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Good-to-Know Features of SharePoint Online

SharePoint Online is a staple solution for team collaboration, content management, and business processes. 

SharePoint Online for your daily business

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Source: Microsoft

SharePoint Online is an application that helps businesses manage their back and front office like the palm of their hand.

The SharePoint Online solution brings together team collaboration, content management, and business processes. When dealing with such a complex solution, it is always good to recap some of its most important features to avoid not seeing the trees because of the forest. 

Access and privacy control via permission levels

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SharePoint permissions help you manage who has access to resources and when, based on the group users belong to (inherited permissions from group and site) and based on granular, individual permission (unique level permissions). 

  • Inheritance trickles down from site to file 

  1. Files inherit permissions from their folder (if any). Only users who have access to the folder, have access to the files inside. If users do not have access to the folder, you can share individual files with them, and have the sharing links expire after a given period of time. 
  2. Folders inherit permissions from their library. 
  3. Libraries inherit permissions from their site. If you want to restrict library access to specific people, use the Stop Inheriting Permissions setting, manually specify what operations can be performed on that library, and give access to specific people by adding/removing individuals or groups.   
  4. Sites organize permissions via three user groups: Site Owners, Site Members, and Site Visitors. 
  • Sharing files with others makes files discoverable by search 

Site users can share information, but this behavior can be changed at any time. Use the site-level Change how members can share setting to restrict file sharing to a particular group, Site Owners for example. 

Complete site deployment and management

SharePoint helps businesses set up sites from ground up, and maintain them on an ongoing basis. 

  • Access predefined resources Building sites can seem labor-intensive, but SharePoint makes the effort significantly less strenuous by providing templates and reusable components. 
  • Create audience-driven sites Create sites meant for teams (project-oriented and contributor-driven), for communication (news-oriented and externally-driven), or for business hubs (site-group-oriented and consistency-driven) 
  • Use SharePoint Site Collections You can create sites independently from one another, but if you want to create several sites consistently (the same look and feel, the same user groups, or the same structure), use Site Collections to have your sites inherit various features from the main node site. 
  • Use SharePoint Lists Create lists available on the web, with SharePoint data, which you can reuse. SharePoint Lists are similar to tables, but each column/row can be versioned and linked to workflows or content approval. 
  • Use SharePoint Libraries Create SharePoint Libraries to store the files you want to group or reuse. Since they are more than mere folders, SharePoint Libraries are more like tables which manage full files, rather than values or content chunks. SharePoint Libraries enable you to classify, and tag content. Copy SharePoint Libraries to save time on setting up metadata and file views. In case of corruption, restore SharePoint Libraries to specific points in time. 
  • Set up folder view, flat view, or personalized view in libraries Libraries can get very large, so one thing you can do is add folders to group your files better. If you have 2 or 3 folders, it is easy to open each folder and check what is inside, but if you have 100 folders, opening each one to find a specific file can be very time-consuming. To keep the folder structure, but also have easy access to any contained file, combine the folder view with the flat view, by setting up the Show all items without folders view. Toggle between views. Combine user groups with a personalized view of library resources for your groups. If group members have the same needs or requirements, create a personalized public view that all members can share. Members can then create an even narrower view to reflect their preferences. 

Content management and collaboration

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SharePoint is a content hub integrated with the Office suite which supports: 

  • Smart storage and reuse Write your content once and outsource it in several places or deliverables. 
  • Collaborative editing and single-sourcing Edit a file with other users online and access the latest version at all times. 
  • Version history for files Check version history and restore previous versions if necessary.   
  • File locking Lock files placed in a library, so that they are read-only to others, by declaring them as in-place records. 
  • Automatic alert setup Get notified when changes are made to files or libraries. 
  • Automatic file tagging Have your files or libraries tagged automatically if they are uploaded in a given folder or a folder which has a given tag. 

Encryption capability for sensitive data

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Sensitive content includes trade secrets, PII, classified documents and much more. SharePoint is integrated with many Microsoft ecosystems which enable encryption before usage. 

  • Tags and AIP Use Microsoft 365 and Azure Information Protection (or AIP) to tag content. Filter the tagged content and: ü  Encrypt it while working on your files locally ü  Set up an expiration date for specific files your share ü  Monitor the shared files 
  • DLP and AIP AIP is an enabler for the Data Loss Prevention (DLP) module where you can track whether your employees label sensitive data in agreement to your security and governance policies. 
  • DLP and Functions Data Types and Data Risk are functions which enable you to label your content, its metadata, its location. You can filter such data, and apply policies that protect personal identifiable information (in compliance with GDPR) or trade secrets. Use the DLP tool provided by Microsoft to block access in agreement with company policies. 
  • Organization Keys For even more advanced security, you can use your very own, organization-level encryption keys and manage them with your Microsoft 365 Azure Key Vault service. 

Process and workflow automation

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The content you have stored in SharePoint is not static. It is a known fact that you can fully manage it at will, but you can manipulate it further via automation (Power Automate) and analysis (Power BI). 

Use Power Automate to involve the same file in various automation flows without duplication, redundancies, and consistency issues: 

  • Approval or sign-off flows 
  • Information update flows 
  • Publish flows 
  • Information gathering flows 
  • Email flows 
  • Onboarding flows 

Use Power BI to translate SharePoint data into dashboards, statistics, and reports on the spot, without having the data pre-processed by a middle-layer application. 

Search and extended Search

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SharePoint allows for system-wide search over everything users have permission for as long as that content is indexed. 

Permission-driven search If you enter a search word, this term will be matched against the content you have permission for based on its tags, metadata, name, or contained words. Microsoft Word and scanned images respond well to this setup, while PDFs do not, as their contained words are not discoverable. 

Index-driven search Properly indexed content is data which is discoverable by search via property crawling. To avoid having content barred from search especially if contained by non-searchable fields, extend SharePoint Search by defining Search Managed Properties and including them in the Search Schema: 

  1. Create a list of managed properties, namely the metadata and content the Search Schema should include.    
  2. Define the following elements for each managed property: a name, a description, and an information type. 

Integration of communication channels with native data

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A SharePoint site powers Teams channel and users, which means that everything produced on Teams is stored in SharePoint, and anything on SharePoint can be linked to and accessed from Teams:   

  • SharePoint lists, pages, or libraries can be added as tabs or pinned as news in Teams 
  • SharePoint documents can be accessed from the Files tab in Teams

This integration keeps users in a context-sensitive loop throughout their daily work. 

Integration with third-party repositories

When your data is hosted outside SharePoint, use the SharePoint REST web service and integrate 3rd-party data sources. Conversely, feed the data stored in SharePoint (SharePoint Lists in particular) to other applications. 

SharePoint REST 

  • Maps SharePoint elements and lists as HTTP resources which can be tapped into via URLs 
  • Supports CRUD operations over entities/sites/lists 
  • Uses XML and JSON as formats for data input/output, and the Open Data Protocol (OData). OData is essential for operations such as: sorting, grouping, filtering, calculated fields, adding columns and so on. For an already created SharePoint List, you must access the list settings, select a button (‘Connect to external data sources”), select a data provider, provide connection settings, and launch your queries.   

SharePoint Lists When your data is stored on SharePoint (a SharePoint List for example) you can transfer it to a third-party application. Moreover, after your SharePoint List and another data source are linked, you can write-back the changes made in SharePoint to the OData source. The process can be performed automatically or on demand, and your data is synchronized in both places. 

Extensibility models

How can you perform your regular or most frequent SharePoint data operations in bulk mode?   

  • Use CSOM (Client Server Object Model), which is a remote API used to perform batch operations on commands and data requests, to retrieve logs or batched data, and to keep elements in synch.

CSOM consists of a set of client-based libraries. For SharePoint Server, the active web service is called Client.svc which can communicate via .NET Managed Code or JavaScript. For SharePoint Online CSOM is available as: .NET Framework redistributable assemblies, JavaScript libraries, REST/OData endpoints, and Windows Phone assemblies. 

  • Use SharePoint Framework (SPFx), which is a page and webpart model, used to customize your UX (custom UI, custom applications, new data sources), and make your hosting and deployment more flexible.   
  • Build a fully-fledged application using SharePoint Framework 
  • Host applications developed with SPFx on SharePoint, on separate servers, or in the cloud   
  • Extract SharePoint content based on filters and aggregation criteria 
  • Extract content to and update content from secure locations, especially for sensitive content 

SharePoint in brief 

SharePoint Online empowers you to steer your business assets and content intelligently, by:   

  • Giving you full control of how to share and distribute your content 
  • Enabling you to deploy and manage sites from one platform 
  • Integrating the Office suite into online collaboration   
  • Giving you access to encryption capability for sensitive data   
  • Integrating your data with process and workflow automation   
  • Offering powerful and extensible search capabilities over the entire ecosystem 
  • Keeping your content and teams connected dynamically 
  • Feeding content to and from third-party repositories 
  • Giving you the framework and tools to extend default SharePoint capabilities