SharePoint Customization and Microsoft Office 365

Microsoft Office 365, the popular new cloud service which is revolutionizing business across the World, has four software products that serve to help people in business collaborate, communicate, store and share information: Exchange, Lync, SharePoint and Office. One of the most useful and important pieces of software in this suite is SharePoint, the highly customizable document storage and collaboration intranet portal.

Of all of the four products offered with Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint online might well be one of the most useful because of its usefulness in creating and sharing content. SharePoint Online comes with the base configuration, but with a bit of knowledge it can be customized to be useful for many types of businesses.

When different people are working on the same project and sharing the same files, SharePoint can help to keep track of all of the changes. SharePoint can also host databases for collaborative data. Larger companies that have enterprise systems can share the data from those programs with SharePoint where it can be analyzed.

The most common use of SharePoint is to make a corporate intranet to facilitate internal communication and sharing of common documents. The following are instructions on creating your first corporate intranet.

From SharePoint Administration, create a new site collection. Each site collection has a root template, and for this project it is best to use the Team Site Template.

Once the initial site has been created, sub-sites can be created for different purposes. Some sites can be for discussion. A site can be created as a document repository. There are no limit to the number of sites you can create, but it is best not to create unneeded complexity. Lists and libraries can also be added, along with lookup functionality that makes them act like a database application. Policies can be stored and shared using the Wiki Site Template.

Although Microsoft offers a wide variety of site templates, pages, and other structures, they are very generic. Customization should follow careful planning by your SharePoint administrators in order to build an environment that reflects the needs of your company.

Another good feature is the ability to customize a site from a template and save that as a new template. This allows you to re-use any customization that you will need again, such as project-specific sites that will likely need to be replicated frequently over time. For companies that have their own on-premises SharePoint, the customized templates can be downloaded and transferred to your on-premises instance as well.

The process of saving a customized list or site template is quite simple.

If you are saving a list as a template, go to the default page for that list, then click the Library Tab at the top of the page under Library Tools. On the right=hand side click Library Settings. In the next option group that opens, click, “Save document library as template”. Fill in a file name and description and click OK. Then when you go to create a new list, it will be available under Lists in the Templates.

Saving a site you have created as a template is very much the same. On the top of the page, go to Site Settings under Site Actions, and then you can save your site as a template.

Another great feature of SharePoint is the ability to get access to external data for use in multiple scenarios from data analysis to mail-merge applications. Using the Business Connectivity Services (BCS) application this is possible. Use of this feature enables connectivity for ERP system data into SharePoint. The data is presented through a method that SharePoint calls the “External Content Type”. Our client First United Services makes use of this. They have their Microsoft Dynamics CRM data linked up to SharePoint. The great thing about Microsoft Dynamics CRM is that it is made to work with SharePoint, and it has an easy way to set it up.

For other ERP systems, open SharePoint Designer 2010, which will give you the option to create a BCS External Content Type. With the site open in SharePoint Designer, click the Site Objects list then under that click External Content Types. This will create a basic definition in SharePoint designer. Then you can add all of the details to connect to the external system.

In addition to ERP data systems, other types of web service data sources can be used, such as geographic data systems, market data, or other public data such as the public data accessible through Amazon’s Web Services.

Another option that Microsoft offers with SharePoint Online is the option to develop and deploy custom code. Visual design changes as well as new web parts are possible. With Office 365, Microsoft gives you the options to sandbox your applications. This segregates the code you make from the rest of the server farm, protecting other Office 365 user companies from the possibility of malicious code being written.

Office 365 is customizable because one solution does not suit all types of companies or sizes of companies. The customization possibilities in SharePoint Online allow for enough customization to be useful for any kind of company of any size, enhancing communications and collaboration. Other customizations that are available in SharePoint include:

  • Adding user defined fields to the user profiles.
  • Using the Content Organizer to arrange data in different locations based on metadata.
  • Create associations between a document template and a library.
  • Building workflows to define tasks and the flow of work.
  • Defining content type policies that can delete aging files or review workflows.

With the significant capabilities and possibilities available within SharePoint Online and Office 365, it is a great time for your organization to discover the possibilities. For a free consultation, please give us a call at 646-853-0573.