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How to Maximize SharePoint's Out-of-the-Box Features

  • September 10, 2008
  • By Daan De Brouckere & Raj Agarwal
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SharePoint's out-of-the-box functionality is not to be underestimated. Leveraging document libraries, custom lists, and out-of-the-box workflows are always mentioned as "low-hanging fruit" when implementing SharePoint for a client. Where you can provide extra value to clients is when conversations switch to more specific business needs. By understanding the extent to which SharePoint is configurable, you can work with your clients to demonstrate how out-of-the-box functionality can be leveraged. Gartner research on "The 90/10-10/90 Rule for Portal Deployment" has revealed that for initial releases, "90 percent of the requirements can be delivered by the out-of-the-box features... while only 10 percent can be delivered by custom integration components." They also mentioned that, for subsequent releases, this ratio is reversed. One then needs to calculate the ROI to understand whether it makes sense to introduce customizations and programming to address the remaining 10%.

We're using the designation out-of-the-box to include configuration of the product. We are considering the use of SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio as an indication of customization and programming. Although these tools can add tremendous value, the intent of this topic is to focus on demonstrating the value of solutions that can be created without these tools.

The SharePoint functionality that is addressed in this article covers features such as custom lists and SharePoint Search. Before diving into the real-world scenarios, make sure you understand these basic features.

Basic SharePoint Features

Custom Lists

You can equate a custom list to an Excel spreadsheet or a database table. After creating a new custom list in SharePoint, users will add columns that represent the fields that make up the items to store in the list. For example, instead of maintaining a list of your company's office locations in an Excel spreadsheet, you can add your locations to a custom list, as shown in Figure 1.

Click here for a larger image.

Figure 1: Adding a new location

Each column is associated with a data type (text, number, and so forth) and has a set of basic validation rules (required, max characters, and so on). Columns are added, as shown in Figure 2.

Click here for a larger image.

Figure 2: Adding a new column

The list settings control such features as versioning, permissions, and workflow. More advanced features include the site column and the ability to save the list as a template.

One of the most powerful features of the custom list is the capability to filter and define views. Depending on how much data is contained in a list, and depending on how the list is intended to be used, different views can be created. For the office location example, you can specify a view that shows locations organized by state. As part of the view configuration, one can specify the columns to be displayed, sort order, filter criteria, group by, and the like. Figure 3 shows the creation of the view; Figure 4 shows the results.

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