What Is SharePoint?
Often described as a content management system and a collaboration suite, SharePoint could also be called an integrated knowledge-management platform. SharePoint includes features that help organizations:
- Collaborate more seamlessly online
- Manage processes
- Search for data
- Manage and share documents
- Access stored information
- Create and manage wikis and blogs
- Host websites (certain editions)
Organizations can also use SharePoint as a foundation for creating customized solutions that meet their unique collaboration and communication needs. These customizations might include enabling or disabling out-of-the-box features; plugging in free software extensions created by Microsoft and third-party developers; and even developing new SharePoint extensions.
How Nonprofits and Libraries Can Use SharePoint
Here are just a few ways that SharePoint could help a nonprofit or library:
- More secure information management — SharePoint's governance, workflow, security, document permissions, and records-retention features allow administrators to automate procedures and track data efficiently across multiple information systems. This helps reduce the threat of legal, public-relations, and funding repercussions due to data loss or security breaches.
- Better collaboration — A shared repository of documents and other information helps improve collaboration and reduces duplication of effort
- Finding information faster — When systems aren't integrated on the back end, it's impossible to do a single search across all of an organization's data repositories. Users have to open multiple search interfaces and use different keywords to find all available information on a particular topic. SharePoint integrates these separate data repositories, allowing you to perform keyword searches from a single interface and retrieve consistent, comprehensive results from across the entire organization.
- Improving organizational memory — SharePoint helps centralize and organize old documents and records. Staff members can more easily learn from experience and make good strategic decisions when they can find past emails and reports.
New and Improved Features in SharePoint 2010
Let's look at what's new in SharePoint 2010:
Expanded Browser Support
With previous versions of SharePoint, users had to update their SharePoint sites using Internet Explorer or SharePoint-compatible applications such as Microsoft Office or SharePoint Designer. Now you have more options when it comes to web browsers: SharePoint 2010 supports recent versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari.
Support for Mobile Devices
Office Mobile includes SharePoint Workspace Mobile. This allows users to edit Office documents and then save them back to their organization's SharePoint site using a mobile device. Office Mobile comes bundled free with recent Windows phones.
Bringing Social Networking into the Enterprise
SharePoint 2010 approaches social networking as a vehicle for organizational collaboration and productivity. For example, SharePoint lets anyone in the organization add tags and notes to any page on the intranet, turning the entire internal website into a collaboration tool. SharePoint 2010 also provides the ability to set up tools such as blogs, wikis, and RSS feeds.
New social networking features in SharePoint 2010 include an improved user profile page, a dynamic activity feed, a central picture library, and knowledge mining.
Findability is a term coined by information architect and usability expert Peter Morville to describe how easy it is for users to locate and access information resources on a website or other information-management system.
With SharePoint 2010, Microsoft has substantially improved findability, especially in metadata and enterprise search:
- Metadata, Classification, and Tagging — SharePoint 2010 offers organizations several options for classifying and categorizing their content. You can opt for a controlled, centralized approach to taxonomies and classification, in which managers and systems administrators centrally create and manage lists of available terms and keywords. Or, SharePoint also supports using a decentralized folksonomic tagging system. In a folksonomic system, users can add their own keywords to documents by simply tagging them as they see fit, which doesn't require help or permission from IT. SharePoint 2010 also allows you to combine both approaches.
- Enterprise Search — SharePoint 2010 improves upon the enterprise search capabilities in the 2007 version by adding:
- Boolean search. Searchers can use AND, OR, NOT, +, or – to narrow in on the most relevant search results.
- Wildcard search. Searchers can get a wider set of results by adding a wildcard operator (*) in place of certain words or letters.
- Faceted search. Once users submit a search query in SharePoint 2010, they receive a refinement panel along with their search results. They can hone in on their desired results by selecting their preferred results type, author, tag, or modified date.
- People search. The search engine in SharePoint 2010 indexes employee profile directories, not just document repositories. Search results, therefore, return not only documents but also links to individuals with the desired expertise.
Now that you have a broad vision for what SharePoint can do in a nonprofit or library setting, it's time to understand the differences between each edition.
The main editions are the free, standard, and enterprise editions.
- Free versions. Each generation of SharePoint includes a free, bare-bones version. This free version gives you access to basic collaboration and content-management features, but if you want all the bells and whistles, you'll need the standard or enterprise edition. In the latest release, the free version is called SharePoint Foundation 2010.
- Standard editions. This includes the core feature sets, such as content management, document management, collaboration, and enterprise search. The most recent release is SharePoint Server 2010 Standard Edition.
- Enterprise editions. This includes all the features of the standard editions, but the enterprise edition also contains business intelligence features, support for integrating and streamlining business processes, and other features. The most recent release is SharePoint Server 2010 Enterprise Edition.
For more information, see TechSoup's Guide to SharePoint Server Editions and Licensing and Microsoft's detailed comparison of features.
Learn more about this and other SharePoint Server 2010 learning resources from this companion blog post.
Special thanks to Willow Cook for her contribution to this article.