SharePoint Technology

SharePoint is a family of technologies from Microsoft that provides a server infrastructure to support the needs of information workers and their employers.

These needs include collaboration, knowing who’s online, document storage, and the ability to inform and be informed. The companies that hire information workers need to audit, monitor, organize, retain, and protect information.

SharePoint makes it possible for companies to engage all their information workers through the tools people are using already - Office clients (such as Word and Excel), Internet browsers (such as Internet Explorer), and e-mail clients (such as Outlook).

Obviously, SharePoint works best with Office 2007. Whether you’re using Office 2007 or OpenOffice, SharePoint gives employers a means to connect with workers where they work - at their desktops.

By reaching workers where they work, companies can use SharePoint as a key component for implementing new strategic initiatives and internal communications plans.

Beyond sending blast e-mails and convening one-time town hall meetings, companies can use SharePoint to integrate information about campaigns, achievement of performance objectives, and company news into workers’ daily routines. Sound like information overload?

It need not be. SharePoint makes it easy to target content so that people see only the information that’s relevant to achieving their objectives.

With SharePoint, companies can create a managed information environment that isn’t centrally managed. Yes, it’s secure, protected, and audited, but workers make decisions about how information is organized. If workers change their minds about the organizing structure, it can be changed easily.

By evaluating the ways that employees set up their work environments in SharePoint - where they store documents, the properties they affix to documents, and with whom they’re collaborating - the information environment created in SharePoint can provide companies with valuable feedback.

When’s the last time your information environment told you how many Word documents pertained to a particular customer account or product? You can get that kind of information from SharePoint.

SharePoint also provides workers with the ability to connect with each other. Instead of sending files back and forth via e-mail, workers can set up information environments that make it easy to collaborate on documents or share a calendar.

SharePoint uses a Web site infrastructure to deliver the bulk of its features. Users can use a Web browser or familiar Office clients, such as Word and Excel, to access SharePoint’s features.

Office clients enable information workers to use familiar tools in new ways, which reduces training and support costs and increases solution development opportunities. SharePoint offers organizations a much faster return on investment because SharePoint fits neatly into most companies’ existing technology infrastructures.

SharePoint isn’t a new technology. The ability to provision team sites for use with Office clients was first introduced in May 2001 with a product called SharePoint Team Services.

SharePoint Portal Server 2001, a product for connecting team sites, was released in June 2001. With each subsequent release, more and more features were added. Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) version 3, which was released in November 2006, represents a major re-architecting of the product.

Starting with the 2003 release, WSS became a component of the Windows Server operating system. The portal product, SharePoint Portal Server 2003, released alongside Office 2003. The latest release, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007, is now officially part of the Microsoft Office suite of products.

In the days of client/server applications, an application commonly consisted of a relatively short stack of technologies. A Windows application might be written in a programming language, such as Visual Basic, that accesses a database on a database server.

As long as you had network connectivity and your database was up and running, probability was high that you could use the application. More importantly, installing, supporting, maintaining, and troubleshooting the application was relatively easy.

In the same way that today’s information workers don’t work in isolation, neither can SharePoint. To support the needs of workers and their employers, SharePoint requires a relatively high stack of technologies.

Understanding SharePoint’s technologies in broad terms is important because this knowledge helps you do the following:

  • Identify opportunities for reuse and customization: When you gain an understanding of the technologies SharePoint uses, you can leverage some of your existing infrastructure. You don’t have to start at square one. Also, you can extend SharePoint to find new ways to use the infrastructure.
  • Troubleshoot SharePoint: You’ll encounter many points of failure in SharePoint - and discover that many aren’t actually part of the SharePoint software proper. By understanding how SharePoint works and which technologies SharePoint uses, you can develop a systematic approach to troubleshooting.
  • Understand the skills necessary to implement and support SharePoint: SharePoint requires a lot of skills, and it’s not likely that you have all of them. I know I sure don’t. You have to make arrangements to acquire the skills you don’t have in-house.