SharePoint: What is it and how do you use it to improve collaboration?

Business owners, end users and even experienced IT personnel often have a general idea of SharePoint and its capabilities, but fail to accurately describe what it is.

Some organizations use it for intranet, others for business intelligence. Some organizations use it for project management, others for document management and file storage. Some organizations use it as a collaboration and communication platform, others use it to streamline business processes.

How do you describe a platform that is being used for a variety of purposes, often a combination of several, in a distinct way in each organization and department?

Wikipedia describes it in the following way:

SharePointis a web-based, collaborative platform that integrates withMicrosoft Office. Launched in 2001, SharePoint is primarily sold as a document management and storage system, but the product is highly configurable and usage varies substantially between organizations.

Apart from the fact that SharePoint has been around for a while, the average person who is going to be using the platform will not be able to tell much more about it from this definition. It will likely even complicate things further.

Concentrate on how to use SharePoint

Instead of focusing on defining SharePoint and explaining what it is, it might just be more worthwhile to concentrate on the user experience. How is the end user going to use SharePoint and what problems is the platform going to solve?

In a way, you could treat it the same way as explaining how to send an email. An end user wants to know how to open their email application and how to send an email to a colleague from within that application. They are generally not interested in the fact that the email application happens to be called Microsoft Exchange and that the email goes through security checks in the background before it gets sent and then delivered to the recipient.

Similarly, an end user is probably not concerned with the fact that their project management environment or the place where they store documents is called SharePoint. What’s more important for the user is knowing where to find the progress of a project they are involved in or where to find and view the latest important documents.

By taking this approach, you can turn explaining SharePoint from a complicated process into a relatively easy task. In general, a user will have a considerably easier time if you talk in their language and explain how the platform makes their work more efficient.

Listed below are some common examples of how businesses and people use SharePoint.

Content Management

One of the most common uses for SharePoint is as a Content Management System (CMS). Most users will already be familiar with most of the concepts, as they are already engaged in this activity without SharePoint. The added value of SharePoint is the fact that it eliminates the use of several applications and instead offers a complete solution all within the same environment.

To illustrate: 

End users will typically store their documents on their PC or an internal network hard drive. If they want to share a document with a colleague, they will look it up, attach it to an email and send it. The colleague might want to make a few changes to the document and then send the revised version back. This requires them to keep an eye on the latest version of the document and the location where it is saved.

SharePoint as a CMS combines all these steps into one centralized environment. 

Added functionality includes file storage and versioning, change management of documents, the ability to review each other’s work and direct communication within the platform. There is also a permission structure to manage who can see or edit specific folders and files. Furthermore, SharePoint stores all activity on a file and offers advanced search functionality, going as far as to search not only on file names, but also inside the content of documents.

Last but not least, the SharePoint CMS is accessible from any location, based on already existing login credentials.


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Most organizations will already have an intranet portal and end users will be familiar with the term.

However, how many users know what the platform on which the intranet runs is called?

Similar to the Content Management example, it is not needed to explain that the intranet runs on SharePoint. Simply stating that there is going to be a new intranet will be more than sufficient.

In fact, intranet is one of the most popular ways to use SharePoint. It has advanced capabilities ranging from centralized access to documents and company announcements to customized sections for specific departments and social collaboration and communication options.

📄 Read on: Why a ready-to-go SharePoint intranet is a good choice

The advanced search options mentioned above are also available within the intranet. Contrary to “classic” intranet environments, SharePoint can enhance the user experience by making the right information easily accessible to the right people. Examples include, but are not limited to important company announcements, internal training material, company policies, calendar and planning systems.

Business Intelligence

SharePoint is an excellent tool when it comes to combining structured and unstructured data from various sources and presenting it in a user-friendly BI-dashboard.

Many organizations make use of several information sources and statistics to make both high-level and lower-level business analysis and decisions. A common challenge is gathering all the relevant information from various sources and combining it into an easy-to-digest report.

SharePoint has integration possibilities with many technologies like Microsoft Office, Microsoft Access databases and other SQL-based systems. Furthermore, there are custom development possibilities to connect the platform with just about any existing information output from different applications.

This way, SharePoint is capable of automatically pulling in relevant information and presenting it in custom made Business Intelligence reports.

No longer will it be needed to carefully gather information and manually combine it into reports; SharePoint can automate large parts of this process. Business Intelligence insights can then be easily shared with the right people within your organization to speed up analysis and decision-making processes that rely on this information.

What is SharePoint?

Try not to concentrate on explaining what SharePoint is, but rather on how to use it and benefit from it. This will be different for every business, department and in some cases even the individual.

To get back to the first paragraph of this article: SharePoint is what you want it to be. It’s a hard to define piece of advanced software that can be used for a wide variety of purposes. Keep your business requirements in mind and configure SharePoint accordingly; this is the way to get the most out of this extremely versatile platform.

📄 Read also: How to maximize the value of your SharePoint environment


Tim Bogemans

Tim is Collaboration Expert at Involv/Cognit. He builds leading solutions to help people collaborate easier, faster and happier. Connect on LinkedIn.

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