Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Get Going With SharePoint

For those who have read my posts before you will be aware of two things. Firstly, I am passionate about SharePoint and how it can benefit all organisations and secondly, I am a fanatical Aston Villa supporter. So let me start by saying well done to Manchester United (although most of their supporters seemed to be wearing Norwich scarves) for winning the 50th Carling Cup on Sunday. Ok it might have all been different if the referee hadn’t forgotten his red card, but hopefully I will be back at Wembley to see Villa win the FA Cup in May. So to SharePoint and the best way to get a SharePoint Project started.

It has been a few weeks since my last blog and one of the reasons for this has been a trip to Egypt. An interesting trip to swap the snow of England for temperatures of 30 degrees and of course like all English tourists I brought back a souvenir stomach bug. One of the highlights of my trip was a camel ride in the desert under the stars. It was certainly worth the money, and the pain, to experience some amazing views. It made me think it was a bit like SharePoint because it took some investment and some effort to get going, but once I was riding through the desert on top of that large animal the benefits were so clear. Now, I had not really understood the effort that would be required when I initially paid my money for this excursion. It had said wear long trousers on the information provided so I decided it was best to wear my jeans. The camel knelt down ready for me to get on its back, but with the saddle on, which had two wooden holding bars sticking up at either end, I realised that this was not going to be easy. It seemed that to be able to get on I would have to lift my right leg about four foot in the air and my legs would have to end up at about one hundred and fifty degrees apart, an angle that my jeans were not happy to go at. I tried seven times to mount the camel without success. At least the small boy holding the camel looked to be seeing the funny side it even if he spoke no English. Then a kind older Egyptian gentleman appeared and without saying a word got hold of my leg and lifted it on to the camel. The help of an expert was all that it took and for the next hour I watched in wonder at the amazing views as I majestically rode the camel that I had named Humphrey. As I rode I thought about how similar the experience was to a SharePoint Project. Is it similar or was it just the effect of too much sun on my baldy head?

SharePoint, in either the full SharePoint Server (MOSS) form or the free Windows SharePoint Services (WSS 3.0), is fairly easy to install as my trip was fairly easy to book. The difficult part then is really getting started and setting your foundations. Maybe the issue is that there is just so much SharePoint can do ranging from Document Management to updating websites with options like creating surveys along the way. It really can impact (and enhance) all areas of your business, or organisation. But as with my large frame trying to get on to a camel it really needs to be thought out first. A SharePoint Project Team is ideal and it is well worth downloading the free SharePoint Project checklist from Office Talk to plan what you are trying to do. Once on my camel I was led by the small boy, but I think left to my own devices I would have had a very frustrated camel and could have ended up anywhere in the desert. So a plan is needed when starting out with SharePoint. The problem companies often have is knowing what to include in their plans. Really a starting point needs to be to understand what the version of SharePoint you have can actually do, before deciding how you are going to use it. Which departments will be included, what types of electronic forms will be customised, what kind of reports will be produced, how will contacts be stored, what kind of workflows will be created, will versioning be used and many, many more questions. This is why like when getting on a camel for the first time it helps to have an expert at hand. Obviously as an Office Talk Consultant I hope that you would use Office Talk for all your SharePoint needs, but there are a number of other Microsoft Partners who offer SharePoint services so shop around.

In my experience the best way to start a SharePoint Project is for the key users to receive a day or ½ days training session on the basic of what SharePoint can do. Office Talk offer these training courses onsite in the UK for up to 12 people and give the key users an overview of the many things that they could do with SharePoint including incorporating Video and automating so many internal processes. Again look around for Microsoft Partners in your country who offer similar SharePoint services. I think I might have benefited even more from my camel experience if I had had an English speaking person to lead. Maybe then I wouldn’t have fallen off the camel when I came to dismount.

Another way of making a fast start on SharePoint is to purchase one of SharePoint Department Templates already available. Why re-invent the wheel when a lot of your needs are shared by other people and templates already exist. If you haven’t already seen them take a look at the Action SharePoint Department Template Bundle. This means you can start your journey already on the camel and heading in the right direction. Perhaps I am overdoing this metaphor now.

So back to the Villa and good luck to them on Sunday when they play Reading and are just ninety minutes from going back to Wembley. Who knows we might end up seeing an all Birmingham game at Wembley. That would certainly be a challenge for Chiltern Railways and the Birmingham to Wembley Stadium route. I wonder if they use SharePoint.

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