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Thursday, May 19, 2011

An Overview of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server

If you're in business, you should really consider learning about and then using Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server. For any organisation that shares data on a daily (or perhaps hourly) basis, you need a server, but one that pulls together all the Office Applications without conflict or bugs. The SharePoint Server was designed exactly with this in mind.

What is it?

The SharePoint Server is a set of tools and facilities that can help an organisation be more effective in how it manages its content, searching, sharing part of the business, and improves the way information is shared. There are mini versions of this kind of practise already - you know if you add or edit notes on a document while you're editing it for a colleague? Or if a document is "locked" as read only so you don't get three people editing three different versions at once before merging? Think of the SharePoint server as a larger, more complex way of making use of these kinds of tools.

It's worth mentioning that after testing, Microsoft has (unsurprisingly) recommended that the SharePoint Server be used with MS Office 2009 applications. This is hardly surprising since it's the latest, most up to date version of the suite, and less likely to throw up errors and bugs. Some businesses still use NT or XP, but this should still mean you can use the SharePoint services.

What can I do with it?

Most businesses are highly collaborative these days: how often do you create a spreadsheet or document that only you will read and edit? Not very often. Usually, as part of a larger team, you'll have different groups of people accessing different Office documents at any one time. SharePoint has certain features to make this easier, such as keeping track of a document's life cycle (how many of us have been happily editing something, then see with horror that you're in the 2006 version because it looks and feels similar to the 2009 one?), RSS feeds, and the use of portals (or intranet sites: something most businesses have these days).

Search features are handy when you're dealing with so many different documents in so many different formats. Searches become more relevant, and the ways you can search are more flexible (wanting to see what the accounts team edited at the end of the last tax year, for example).

The chance of "messing up" a shared document (as per the previous example with three people editing something before a merge, losing 2 out of 3 sets of changes) is reduced if you use a shared server. There can be individual document levels and hierarchies - the work experience girl can't edit the MD's diary, for example! And major/minor work versioning - if you change a sentence, and I change a page, then the server "knows" and acts appropriately.

Security is also a hallmark of a decent server sharing system, SharePoint notwithstanding. Controlling who can (and can't) see certain sensitive business information is crucial, no more so than today where the Freedom of Information Act, coupled with the Data Protection Act can cause a lot of problems if breached. You can restrict access to whole areas of information, not just the documents inside (if you had a fraud investigation team, for example, this would be separate from other parts of the business).


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