Wednesday, 6 August 2008

SharePoint Fashion Show

The new Premiership football season is now only just over a week away and Aston Villa look terrific in their new claret and blue nike shirts with the name of their new charity sponsor Acorns across their chests. Lining up for the traditional pre-season squad photograph they really look the part, but will this smart appearance help them get premiership points this season? The answer is a resounding ‘no’. In this week’s article I will be discussing how important the look of a company’s SharePoint really is to the success of SharePoint. That might not sound too exciting, but I promise you a couple of interesting bits and I am not just talking about the Barbara Windsor link. SharePoint can with the aid of SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio produce some pretty spectacular looking SharePoint sites. In fact designers can produce such terrific websites using SharePoint these days that people really don’t believe they are SharePoint. However, for an internal SharePoint site how great looking does it really have to be? Personally, I believe it is useful that employees know that they are using an internal system and that it is different to the public facing website. The most important part of SharePoint for the User is not how pretty it looks, but how quickly they can find information and how much more information they have available. It is great Martin O’Neill having the best looking football team but unless he buys some defenders soon this Villa team will be in for a difficult season. The key requirements of any SharePoint project should be accessibility, performance, security and the information stored. As a SharePoint Consultant with Officetalk I am involved in planning many SharePoint Projects and I try and persuade customers not to get too bogged down with ‘Look and Feel’. Designers can often spend hours just trying to get the right thickness of a rounded edge around the company name. Yes, SharePoint Designer can use Custom Style Sheets and can do all kinds of clever things, but what is the real benefit of all this packaging to the End User? Okay, it needs to look reasonably good, hopefully more Barbara Windsor than Hattie Jacques (when Babs was in the ‘Carry On’ films not the early East Enders). More important to the user though is how quickly it loads. They don’t want to wait an extra twenty seconds each time because the page includes some fancy flash animation. It is much more important that the draft document they were working on with Cheryl from Accounts two months ago is quickly accessible. Even with the very basics in SharePoint it is possible to choose from a good selection of different coloured themes and nearly match the Corporate colours. It is fairly straight-forward to have the company, or organisation, logo on each page so very quickly the sites can get that corporate feel. Just in case the employee forgets who they work for. A nice feature of SharePoint is the “Personalize This Page” option so the user themselves can always make changes so they have their own personal view of the page every time they open it. People have their own individual preferences. At the Villa I always sit at the side in the Trinity Road stand but others prefer the view from the Holte End behind the goal. So why should SharePoint Project Teams spend ages dictating the way that SharePoint looks. I always encourage Project Teams to develop basic Site templates to help the users to be able to navigate around all the sites. Just don’t tie them down too much and don’t spend half of your SharePoint Project budget on making the sites look super impressive. A SharePoint Portal I saw the other week looked amazing and I had to check to make sure it really was SharePoint, but looking deeper I found a few major issues. They had spent so long getting the snazzy look that they hadn’t properly configured either the Search indexing or the Email integration. Perhaps they just ran out of time or money on the project. One last point to mention is don’t be afraid to have your SharePoint looking like SharePoint. Microsoft might have made it fully customisable but they designed the templates this way to make it as easy as possible to navigate. Now, I must check the Villa website to see if they are about to sign any more players who not only will look reasonable in those mighty fine new shirts but will actually make a difference on the pitch.

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