SharePoint Online: Taking Small Business to the Next Level
Let’s take a break from BizTalk for a bit. I wanted to talk about why SharePoint Online is such a great offering for small businesses. Each year, my company does a 6-week pro bono project in order to:
1. Train new hires
2. Field test new project managers
3. Establish and maintain long-term relationships with non-profits
This past August, I was part of a team that did a SharePoint implementation for a nonprofit that was going national with their services. With their national expansion, they needed to centralize their strategy, document management, and communication. SharePoint Online was key to making this possible. Here’s why:
1. Minimal Startup Costs
SharePoint Online does not sit on your own servers, does not require an enterprise license, and does not require Client Access Licenses (CALs). The cost structure is simple: $4 per user, per month. The licensing costs for SharePoint Standard can run about $13,000, and that does not include the hardware needed. Also, if your company is a nonprofit, you might get a significant discount from your local office 365 partner. Think about that cost: 20 users, at $4 per user per month, comes out to $80 per month. $80 per month for SharePoint Standard? That is ridiculously inexpensive.
Now, it must be noted that there is a significant amount of development needed up-front. This is probably the greatest cost. For our client, we provided the development for free. For you, you may want to consider finding a good SharePoint developer to do all of the heavy lifting, or start learning it yourself! It took our team of 3 completely inexperienced developers about 20 days to finish implementation. Had we more experience with SharePoint, I imagine we could have done it in about three weeks.
2. (Relative) Ease of Deployment
As noted in the previous point, there is a significant amount of development needed up-front for your SharePoint implementation. However, anyone with basic HTML experience will be able to create and maintain pages. Those with CSS experience will be able to customize the entire site with colors and fonts. The key thing to note is there is no need to install and configure SharePoint like you would need to on your own server, if you did not use SharePoint Online. It comes pre-configured with a single site collection ready to go, out-of-the-box.
Note: The steepest learning curves arise when dealing with permissions, creating forms in InfoPath, workflow creation, and using SharePoint Designer.
3. Ease of Maintenance
Microsoft boasts a 99.9% uptime for your site. Bold claim? Perhaps–but so far, they have stayed true to their word. Our nonprofit client had no technical resources, save a single employee with HTML experience. SharePoint Online was the only option we were confident in to guarantee uptime for our client. If you have limited technical resources for server maintenance, this is a great option for you.
4. High Functionality
Some of the other solutions we considered for our client were Plone and Zoho Docs. Plone could have been a match for our needs, but required extensive knowledge of the tool, and most of functionality that comes out-of-the-box with SharePoint is an add-on for Plone. Zoho did not even come close with regard to functionality, as it was a glorified version of Google Docs. With SharePoint Online, the user can:
- Create a custom site design, branding it with the company’s themes
- Create custom forms using InfoPath for data entry
- Create highly customizable workflows for process automation
- Explore the great power of SharePoint Designer 2010 (MUCH better than SPD 2007!)
- Integration with Office 365 (MS Office, Exchange, Lync, and more)
It has been just over 6 months since our project, and our client is still thrilled with their SharePoint site. They are leveraging it to achieve their national growth strategy, and it is working. And aside from a few hiccups in the days after our handoff, our nonprofit has had complete ownership of their SharePoint site. We have not had to step in a single time to fix or add to their solution.
I realize this post is a bit long, but it does not even come close to describing how pleased I am (and my client) with SharePoint Online’s offerings. If you want any more detail on any points, let me know, and I will give more information.