SharePoint as the Hub

With the significant investment companies have made already in people and technology, how can SharePoint possibly have a role in this already crowded information systems environment?

With IT staff overburdened already, it’s little wonder at the lack of enthusiasm in implementing yet another system. Despite all the technological advances, the big budgets, and the far-reaching plans, many end users and members of the business community find themselves increasingly alienated from their company’s information environments.

Most end users can tell you that something is clearly missing. SharePoint aims to be the missing link in a company’s information systems environment by acting as the hub,. As the hub, SharePoint is an integral player in providing users access to information assets.

Whereas your current information environment uses file shares, e-mail Inboxes, and databases as storage repositories for information assets, SharePoint provides its own set of repositories for creating manageable information environments. These organizing containers are organized in a hierarchy.

Organizing them in a hierarchy creates parent-child relationships between containers, which makes it possible for the settings in a higher-level container to apply to a lower-level container - a process called inheritance.

Using a hierarchy also makes it possible for administrative tasks to be delegated to administrators of lower-level containers. For example, a higher-level administrator might choose to enable a set of features so lower-level administrators can disable those features if they want to.

Whether containers are administered by IT staff, power users, or information workers depends on how the company chooses to make administrative assignments. The containers that are often managed by IT include these:

  • Server farm: Like most server software, SharePoint often requires multiple servers - dubbed a server farm - to work productively. Although it’s possible to have multiple server farms, most companies only ever need one. IT is responsible for deploying the server farm and managing its health. Some editions of SharePoint (those based on MOSS 2007) have an additional component - the Shared Services Provider (SSP). The SSP is responsible for providing services that are required across the entire server farm, regardless of how many servers you have. Each server farm usually only has one SSP.
  • Web applications: Web applications are most often used to create an information environment for a single company. If the company is especially large, IT may choose to create separate Web applications to separate the company’s divisions.
  • Site collections: Each Web application contains at least one site collection. A site collection can be used to create an information environment for a single company, or there may be separate site collections for each division within the company. Similar to Web applications, there are rules for how site collections are created. A site collection contains at least one top-level SharePoint site, which is used to store and display information. Site collections are usually created by IT staff, but their content is often administered by a member of the business staff.

The containers that are often created and managed by business users include the following:

  • Sites: SharePoint sites are usually created for a specific purpose, such as coordinating a project team or providing an information environment for a department. It’s common for companies to create sites for each of the departments within their organization. SharePoint provides a special kind of site, called portals, which is intended for providing information to larger groups of people.
  • Lists: SharePoint provides a number of predefined lists that can be used to store data, such as tasks, events, and announcements. You can create your own custom lists to store data that’s specific to your business. By default, list data appears in a tabular format, but SharePoint provides additional view formats. You can easily customize how much data appears on the screen and whether the data is sorted, filtered, and grouped. You can even create master/detail displays of data. SharePoint automatically generates Web pages to add, edit, and display the data you store in lists.
  • Libraries: SharePoint sites can contain any number of libraries for storing files. The most common SharePoint library is the document library, although you can also use libraries to store electronic forms, pictures, and PowerPoint slides. You can create new file properties for the files you save in SharePoint libraries. SharePoint automatically prompts users to enter values for the properties when they upload files. Users can open files from and save files to SharePoint libraries from their usual desktop applications, such as Word and Excel.

From SharePoint’s perspective, all the information assets that you store and manage in SharePoint are content. All the Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and PowerPoint slideshows that users upload to libraries are content. All the tasks, announcements, and other data that users enter into lists are content.

Even the Web pages that are displayed in a portal are content. The sites, lists, and libraries that you create to display, organize, and store content are content structures. SharePoint’s content structures are more than just passive storage containers.

To have a managed information environment, SharePoint provides a framework of features that includes workflows, content types, versioning, content approval, and permissions management.