form residing on a web page may be completed and submitted by the user and this alerts colleagues and co-workers using email to complete the process or move it on to the next stage. More complex workflows with multiple parallel processes can be accommodated relatively easily, all designed to simplify working practices.

3. Collaboration
A key part of an organisation’s strategy is working with teams and individuals to achieve common goals. Portals provide tools to facilitate effective collaboration with the use of wikis, blogs, directory systems, calendars, forums, video conferencing and project management systems.
Through the use of social media and social networking tools, users are able to review, discuss and manage information. A portal can become a platform for information and knowledge sharing, which leads to continuous improvement, implementation and adoption of best practice. Engaging employees through portal technology results in users who trust the organisation because their ideas are being considered and implemented in an open forum. When employees feel they are providing a useful contribution to their organisation they are more likely to feel useful, engaged and part of the organisational culture – working more effectively as a result.

4. Employee Engagement

According to a study by Yankee Group, 82 percent of respondents cited employee self-service as a primary business driver for portal-based initiatives; 80 percent cited improving customer and partner self-service.
Portals can become a driver for employee engagement through increased collaboration and improved business processes. Employee engagement is the degree to which an employee feels a sense of attachment to an organisation. The level to which an employee engages with the business has a direct effect on business performance. If employees are engaged with the business, their productivity levels increase. Portals encourage employee communication and act as a driver for employee engagement through the development of clear communication channels with employees and a direct understanding of the corporate objectives and strategy.

5. Carbon Footprint
With the increasing importance of climate change issues, organisations are under pressure to reduce their carbon footprint. Portals can play a critical role in the implementation of a green strategy. The increased efficiency and streamlining of business processes through the use of online workspaces encourages substantially fewer physical activities such as meetings and the printing of documents.
Employees are also enabled to work remotely, resulting in a saving in the amount of physical workspace the company needs to provide and in time spent travelling.

6. Knowledge Management
Managing the collection and dissemination of knowledge through an organisation is key to its success; it is imperative that when people leave the company or department that the knowledge does not leave with them.
Making knowledge explicit involves it being recorded in media that allows another person to use it. Portals can help make knowledge explicit by ensuring that, through the use of information collaboration tools such as blogs, wikis and discussion boards, it is captured and stored on a central platform and can be harnessed and used both now and in the future.
The storage of useful information and knowledge is only half the battle. Making it available in the right context is paramount to getting the most out of the technology. As discussed in the enterprise content management section, classifying information within the taxonomic context of the organisation makes it even more useful. Every industry has its vocabulary and it is the adoption of this vocabulary within the knowledge system which permits the surfacing of relevant data to the user. This ability to find information is covered in more detail in the following section.

7. Information Discoverability
People spend a great deal of time trying to find relevant information they need to do their job at work. Often this data resides in disparate systems making it hard to find and track down. Making information visible and easily accessible is key to enabling information to flow quickly across and through an organisation. A well designed portal that has benefited from the use of design methodologies such as User Centric Design (UCD) in its implementation focuses on the needs of the user, and information architecture as well as a powerful and flexible search engine can ensure that information is always only a few clicks away from a user. Furthermore the use of data tagging using a structured and relevant taxonomy can ensure that information is categorised and easily accessible to the users.

8. Portal Framework
Technology is a necessary part of everyday working life for most people these days, but it is often the case that they are overwhelmed by the many different systems they are required to master to carry out their work. There is frequently no single place to find information and no space of their own to store documents and information reflecting their expertise and skills. By its very design, portal technology can provide a single place to find information and business data and it allows connections to other lines of business systems without having to bother the users with different user interfaces or a new set of login credentials. Technologies like SharePoint are also able to provide users with their own website for storing data and information about themselves. A portal framework can increase productivity by providing a single gateway into a company’s data and systems and also increase IT user adoption by providing a familiar, consistent user interface.

9. Business Intelligence
In today’s competitive and fast moving world, having accurate and up-to-date metrics about the performance of the organisation is vital for successful decision making. Business intelligence harnesses data from across an organisation, analyses it and presents it back to the relevant user. Portal technologies are able to connect to disparate information sources and retrieve vital data, surface it in the form of charts, graphs and reports and provide personalised targeted dashboards enabling users to see the big, and relevant, picture.

10. Customer Engagement
The Yankee Group study also cited improving customer and partner self-service as an important business driver for portal-based initiatives.
Engaging with customers is important in building and maintaining strong relationships and delighting them with your services. Repeated interactions with a customer will strengthen the emotional, psychological or physical investment a customer has in your relationship. Organisations around the world are discovering that Web 2.0 technologies and user-generated content are amazing ways to make lasting consumer connections. Streaming and mobile media, podcasts, rich internet applications (RIA) and syndication technologies like RSS engage and involve the user. Similarly, consumer-generated content, in a variety of forms; video, photos, blogs, wikis involve the user in the active life of the site. Portal technologies provide platforms to engage your customers in a Web 2.0 context and play their part in involving your customers at every stage of their journey with you.
It is no longer enough to send a monthly newsletter to your customers. To compete in difficult financial times, it is important to provide your customers with useful information, enabling them to make better decisions and ultimately tying them to you by providing services that your competitors do not.

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About Author

William Saville graduated from Portsmouth University Business School in 1998, with an Honours degree in Business Management. In 2004 he was responsible for the delivery of a psychometric platform, a £1M bespoke ASP.Net web application that delivered and managed work-related tests and questionnaires around the world. In 2005, Will co-founded BrightStarr - a Microsoft Gold Partner that specialises in the delivery of large portal solutions. He has delivered global intranets, extranets and websites to both private and public sector clients including; Standard Bank, NHS, Nokia Siemens, Hyder Consulting and Abbott Laboratories. Will is dedicated to helping businesses benefit from new technologies and facilitating the impact of efficient information flow across organisations. He is a Microsoft Certified Professional.

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