SharePoint is perhaps the most widely used portal platform in the world, and with good reason. The user interface is highly configurable, it provides powerful capabilities for content collaboration, and has a world class search engine embedded within it. The native tools within SharePoint provide a core set of capabilities, but leveraging those to meet user expectations can involve some heavy lifting.
A lot of what we do at BA Insight is to allow users to take advantage of the things SharePoint provides while extending that functionality in ways the platform does not natively provide.
The most obvious example of this is content. Even in smaller enterprises, SharePoint is not the only place where business critical content is stored. There are Document Management Systems, CRM Systems, databases and many other systems in which content is stored, but SharePoint doesn’t provide a mechanism to access content in those sources via SharePoint’s search engine without writing a lot of code.
Another place where SharePoint provides a lot of power is in the area of faceted navigation, or refinement as it’s called. Metadata attributes of content can be presented with a search result, and the user can select values to narrow their search. Consumer sites leverage this “search and refine” methodology, so users have become adept at finding what they need this way. But – and it’s a big but – this relies on the fact that metadata exists and is correct. The reality is that users are frequently unwilling to tag content consistently, which limits what the platform can deliver.
One thing that is frequently overlooked is the user interface. What you get with SharePoint out of the box is “ok”, and it is definitely extensible, but that requires both skill and time. Off the shelf UI components can go a long way towards giving users what they want.
A lot of what we do at BA Insight is provide software that extends the core capabilities of SharePoint in ways that overcome the challenges described above. I talked about this in more detail in a podcast – you can listen to it here.