TO SHAREPOINT - - - OR NOT?

Jeff Archer, VP-IT, Tijuana Flats
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Jeff Archer, VP-IT, Tijuana Flats

Microsoft SharePoint the function is its name a place to store and share documents, collaborate and organize your data from a website. There are two basic SharePoint flavors, locally hosted (installed on your server in a data center) and SharePoint Online (hosted). Both provides almost the same functionality, one is hosted by you and the other one is hosted by Microsoft. Since the trend is Software as a Service (SaaS), I will mainly talk about SharePoint Online (Microsoft hosted).

"SharePoint Online is a worthwhile investment"

Why would you use SharePoint Online? You could say, “hey, I have a perfectly good file and print server and it is storing all my files today, we don’t need it. We have folders we copy our files into and they are organized (well somewhat organized) that I have been using for many years, why should we change?

Good question. Let’s start with the question, who has access to the files? If you are on the road or away from your desk, can you access them easily with almost any browser or device from almost anywhere? Can you edit and share files with other people easily without clogging up the email (how many times have you been frustrated with large files in your email)? Can you have multiple people update a file at once and collaborate together easily away from the office or desk? These are just some of SharePoint Online functionality and it continues to grow.

Let’s talk for a minute about that file and print server you have locally in your server room or data center. Ever wonder what it cost to maintain the file and print server? We can list out a few items that you need to consider if you want to keep that server. How about the server cost and the data center cost to keep it there? You know you will need to refresh the server hardware/software every 3-5 years, have someone to maintain it, upgrade the operating system, keep security patches up to date, upgrade the SharePoint application, provide back up and Disaster Recovery (DR)  the list goes on

CIOs typically report to CFOs who keep a close eye on costs and keep IT expenses in check. So think about what are all the costs to keep the old file and print server or even a local version of SharePoint. Wouldn’t it be great if you could migrate all that to an online platform that you don’t have to maintain and constantly keep up to date and viable? You get updates automatically, someone else has to keep the Operating System patched and on and on.

It can be a challenge to change your mindset from a Capital Expenditure (CapEx) to buy hardware and software and move it to an ongoing expense for SaaS. Expense in the IT world has typically been a bad thing with bad connotations. But if you run the numbers and really look at the cost to keep that server and local software onsite, you will most likely come to the conclusion that Software as a Service (SaaS) is not as bad as some people tend to make it to be.

Now that I have digressed, back to SharePoint Online and why you would use it. It has been my experience that if you embrace new technology and new ways of looking at things with a bit of caution, a bit of excitement and a bit of pragmatism you will most likely make the right decision most of the time. With Microsoft SharePoint Online, it’s not new technology (SharePoint has been around for some time), the way it is presented and how it is accessed is the real draw. Having the great functionality of SharePoint and having it internet facing and accessible everywhere is the real appeal. Like now, I am going to save this document to SharePoint Online and then I am going to go home and access it on my larger than usual Android phone (Sorry Microsoft) and continue to work on it like I was in the office with Office 365 and SharePoint Online (you can work on just about any operating platform) or if I were at a dentist appointment and want to work on it in the waiting room and ask a co-worker to make edits at the same time—now wouldn’t that be powerful?

Apart from looking at some of the good qualities of Microsoft SharePoint Online, I will now share some of the intricacies about SharePoint.

SharePoint Online is really easy to setup and really easy to mess up. Let me explain. You need to know how your security will be setup. SharePoint Online like many technologies is hierarchical. Your security flows down from your main SharePoint sites to all the sub sites, which could be good as you want to make one or several groups and apply security to all the sites below it, but there are instances when you want to break the hierarchy, and this is where the rub is. You really need to plan out the sites in advance, understand what security rights and groups you want people to have, what sites you want isolated and so on. This is where is can start getting expensive, consultants will typically first ask you, if you talk to them about SharePoint sites, “how is your security setup”? They know it is tricky and most people don’t get it right which could have lots of negative results down the road as you grow your sites.

If you want to make a simple default site that has a document library and have your company background, collaboration blog and logo, and maybe some other simple changes, SharePoint is a snap. Now if you want to make it fancy, with workflow, forms and other wiz bang and exciting things, you can do it yourself, you need to put in the hours to have someone self learn or better, go to class-I would say to leave that to the experts. Let’s say you have 5 departments: Finance, HR, Marketing, IT, and Operations and you want SharePoint custom for every department and do not want the basic defaults with some little bells and whistles expect to dole out some cash. Customized sites can cost up to $20K or more each created by your local consultant, which could be $100K or more for 5 customized sites to have a snazzy site that would make your Mother proud.

In the end, I think that SharePoint Online is a worthwhile investment and if you don’t get too fancy with the SharePoint sites, plan the security in advance, and take into account that having Microsoft take care of the servers, security etc., the good things outweigh the bad. If you don’t have Microsoft SharePoint Online, the investigation is worthwhile, at least it was for me and I don’t regret going in that direction. I think SharePoint Online helps set up the company for the future the job of today’s CIO!.

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