Thursday, June 30, 2011

SharePoint Online for the Entrepreneur

{my article originally posted at IT Martini}

On June 28th, Microsoft launches its long-awaited upgrade to its traditional cloud services. What was known as Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) now becomes Office 365, which brings a suite of powerful SaaS tools to your fingertips, including:

-Exchange Online (e-mail)
-Lync Online (instant messenger)
-Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote)
-SharePoint Online (web-based collaboration)

Office 365 is a big deal for business owners and SMB's in that it provides access to enterprise-class solutions at an economical price. As a SharePoint consultant, I'm particularly excited about this offering due to the inclusion of SharePoint Online (SPO), and the opportunities that this powerful collaboration tool brings to the entrepreneur who has started, or is looking to start, their own business. In this short article, I'll just mention a few of the features that I think are pretty exciting:

From On-Premise to the Cloud

Some of you may have given SharePoint a try already, by installing the free version of the server product within your office. Unless your organization has good IT resources, you might have discovered that maintaining a server product like SharePoint is not the easiest task. Thankfully, Office 365 puts those days behind you. As a cloud offering, you can rest comfortably, knowing that trained Microsoft professionals are caring for your intranet data, instead of your colleague's nephew who took a few Comp Sci classes last semester.

Long Live the List

Many of us are used to storing and sharing our tabular data in spreadsheets. With SPO, we can now begin to embrace the concepts of Lists (or as I like to call them, spreadsheets on steroids). Imagine having all the basic power of a spreadsheet, as well as the additional benefits of customized Views, simultaneous collaboration of the data within your team, and the ever-important value of having one version of "the truth" - all available from any Internet-enabled browser or smartphone.

Office Web Apps

You don’t have to sell many people on the value of using one of the most familiar and widely-used office applications suites of all time. SPO provides an excellent place to store, search for, and collaborate on Office documents. But in addition, it also now allows you to view, edit and share these documents via your browser, with more fidelity and feature-parity than you might expect. In addition to the flexibility of this feature, it provides a great opportunity for the SMB to manage the costs of buying full software packages for themselves or their employees.

Say Goodbye to the Yellow Puppy

What if I told you that you could put all your files into one big filing cabinet without worrying about how to categorize them, and still find exactly what you need when you need it? If you're an office worker from the days of 10-levels-deep file system folder organization, you'd say I was crazy. But today we've got to realize that indexing search engines are extremely powerful. SharePoint Search can find your file in an instant, regardless of its location in the site, and can also search through the contents of your files, including PDFs. So, gone are the days of watching the WindowsXP yellow search puppy for 5 minutes while you scan thru your C: drive for a single document.

Make Your Developers Happy

One major difference between BPOS and Office 365 that should please any company making use of custom solutions (like Web Parts) in their SharePoint site is the new ability to deploy sandboxed-solutions - easily deployable custom-code solutions specifically designed to be safe for the stability of your SharePoint installation. This has great implications for those companies with in-house developers who want to take full advantage of the customization options of SPO, but could also provide value in terms of standardization and configuration management for the company that wants to outsource their development.

Business Process Automation

Workflows provide the ability to automate your real-world manual processes, providing better governance, insight, and auditing of your company's activity. In the full-version of SharePoint, workflows are a major feature, and many well-developed workflows come right out of the box, including document Approval, Feedback, and Review workflows. SPO currently only provides a simple three-state workflow, but even this can be used effectively. Perhaps you need to track your Sales Opportunity activity - a three-state workflow can manage the flow of that process by assigning persons to each state of the process - e.g. 'Potential Lead', 'Lead Contacted', and 'Business Acquired'. Now there's less of a need to call everyone on your sales team to figure out what's going on with all your clients - you can check the status and history of the workflows and see for yourself!

SPO has many great advantages over on-premise installations for the small company, and together with the full feature set of Office 365, promises to be a game-changer for many entrepreneurs.

1 comment:

  1. It is just great to be able to integrate these Microsoft solutions to your business operations. The SharePoint Online has been a great help for businesses ever since it's release.

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