What is SharePoint?

What is SharePoint and how does it solve our daily work problems?


    |    Andreas Glaser

Overview

If you ask 100 people you'll get the same stupid answer including tons of buzz-words and no real explanation.

You need to know 2 things if you really want to know what SharePoint is:

  • Our daily work problems:
    E.g. not finding information, too much information or making bad decisions based on wrong information.
  • How SharePoint solves those problems:
    How it makes our work easier and more efficient.

The following video shows you what SharePoint is independent of the version or your role in your company.

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What is SharePoint?

 

Video Transcription

Information overload is a term which can be found in history before the digital or information age even started.

Usually it means that you have difficulties to make a decision because of too much information.

Information Overload

The amount of available information and the rate in which it is created increased and the way people communicate changed. Within an intranet scenario information can be stored at:

  • File shares,
  • Local hard disks,
  • Personal folders,
  • Different applications,
  • E-Mails or
  • In the head of a person you don’t know.

People may have problems to make decisions because they have too much information.

They may also have problems because they can’t find the information they need.

You can imagine that storage is one of the problems: Files are stored in different folders or sub folders without Meta information or with strange file names.

Information may not be retrieved since people just don’t know that certain information exists.

The access to information can be problematic because of remote or mobile access or due to granular security.

So how should I make a decision if I can’t find or use the information I need? Even if I find all the information how should I make a decision in time if it takes me hours or days to search and rate them?

Yes you are an Information Worker!

In our daily work we all have problems making a decision since we can’t find or use the information we need to make a good decision.

I need to have access to information and I need to know if they exist or not independent of their storage.

So how about an application that helps me:

  • To work more easily and more efficient and
  • To securely store, manage and retrieve any information from anywhere?

I don’t want to waste time finding something, doing the same job someone else already did or to prepare information just to make a decision based on that.

I need something to store, to manage and to retrieve information, to find a person who may have the information I need and to access it from anywhere. I also need something that not only gets information I also need something that prepares, visualizes it or sorts it by relevance.

An application that can do all the things will have a great impact on my performance during my working day.

Being more efficient doesn’t mean working more.

The Solution called SharePoint

SharePoint is the tool Microsoft provides which can improve my work and the result of my work. It can also improve the work of my team, my department, my company or my partners.

You already know the following graphic:

SharePoint Product Information

The graphic is older but still fits:

  • You can use sites and communities to store and manage information as well as to collaborate with colleagues.
  • You can use content management features to set up compliance features for the information stored.
  • Content management also allows you to use information in your already existing working environment like Microsoft Office.
  • Search allows you to retrieve information independent of their storage or to find people with the skills needed.
  • Insights allow you to get, to prepare and to visualize (business) information stored in a different repository.
  • SharePoint provides a solution to all your information management needs with a secure and remote access.
  • Furthermore SharePoint can be enhanced with no code solutions called Composites.

The great thing is that SharePoint has a lot more facets and advantages than outlined here.

What is SharePoint for end user?

Maybe too complex to use… I don’t know. If you are trying to search a column in a list it works with one column globally defined in the columns gallery but not with another locally created. Well for me SharePoint is easy to use and it comes with a lot of cool things like uploading to, filtering, sorting or grouping a list… there is a lot of out-of-the-box functionality. It has a mix based on lists and wikis: Have you ever tried to create and sort a table in a wiki? Even if they are supported it can’t be compared to the usability of a SharePoint list.

What is SharePoint for developers?

SharePoint developers evolve from ASP.NET developers and as a web developer you are used to implement things and to test it right away pressing F5. As a SharePoint developer you need to configure XML, deploy a solution, need to know about infrastructure including Active Directory, SQL Server, DNS or IIS… usually an ASP.NET developer doesn’t need to take it into account. The worst thing as a SharePoint developer is to explain SharePoint and how to use it to consultants, project managers, end user, authors and even administrators. The actual task called development gets smaller and smaller as you knowledge grows.

What is SharePoint for administrators?

Instead of having a lot of different systems which are easy to handle for their own but getting complex in a huge infrastructure SharePoint is a complex system. SharePoint is so complex that it doesn’t behave sometimes as expected: On one day it works and on another day it suddenly stops working. E.g. if you have hundreds of different folders on file shares and no global read group you need to manually assign read permission to the search account which can result in the membership of hundreds of groups for the search service account. Using Kerberos the token becomes bigger and bigger and only after a service restart you encounter the problem of the search not working. Looking for the reason takes a lot of time and requires a lot of specialized knowledge.

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Storing Data in SharePoint

See how data is stored in SharePoint using items, lists, libraries, sites, site collections and web applications.

It's important to understand data structure since it's not visible in SharePoint. A lot of people get confused and don't understand how to use SharePoint sites, pages and lists.

(Although the video shows an older version of SharePoint all concepts still apply to the newer versions.)

 

Video Transcription

This video shows you how data is stored in SharePoint which is useful for developers, administrators and end user. It doesn’t show you exactly how each of the logical units work in detail since this is part of other presentations.

Items & Documents

The most basic element in SharePoint is an item or a document.

An item can be a calendar entry, a task or a contact. An item can have metadata like location, start date and end date (calendar entry) or a telephone number, first name or last name (contact).

A document can be a Word document, PowerPoint presentation, some Excel file or a PDF. Video and music files are also seen as documents by SharePoint. A document can also have metadata like contributor, format, language or a scope (coverage).

So the most basic element is an item or document. Sometimes you also have folders you can use to store items or documents.

Lists & Libraries

Items and documents have to be stored somewhere and therefore we have lists for items and libraries for documents.

As you can see data can be displayed in different views depending on how it makes sense to display the information.

On the left side there is a navigation pane you can use to switch between lists and libraries.

Items, Documents and Folders are part of a list or library where each list or library can have a different purpose: You can store tasks, events, links, discussions, announcements or a lot of different kinds of documents.

Views

A list or library uses views to display information in rows and columns. If you have a calendar events will be displayed in a more appropriate way. Anyway the item or document itself is represented by a row and its metadata in different columns.

Content Types

And you can group metadata stored in columns into certain types of content called Content Types.

Different types of information have different metadata. For example:

  • Regarding a calendar entry its metadata may consist of a start time and end time as well as a location.
  • Regarding a document its metadata may consist of an author, a title and a modified date.
  • Additionally a report can have metadata like language or scope.
  • Additionally a whitepaper may have metadata like rights management information.

For example you can have the following Content Types:

  • Document with the columns author, title and modified date.
  • Report with the columns author, title, modified date, language and scope.
  • Whitepaper with the columns author, title, modified date, language, scope and rights management information.

In general you can add content types to lists or libraries. You can add the 3 content types mentioned above to a document library to store documents with different metadata. You can also create 3 libraries to store each type of document.

Quick summary:
  • Content is stored in lists
  • Described with metadata
  • Metadata is grouped to Content Types

Sites

Next we have sites. Each list is part of a site. Also each library is also part of a site.

A site can be seen as a container which has a default page (Homepage) and which includes lists and libraries. A site is a container for data.

Sites are the elements in SharePoint which can be arranged in hierarchies. There are different types of sites:

  • A site can be a team site. Each team has lists and libraries to store contact information about team members, documents or events.
  • A site can also be a project site where each project has lists and libraries to store information about the project like its current state, presentations and calculations.
  • A site can be an Internet facing Website.
Pages

Sites can have sub sites to represent a logical hierarchy… but there are also pages. E.g. a site can show office locations where pages represent the different offices.

A page is part of a site and actually a document stored in a document library. In this case the document is called ‘Page’ and has metadata like title, content, author and the document library is called ‘Site Pages’ where the pages are stored. In this example there are 2 pages: ‘Home’ and ‘How To use This Library’. As you can see items and documents are everywhere and can have different appearances even as pages.

Site Collections

A site collection is basically a collection of sites with a root site at the top. The root site is almost a site like any other site below it. Additionally you can manage settings which apply to all sites in the site collection e.g.

  • The available functionality,
  • Common navigation,
  • Security settings or
  • Layouts.

Under site settings you can see settings for the Site Collection like ‘Workflows’ or the ‘Site Collection Administration’ if you have the right permission.

Web Applications

At this point you need a way to access your collection of sites and sub sites via a web browser. And therefore we have web applications. A web application is the logical component:

  • It has a Host Header (URL), e.g. http://intranet.
  • It stores data inside one or more associated content databases.

A web application can have several site collections:

  • http://intranet
  • http://intranet/sites/hr
  • http://intranet/sites/operations

A team site is usually used inside the company and has a different URL than an internet facing website. This is the part where the web server comes in...

Web Server

A web server is a server where a set of services are running to publish websites to the internet or intranet. Of course a web server can publish more than one web site.

If you have multiple SharePoint servers they are grouped to a SharePoint (server) farm. While the web server publishes information to the Internet or Intranet the database server is required to store configuration data and content.

The picture shows:

  • A web server hosting two web sites: One web site for the intranet and one for the extranet.
  • The intranet contains two site collections.
  • The first site collection contains a site for the ‘Sales Department’, a site for ‘HR’ and a project site.
  • The sub site ‘Sales Department’ contains lists and libraries with e.g. presentations, white paper as well as product descriptions.
  • The second site collection includes a site for the executive committee.
  • The third site collection realizes the extranet and is located in a different web application and database.

Summary

Information Workers these days have problems to make decisions based on too much information or because of insufficient information. Information is usually stored at different places, can’t be found or accessed. The goal is to work more easily and more efficient and to securely store, manage and retrieve any information from anywhere. Storing Information at one place is required.

Microsoft offers SharePoint as part of a solution where you can store information using items, documents, lists, sites and Site Collections. You can group them into logical units to represent teams, departments, partners or projects.

While this presentation gave you an overview how data is stored in SharePoint the next presentation will give an overview how to work with data stored in SharePoint.

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Working with Data in SharePoint

This video shows the most common ways how you will work with data stored in SharePoint.

It includes Web Parts, Controls, Event Handler, Workflows, Timer Jobs and Application Pages. SharePoint takes data from different places and displays it in different ways for the user.

(Although the video shows an older version of SharePoint all concepts still apply to the newer versions.)

 

Video Transcription

This video shows the most common ways how you will work with data stored in SharePoint. Therefore it’s a basic element which every developer, administrator and end user needs to understand.

Storing information at one place is important. Retrieving Information is also important: Even if you store information at one place you need to find them in time in a way that’s helpful. SharePoint offers different functionality like search to find content or people with the needed expertise and skills. Information and data is retrieved, used or visualized by the following components…

A Typical SharePoint Page

A typical SharePoint page reveals a lot of different components… Controls, Web Parts, Workflows or Event Handler attached to a document or list item or Timer Jobs. Not everything can be seen on the website e.g. Timer Jobs run in the background. But you will notice the effects they have…

Last but not least there are application pages like the settings of a library or list.

Web Parts

Web Parts are everywhere and the most common component you will work with.

There are List View Web Parts displaying the content of a SharePoint list or library.

A List View Web Part can also be used to interact with external data stored in a database for this example.

List View Web Parts can also display content using different views to better display its information. In addition to text and tables there is a Chart Web Part which can display content in a graphical way.

Displaying Visio files is also done using a Web Part...

The Content Editor Web Part allows adding content like it’s done using Word.

A lot of different sites use Web Parts to read and display information...

... or to update them.

One of the most important Web Parts are located on the search results page like the Search Results Web Part. If you want to interact with content Web Parts are a powerful way to that.

A user can add, move or delete Web Parts and manage those using Web Part properties.

  • From an end user’s point of view: Web Parts are flexible to add / position and can be configured using the UI.
  • From a developer’s point of view: Web Parts are often your starting point if you need to extend SharePoint.
  • From an administrator’s point of view: IT still has full control regarding available functionality, which code runs on a server and sometimes how many resources it can use.

Controls

Controls are all over the place like Web Parts and can be used to interact with data too.

Although providing a lot of functionality controls are just there and aren’t as flexible as Web Parts.

The part of a website which stays the same like header, navigation or search box is built using Controls whereas the part with the content is kind of ‘designed’ using Web Parts.

Event Handler

Event Handlers aren’t that obvious if you work with SharePoint.

As you know pages are actually documents stored in a document library... and so you can delete them. Since the ‘default.aspx’ was selected as the first page you’ll see when you open the search center (welcome page) it is protected. You can delete every other page but if you try to delete the welcome page an error is shown.

Another use case would be automatically adding metadata to a document if you add it to a library. So Event Handler usually can’t be seen on the UI since they do their work in the background but you may see some kind of result.

Workflows

SharePoint allows you to automate business processes using Workflows.

You can automate the request for approval: If you have a document a Workflow can be started manually or automatically. In this case you can manually select the document approval workflow and set properties like the list of approvers or the due date. After the workflow has been started a task is assigned to the approver with information like status and comments. It’s possible to accept or reject the document and to request changes or to reassign the task.

You can reuse existing Workflows in SharePoint or create your own matching the business processes in your company.

Timer Jobs

Timer Jobs are like Event Handler from an end users point of view…

...you can’t see them and they do their job in the background. In contrast to Event Handler they are more powerful and normally used for infrastructure tasks related to the SharePoint farm.

In this case there is a Timer Job related to the Web Application which is clearing the recycle bin. If you ever wondered about disappearing documents you know that it was an automated task.

Timer Jobs are essential:

  • They clear recycle bins.
  • They send an e-mail notification if content has changed.
  • They publish or unpublish content.
  • They monitor the health of the SharePoint components.

Just for the completeness and for SharePoint administrators: Timer Jobs can be viewed inside Central Administration using the monitoring link.

There you will find a list with dozens of Timer Jobs with a schedule.

If you click one of them you can see the properties.

Application Pages

The last component allowing you to interact with data are Application Pages.

If you edit the settings of a list or library you will see an Application Page. This kind of page is essential if you want to have a basic understanding of SharePoint since they can be seen as the contrary of a (content) page.

Site pages are used to store content and can be created and customized by end users. Site pages are stored in a document library and usually contain Web Parts allowing you to interact with data. Since you can change the content there will be hundreds of different site pages and each of them will be unique.

Application pages can’t be created or customized by users and they are not stored inside SharePoint. They are stored on the Webserver and each of the pages has a certain purpose. The example before showed the settings of a library which are always presented the same way across all libraries no matter where they are created.

One important thing that’s new with SharePoint 2010 is Service Applications. From a very basic point of view they provide a lot of functionality and greatly enhance the way you can work with data. E.g. the search functionality in SharePoint Server is provided by the search service application.

Summary

Information Workers these days have problems to make decisions based on too much information or because of insufficient information. Information is usually stored at different places, can’t be found or accessed. The goal is to work more easily and more efficient and to securely store, manage and retrieve any information from anywhere.

Storing Information at one place is required. Microsoft offers SharePoint as part of a solution where you can store information using items, documents, lists, sites and Site Collections. You can group them into logical units to represent teams, departments, partners or projects.

Retrieving Information is also an important requirement. Even if you store information at one place you need to find them in time. SharePoint offers different functionality like search to find content and people with needed expertise and skills. Information and data is retrieved, used or visualized by Web Parts, Controls, Event Receivers, Workflows and Timer Jobs.

SharePoint is a business solution… it’s Web-based and it works for small teams as well as the huge enterprises. Users can collaborate and they can enhance the way they do it. They have access to applications and its data within the same environment and they can recreate their processes inside SharePoint and streamline them. Everything is done using one infrastructure which can be scaled out or extended with new capabilities.

SharePoint is about working with information and it’s made more effective.

The videos gave you an overview about the problems we have in our daily working environment, what SharePoint is and how it helps to solve the problems.

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Next Steps - Learn SharePoint

The following page has everything you need to get startet.

SharePoint Tutorials, Trainings and lots of videos for administrators, developers and end users.

Learn SharePoint  


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