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How to set up SharePoint Online in 9 steps

CIOs need to continually monitor and adapt to SharePoint Online's changes, avoiding common pitfalls to ensure a successful and effective rollout of the platform.

The race toward digital transformation for organizations isn't won just by deploying more apps. Apps are apps; they can't guarantee improved employee efficiency or productivity, and the variety of options to choose from creates confusion for users and CIOs looking to avoid common mistakes as they roll out new collaboration and modern workplace solutions. Plus, digitizing bad analog processes doesn't magically fix them -- it just makes them bad processes IT has to support.

There are many steps you can take when figuring out how to set up SharePoint Online to ensure it goes smoothly.

1. Use SharePoint as a project management tool

SharePoint offers a project management site template, enabling users to create intranet pages that help maintain activities, schedules and documents associated with specific projects. With the introduction of Microsoft Planner -- which many consider to be a mini project management tool -- organizations now have an alternative to the classic SharePoint Project templates. Planner provides visualizations summarizing project activities and can be integrated into SharePoint pages.

2. Use SharePoint as a gateway to other services

Office 365 now has a number of new apps -- some with overlapping capabilities of those that SharePoint has traditionally offered. While some new apps compete with SharePoint head on, the platform itself still powers most of the file sharing, storage and management behind the scenes. SharePoint may no longer be the go-to for everything, but it is still a gateway to all other services that users need.

3. Preserve migrated SharePoint intranets

When migrating or upgrading to the latest version of SharePoint Online, it is not uncommon to consider a lift-and-shift approach to ensure all content and site structures are moved to the new platform. However, that approach can cause compatibility issues. SharePoint has had some significant changes, such as modern sites, hub sites and the introduction of PowerApps, that may require legacy SharePoint sites to be restructured.

4. Put more emphasis on the UI

SharePoint does not have a good reputation when it comes to out-of-the box templates and UI capabilities, and in the past, many users were not satisfied with their experience. In previous versions of the platform, SharePoint administrators significantly modified site master pages using third-party apps, such as ShortPoint, BindTuning, Powell 365 and LiveTiles, to enhance the look of their intranets. Customization capabilities are now available within SharePoint Online with the shift from classic to modern sites, minimizing the need for third-party apps.

5. Think about SharePoint in the context of other services

Office 365 collaboration capabilities go beyond what SharePoint provides. As SharePoint services are delivered to end users, administrators must also think about using other services that play a role in supporting collaboration and communications. When SharePoint discussions don't include Teams, Planner, Office Groups, OneDrive, Forms and Tasks, end users become confused about why they are not using those services alongside SharePoint.

6. Office Groups sites and traditional SharePoint team sites are the same

A new set of tools is available to enterprise users moving to Office 365, enabling them to collaborate and communicate efficiently without the use of multiple vendors and services. Office Groups was recently added, enabling users to have access to a new SharePoint template and functionality -- similar to what some traditional SharePoint sites previously offered. Office Groups allows users access to a shared calendar, tasks, files and modern website where all of their relevant information is maintained, instead of using the classic SharePoint team site template. Both Office Groups and team site templates rely on SharePoint to host sites.

Graphic about deciding between SharePoint Online and SharePoint Server
The first step in implementing SharePoint is choosing the on-premises or cloud fork in the road.

7. Define how and why SharePoint will be used

Many SharePoint projects end with it being used as a digital filing cabinet. However, most failed projects are the result of poor planning and preparation. To ensure success when deciding how to set up SharePoint, teams must invest time upfront defining why, what and how the platform will be used within the organization.

8. Don't let SharePoint become just an IT project

Companies that hold frequent online or in-person [SharePoint] trainings have a higher adoption rate than those who received one-day training.

Digital transformation and modern workplace adoption are not just another IT project. All business units need to be involved to define what problems SharePoint is meant to solve for each department. Each group must contribute to the process and understand the value that the platform will bring to them.

9. Invest in ongoing education

Organizations should invest in continuing education for users to ensure a successful implementation of SharePoint. Companies that hold frequent online or in-person trainings have a higher adoption rate than those who received one-day training on SharePoint. After a one-time training, many SharePoint users struggle to recall how to interact with the platform and other services available.

With organizations adopting Microsoft's cloud services, the implementation of SharePoint today is significantly different than two years ago, and the platform has evolved. It remains to be seen what the platform will look like in a year or so, but it will likely require CIOs to continuously monitor and adapt as the platform continues to change.

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