Thursday, July 26, 2007

Web and Intranet: Extreme Make Overs

One of the projects that I've been working on this month is a total tear down and rebuild of our Intranet and our Website. Because I have this fixation with knowing how things work I didn't hire a website design artist and a web developer. I did the work myself. Over the years it's gotten both easier and harder. It's easier to do the mundane stuff and it's harder to keep up with the new flashy fun stuff. Since I'm not much into flash I thought I'd be safe doing the work myself. I think it's turning out pretty well. I'm still working on the website but I'm done with the Intranet. I thought I share it with you. If a company as small as ours finds it useful; every company should find it useful. It can be a real time saver and it's even easy to use for those people that aren't very good computer users. For the user point of view everything is point and click. Just the time saved stopping users from searching around the server for files can be enough to make an Intranet the way to go.
I used the newly released Sharepoint 3.0 for the base because it's free and comes with all Windows servers. This means you already own it so there's nothing to buy. There are a million cool features built-in. Here's a few of the ones I implemented for our use.

Here's the home page:

It's your basic text page organized in 3 columns. The purpose of the Intranet is to organize information that we all need available to do our jobs. It doens't have to be pretty. It does need to be very easy to navigate and understand. On the left we have links to the content. In the middle are announcements. On the right are links to frequently used external websites. At the bottom (not pictured) are upcoming items on the shared company calendar.

In an Intranet some things are pretty standard. We keep our company forms there. Need the fax cover sheet? Click. Need a quote template? Click. Need one of the How To documents that we develop in house? Click. You get the idea. I put anything that is commonly used and doesn't change a whole lot onto the Intranet site. A bonus of keeping it there is that it does version checking. So if the file does change we have a copy of both and we know which is the original and which if the updated version.

Then we have some cool stuff. I configured a few of the ones most useful to us. This is where Sharepoint really shines.

Blog posts. It's a simple list of blogs posts that update automatically. If a new post is made it shows up on the Intranet for 15 days, then it goes away so there's no need to put anyone on clutter detail. There's no need for individual web surfing of blogs. There's no bloated Inbox full of blog posts. It's all right here and self-cleaning.

Client Location Map. Using Map Point I created a map that is linked to our Exchange Public Folder called Clients. When a client is added to that shared contact list it gets mapped and displays on the Intranet. The map on the Intranet isn't just a picture. You can route and print right from it. No need to MapQuest or for mapping software to be installed on each PC or for someone in the office to create and handout maps. Just go to the Intranet point to where you need to go and print the map.

Support Portal Tickets. The tickets coming in from the folks on the beta of our support portal arrive via email and are sent to a distribution group so everyone sees them that needs to. A summary of the ticket and it's status is displayed on the Intranet too. So if I want to see at a glance how many issues are currently outstanding, who they are for and what the current status is they are right there in front of me. If I want to view more detail I can click on one and it jumps me right into the portal.

Recycle Bin: Yes, you heard right. A website with a recycle bin. Not only that but's it's a self cleaning 2 stage recycle bin. Stage 1. User deletes a file. It goes into the web recycle bin. User can restore it back if they need to. After a defined number of days it moves to the Stage 2 recycle bin. Stage 2 is only visible to the administrator. Again data stays in that recycle bin for a defined period of time or forever.

The whole purpose of an Intranet is to reduce the amount of repetitive hunting around for stuff that saps productivity. Sharepoint is nice because it cares for itself, if setup properly. I love the fact that it is self-cleaning according to the schedule I set. I can't wait for the day that happens to my house or car! ("I've configured my car to bathe itself on Tuesdays." I can't wait to write that for real.) I know the screen shots don't show up very well. So if you'd like to see what the site looks like just let me know and I can show it to you. We can do it over the web, so you don't have to leave your office.
I'll write about the website when I get done with that project. I'm trying to make that one prettier and have a few cool features too.


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