We are often asked what SharePoint “is” and that, frankly, is a loaded question. There are a bunch of technologies that make up SharePoint so it isn’t just one “thing”. In terms of how it fits in O365 I think the best explanation is that it is a “handy-dandy toolbag” collaboration tool!
If you think of your organization as a team or a collection of teams then you already know that teams need tools to properly share all of the information that is relevant to the team. SharePoint is the toolbag that provides the needed tools in order for your team (or teams) to collaborate effectively. And just like a tool bag that may have screwdrivers, pliers, wrenches, a hammer and other tools appropriate for specific jobs or tasks, SharePoint also has tools for specific jobs or tasks including lists, libraries, workflows, sites and a whole bunch of other things. And, to take the tool analogy a bit further, just as there are “rules” or “safety tips” that you have to learn when using different types of tools – wear safety goggles when grinding, cut away from yourself, measure twice and cut once – there are rules and tips you need to learn when using SharePoint. The single biggest tip is to STOP! and give some thought to what it is you want to accomplish with the tools SharePoint provides. The IT world is littered with tales of failed SharePoint projects and most if not all of the failures can be traced back to lack of planning.
So, let’s get familiarized with some of the “tools” that we get in O365 SharePoint!
The single most obvious tool is that of the SharePoint “Site” itself. In O365 there is a default “Sites” created as part of your tenancy:
When you click on Sites you’ll get a screen similar to the following:
It’s a pretty blank canvas. Most people would be tempted to just click on on the available Sites (Public site or Team Site) and, in fact if you do click on one (I’ll do the Team Site), you get asked for some info:
Right off the bat you need to STOP! and think a little bit about what you want to do, what particular problem do you want to solve. Also, you’ll note that when we clicked into Sites the URL looks this: https://beagledom-my.sharepoint.com/personal/robert_beagledom_ca/_layouts/15/start.aspx#/Social/Sites.aspx . There is a clue here that you might not want to just start banging away and that clue is the word “personal”. More on this in just a bit …
There is a LOT going on in the backend and as you are an admin on your site you might want to click on the Admin link then click on SharePoint:
Wow! There is a lot more going on in the background! Instead of the two “sites” I saw under Sites there appears to be four Site Collections, each with their own URL. And this is something important to make note of and to keep in mind. A Site Collection is the very top level in SharePoint; it is the root of all subsequent Sites that may be created and it is the top-level security container. The two “Sites” that showed up on the Sites page when I clicked on Sites exist under one of these top-level Site Collections. Reading the URL for the Sites it reads as, “beagledom-my.sharepoint.com” which implies that those sites live under the site collection https://beagledom-my.sharepoint.com. In fact, sites that show up under the “my-sharepoint.com” URL are actually what are referred to as “MySites” which can be sites personalized to the individual user (more on this as these blogs progress). Sites that show up under just the “sharepoint.com” URL are tied to the organization as a whole.
Confused? Well, join the crowd as this is a hard one to get your head around. If I go back to the toolbag analogy, think of two big compartments in the bag. One compartment is for everyone to use while the other compartment is all mine. I may or may not give access to my compartment to others but everyone (so long as they have permission to use the tools in the toolbag) has access to the other compartment. MySites or “my-sharepoint.com” is equivalent to my compartment and “sharepoint.com” is equivalent to the compartment that everyone can use. The SharePoint admin can choose to make sites in the “sharepoint.com” compartment available to users in their individual compartments (hence the reason why I see the Team Site and the Public Site) when I click on Sites.
So, a Site is a way (a tool) to aggregate information (and tools) that is relevant to individuals or Teams and it has the capacity to limit who gets access to what (think about the compartments in the toolbag). An overly simplistic explanation, to be sure, but one that works for now. Sites (and specifically,site collections) are the alpha and omega of SharePoint, everything else falls under them.
You may already be thinking that SharePoint is way bigger than you originally thought, and you would be right! The point I want to make is that SharePoint cannot be treated like many other applications where you run some sort of install or setup script, hit “next, next, enter” and be on your way. You have to really think about a number of things before you can start making use of the toolbag. Obviously, you need to think about what Sites you might want to create but, even more importantly, you need to think about your audience. What is the make up of your users? What kinds of Teams do they fit into? What types of information are relevant to your Teams? Once you have some of those things clear in your mind you can start to think about your users and about the things that you have to do with your users inside O365 SharePoint before you start working on sites. I’ll look at users and user profiles in my next Bumpkin’s Journey blog.