SharePoint: 5 Things You Should Know

When I walked into a breakout session titled “SharePoint: Best Practices,” at the 2015 Next Generation of Government Summit, I’m pretty sure I was the only person in the room who had no idea what SharePoint even was. But the Department of Defense’s Gary Cage and Christine Frost, alongside the FDIC’s Russell Maltempo gave me a much better grasp on it. These panelists knew everything there was to know about SharePoint. In case you weren’t able to make it, these were their biggest insights.

1. What is SharePoint?

Simple question, I know. But if you’re like I was before I walked into this session, you’re probably wondering the same thing. Cage described SharePoint as the “Swiss army knife” of computer programs. This incredibly complex tool is a platform that has a number of functions to help improve an organization’s workflow.

Like a Swiss Army knife, SharePoint provides a lot of functionality to make organizations more efficient. However, Cage cautioned that it might not be the best tool to solve all of those problems. To understand the best ways to use SharePoint, you first have to understand what it does.

2. What can SharePoint do?

According to Cage, SharePoint can assist with a number of organizational workflows, including website creation, content-management, team collaboration, document sharing, and application development. It also has an enterprise-level search capability.

By combining these features, SharePoint users can solve many business problems. Cage urged those looking to use SharePoint to implement SharePoint Designer. This program lets you modify or change the look and feel of SharePoint without implementing custom codes, reducing the inherent cost and risk of unique coding.

“SharePoint is a vast platform with a lot of functionality. If you’re trying to implement it in your organization, try to think of something small to integrate into the existing workflow,” Cage said.

3. What skills do you need?

I won’t lie to you, the panelists made it pretty clear that SharePoint isn’t something you typically pick up one day and know how to use. Maltempo contended that individuals looking to use this program have to acquire technical skills, especially coding, that they may not have learned in school or on the job.

With the proper training, SharePoint users can aggregate budgets, contacts, and individual records, track tasks and auditing, automate data collection and organization, and produce dashboards and reporting services with much greater efficiency. With more information being produced and collected than ever before, government agencies have a growing need for these skills. Maltempo argued that government employees must create demand within their agency for SharePoint skills in order to convince leadership to implement training.

How can you do this at your agency? He suggested identifying a problem and working with the IT department to mock-up a demo solution using SharePoint. When you present this demo to leadership, emphasize the resources that you needed to accomplish the demo and discuss how training would have reduced the time and effort spent on the project. The faster you can produce these impressive results, the greater demand for training there will be.

4. How can government agencies use it?

Government agencies can use SharePoint to aggregate various records, analyze data, and ultimately provide better web services for citizens. If these reasons aren’t motivating enough, SharePoint can also cut an agency’s internal costs. For example, by automating data collection through SharePoint, agencies can reduce the cost of producing reports manually. Creating and customizing websites through SharePoint reduces custom code, which reduces the risk of coding errors and makes it easier for IT departments to address web-based issues quickly and efficiently.

With all of the functions SharePoint has to offer, the possibilities to increase workflow efficiency are virtually limitless. In a time of tight budgets, reducing costs and increasing efficiency are two changes from which government agencies at every level stand to benefit.

5. Why should they?

Frost observed that change in any organization is scary, but necessary. Nobody likes change forced upon them; however, she argued that the problems government agencies are facing are not going away. Thus, government employees have to educate themselves in tools that will help them address these issues. When used right, SharePoint can increase an agency’s flexibility and agility.

To convert the masses to SharePoint, government leadership must endorse the program. They must listen to what employees want and make the conversion at a comfortable, iterative pace. Training and following-up is key to ensuring that this new tool is understood and embraced in a meaningful way.

She urged individuals looking to use SharePoint more effectively to, “Talk to people in your organization, try not to reinvent the wheel. Talk to people who’ve done something similar and build off of their knowledge.” Maltempo added, “Chances are, business problems like the ones you are facing have been solved before. Ask colleagues about existing things that have been done.”

SharePoint is an excellent tool, but only when it’s implemented in the right way. It should be used to enhance effectiveness, not shackle creativity. With proper training and understanding of its capabilities, government agencies can reap all of the rewards that this tool has to offer.

From July 20-21 we will be blogging from GovLoop and YGL’s Next Generation of Government Training Summit. Following along @NextGenGov and read more blog posts here.

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Esther Day

I fully agree with this article. Workers tend to siloh themselves and not think outside the box. Regrettably, they don’t like hearing creative ideas or ways to “NOT REINVENT THE WHEEL”. This tends to turn people off and stop sharing ideas. We need to listen to creative ways to use SharePoint and encourage this creativity. Thank you for this great article.