Consider Microsoft SharePoint 2010 for a Business Process Improvement Platform
By Clinton Jones on November 12, 2012
Microsoft describes SharePoint as a ‘business collaboration platform for the enterprise and the Web’. It can be run both internally (intranet) and externally (extranet). Although some effort is required to harden the implementation for public-facing web sites, it is positioned as having everything that you might require to build and run web-based applications.
No specialist developer skills are required to implement and administer SharePoint, however, there are some benefits to having more than a very basic knowledge and understanding of how the technologies work. With SharePoint 2010’s release, numerous enhancements were introduced including multilingual support  that enables inexperienced end users to get even more involved in managing SharePoint applications and content.
SharePoint 2010 is designed to be highly scalable and can be hosted in-house or deployed as a cloud-based service with the necessary servers hosted by a service provider.
SharePoint can be used as a mixed capability platform for Enterprise Document Management, though in reality information is often stored in “buckets” or “stovepipes” and as a consequence it often becomes a gigantic bit-bucket of accumulated information that is lacking in context, meaningful workflows, taxonomies, expertise location systems, and project management tools.
Jakob Nielsen also points out in a 2009 survey of Best Intranet designs that “intranets are getting more strategic, with increased collaboration support… platforms are becoming integrated, with a strong showing for SharePoint. ” 
Establishing some basic ground rules that will augment the search and indexing experience take it a long way down the road to quickly becoming incredibly useful. One of these is enforcing the assignment of meta data attributes to files.
Unlike some other products in the market, SharePoint is designed to be as many possible things as it can be, to as many types and sizes of organizations. Its tight integration with Active Directory and the windows authentication model enables it to provide comprehensive permission controls and block certain information from certain users and groups.
SharePoint is often thought of as being nothing more than a network drive with a pretty web and slick-looking file repository and while this is true to some extent, an excellent example of how it can be used effectively as a DMS and process control engine can be found in Winshuttle’s Central product. Built atop SharePoint as a true SharePoint application, Winshuttle Central is a component of the Winshuttle Foundation platform. Winshuttle Central will run on SharePoint foundation as well as the Enterprise version of SharePoint.
Inherent in the design of the Winshuttle product is the concept of states for all documents submitted to SharePoint from the Winshuttle clients. Though users can also interact with SharePoint directly through the web UI, the majority of the users work with SharePoint via the rich client and .com Excel add-in clients that Winshuttle provides as part of the full application suite.
In the most basic of scenarios, Winshuttle provides for the creation of technical objects to be categorized according to developer and production-ready states. Technical objects typically include transaction and APIs exposed as automation objects and database queries for use by business end users. Templates are provided as either defined SharePoint lists, Excel workbooks or Access databases and these allow users to stage and batch data (according to their requirements) ready for simulation, testing, validation and approval prior to routing or posting into back office systems of record like SAP. Meta data regarding the state of technical objects and templates is all an inherent part of SharePoint’s design rules and is shored-up by strict requirements in the Winshuttle client applications. In addition, Winshuttle relies on SharePoint’s native workflow engine to sustain three standard out of the box workflows. Workflows are key to ensuring that users adhere to certain business rules prior to making changes and creating data in core ERP systems. Winshuttle supports the creation of said rules but stores the logic in SharePoint not in the technical object or template itself.
In a more advanced deployment of Winshuttle Foundation a more sophisticated set of options are provided such as the development of parallel workflows, multi-swim lane data entry forms based on InfoPath and other facets of collaboration that are key to enterprise business process improvement but without the need for developer skills.
If you’re currently already using SharePoint as a glorified file share it might be a good time to refresh your understanding of the SharePoint architecture and understand that you can use it as a strategic tool that is not just the domain of IT file sharing. IT can additionally offer up SharePoint as a Microsoft product with a “free” license in the form of SharePoint Foundation where Windows Server is already in use. As Mike Watson of SeriousLabz says:
“SharePoint is already well embedded in most companies and some of those companies have built expertise in leveraging that asset so the incremental cost of deploying a corporate site/portal on SharePoint is negligible. That coupled with the familiar interface for non-technical users and deep LOB integration makes SharePoint a force to be reckoned with.”
About the author
Clinton Jones is a Director for Finance Solutions Management at Winshuttle where he has worked since 2009. He is internationally experienced having worked on finance technologies and business process with a particular focus on integrated business solutions in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America. Clinton serves as a technical consultant on technology and quality management as it relates to data and process management and governance for finance organizations globally. Prior to Winshuttle he served as a Technical Quality Manager at SAP and with Microsoft in their Global Foundation Services group.
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