I love SharePoint. I even have an “I love SharePoint” mug to prove it. The reason for this is that it gives Redweb (and therefore our customers) an advantage.
In this article I hope to explain what that advantage is.
First, what is SharePoint?
In a nutshell, SharePoint is used for Enterprise Content Management and it’s one of Microsoft’s key server platforms. It has evolved over a decade or so into a stable, reliable product. People use SharePoint to build:
- Public websites
- Intranets and extranets
- Bespoke applications
The latest version is SharePoint 2010 and it’s available in a number of different flavours depending on what you want to do with it (a full comparison of features can be found here).
Even the most basic version of these flavours (SharePoint Foundation 2010) is incredibly feature-rich. It’s also free (meaning it has no specific licensing requirements) and it can be downloaded from Microsoft’s website.
Configuration vs Customisation
In my experience, the software I’m asked to build nearly always has a common set of requirements, namely:
- Store data in SQL Server
- Provide a user-interface to allow users to list, create , update and delete data
- Allow data to be indexed and searched by end-users
- Provide a separate user-interface for administrators
- Use security groups to manage users and control access rights
- Record error messages in a central log
- Generate usage reports
- Provide an end-user help interface
SharePoint has all of this functionality built-in. In fact, the list above is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the functionality that it gives you. It means we can create software using more configuration and less customisation. By doing so, we are making use of functionality created (and tested) by Microsoft, which reduces build-time and cost to our customers.
A case in point is Duke Energy, who built their intranet on SharePoint. Despite only using configuration (and zero custom code), Jakob Nielsen ranked it as one of the top 10 global intranets.
The paid-for versions of SharePoint 2010 add many more features, not limited to: advanced web content management, enterprise-level search, user profiles, personal sites, social networking and business intelligence reporting.
All of this built-in functionality can be useful in terms of satisfying customer requirements; reducing the need to write custom code.
Another advantage of using a popular Microsoft product is that, if we need it, there’s help out there. Many Content Management Systems (CMS) from other vendors do not provide anywhere near the quality or quantity of developer support.
SharePoint help is in the form of:
- Excellent and comprehensive technical documentation provided by Microsoft
- A myriad of independent technical blogs
- Microsoft Premier Support
In my experience, if you have a business-critical issue, Premier Support will jump on it and (pretty much) stay on the telephone until the issue is resolved.
Most CMSs only provide a single, server-side programming interface.
However, all versions of SharePoint provide multiple programming interfaces, which make it quicker to develop and test code that integrates with SharePoint. These interfaces are powerful and include:
- A server-side .NET interface
- Built-in web services
- Microsoft PowerShell
The PowerShell interface is particularly handy as you can use it out-of-the-box, without needing to compile and deploy custom code.
These three facets of SharePoint 2010 help us to build excellent SharePoint solutions, such as an intranet for Action on Hearing Loss (formerly RNID) and our SharePoint radio station Redio.
Written by Howard Bayliss
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