The value of on-demand SharePoint development

Aug 3, 2017 | Blog, SharePoint, SharePoint Development | 0 comments

Microsoft SharePoint is a powerful platform and it comes with lots of out of box features. A modern user experience comes as standard and content is readily available across all devices. You have a ready to use document management system, with basic out of the box functionality.

Without any major development, you can build a basic intranet or document management system – although it won’t necessarily function in line with your specific business requirements, and it won’t look great as you can imagine.

So why do we need SharePoint development?

 

A few things should be taken into consideration if you are thinking of using only the out of box features of SharePoint for your intranet or document management solution.

 

Ease of use

The out of the box features of SharePoint are powerful, but the native user experience is not intuitive – the platform is simply not very easy to use. It normally requires the users to have a certain level of SharePoint knowledge. SharePoint development can help fill that gap.

For example, if you want to track a set of records and display them on the landing page for multiple department sites, creating a SharePoint list for each department sounds like an obvious answer. Assuming your list has 10 columns, however you only want to display 2 key columns on the landing page of each department. With a bit research, you may find out you can add the list as a web part to a SharePoint page, but how do you hide the other 8 columns? Now, you need a deeper understanding of SharePoint List views.

When you eventually figure out how to create a different view to hide the columns you don’t want, you may encounter the problem of choosing a specific view when adding it to a page. After some further research into how to modify a web part’s property, you realise that you now have to repeat the process for each department.

What if you want to consolidate the records from all departments and display specific data to the home page, you start to consider some SharePoint development? Yes, this can be done easily with a bit custom code. What you might not realise is that the process of creating a list for each department site with multiple list views can be templated, this is part of custom SharePoint development as well.

It would be much easier for your SharePoint site owner to use if they can just choose a template which creates all the standardised lists and views alongside with some corporate branding.

Another common requirement is branding. Yes, Microsoft provides a variety of built-in themes to choose from. However, the reality is that few of our clients are happy with the built-in themes and there is always a certain level of customisation required.

Even with a minimal SharePoint development effort, your SharePoint site could look completely different and much easier to navigate around. Ultimately, if you have a SharePoint intranet that looks slick, is user friendly and tailored to your specific requirements – your employees are more likely to be engaged with the platform and utilise its functionality.

 

Supportability

As long as you are not running SharePoint 2010 or below, your SharePoint platform is supported by Microsoft. But it doesn’t mean that your intranet site can be completely supported by your IT or SharePoint administration teams – or even SharePoint developers.

SharePoint is very flexible, you can achieve ‘similar’ results with different means and methods. This sometimes gives a false impression that you don’t need any custom development. But when you start to build on more and more of the key functionalities and develop your content with out of box features without prior planning, you will soon find out it gets far more difficult to make a simple change to your SharePoint sites.

SharePoint development is not just about adding new features and building new web parts. It also helps to manage your information architecture in a controlled way.

 

Mobile friendly

Almost everyone has a smartphone. In fact, it is likely that the number of smartphone and tablet users has exceeded the amount of desktop users. If you think in terms of Google Search, the number of searches executed each month on mobile now far exceeds the amount undertaken on desktop. This has had such an impact on the search giant that they are now in the process of completely modifying their search algorithms for a ‘mobile first’ index.

With new, modern and more agile ways of working being actively promoted throughout organisations, the mobile friendly aspect of an intranet has become a common requirement. You have to look to SharePoint Online or SharePoint Server 2016 to get this sort of functionality out of the box. Although Microsoft provides a mobile view feature even for SharePoint 2007, it’s not well received.

This is mainly because of the limited functionalities and the unpolished look and feel. With some development work, your SharePoint sites will be far more user friendly and look much better on a mobile phone, which helps to improve the engagement.

 

Flexible and Agile development

Clients do not always have resources available with the appropriate SharePoint skills, and / or time available to focus on specific demands from the business.

Nowadays, few clients are willing to pay a large amount of money upfront and waiting for half year to see the result. SharePoint is designed for agile development with the built-in authentication / permissions model and ability to extend or customise most aspects of SharePoint sites. With a few weeks or months development, you may be surprised how much it can improve your SharePoint sites.

 

Improve and expand the features of existing SharePoint platforms

 

To draw on an example from a recent client we worked with, they had a highly customised solution based on SharePoint 2010. The system itself helps their members to participate and network with 25,000+ industry experts. As we know SharePoint 2010’s support is coming to an end soon.

We decided to develop a new feature that was requested as an Azure App, which fits for their strategy of moving away from on-premises hosting to the cloud and ultimately Office 365. The new application is utilising their existing authentication API and pulling the data from SharePoint and a custom database.

The point here is that SharePoint development doesn’t necessarily mean that everything has to be done and hosted in SharePoint. It is integral for any developer worth their salt to take advantage of other cloud based platforms such as Azure, to realise the full potential of SharePoint development.

 

Home Pages

Quite often, the home page is normally the most “complicated” part of a SharePoint site. This is due to the fact that you want to present the most relevant information to your users in a user-friendly way. We have had a few clients recently asking for a revamp of their home page. With some on-demand development, an existing SharePoint site running on older versions of the platform can look like a brand new one.

Another recent enhancement we did for a client was to create a new home page which needed to be completely mobile optimised. Ultimately, undertaking this SharePoint development work meant that this would improve the engagement of the users.

The bottom line is, no one wants to access a SharePoint site from a mobile or tablet device if it’s not properly optimised. It is important to note here that creating a mobile view doesn’t mean just shifting everything to one column, you also need to decide which content is required or prioritised to be presented in the most user-friendly way.

With custom SharePoint development, you can improve the user experience dramatically. A good example of these would be a ‘quick links’ feature on a SharePoint site. On a desktop display, you can spread the quick links in different categories, or sub sections of a SharePoint site home page. But on devices with a smaller screen, you don’t want to display all of these links in a disjointed way, you have to prioritise.

 

Build on the foundations to realise ROI

 

If you have taken the steps to make a major investment in a document management solution or an intranet, utilising the foundations of out of the box features is a good place to start. However, implementing enhanced functionality and realising the real ROI on your technology is all down to SharePoint development.

COULD YOUR SHAREPOINT SITE USE A TUNE-UP?

Many orgnisations simply do not have the time or resource to undertake and manage regular SharePoint development. Content and Code’s development on-demand service can help solve this problem.

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About our author

Michael Wang

Technical Account Manager | Content and Code

Michael leads the DevOps team and is responsible for our Development On-Demand service prominently for SharePoint in Office 365, or on-premises. Michael has worked on a vast number of DevOps projects for clients large and small, often with complex and dynamic requirements.

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