Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What is a SharePoint Administrator?

By Robert Schley,
PremierPoint Solutions, Training Division

What is a SharePoint Administrator?  Recently I've run into some confusion regarding what skills an Administrator would need in order to manage SharePoint.  I think the point would be clearer if we make a distinction between two different types of SharePoint Administrators.

In my mind (relative to computing systems), an administrator is anyone who performs actions to provide or define a structure for someone else to utilize.  This is fairly broad but it covers the gamut -- from the hardware guys all the way to the office guru.  This definition spans a wide variety of administrators and hence a wide variety of necessary skills.  This is where the confusion begins.  When you declare that you need classes for a SharePoint Administrator then the question of "what kind of SharePoint Administrator?" needs to be clarified.  You could try to learn it all, but this undertaking is entirely too broad for any one person.  As a coworker is fond of saying, “There is no one person that knows everything about SharePoint”.  You need a starting place appropriate for the kind of SharePoint administering that you'll be doing.
Generally, a SharePoint Administrator can be either:
  • A Server-centric SharePoint Administrator - This person deals with everything that takes place within the cozy little area that we call the server closet.  None of this person's interaction with SharePoint will be through a web browser with the exception of Central Administration tasks.  This would be more akin to the system administrator or server administrator function.  His necessary skills might also include familiarity with networking, hardware, host OS, SQL admin, etc. -- the difference being that the strength of this individual is the manipulation of the systems that provide the SharePoint services.  Though it is useful for these administrators to be familiar with SharePoint's user interface and functionality, it may not be entirely necessary, depending on the specific nature of their duties. 
  • A User-centric SharePoint Administrator - The man or woman in the trenches -- SharePoint administration on the front line.  This individual would interact with users and interact with SharePoint almost exclusively through a web browser.  He or she might need to use Central Administration occasionally depending on his/her specific duties.  This person would go to a Server-centric administrator for anything involving the mechanics under the hood.  The rights to the SharePoint site or Site Collection may be unlimited or restricted to specific roles.  Any individual that does more than view or add content would probably fall into this category.  Creating a list or library or even setting basic permissions on an item would qualify as a User-centric Administrator function.

These lines are obviously not hard, solid, and impermeable.  Depending on the business needs, the gray area of delineation between the two will probably be constantly changing.  So why is this distinction important at all?  That's what prompted this blog post.  With Microsoft's push to provide hosted services, the lines have become a little more necessary when looking for training.  With Office 365 SharePoint, an online SharePoint solution hosted by Microsoft, the Server-centric administration is all handled by Microsoft.  The back end is almost totally off limits to "administrators" with good reason.  This frees up businesses from having to invest in Server-centric expertise.  It then leaves a business with a need for User-centric expertise.  This is the diverging point.

An individual called the other day and declared that he had been made the Office 365 SharePoint administrator.  Their question was "What course within SharePoint Solutions' offerings should I take for this position?"  In this circumstance, the most beneficial course would be one of our introductory courses.  Since the Office 365 SharePoint environment is almost entirely user-centric, then the best way to get in and administer it would be to learn exactly what users do with SharePoint.  In a sense, one could say that a User-centric SharePoint Administrator is a "super-user".  But this term would downplay the level of skill required for a User-centric administrator to set up lists and libraries, not to mention setting up a structure that would allow users to set up lists and libraries.

The term "SharePoint Administrator" is simply too vague to be useful in and of itself.  The term needs to be clarified by what the Administrator will be administering.  With this clarification, the most appropriate path, and course, may be chosen to take your SharePoint skills to the next level.