Although understanding the technologies that enable SharePoint and SharePoint’s features is important, I believe that understanding how SharePoint fits into your existing information systems environment is even more valuable than understanding all the SharePoint features.
Just because SharePoint can be used for a certain purpose, doesn’t mean that your organization will find it useful. I believe that understanding SharePoint’s role in your organization is key to making the business case for implementing SharePoint.
An information systems environment is the mix of software, hardware, and manual processes within a company. In some cases, deciding to use SharePoint is easy because SharePoint solves an obvious problem. For example, you can use SharePoint to automate business processes by using electronic forms.
However, I find that most companies intuitively think they need SharePoint but can’t quite figure out the arguments for why.
All the information found in an organization’s information systems environment are the company’s information assets. Typically, we think of assets as tangible items of value, such as equipment and land.
Information (such as how well the company is performing and who the company’s top five competitors are) may be intangible, but I think most people agree they’re of value to the business.
Most organizations have many disparate repositories for storing their information assets. Some repositories are easier to manage than others. Listed here are some information assets and where they’re commonly stored:
- General business transactions are stored in custom and off-the-shelf, line-of-business applications.
- Department-specific transactions are stored in departmental software applications and tools.
- Documents, spreadsheets, and images are stored in a user’s My Documents folder and network shares.
- Directions, instructions, and reference materials are stored in three-ring binders.
- Cheat sheets and calendars are stored on cork boards.
- Archived files are stored on CDs and storage boxes.
- Protected documents are stored as PDF files.
- Links to resources on the Web are stored in a user’s Favorites folder.
- Posts from syndicated blogs and Web sites are stored in feed readers.
- Musings on life, love, and what’s for lunch are stored in blogs.
- Ideas and actionable items from meetings and brainstorming sessions are stored on notepads, sticky notes, and easel paper.
- Sanitized product and company information is stored on Web sites.
- Meeting invitations, announcements, and discussion threads are stored in e-mail Inboxes.
- Phone numbers and job titles are stored in a directory, such as Exchange Server.
- Know-how is stored in the heads of employees.
In most organizations, Information Technology (IT) departments are charged with creating an information systems environment for managing all these information assets.
Databases are a common repository used to manage information assets. Databases place a structure on information assets that makes them easier to manage. Even physical assets, such as vehicles and buildings, are often tracked in databases.
Not all information assets lend themselves well to the kind of structure required by most databases. These information assets are often saved to folders on file servers. Because there’s no way to enforce an organization scheme in file folders, the folders quickly erode into a dumping ground.
Whether you need to manage access to a set of disparate structured assets or gain more control over less structured assets, SharePoint creates an environment that equalizes the different properties of information assets.