What is SharePoint Application Development?
SharePoint, the web-based collaboration and document management platform from the Microsoft stable, is a popular option for enterprises to develop apps. The platform offers many plus points, foremost among which are seamless integration with Microsoft Office and easy reconfigurability.
Here is a run-down on how to develop an app using SharePoint, and the distinct advantages of doing it this way.
Deploy a SharePoint Server
The prerequisite to developing applications using SharePoint is access to a SharePoint server.
SharePoint Server comes in two editions: Standard and Enterprise. A free Foundation version was discontinued in 2016. Regardless of the choice, users install the Standard Edition upfront, for the Enterprise edition is built on the standard edition, unlocked by means of entering a license key on the standard edition.
The standard edition comes with several handy and intuitive features, such as pre-built workflow templates, secure store service, web analytics, governance tools, audience targeting capabilities, enterprise wikis, search customization abilities, mobile search capabilities, faceted search, and much more.
The additional features available in the Enterprise edition include:
- Better search results from rich web indexing
- Better search interface, with search thumbnails and previews
- Deeper integration of business intelligence, through the use of intuitive dashboards, and business data surfacing.
- Integration of PowerPiviot, PerformancePoint, Microsoft Office Access, Visio, Excel, and InfoPath Forms services, and more.
Deploying Microsoft Office SharePoint Server within the enterprise, provisioned as normal virtual or cloud servers, or as a hosted service, delivers greater control over SharePoint’s behavior or design.
Set the Template or Site Definition
Having secured access to a server, create the core site in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 or Office SharePoint Server 2007.
SharePoint Services 3.0 offers several out-of-the-box templates to create new sites, and in fact, creates the site with a default template. Users have the option of creating their own templates and building a new site instance based on such custom templates. Or else, users may simply use a blank site template and get the work done.
Make the Required Modifications
After sorting out the template, use the Office SharePoint Designer to create the necessary lists and user groups. The four essential lists are Projects List, Project Tasks, Project Issues, and Project Milestones. Create custom columns for each of those lists. Make sure to define user rights for the created lists, to ensure only authorized users to have access to sensitive information that comes in when the site goes operational.
Next, add the required components, such as wikis, blogs, calendars, and more, and configure it as required.
Determine the extent of customizations needed in terms of workflows, dashboard and manager views, parent-child relationships, custom forms, the action flows, and more. The web-site interface is fully customizable, with developers having a wide discretion to implement a design of their choice. Use the Windows SharePoint Services UI to sort and filter the preferences, and create custom views within lists. Custom list views enable displaying data in different ways. Custom forms allow capturing user input in different ways, as required. Developing custom forms are always a better option than the default edit form which comes with each list.
Finally, add application logic as required, by building workflows. Workflows make it possible to attach a business process to items in lists and libraries, making it easy to control almost any aspect of an item. It simplifies otherwise complicated programming tasks on the server. For example, routing a document through a series of users, for approval, is possible by creating a simple workflow.
Office SharePoint Designer 2007 offers a powerful rules-based design tool for customizing and adding conditional logic around out-of-the-box workflows, without having to write code. Visual Studio 2005, used along with Visual Studio 2005 Extensions for Windows Workflow Foundation allow creating more complex and customized workflows, using code.
Having created pages corresponding to the required roles, use an XSL template to create a link to the correct dashboard for the current user based on their role.
Intuitive Tools Further Aid the Development Process
SharePoint offers several intuitive tools and resources that further ease and speed up the application development process.
Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 introduces a number of new libraries and list types.
Content types, or a reusable collection of settings, help users organize content in a meaningful way. Users may leverage content types to manage and reuse the metadata and behaviors of a document or item type, centrally.
Site columns offer a central, reusable model for column definition. Each list using a site column gets the same definition, sparing the need to reproduce the column in each list.
Feature Framework, a new structure in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 packages pre-set elements to help a user accomplish a particular goal or task.
Use Visual Studio 2005, if necessary, to create additional custom code, and custom workflows.
How Opting for SharePoint Benefits the Enterprise
SharePoint is by no means the only way to develop enterprise apps. However, opting for SharePoint offers some distinct advantages for the enterprise:
Development is easy. Enterprises can deploy apps on the fly, and get full functionality of the portal right after installation, sparing them taking the focus off their core business activities for what is essentially a staff function.
The easy to use collaborative tools offer unmatched flexibility and scalability, and the ability to effect deep personalization. It is possible to add and remove web components from the mix, in a modular approach.
SharePoint also scores on simplicity. Securing business information, and integrating with Microsoft documents a seamless process.
With SharePoint, users gain access to a large swathe of improvements, enhanced components, and accessories, adding critical functionality for the business to soar greater height. The development process simplifies complexity and accelerates the development timeline. However, it still requires a competent and experienced team to execute the development process, leveraging the full set of features and functionality on offer.
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Many enterprises use Microsoft SharePoint for day-to-day collaboration, and also to develop web-based business applications.
Though originally launched and sold as a document management and storage system, Microsoft SharePoint is highly configurable and it makes sense to use the platform for developing powerful apps that fulfill key business processes.
While many developers are content with Microsoft’s 40+ SharePoint 3.0 application templates that offer out-of-the-box solutions for specific business processes, such as tracking marketing campaigns, and Help Desk coordination, several others require deep customization beyond what such templates offer. Today’s highly dynamic business world, where businesses try to seek competitive advantage through innovation, places a premium on flexible business application solutions. Many developers use the out-of-the-box templates as starting points for deep customization, while others develop their own custom templates from scratch, using Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007.
Regardless of the approach, here are ways to enhance SharePoint application development capabilities, to further such ends.
Leverage Collaboration Features
A key USP of SharePoint is the plethora of collaborative features on offer that enhances the functionality of applications developed using the platform.
The top collaborative option is Community Sites, modeled on Facebook, allowing employees, hitherto working on silos, to communicate with one another in new ways, such as based on shared interests, rather than on the basis of departmental affiliation. App developers could enhance the worth of such communities by adding micro-blogging, news feeds, tagging and other features. News feeds make available updates from others, notifies about changes made to documents and websites, and overall keeps the user in the loop of things.
“My Sites,” another popular collaboration option, allow users to upload documents. Enabling this feature allows an always-on-the-move employee to sync the contents of the library, in one or more systems, and access it offline.
Yet another popular collaboration tool, OneDrive for Business, enables storing digital documents in a central cloud-based repository, facilitating easy access and share.
Applying the right mix of collaborative features in application development facilitate free flow of information and open communication, which in turn encourage sharing of experiences and enable better decision-making capabilities.
Offer Deep Integration with Enterprise Communication
SharePoint’s collaboration features extend to offer deep integration with the available enterprise communication infrastructure.
Developers may leverage the easy integration with Skype and Lync to offer a powerful way to communicate with customers and colleagues, without leaving the platform. The functionality may also be used to make explicit the full contact information of participants, during online meetings.
The “Site Mailbox” feature creates a shared project space, allowing users to create a common pool of emails and documents. Storage, retrieval, and editing of files become very easy, through drag and drop.
Leverage the Improved Search Functionality
The revamped search core in SharePoint 2013 features FAST Search, a powerful search engine that operates within company networks, and makes it very easy for users to search and locate stashed away enterprise content, including query results from multiple locations, authored documents, information on previous projects, contact information, and more. SharePoint also co-opts Microsoft Bing capabilities, offering end users a seamless and easy out of the box (OOTB) experience.
Developers may leverage the advanced search capabilities to offer content by search, continuous crawl and for general performance enhancement.
Provide Mobile Functionality
Microsoft offered native mobile functionality in SharePoint 2007 and 2010 version, but these options were weak, and best forgotten. SharePoint 2013 however makes amends by introducing a slew of mobile tools.
- A new “contemporary view” that renders site in HTML5 offers better mobile browsing experience, including touch-screen interaction.
- New back-end mobile “channels” automatically rearrange SharePoint site rendering for different mobile devices.
- Geo-location tags, news feeds, push notification to alert users on new content, and improved viewing of MS-Office documents offer even more convenience and unlock new possibilities for the mobile.
Several third-party apps, such as Colligo email manager, Infragistics SharePlus, Filamente, and Harmon make the SharePoint mobile experience better, and more responsive
Extend Collaboration to Enterprise Social Networking
Much of SharePoint’s collaborative features, such as community sites and the enhanced search capabilities are already modeled to facilitate enterprise social networking. Developers seeking to further social collaboration may explore enterprise social networking (ESN) suites such as NewsGator and Jive Software that connect seamlessly to SharePoint, and offer mobile capabilities to ESN.
Leverage Other Niche Capabilities
SharePoint 2013 offers a host of other intuitive features, such as new document set features, automatic translations to multiple languages, managing discovery cases and holds, improved caching and more, all offering considerable scope for performance improvements. Features such as metadata navigation, n URL, and image rendition improve SEO.
As it is with all initiatives, success in the quest of enhancing SharePoint application development depends on customization based on business needs. For instance, if social collaboration functionality is added just because everyone else seems to be doing so, the initiative is bound to end in failure.
SharePoint now offers easy drag and drop feature, requiring minimal code, but it still makes sense to partner with us to enhance your SharePoint development capabilities. Our team of skilled and experienced developers have already seen it in action in enterprise setting and can guide you to move forward in the best way.