The answer you are looking for is: A LOT.

You can do a lot with SharePoint. That is not a lie. What you have to be careful is not to overdue it and overthink it. SharePoint is not meant to be used for everything like many enthusiastic people think it should. For example, maybe it would be better to not use SharePoint as an accounting system or even to build a public website. From a technical perspective you can develop both in SharePoint. However, the time and money you will need to invest to achieve the same results that you would get with a specialized product in the market is going to be way too high. It would be better to spend that time and money on something else. Like investing in Snail farming or Extreme Ironing.

Alright, so what can you do with SharePoint after all?

You already know that SharePoint is not a common site builder and therefore it is not easy to add common website functionality like a simple form. However, did you know that you can:

Upload files (duh!)

Or

Create simple applications (Uh?)

Or

Centralize your documents in one place

Or

Manage small projects, assign tasks and track progress

Or

Show information online with different views for different users

Or even

Create vaults of information to work on those top-secret documents or projects

And also

Create a knowledge base so that you don´t make the same mistakes over and over again

And also also

Have a collaborative place where a group or people can work together on a project, share files and provide updates instead of sending useless emails back and forth

And also also also

Share information with your employees on a page instead of sending emails that everybody ignores

And also also also also

Be in total control of all information that is relevant to your business. Anything that is generated by your employees stays in one central place. SharePoint! (This one reason alone is worth the investment).

I could write a series of books about what you can do with SharePoint, but it would just end up taking up virtual space and be a waste of bytes. Instead I will show you what you can do with SharePoint out of the box. I will also gently introduce you to what you can do when you start to think about building complex solutions in SharePoint. You know, the type of solutions that you can´t do with SharePoint out of the box. Like creating a simple form or having sub-tasks for example.

I know that as soon as you see the images below you will start to see the power of SharePoint and your brain will start spinning around with solutions that would make you more efficient and ultimately cost efficient. I also know that you will want those solutions to be developed fast. Like, real fast. How do I know that? I´m a SharePoint Solutions Developer for a while know, (since 2006 but who is counting?) and my conversation with clients usually ends like this:

Client – How fast can you develop it? I really need solution this soon.

Me – I will send you an estimation in a few hours. But don´t worry. You will have it sooner then you expect it because I use rapid development tools like Skybow.

Uh? Skybow? What is that? Do not worry about it now. I will explain it later what it is. For now, just know that as a SharePoint Solutions Developer my goal is to build solutions in SharePoint as fast as I can without compromising your data and security. It is for this reason that I create partnerships with awesome third party vendors, like Skybow, that offer products that allows me to bring extraordinary results to my clients without compromising your existing business data and security.

You – Fernando, stop messing about and show me what we can do with SharePoint!

Me – Alright, here we go. As mentioned, before you can:

Upload files

 Yes, you can upload files, folders, templates. Templates? Yes, like that client proposal template that you use over and again, or maybe a purchase order request template that you use already. You can upload it here and reuse it every time you want it. No need to request a template via email or have it saved on your computer. It is here in this location.

You – Fernando wait a minute. That image doesn´t look like the SharePoint I have!

Me – That might be true. The image above is from the latest SharePoint Online Version to date. This is the experience that you get when you use SharePoint Online with Office 365. You might have another version of SharePoint in your company, or even have a different design because someone decided to invest (read spend loads of money) to change the design of SharePoint and make it pretty. It might also be that you don´t have SharePoint in your company and you were told you do. (yes, this happens as well).

I will use images from the SharePoint online and take the opportunity to show you the latest version of the product and what you can do with it. I will make a reference when there is any functionality that you can´t do with other SharePoint versions. Sounds good? Great! Let´s move on then.

You – No, Fernando. Let’s not move on.

Me – Why? What did I do this time?

You – I see more things next to the word “Upload”. What are those?

Ha, ok. That is functionality that SharePoint offers you entirely out of the box. I won´t get into much detail about it for now, but I will give you a short description of each tough:

New – Creates a new item. When you click on this button you can create a new Word document, Excel or PowerPoint document to say a few. You can even create a new folder or create a link to a document that is elsewhere (like Dropbox or any other external system.). The documents you create here will open in your application. For instance, if you have Microsoft Word installed on your computer you can create a new word document and it will open like they normally would, but they are saved in this SharePoint location. They stay In SharePoint and therefore available on all your devices. Yes, mobile phones and tablets included.

Upload – Upload things! Like documents, or a structure of folders with documents inside from your computer, or Images, or…. right, I think you get the point.

Template – Upload an existing document template so that you can use it by clicking on the “New” button next time. Only in SharePoint online for now. With other SharePoint versions you can do the same, but you need to dig a bit deeper to achieve the same result.

 Sync – hum…Now I´m going to open a can of worms. Here goes nothing. This feature allows you to synchronize the documents from this SharePoint location with your OneDrive for business. The idea is that you don´t have to jump around sites or folders and guess where the files are. This works really well in Office365, but you can also probably make it work with other SharePoint versions. A little bit more leg work but it is possible to do.

Export to Excel – It does what it says. Exports the information from each file in each location to an excel file. It does not export the files though. The files are not downloaded. You will find a URL that references the location to the files though. It can be useful for audits for example when you need to share some information related with the files but you don´t want to share the files. It´s not common to use this feature in this kind of location (I´m avoiding saying the technical word for this location which is “Document Library” so that you don´t get confused but…darnnnn…I said it….shame on me). Well, in other locations it makes sense to use it (like Lists…darn, used another technical term. I can´t stop it. My apologies.)

Quick Edit – Enables you to edit some data regarding a document quickly. Like the way you change cell values in a program like excel. Again, probably makes more sense in other locations. (Like lists)

Flow – Another can of worms! Why? Why? Ok, here goes. Flow allows you to use/create workflows, from Microsoft flow. It´s yet another great product from Microsoft that allows you to do simple workflows. You can use it with SharePoint online, Office 365 and with all SharePoint versions. However, with other SharePoint versions, you will need to do a few additional steps so that it works well. What type of workflows? Approval workflows, collect signatures, move documents, create calendar appointments, send email notifications when something needs to be done like a contract is about to expire, and much, much more.

“… “- This usually means that there are additional features. In this case it allows you to configure if you want to receive email notifications when anything happens to the documents in this location. Like when a document is uploaded or deleted you will receive an email with that information.

All Documents – this is the name of the view that you are currently using. It is also where you switch views.

And that is it. All done.

You – Humm..not really. What is a view?

Me – Good that you ask. Let’s go to the next “thing” you can do with SharePoint

Show information online with different views for different users

A view is a great, often overlooked/miss understood feature in SharePoint.

Imagine this scenario:

You need to create a report to show your superiors regarding the progress of the project that you are working on. You decide to do that in excel. After a while you end up with say 20 columns, full of great calculations and formulas in each cell. You even added some text to a few cells so that you know what the numbers mean.

However, when you share that report with your superiors what do you do? Do you show them all the non-interesting fluff, or do you hide a few columns to make it more readable? Maybe you even create another worksheet or workbook with only the relevant information they need to see right? All too time consuming and not practical. Well, with SharePoint is way easier. You just click a button and change the view of information. How? Let me show you how. In the image below on the right- hand side when you click the word “All Items” you see a few options:

In this case, you only have one view. “All Items” is the name of the view. This one is created by default every time you create..err….something (a List for example) in SharePoint. Now, below the view name, you have more options. You can “Save a view”, “Edit the current view” or “Format current view”. But, still. What is a view?

So, do you see, on the left-hand side the word Reports? That is the title of my location (it’s a List! Get over it Fernando!). Under the title, you see a row with more words. In this case, you see the words “Task”, “Status”, “On Time”, “Comments”, “+ Add columns”. These are, you guessed it, Columns! Like in Excel, you often use the first row to add the column titles? Here is the same. Then you add data to the cells in the rows below to make sense out of it, right? In SharePoint is the same. See below how it will look like when you add the same data to those columns:

All good so far? To clarify, I´m using excel as a reference but It is for you to visualize it and understand the concept. Don´t go thinking that what you see in SharePoint is excel, because it isn´t ok?

Right, so how can you use views? Say that my project manager (myself) gave me the task to create a blog post. He has specific requirements that I need to achieve. After a long boring meeting of 45 minutes (with myself? That is boring!) he explained me everything I need to do. Due to my love with SharePoint I decided to go ahead and create a list with the individual tasks that I must do. This will help me track the progress of my work and know exactly where I am and which tasks I need to do. It also helps me to avoid boring meetings. So, one day, when my project manager (let’s say PM from now on) asks me “Hey Fernando, can we have a meeting to discuss the progress status about that blog article?”. Instead of rolling my eyes I can now be assertive and say: “Let me save your precious time and share it via email with you. You will have it in your inbox in less than 2 minutes.”

PM – Yeah, right. Time is ticking then

Me – Right, here we go. This is what I could do:

First, I would hide the column Technology. My PM doesn´t care about that information. It´s fluff. This is how I do it. Click on the arrow next to the column “Technology” > “Column settings” and then choose “Hide this column” as you see in the image below:

Now, I don´t want to hide the column every time I need to report on my progress. So, I create a view. I go to the view menu and click Save View as, and then I give it a name that is meaningful. Like “Progress report”.

Now I have two views:

  •  The “All Items” view that shows all available columns
  • The “Progress report” view that shows only relevant columns for my PM to see.

What´s next? Now I send the link to this SharePoint page so that my Project manager can see the progress report at any time he wishes. This little mini-app saves at least 45 minutes of useless meetings.

All done! How much time was it? 2 minutes? Not bad. Now if you keep this List updated with the tasks that you are doing you won’t have to do anything again. The PM can just use the same link you sent him and see the progress updates in real time. If you want to do more, you can get all fancy with adding colors depending on the status of the task like this:

You can even do a bit of automation using Flow where you can send an email with the report on a schedule. Maybe you are so nice that you configure your Flow to send an email every day at the end of the day to your PM with the latest progress update so that he doesn´t have to look for the link. How great is that? I mean give me the name of one PM that wouldn´t love to have this kind of simple reporting delivered to his email instead of being on the phone chasing people for an update? Even if you are working with a PM that only works with Excel, there is always the magic button “Export to Excel” that exports everything you see in the list to excel. It would  look like something like the image below once exported:

And yes, you could configure your flow to send the Excel file instead of the link to the List.

Once you start understanding SharePoint you start to see how powerful it really is. In the example above I used a simple task assignment. I used the words Project and PM to make you aware that small projects can be managed directly in SharePoint without a problem. With a bit more complex projects where you require further details, critical path calculations and so on, things start to get too complicated to use SharePoint. Maybe (for sure) it would be wise to go with something like Excel where you have way more flexibility to use formulas and such. You can still assign and gather the status updates of tasks assigned to people involved in the project, and even assign tasks directly to people using SharePoint. You can export all that to excel afterwards and it will still save you a lot time and a lot of manual work from everyone involved in the project.

This mini-application alone can save hours of work by removing time-consuming, all around boring tasks like project reporting, progress updates, task assignment, task notification and meetings.

Let me show you another example of what you can do with SharePoint. How about having a simple contract management solution in SharePoint? Imagine the productivity gains of having all your contracts, and details about it, in a single place where they could be found easily without having to ask around to other people? Imagine the benefit of not having contracts attached to people´s email with different versions? Powerful right?

Here is how a simple Contract Management solution built entirely in SharePoint could look like:

There you go. Everything that you see in the image above is done with features that SharePoint offers. Yes, you will need to do some math calculations. The column “Days to expire” displays the number of days for the contract to expire. This is done using a special column in SharePoint that allows you to use simple calculations. The type of the column is ‘Calculated Column’ and you can use simple formulas like you would do in Excel. So “Days to Expire” is a calculated column that has the formula: =[Expires on]-TODAY(). Easy right?

You can make this mini-app even better if you start using Flow. Imagine that you would receive a notification in your email a month prior to the contract expiration date? Maybe, instead of you being bothered with it, why not send that email to the procurement department instead, so that they can follow up on it and find better deals?

What if they don´t follow up? Well, configure your Flow to notify other people about it. Maybe instead of an email, why not send an email or a SMS to the people that need to be notified? Possibilities are endless and easy to achieve really. You just need to know where to click.

As you can see , with a few clicks you can create powerful mini-apps that will save you so much time and headaches. Imagine when you see everything else SharePoint has to offer you.

You – Wait a minute! Aren´t you forgetting about something?

Me – What am I forgetting?

You – You mentioned before that you use Skybow to develop stuff fast in SharePoint. What is Skybow?

Me – Ha, alright ok. Well I will try to be brief here, since this is already a long article.

Although, before that, let me clarify something. There is no affiliation program or mumbo jumbo in what I´m about to write about Skybow. I genuinely like their product and what they are doing with it. Yes, I´m a partner, but I don´t win anything for talking about them or their product.

Alright so here it goes:

Skybow is a “No code – No Compromise tool”. It is a product developed by a group of very smart guys that enables anyone to develop complex solutions in SharePoint in a fraction of the time and effort required. You do all that without compromising data security or requiring complex coding skills. It is so great that If you have the experience and are confident with your SharePoint development skills, you can use Skybow to develop solutions yourself. You don’t need a developer, you become the developer. Magic! Go ahead and check out their website. It´s great. Tell them Fernando says Hi!

For instance, remember that I mentioned before that with SharePoint it´s difficult to create a simple form and add it to a page to collect feedback from your employees?

With Skybow adding a form to a page is an exercise for 1 hour. And I´m including 30 minutes for lunch and 15 minutes for coffee! It’s awesome.

All jokes aside, today you read a lot of information about what you can do with SharePoint without any development required. You might even have your head spinning with questions about what you can do. Maybe you are already visualizing a few key business applications where you could use SharePoint to optimize your business. That is good! Embrace those thoughts and use them to polish your strategy and optimize your business.

-Fernando