Is SharePoint a business tool or a presentation layer?

Is SharePoint a business tool or a presentation layer?

With SharePoint residing in most organizations, it has become apparent that the reason for using it, comes down to a couple of reasons. Of course the core driver is a new platform that facilitates sharing and collaboration. However what happens is SharePoint either becomes a Business Tool or the Presentation Layer for all things in the business. I have lost count, on the number of clients that have asked to present some other system within SharePoint. So the big question is which one should SharePoint be? Business Tool or a Presentation Layer?

In order to answer this lets remind ourselves of what SharePoint offers. 

Presentation Layer

From the core SharePoint 2013 Wheel, we can see that core features allow for what looks like only content based solutions. However if we take the “Content” slice, this could in reality be anything that is either stored within SharePoint or even consumed via Search. SharePoint is great at allowing content to be consumed from within its own storage framework, or from outside SharePoint using other features such as Business Data Connectivity Services. Not only can SharePoint natively consume data but it can be used to present from other locations. The core construct is based on a mix of pages, web part pages, web parts and controls. These can if needed be designed and built allowing for presentation of content from anywhere, such as web service or another line of business application.

Not only is SharePoint at this, but when designing custom applications, the core stack is great for this. Designing complete applications that reside within the SharePoint components, such as Pages and Web Parts allow for bridging of features, such as Collaboration, Business Process Transformation mapped to a great Presentation Layer. In fact with Microsoft’s continued support for coding such as the Add-in model, it is quickly becoming obvious that SharePoint really is a platform to be built on and use as a Presentation Layer.

To add to this, Microsoft has been using SharePoint this way for quite some time, with the Business Intelligence tools that are now natively surfaced though it.

Image from: http://www.dotnetmafia.com/blogs/dotnettipoftheday/MODDemosBICenter_7E6B031D.png

Business Tool

So ask yourself the question, have you ever thought as SharePoint as anything more than your company Intranet or Extranet? If the answer is no, then you are really underutilizing the power that SharePoint brings to Business Process. SharePoint at its core offers, basic Business Tool capabilities from Document Libraries for storage and collaboration, predefined out of the box workflows, to then allowing for creation of document or application specific workflows. Now don’t get me wrong, Workflow does not denote a Business Tool on its own, other components are needed. Breaking down the features further we can see that the following components enable business capabilities:

1.Taxonomy – Managed Metadata

2.Content Types

3.Site Columns

4.Workflows

5.Search

6.Specific Site templates for Features

7.Tasks

8.Office Integration

9.Social

These core features and more allow business units to create or even recreate their custom business processes into the online world. This allows for better control, performance and really metrics. In the past it has often been hard to really see the return that comes by rebuilding a process using custom software. This comes down to the solutions not being designed to allow for metrics, an example could be the way you do expenses right now. I am sure you have a million ideas as to how it could be easier and better. Now with SharePoint you truly could rebuild a process like this using out of the box capabilities with minimal customizations.

Image from: http://blogs.technet.com/b/manageabilityguys/archive/2013/08/13/service-manager-dashboards-in-power-view-part-2.aspx

The Verdict

So where does that leave us? Is SharePoint a Business Tool or a Presentation Layer? In reality it is both, depending on the services and components you wish to use. An important thing to consider is the move to Office 365, where in reality the functionality is slightly different and both require a lot more consideration versus On-Premises SharePoint. For now SharePoint is neither one nor the other, it is both, as it provides out of the box features and coding hooks that allow development to happen.

Going forward as we move into the Hybrid world, we will need to take time to consider this in more depth, asking ourselves the important questions that relate to consumption of data from both On-Premises and within the Cloud. For now SharePoint wins on both fronts and looks like it will continue for the foreseeable future.

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