SharePoint: Should you use it for your public website?

Four considerations before you tap the popular intranet platform for your external site.


Websites have come a long way from the mind-numbing simplicity of the late 1990s. Gone are the websites with basic left-margin navigation and static text, bland images, and broken links.

As technology has changed, so has the demand for websites that not only are informative and aesthetically pleasing, but also provide real-time data and strategic content through a collaborative interface. Users now seek an interactive experience that affords them dynamic content and social interaction on a regular dot-com site.

Enter SharePoint 2010, with its extensibility, collaborative capabilities, and rich media integration. The key questions are these: Did you know these are SharePoint capabilities? And is your business ready to deploy SharePoint for your public website?

About 80 percent of the audience members I’ve spoken to in the past year were unaware that SharePoint can operate an external website. Some sites deployed on SharePoint integrate content with collaboration. Here are four things to keep in mind before giving SharePoint the proverbial Internet keys.

Licensing. This is a misnomer for many companies, as they assume that having SharePoint means you have the required licensing to support an Internet deployment. This is not the case.

In order to use SharePoint as your Internet-based site, you must acquire and install the requisite Web licenses. Only server licenses are required, but they must be purchased for each running instance of the server software. Microsoft offers Standard and Enterprise options for Internet licensing, with the Enterprise edition offering more extensibility, including FAST Search Server.

Planning. It’s important that you plan sufficiently for your site; don’t underestimate the amount of planning required getting your SharePoint website together. We recommend that companies realize the importance of putting their content online and plan accordingly.

Begin by defining your branding strategy and the basic layout of your page template; this is where you’ll need to decide whether you want an “off-the-rack” look and feel, or something customized. The latter will require additional time and budget consideration.

Next, meet with representatives from each business unit and incorporate their requirements into your plan. Ideally, each unit will be represented on the site, so getting their buy-in is crucial.

Finally, decide how you will create content for your site. You’re missing a huge opportunity to recreate your message if you simply repurpose existing site content.

Learning. Make sure your deployment team has learned about extending SharePoint’s intranet features to the Internet. Which lists and libraries can be published online? How will that information be controlled, and what experience will a user have?

Be sure to evaluate content such as calendars, events, and projects on your intranet. For example, a training company would benefit from displaying its available courses and locations on its site. That is information you can choose to post internally as well as externally, so do your homework to ensure you are managing things properly.

Staging. Releasing any information on a website (SharePoint or not) involves a staged process, regardless of whether you work for a small business or a public company. SharePoint’s workflow capabilities can ensure that content is approved before it is published online.

Eric Riz is the executive vice president of Concatenate, a software firm focused on maximizing SharePoint through product innovation and systems integration. He blogs at www.ericriz.com and is on Twitter @rizinsights.

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