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Standard Uses of SharePoint Portal Server 2003

The following sections outline some of the standard ways that organizations use SharePoint Portal Server 2003 and benefit from the more advanced features offered. The higher end features offered by SharePoint Portal Server 2003 allow organizations to better architect, manage, and connect the different workspaces and site collections on the network, and to provide additional functionality to the user community.

Making Department-Level Information Available Using Departmental Sites

The departmental site is the place users go on the SharePoint portal for information relating to a specific department within the organization. Typically, users mark their departmental home page as a favorite or their home page in Internet Explorer. The home page would contain announcements pertinent to the users in the department or division or to other visitors of the site. A list of contacts with appropriate phone numbers and email addresses along with a brief description of their role in the department is typically provided, along with a calendar of events relevant to departmental users. Other lists and libraries can be included on the top-level site as appropriate.

The departmental home page may be for general access by any member of the organization (for example, all domain users may be members of the readers group for the top-level site), and subsites and workspaces can be created for more specialized groups of users and purposes. Often subsites are created for managers only, for collaborating and managing documents, and for specific projects. Each subsite or workspace then is fine-tuned to meet the needs of the specific subset of users.

Document libraries can hold the most commonly accessed shared documents and be configured to be read-only for all but a few managerial users. Image libraries are especially useful for marketing and graphics users, or to share photos from company events.

Surveys can be useful to solicit input and feedback on almost any conceivable topic, including additional functionality for the site, the location for the company picnic, or company policies. Forms are generally provided either as Word documents, as Abobe .pdf documents, or using XML-enabled forms.

Custom lists can be created for tracking frequently asked questions, linking to spreadsheets to track numerical information, and many other purposes.

Using a SharePoint Portal to Replace an Intranet

Many clients use SharePoint Portal Server 2003 to replace older intranets that aren’t flexible or dynamic enough, or that simply aren’t being used. Many intranet solutions are static and difficult to update and to administer. SharePoint Portal Server 2003 offers a number of features that make it ideally suited to the tasks of providing intranet functionality.

When installed, SharePoint Portal Server 2003 provides several areas that offer a starting point for the design of the portal environment: Home, Topics, News, and Sites. These default areas are a great starting place for the organization to help users find information within the portal environment. New areas can be created, such as Company Directory or Forms, to provide additional targeted information, or subareas can be created within existing areas. Content in each area can then be published to specific audiences so that users can see only information meant for them. Listings in an area can connect with announcements, events, or documents that exist within libraries or lists on a top-level site or subsite created for a specific group so that information is being "published" to the portal.

The searching options provided by the portal are comprehensive, enabling organizations to search not only all the content contained within the SharePoint environment but also on other servers and even sources outside the organization.

Communicating with Partners and Customers Through a SharePoint Extranet

When the SharePoint environment is available from the Internet, additional precautions need to be taken, and the configuration process becomes more involved. Many clients choose to enable external access to the SharePoint server(s) and benefit greatly from this access. Typically, SSL and/or reverse proxy solutions are implemented to ensure the security of the data.

Both internal and external users can be invited to the portal and site collections for collaboration and sharing of information. The internal users will already have domain accounts, but external users will either need to have accounts created for them or anonymous access provided for them (generally not a best practice), or Account Creation Mode can be used.

The security design of the portal and site collections becomes even more important when external users will be accessing the portal environment because there will most likely be many areas on the portal and site collections or sites that only company employees should have access to.

However, when the design is complete, the extranet can greatly enhance communications with partners and clients, and enhance the business relationship. For example, an organization might create an area on the portal just for clients that provides access to sites created for each client that might contain up-to-date project information, revenue numbers, or other information the client needs to access. Threaded discussions can take place on these sites to gather feedback, and the clients can also take advantage of alerts, so they will receive an email when new information becomes available.

Third-party Web Parts are also available to tie the SharePoint environment into other applications, such as Great Plains, Siebel, or Business Objects.

Hosting SharePoint Sites on the Internet

Internet service providers (ISPs) can take advantage of the scalability and management features of SharePoint 2003 to provide hosting services. Server farms can be configured to load balance indexing and search processing services, and quotas can be set to control the size of the sites. Quotas can also be used to establish billing rates, charging higher rates for larger quotas. Security can be put into place to control what goes onsite and who has access for managing the sites. User accounts can be added automatically based on the email addresses using SharePoint 2003’s Active Directory account creation mode. Fees can be charged for additional services such as providing site backup and site statistics.

Organizing Information into Areas

Content on a SharePoint Portal Server 2003 site can be grouped into areas, allowing users to find information when they are not familiar with the site structure. Areas are used in a manner similar to a table of contents in that they direct the users to information based on an organized hierarchy, or "map" of the portal site. An area can contain documents, people, SharePoint Services sites, and links to external websites and file shares. Content can be associated with multiple areas.

The administrator controls who has content manager rights for changing the area structure, and for adding and removing content from areas. The content manager can also direct areas to be viewed by a specific audience.

Discovering Information Using Search

SharePoint Portal Server 2003’s search feature provides the ability to search for documents, people, information contained in lists, and information from other sources such as external websites or file shares that have been added to the searchable content by the administrator. By default, a text-based search is performed. A user can type in a few words, and SharePoint searches the entire portal and lists documents or links that match the search criteria.

The advantage of using SharePoint over other search applications is that SharePoint can search many different types of data sources, both internal to the organization and external sites, and return all matches in one place. Because SharePoint can search file shares and Exchange public folders, an organization can start using SharePoint without having to migrate all its legacy information and still reap the benefit of being able to find information much more quickly.

Using SharePoint’s advanced search, properties of an item can be searched, multiple criteria can be entered, and you can narrow the search to a specific type of item.

Figure 3.7 shows the Advanced Search page available on the portal. The source can be selected (and new sources can be defined by a portal administrator), the search type defined (Any Type, Area Items, Areas, Document Libraries, Documents, Lists, People, Picture Libraries, Pictures), and then specific search properties can be defined.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 Advanced search options.

After items are returned in a search, SharePoint provides users with the ability to do more with the results than just view or edit them. With SharePoint, an alert can be set up so that the user is notified whenever the results of the query change, or whenever a specific document returned by the query changes. For example, a finance manager does a search to find items that specify the regulatory statutes that apply to the organization.

When additional regulatory items are added, the manager wants to be notified to ensure that the organization complies with the new regulations. Therefore, the manager sets up an alert for the query. If there are any changes to the query results, an email is sent to the manager. In addition, the manager knows that one of the regulations will be changing within the next six months because of a law that was recently passed. Therefore, the manager also sets up an alert for that specific document so that he is notified when that document changes.

Getting Information from Users

Organizations can gather information from employees by creating surveys in Word, printing them, and then putting them in everyone’s mailbox with the hope that people will fill them out and turn them back in. Or, an email containing the questions can be sent to all users, and the users can email their responses back to the sender.

With SharePoint, however, a survey can easily be created, complete with multiple choice responses, numeric or text responses, and date/time responses. The results are tabulated automatically and can be viewed graphically. Important surveys can be placed right on the organization’s home page in a prominent position.

Surveys can be used to obtain information such as where to hold the winter holiday party, what time of day to have the party, and which date should be used for the party. The possible answers can be displayed for the users using a drop-down list, radio buttons, or check boxes.

Customizing the Personal Site to Meet Individual Needs

SharePoint Portal Server 2003 provides end users with the ability to create a personal site that can be customized for how they work, and with the information they need to do their job. The user can set up links to documents or sites often accessed, view his email inbox, set up alerts to be notified when important information changes, set up his own lists, and create his own document and picture libraries. Any of the information on a user’s personal site can be shared with other users. A separate "shared view" of the personal site can be created for this purpose to target what gets shared and what remains private.

The site administrator can control the type of customization the user is allowed to perform and can control the available Web Parts, including which ones can and cannot be added or removed. The administrator can also direct specific content to the personal site based on the user’s membership in audiences. The appearance of the public view of the personal site can also be modified to maintain consistency within the organization.

In essence, the personal site provides the end user with the ability to design a site based on his needs and his own way of working, and the ability to share with the rest of the organization a view of who the user is and what he contributes.

This being said, some organizations choose to not allow users to create their own personal sites because they are afraid that users will "waste time" working on their own sites. Other organizations see this as a great way for end users to learn about the mechanics of SharePoint Web Parts and sites and heartily encourage the use of personal sites.

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