Sunday, May 31, 2009

What's Available with Out of the Box SharePoint

So you’ve been given a site to run – what now. First you need to decide what you are going to put onto it and how, so you need to know what templates are available to you to store your information.

Let’s look at that functionality as well as where it would be useful. There is SO much out of the box (OOB) functionality available it’s scary. You have a range of default site templates to choose from as well as 40 extra free from Microsoft for download. They can be downloaded one at a time, or all 40 at once, and they are available for WSS as well as MOSS 2007. Then there’s 24 lists and libraries, as well dozens of web parts you can add to your pages.

So before you take the development route, look at what the out of box can give you, you will be pleasantly surprised.

As I am primarily involved on team sites, I will be able to give you the most information from that perspective. I don’t know all the functionality and nuances of the publishing sites, but I’ll give it a shot anyway. This is based on MOSS 2007 functionality; most of it will be available with WSS, but not all.

Back to team sites. Let’s see what you can insert into a team site. If you click on View All Site and Create, or Site Actions and Create, you will get a selection of lists and libraries from which to choose. We will through them one by one. There are different options depending on the license you have, ie: Core or Enterprise. Some of these features also only work with Office 2007.

Core Options :

With Enterprise Features, KPI’s and Report Library options are added – there is more functionality available under the various other Enterprise site templates.

Let’s go through them one by one. This is not a very technical, fully instructional explanation, rather a brief overview and some application ideas. All of the following are customisable in one way or another to add or remove fields as you require :

Document Library – this is the same as your traditional folders on your file servers. Try not to turn SharePoint into another file server by simply creating dozens and dozens of folders and sub folders. Use metadata to replace sub-folders; that will reduce the number of clicks to get to your information, (3 clicks or less for best practises). Also, there is a default document library on new team sites called Shared Documents. This is a sample folder only. Don’t drop everything under there, rename it to something more useful and create more libraries on the same level as it.

Form Library – is used with InfoPath forms. If all your users have InfoPath installed on their computers, then you don’t need Enterprise licensing to use Forms Services. They can just click “New Item” to complete a form. If you need your users to complete a form in a web browser, you need Enterprise features.

Wiki Page Library – ever heard of Same thing. It is a free text space which anyone can add information to. If you have one document in a folder on your file server that seldom changes, rather cut and paste that information into a wiki, then you won’t need the lonely folder and document anymore. You can also use this for About Us, directions to your offices, terminology, error repositories, programming standards, rules, instructions, etc etc.

Picture Library – if you want to change your site logo and title logo, you need to have the picture stored on the site or not everyone will be able to view it if they don’t have access to the source of the pictures you’re using. Also good for team photos if you want to create a Who Are We or Contact Us type of section with photos. And of course for functions, create one for each event.

Data Connection Library – used with Excel Services and InfoPath. They need to be added to the SSP as a trusted location before you can use them. I am not too sure how they work or the best use for them, as I have not had any experience with them yet. I understand it tells SharePoint that the location of the data connections can be deemed as safe.

Translation Management Library – if you need your documents to be stored in different languages, this allows you to manage those versions, properties, workflow, etc.

Slide Library – need to have Office 2007 for this. It allows you to upload PowerPoint presentations and reuse the slides into a new presentation. Great for month end reports, or trying to compile new marketing material from ten different presentations.

Announcements – one of the default web parts that is placed on the landing page. You can announce new additions to your site, or anything else you want to share with your team. Tip : put an Alert Me on this on behalf of your team, so that when you add a new announcement a mail will automatically be sent to everyone – saves you remembering to send a mail and encourages people to visit your site.

Contacts – if you have Office 2007 you can sync this web part to it and display a list of your contacts in SharePoint.

Discussion Board – if you spend a lot of time emailing people trying to get information from them, try a discussion board instead. You post a topic and people can reply to them. It saves you having to sort through countless emails to compile all the info. Tip – when replying to a forum, the previous comments are automatically displayed. Delete the info first or it will all be duplicated, just leave yours there.

Links – also one of the default web parts on a new page. This lets you add links to websites. You can create a new links list and group your links, eg: Internal sites, external sites, HR links, news links, etc.

Calendar – defaulted to the landing page. Works the same as your Outlook calendar, and you can even sync it to Outlook if you have version 2007. You will be able to display the calendar in Outlook, but not upload appointments from Outlook to SharePoint unless you have Incoming email enabled on your platform. The only thing is that SharePoint does not send proactive reminders of the forthcoming events. Create different calendars for different departments or regions. Things like reports due, change request cycles, freeze periods, leave, release dates, birthdays and events can be placed on the calendar. Create different views in the same calendar to summarise items. Use content types to manage certain entries.

Tasks – a tasks folder is created by default to store all the workflows and tasks generated in your site. You can also create your own task list to assign tasks and actions to people. This list can also be sync’d to your Outlook tasks and used then used offline. Create one to manage tasks for certain project deliverables, like completing reports or action items from previous meetings.

Project Tasks – a light version of MS Project. You can create project plans in the same way with milestones and timelines. The advantage of using Project on SharePoint is that you don’t need to buy MS Project licenses for each user as it is built in to SharePoint. Users are sent emails with their tasks when assigned to do so and prompted on a weekly basis if they do not update the task. Project tasks supports traditional waterfall as well as agile methodologies, eg: SCRUM. Just a pity you can’t import your MS Project plans, you need to retype them – but it is worth it.

Issue Tracking – this list automatically assigns a unique key to every item in the list so you can track the issues raised with an audit trail built in. You can’t remove items from these lists in datasheet view as a result, it is a built in safety mechanism. Great for software projects when you are in test phase for example. If you don’t have a formal issue tracking process, this is the answer. Users can log issues and you can manage them and close them accordingly.

Survey – a widely used list in our organisation. Surveys are used for everything from health checks, to what you want to do for a year end function. If you are clever, you could even use it to replace those dreaded Performance appraisal documents that everybody dreads completing. The cool thing about surveys is you can even have branching, so if you ask : “do you like ice-cream”, you can redirect the survey depending on the answer. Setting up the survey is easy, but check it properly before you send it out to the users to complete. There are some tricks you need to know about in surveys, but I will write about that in my next Tips and Tricks post.

Custom List – this is my favourite. Are you being swamped by Excel spreadsheets? Most people are – if so, then you are going to LOVE this feature. There are so many applications for custom lists I don’t even know where to start. If you don’t have InfoPath, custom lists can easily replace that forms capability. Sure it won’t offer all the controls of an InfoPath form, but for basic form capture, this is the answer. You can put workflow and versioning on these lists too. If you have Office 2003, you need to recreate the columns in SharePoint and copy and paste the information in. If you have Office 2007, you can just import them, (see 3 sections down). I am going to demo this at the next IW forum in June. The beauty of custom lists is the views you can set up depending on who needs to see what. The data is updated in real-time and available to everyone, and many people can update a list at the same time. When converting your spreadsheets to custom lists, first decide what information you want to get out. This will have an impact on the type of columns you create. Build backwards, or you will end up rebuilding them. Convert things like sales reports, contact no’s or switchboard lists, licensing spreadsheets, project documentation checklists, application forms, etc. If there is a piece of paper that needs be signed and passed on, chances are it can be converted to a custom list with workflow instead.

Custom List in Datasheet View – all the same features as the previous section, it just displays in a more Excel friendly view. You can display normal custom lists in this way as well. They are interchangeable.

Languages and Translators – if you are planning on having you site in different languages, this control is needed to manage that. This could turn into a full time job, so have someone available to do that.

Import Spreadsheet – available with Office 2007, you could just import those pesky spreadsheets instead of recreating and copying and pasting the info in. The trick is to have the formatting in your spreadsheet perfect before you try and import it, or you will have a lot of maintenance on your hands. There also some Title field issues you need to take into consideration, but I will expand on that more in Tips and Tricks as well.

Basic Page – Web Part Page – Sites and Workspaces – Publishing Pages – all these will be covered in the next post. You can use all the above listed functionality on each of these templates. They are merely different ways to display information on a page. Pages are made up of different zones containing web parts, and these are laid out differently depending on the site template you choose. All the changes you make in basic pages, web part pages, sites and workspaces are instantly visible to the users. Publishing pages need to be checked in and published before they are displayed to the general audience. This is handy when you need to be the only person to view the changes before you publish them. It’s like a built in test area.

So that's for this section, coming next - How to tell what kind of site you are working on.


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