The Journey to SP 2019: Lessons Learned from the Start

What is SharePoint?

The Journey to SP 2019: Lessons Learned from the Start

By Tracy van der Schyff | April 12, 2018

Introducing a New SharePoint Series: Journey to SP 2019

This is the first article in a new SharePoint blog series designed to showcase SharePoint's progression through the years, from the humble beginnings of Microsoft's flagship collaboration platform all the way to SP 2019.

By the end of this series, you will be prepared to decide which SharePoint version best supports the success of your business and increases the productivity of your team, as well as how to plan your migration there.

Over the next 5 posts, the Journey to SP 2019 series will cover:

  • SharePoint: Then and Now
    • Comparing SharePoint versions from SP 2007 to SP 2016
  • What to Expect from SharePoint 2019
    • Details around all of the latest Microsoft release notes
  • Considerations When Migrating to SharePoint 2019
    • What can organizations anticipate from their next migration project?
  • How Does SharePoint Fit into Office 365?
    • How can SharePoint impact your organization's collaboration strategy?
  • Common SharePoint Business Cases
    • How have organizations successfully deployed SharePoint in their environment?

My Journey of Learning

I was introduced to SharePoint 12 years ago, when promoted to Intranet Manager at the company I was working for. I only had a weekend to figure out what SharePoint was and to understand how to motivate people to use SharePoint successfully.

It was during this time that I very quickly realized that SharePoint was much more complex and powerful than anyone in my company could have ever imagined. I also realized that I could not come to grips with SharePoint in one weekend.

However, what I did from that first day helped me to cope with the unknown and learn while sharing with my users. #LearningThroughSharing is a concept I was introduced to by Alistair Pugin years after this, and it was wonderful to realize that I had lived and worked by this motto for so long already.

Firstly, I would never tell someone “I didn’t know” or “I couldn’t do it.” There’s nothing wrong with admitting this to people, but for me to hear myself say that a couple of times a day was seriously damaging to my self-esteem. I would rather say that I’m a bit busy at the moment and that I would get back to them. I would then take the time to research first and supply them with an answer or resolve. This way, I was learning at the same time as supporting a system I did not fully comprehend (yet).

This is exactly the moment I fell in love with Microsoft and decided to go out of my way to help other people who might find themselves in similar situations.

In this blog post, I’ll give you an overview of what SharePoint really is. Let's jump in!

So, What is SharePoint, Exactly?

For people not using SharePoint yet, it’s difficult to really understand what it is. And believe me, it’s even more difficult to explain what it is without losing the listener’s attention completely.

How does Microsoft explain it?

“Organizations use SharePoint to create websites. You can use it as a secure place to store, organize, share, and access information from any device. All you need is a web browser, such as Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Firefox.”
- Microsoft

To explain SharePoint to my users, I start with what they know and their frustrations. No person will want to adopt a new system if they cannot relate to it and want it.

Your PC

The PC you’ve worked on for years is comparable to SharePoint. It’s a place where you can navigate to find files, settings, & programs. It has an OS (operating system) installed, which forms the foundation, and on top of that, programs can be installed, including Microsoft Office, Adobe, etc. You also store your documents here and use the programs to create new content.

Your PC has a “home screen” known as the Desktop (1), on this Desktop you can add shortcuts to the programs and folders you use (2), shortcuts can also be added to the Taskbar (3) and Start Menu (4). Your PC has a File Explorer (5) where your files can be found (Windows Button + E). You’re also able to search for files, settings, and programs in the Start Menu Search Bar (6) by clicking on the Windows Button on your keyboard.

Microsoft Surface home screen

Dissecting SharePoint

As explained, SharePoint is very similar to your PC. You have the same ability with added functionality. The difference is that SharePoint is not on your PC; instead, it’s a website, which means multiple users can access and work in the environment at the same time. Think “Shared Desktop,” but better.

SharePoint has a home page (1), which is the landing page to your website. On this home page, you can add shortcuts (2) and other web parts (3) needed for your team to work together. Web parts are similar to shortcuts on your Desktop, as they allow you to access content from somewhere else. The Settings menu (4) gives you access to Site Contents (5) and create other apps (6) to use. Site Contents displays (7) all the apps on your site, and apps are “programs” that you use to achieve a desired result, like Excel on your PC or the weather app on your phone. Some sites have a Quick Launch menu (8) on the left and a Global Navigation Menu at the top (9). All SharePoint sites are also searchable (10).

SharePoint homepage

File Storage

When working on our own PCs, we can only share a document with someone by emailing it to them or saving a copy on a memory stick or in the File Share. File Shares are communal storage areas setup separately from your PC, which allows for multiple users to access these files from different locations.

A link to the server (mapped drive) will normally be set up in your File Explorer for ease of access.

However, the challenge with File Shares and other online storage solutions is that the team working together doesn’t have all the functionalities and features necessary for successful collaboration. It’s not just about a place to store your documents, they may require tools that helps them manage their environments, including Calendars, Tasks, Workflow, Surveys, etc.

SharePoint also offers additional features on your content to help manage risk and keep you informed. Alerts, electronic versions, views, and permissions (to mention some) will transform the way you work.

SharePoint Structure in Layman’s Terms

Site Collections & Subsites

Thinking that SharePoint only offers file storage with a “pretty front end” is a misconception that many people share.

SharePoint consists of Site Collections, Sites / Subsites, Pages, Web parts, and Apps. To explain this, I’ll use an example of building a site for Human Resources.

Previously, we built single site collections with many site / subsites below that. SharePoint Online leans towards more site collections and less subsites.

Basic SharePoint structure

In the illustration, you’ll see Human Resources as the site collection, with various processes as subsites or separate site collections. To achieve the same “hierarchal layout,” hub sites can be used to link the different site collections together.

See our blog, “Introducing SharePoint Hub Sites on Office 365

Each site collection or subsite is a website which requires pages to display the content, just like a book requires pages to display text and images. In each site, we can add many apps which could consist of either document libraries or lists. The type of Apps you can create will be dependent on the version of SharePoint you’re using.

Document Libraries

A library is used to store documents or images. It’s possible to use either folders or metadata to categorize your content. The concept of metadata might be new to some of you, but you’ve been using it for a long time without realizing it.

Look at your own File Explorer on your PC. The Documents, Pictures, Videos, & Music libraries use metadata to make sense of your content. For example, you might see that Videos are tagged with properties to give you the name, type of file, size, length, and author, which is metadata.

SharePoint document libraries


Lists can be built to perform various “business functions.” A list would be an App where items are added, and no document is needed for creation of the item. Examples of lists would be Calendars or Contact Lists. Some Apps can be built using a template, but you can also develop your own custom list.

Below, you’ll see an example of a custom list built for FAQs. I created my own columns (metadata) for Department, Question, & Answer. Note that there are no documents uploaded here.

SharePoint lists

This is very similar to creating an Excel spreadsheet that gets completed. In the spreadsheet you would also format each column for the data to be captured: date, currency, number, text, etc.

In SharePoint we also have different column types that can be added:

SharePoint column types

Metadata helps us make content more searchable, but also gives us the ability to create views based on the metadata. Most popular views would be grouped or filtered views:

SharePoint metadata

How Would I Use SharePoint?

Microsoft gives us four high-level use cases for SharePoint:

  1. Simple sharing and seamless collaboration
  2. Engage and inform your organization
  3. Harness collective knowledge
  4. Transform business processes

Sharing & Collaboration is all about how you work together with your team or department. Team Site templates are ideal for these environments.

Engaging your organization in the form of your Intranet couldn’t be easier: make important information available and share news, common resources, and applications with your employees. SharePoint Online brought us Communication Site templates, which helps you create your Intranet basis in minutes.

SharePoint delivers powerful search and other ways to discover information, which enables the creation, discovery and retainment of knowledge.

Finally, out-of-the-box apps and the ability to custom develop new business applications to streamline and automate your processes will transform your business.

Online vs. On-Premises

Currently, SharePoint is available online or on-premises.

SharePoint Online is a cloud-based service, hosted by Microsoft, for businesses of all sizes. Instead of installing and deploying SharePoint Server on-premises, any business can subscribe to an Office 365 plan or to the standalone SharePoint Online service. Your employees can create sites to share documents and information with colleagues, partners, and customers. To get started storing your files on your team site, see Set up Office 365 file storage and sharing. Give Office 365 a try.” - Microsoft

SharePoint Server. Organizations can deploy and manage SharePoint Server on-premises. It includes all the features of SharePoint Foundation. And it offers additional features and capabilities, such as Enterprise Content Management, business intelligence, enterprise search, personal sites, and Newsfeed. Give SharePoint Server 2016 a try.” - Microsoft

With SharePoint Online, small companies can now also afford SharePoint as they don’t need the infrastructure or hardware required for on-premises versions. In the next blog post, we’ll look at the different versions to help you make better informed decisions.

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Tracy van der Schyff

Tracy is a Microsoft MVP and an energetic, hyperactive adrenaline junkie who sees challenges and issues as opportunities and thrives on improving processes, environments and the general quality of life. Her broad knowledge about IT and Business gives her the ability to communicate on both levels and convey meaningful requirements and narrow the (ever present) gap between the two.

Written By: Tracy van der Schyff