What is SharePoint? A Comprehensive Guide to Microsoft SharePoint

by Yvonne Harris

Microsoft SharePoint is a solution that offers a myriad of benefits for organizations of all shapes and sizes, especially ones that already use Microsoft Office applications.

Despite its advantages, many people have never heard of SharePoint. Others wonder if SharePoint is obsolete? In this article, we’ll be able to provide a comprehensive guide to SharePoint so you can figure out whether it could work for your business.


What is SharePoint?

SharePoint is a web-based collaboration and communication platform that Microsoft created in 2001. Companies often use SharePoint to build out their intranet and as an internal communications tool. It is an excellent option for businesses looking to simplify or improve process automation, progress tracking, and document sharing.

While Microsoft 365 SharePoint allows for collaboration across all Microsoft 365 applications, it shouldn’t be seen as a tool like Word, PowerPoint, or Excel. Many companies use SharePoint for document management and storage, but it has several other capabilities. Overall, the product looks different for each organization that uses it. So, the design depends on each company’s unique needs and preferences.

Before diving deeper into SharePoint’s offerings, it’s imperative to understand the platform’s structure, organized into sites, pages, and web parts.

  • SharePoint Sites are containers used to store and organize information, such as document libraries and lists
  • SharePoint pages are located within a SharePoint site and are used to display information
  • SharePoint web parts are applications used to store certain kinds of content

SharePoint key features

SharePoint is a versatile platform offering a robust array of key features that streamline collaboration, content management, and organizational efficiency.

  • Document Management: SharePoint offers a centralized hub for document storage, retrieval, and sharing, ensuring version control and enabling real-time collaboration among teams.
  • Robust Security Measures: The platform provides extensive security features, including granular user permissions, data integrity assurance, and protection of sensitive information.
  • Customizable Workflows: Users can create and automate workflows to streamline business processes, simplify task management and enhance productivity.
  • Integration Capabilities: Seamless integration with other Microsoft tools such as Office 365, Power Automate, and Teams amplifies SharePoint’s functionality, creating a comprehensive digital workplace environment.
  • Collaboration Tools: SharePoint fosters collaboration through features like team sites, discussion boards, and shared calendars, facilitating efficient teamwork and information exchange.
  • Content Search and Discovery: Its advanced search functionality allows users to quickly find information across the platform, improving accessibility and efficiency.
  • Mobile Accessibility: SharePoint’s mobile-friendly interface ensures access to documents and collaboration tools on the go, promoting flexibility and remote work capabilities.
  • Customization Options: The platform offers customization through templates, branding, and tailored solutions, catering to diverse business needs and preferences.

These key features collectively position SharePoint as a versatile and essential platform for businesses aiming to enhance collaboration, manage documents efficiently, and optimize workflow processes.

What is SharePoint used for?

Microsoft SharePoint has existed for almost two decades and is commonly used as an intranet (i.e., an internet restricted to the organization running it). Why? It has an excellent track record of increasing the efficiency and productivity of businesses.

One of the product’s main selling points comes from its collaboration features. For instance, users can work simultaneously on documents by sharing them with team members. Users can get a list of a document’s editing history that shows what was edited, when, and by whom.

Another prime feature of SharePoint is its security and compliance controls, which include multifactor authentication (MFA), unified session sign-out, and external sharing policies. To protect sensitive data, users can restrict access to certain documents. The program also provides security measures and tools needed for compliance within many regulated industries, such as healthcare (e.g., HIPAA regulations) and those regulated by the FDA.

The above features are beneficial for businesses. Still, one that stands out above other collaboration systems is SharePoint’s ability to display metadata or a set of data that provides information about other data.

This feature allows employees to understand why a document exists without ever having to open said document. Thus, users can save time and increase efficiency. If desired, users can even create and customize their databases. This feature allows thousands of data points to be recorded and integrated into existing workflows.

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The top benefits of Microsoft SharePoint

There are several ways that SharePoint can help strengthen a large organization or small to mid-sized business. Below are some of the top benefits of SharePoint:

  • Data management: Tracking data can be arduous if stored improperly. Fortunately, SharePoint users can track data without opening individual documents to find what they’re looking for.
  • Compliance and security: As previously mentioned, SharePoint adheres to many regulatory requirements. This includes those standards for healthcare, financial, and legal. For instance, users can set storage and auditing policies that automatically take effect when business records expire. This helps industries remain compliant in an organized and efficient way.
  • Content Management System: Investing in SharePoint as an intranet CMS helps content managers free up time through ready-made templates. No more creating content from scratch. With SharePoint, content can be created and submitted for review in seconds. Even better, users can schedule content to be posted later if desired. Third-party solutions can improve content management further through better audience targeting in SharePoint to avoid information overload.
  • Collaboration and employee productivity: SharePoint allows users to collaborate and manage documents in real-time, regardless of location. It also gives businesses the necessary resources and tools to automate processes for better performance and improved productivity.
  • Customization options: SharePoint provides several built-in tools that let businesses customize their site to fit their needs and preferences best.
  • Organizing skill sets: Skill set identification benefits organizations with multiple satellite offices and varying skill sets. SharePoint allows companies to track team members, roles, and availability through organizational charts.

The difference between SharePoint On-Premises and SharePoint Online

In simple terms, SharePoint On-Premise requires a company to run on-site hardware to access the program. In comparison, SharePoint Online is accessible from the cloud. SharePoint Online does not need onsite hardware because it utilizes Microsoft’s cloud data centers.

Once thought of as a possibility, the cloud is quickly becoming the go-to solution for businesses everywhere. Fewer entities are using on-premises solutions simply because they do not offer the same flexibility that cloud-based applications can.

In a time of uncertainty, it’s important to have alternative means of continuing business operations. Remote working is made possible through cloud-based solutions like SharePoint Online.

There are several notable differences between SharePoint On-Prem and SharePoint Online.

Updates and maintenance

Microsoft will manage any required updates and patches for SharePoint Online users. SharePoint On-Premises users must rely on their IT team to complete updates and patches. It’s worth noting that some on-premise versions will be retired. SharePoint 2013 end of life is set for April 2023.

SharePoint, what about cost?

The cost of SharePoint Online is calculated by the number of users on the platform. It is billed as a monthly subscription. The On-Premises version will require maintenance costs, licensing, and hardware upkeep, among other things.

Security on SharePoint

SharePoint Online adheres to industry-specific standards, while SharePoint On-Prem requires organizations to implement their own security measures.

SharePoint: tools and functions

With SharePoint Online, Microsoft will provide users with new features and tools. Contrarily, On-Premises users must rely on their IT team to implement new tools.

Does a hybrid option exist?

Yes, there is a hybrid option with Microsoft SharePoint. Users can integrate on-premise features with SharePoint Online through communications between the servers. This option benefits organizations migrating to SharePoint Online and the cloud over time. After all, data migration projects can take weeks or even months to complete.

What are SharePoint sites?

SharePoint sites are containers that are used to manage and store information. You will add lists, pages, and document libraries inside your SharePoint site.

A site collection is multiple “containers” that are interconnected. These linked containers will be organized by structure and hierarchy. With the modern SharePoint Online, all sites are considered site collections and are connected through a hub.

Microsoft defines hub sites as being sites that “help you meet the needs of your organization by connecting and organizing sites based on project, department, division, region, etc.”

SharePoint team sites

When you create a new group via Microsoft 365 Groups (or a team in Microsoft Teams), you automatically create a site collection specific to that group (or team). When someone creates a group, Microsoft automatically assigns the group a shared inbox, calendar, OneNote notebook, planner, and a modern team site.

What are SharePoint apps?

Several apps add to the functionality and collaboration features of SharePoint. Some of these apps are out-of-the-box, meaning they come directly from SharePoint and can be easily deployed by users. These apps can be used immediately and do not require additional setup after downloading.

SharePoint apps vary from being places to store documents and files to workflow applications and calendar plug-ins.

Tips for a successful SharePoint implementation

  1. Define Clear Objectives: Outline specific goals and objectives for implementing SharePoint within your organization. Determine what you aim to achieve, improving collaboration, enhancing document management, or streamlining workflows.

  2. Engage Stakeholders: Involve key stakeholders and departments from the outset. Understand their needs, gather feedback, and ensure their buy-in for a smoother adoption process.
  3. Thorough Planning: Develop a comprehensive implementation plan that includes timelines, resource allocation, training strategies, and a phased rollout approach. Ensure you account for customization needs and integration with existing systems.
  4. User Training and Support: Provide thorough training sessions to users at different organizational levels. Offer ongoing support and resources to assist them in familiarizing themselves with SharePoint’s features and functionalities.
  5. Governance Strategy: Establish clear governance policies and guidelines to manage user permissions, content creation, version control, and security measures. This ensures consistency and compliance across the platform.
  6. Start Small, Scale Gradually: Begin with a pilot project or a specific department to test SharePoint’s functionalities. Gather feedback, make necessary adjustments, and then scale the implementation gradually across the organization.
  7. Data Migration and Cleanup: Conduct a thorough assessment of existing data and content. Plan and execute a structured data migration strategy, ensuring data integrity and relevancy. Consider cleanup activities to remove redundant or outdated information.
  8. Customization and Personalization: Tailor SharePoint to meet specific business needs by leveraging customization options. Consider branding, custom workflows, and tailored solutions to enhance user adoption and satisfaction.
  9. Monitoring and Evaluation: Continuously monitor usage patterns, user feedback, and system performance. Gather insights to refine strategies and improve the SharePoint experience for users.
  10. Regular Maintenance and Updates: Implement a schedule for regular maintenance, updates, and patches to ensure the platform remains secure, efficient, and up-to-date with the latest features and security protocols.

By following these tips, organizations can pave the way for a successful SharePoint implementation that aligns with their business objectives and maximizes the platform’s capabilities to enhance collaboration and productivity.

Will Viva or Teams replace SharePoint?

Microsoft often brings out innovations, and if you’re unfamiliar with the territory, it can be hard to distinguish between them. Two such new releases are Viva and Microsoft Teams.

Since its launch in 2021, many have wondered what is Microsoft Viva. Microsoft Viva is a series of modules introduced by Microsoft to enhance the employee experience. So far, it comprises Viva Engage, Viva Connections, Viva Topics, Viva Learning, and Viva Insights. Viva was not designed to replace the SharePoint intranet but to enhance it.

Microsoft Teams’ use has skyrocketed over the past few years and now counts around 250 million users. Microsoft Teams allows employees to communicate, share documents, and collaborate on ideas from one central location. It’s easy to understand how Microsoft Teams can start to feel like an intranet. Still, the bottom line is that when we look at SharePoint vs Teams, Microsoft Teams is missing many critical parts of a successful corporate intranet, and it’s not likely to get them anytime soon.


Should you build your intranet on SharePoint?

Now that you understand what SharePoint is, you’re probably wondering, ‘Can I use SharePoint as my intranet?’.

In short – yes, you can. However, before you launch your project, note a few points.

First, consider what you’re looking to get out of your intranet. Consider what you need vs. what you don’t and want from an intranet vs. SharePoint. For example, do you want something simple or are you a large organization that needs a multilingual intranet? You’ll want to assess the benefits of using a SharePoint intranet solution and ensure they outweigh any consequences of implementing the platform.

Some organizations find that SharePoint is outside their budget. In contrast, others appreciate that they can leverage their existing Microsoft 365 investment and tools.

Then, you’ll want to decide if you opt for an intranet in-a-box, out-of-the-box, or custom solution. Finally, consider whether you enlist the help of a third-party provider and benefit from a quick-to-deploy intranet built on SharePoint like Powell Intranet or go it alone.

Ready to dive deep into SharePoint in more detail? Here are some more articles that might interest you:

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