By Marc Fletcher, Sales & Marketing Director, Intervate Cape Town.
Microsoft SharePoint 2013 has been released to volume licence customers since November 2012 and the general release is expected in March 2013. The excitement over SharePoint 2013 has been notable.
The SharePoint 2013 release builds on the already robust and versatile SharePoint 2010 engine and the changes in this release, which I believe will have the biggest impact are ‘user experience’ features. By ‘user experience’ I refer to improvements and features that make using SharePoint easier and more intuitive and are going to be practical to the information worker and administrator alike, in terms of delivering business value by improving collaboration, improving productivity, and reducing costs. SharePoint 2013 is not only a comprehensive Enterprise Content Management (ECM) platform, but also a user friendly and easy to use solution that should greatly improve user adoption within companies.
The features in this release are what most information workers and knowledge workers have been asking for for a while, but the implementation of this technology still needs a business driver to realise the benefits. Just because it’s a cool feature doesn’t mean that it’s going to meet the needs of your business or help you fulfil your mission or objectives.
However, with a small amount of effort it is relatively straight forward for an ECM consultant from a Microsoft partner who is familiar with your business to identify areas of your business that could benefit from aspects of what the SharePoint solution could offer.
At Intervate we are very excited about the year ahead and the opportunity SharePoint 2013 will provide to businesses. SharePoint 2013 has introduced a pelthora of new features and capabilites that delivers across a wide range of workloads which will appeal to a broader audience.
SharePoint 2013 has embraced the cloud through SkyDrive Pro, mobile through the enhanced capability for intuitive and functional mobile access and has taken a huge leap forward in social business and web content management spaces to the point that SharePoint 2013 will most likely lead the way in mainstream enterprise content management solutions through 2013 and beyond.
Intervate ran a pre-launch event in Cape Town and Johannesburg on the 4th and 5th February 2013 respectively, in which we looked at ‘the top 10 things that we are excited about, about SharePoint 2013”, and if you were not one of the lucky 150 people that managed to attend, here is the countdown.
Number 1 – Easier to use productivity features – this is going to really drive user adoption
Drag and drop content uploading. It sounds futuristic in a business application, yet this already exists in many forms today. You always could drag and drop documents and other files into folders from the earliest Windows days, yet it took a decade to see this type of ‘ease of use’ find its way into SharePoint. It really is as simple as it sounds – you can drag a document from your desktop into a SharePoint 2013 document library and there it is…in SharePoint. No multiple clicks, navigating dialogue boxes and selecting files. If you are an information worker that is regularly uploading content to SharePoint, you will save appreciable time and be able to focus on the actual task at hand.
New live document previews also provide the ability to ‘look’ at documents without opening the associated applications.
The ability to have visual reminders of who you have shared the document with further compliments the new user friendly and intuitive interface. The new ‘follow’ feature allows you to track the updates to a document. and you can follow people and sites and this information is surfaced in your activity feed.
The productivity features are designed not only to improve your personal and collective productivity but also to give a much improved experience in the process.
Number 2 – Improved social features
At last the newsfeed on the new MySites facilitates a threaded conversation!. This was an aspect of functionality that was lacking in SharePoint 2010, especially considering that a threaded conversation was an essential part of any social conversation since forums first appeared in the 1980’s – or am I showing my age? The expected social ‘actions’ are now also present, including ‘Like’ and ‘Reply’ and the ability to select people from an intuitive people picker that is accessed through the “@” character. The picker also returns matches as you type. It’s all very standard in Facebook and Twitter but SharePoint 2010 was sorely lacking capabilities that people have come to expect and need in an information management solution.
Number 3 – Enhanced web building and authoring tools and simplified licensing
One of the barriers to using SharePoint as web content management (WCM) platform previously was the Internet connector licence or FIS (For Internet Site). This FIS licence, required for hosting websites and extranets was an additional ‘product’ that came at a price. The price barrier coupled with a lack of WCM features which were available in other best of breed web site platforms led most companies to consider alternatives for their WCM needs. This has now changed in SharePoint 2013 and the WCM tools, which are significantly enhanced, are now bundled with SharePoint 2013.
SharePoint’s WCM capabilities have developed to the point that SharePoint 2013 will compete strongly against most other WCM platforms in terms of features, performance and robustness. SharePoint 2013 will also start to turn the heads of not just corporate enterprises with existing SharePoint licenses but also new customers considering SharePoint 2013 as a serious WCM contender.
In 2012, Gartner positioned Microsoft SharePoint 2010 as a challenger in their WCM magic quadrant. I am sure we will see SharePoint 2013 nudge towards the Leaders Quadrant in 2013.
Through SharePoint 2013, Microsoft have delivered a WCM solution that finally addresses the needs of commercial websites to deliver not just an effective user experience and interface but also be able to support online marketing through Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and SEO related practices to achieve visibility in today’s vast swathes of content on the Internet.
SEO optimisation is now native in SharePoint 2013 and provides support for XML sitemaps, customised SEO properties, Meta tags and keywords.
Friendly URL’s are now finally available in SharePoint 2013. In SharePoint 2010 you could have ended up with a URL like http://yourcompanyname.com/Pages/Products.aspx#/ID=654&Source=http%2%%2F10101 . A friendly URL by comparison would be http://yourcompanyname.com/products/tv .
This is a momentous improvement and delivers a more effective SEO tool and user experience.
These two enhancements alone will impress digital agencies who have long discounted SharePoint as a true WCM platform due its inability to effectively manage the needs of SEO.
Content authoring has also been a challenge in the past because most content authors want to write content in Microsoft Word and then copy and paste into SharePoint. In previous versions of SharePoint this would be a problem because the content copied from the source would include markup from Word, which when pasted into the SharePoint content editor would change the style or the page layout or both. Now content authors have an improved experience. Content authors can copy content from Word and paste it directly into a Rich Text Editor Web Part, Content Editor Web Part, or an HTML field control on a page. SharePoint 2013 will also render semantically correct HTML markup in the styles that are on the page created by the site owner or designer.
Futhermore site owners and designers can customise the global and current navigation menus by dragging and dropping menu items directly on the page. Clearly this is not something that you would do lightly and without testing first on a QA platform, but the availability of this type of user based administration negates the need for an experienced software developer. This is a huge step in delivering a significant level of control to the information worker in the marketing and communications team.
Image renditions is another huge benefit to content authors. In previous versions of SharePoint there were challenges around managing the images for articles or posts and the associated images for the thumbnails of those articles. SharePoint 2010 just could not resize on the fly which through my own experience was a real disappointment and quite a pain. Now with SharePoint 2013, image renditions faciliates the uploading of full size images and then the creation of versions of the same image cropped into defined sizes which can be used for thumbnails or other purposes. This is the same idea as Facebook’s profile picture where you can crop an existing photograph of yourself to include as your profile picture thumbnail. Well done Microsoft for adding this feature – I can hear web content managers everywhere saying the same thing: “about time!”.
Number 4 – SkyDrive Pro – for rich SharePoint offline
Let’s start with what SkyDrive Pro is and the differences between SkyDrive Pro and SkyDrive, because SkyDrive Pro is different to Sky Drive.
SkyDrive is a free online storage solution that provides you with a personal library where you can upload and manage files from any device, share them with your friends and collaborate on the content. The content is held in the cloud and is synchronised to your devices that have the SkyDrive application installed. SkyDrive works the same as Dropbox and the other personal cloud storage providers.
SkyDrive Pro is also an online storage solution that also provides you with a personal library, but your SkyDrive Pro library is managed by your organisation and is only available as a part of Office 365 or SharePoint 2013. The content in SkyDrive Pro can only be shared with colleagues within your organisation or with invited guests if they are logged into Office 365. SkyDrive Pro facilitates synchronizing content from SharePoint 2013 to the cloud and then to your devices that have a SkyDrive Pro application installed.
The benefit of SkyDrive Pro to the corporate user is that you can save documents directly to SkyDrive Pro from Office desktop applications or synchronise them directly from SharePoint 2013. Furthermore enterprise IT teams will feel relieved that they have a little more control over the company information that is being sent to the cloud and disseminated to others.
This will be most useful for mobile information workers including marketing and sales, executives, regional managers and others that spend time away from the office.
Number 5 – eDiscovery
Let’s start with what is eDiscovery. eDiscovery is the process of identifying, delivering and securing electronic information that can be used as evidence in a legal investigation or procedure.
eDiscovery has been enhanced in SharePoint 2013 and coupled with Exchange 2013, SharePoint 2013 can now create a eDiscovery set to identify and locate specific material and then preserve the sites and mailboxes in which the content was found.
SharePoint 2013 then provides the ability to further refine the content that is relevant, preview the content and export the content as eDRM, which is an XML standard for eDiscovery data and in turn can be combined with stand-alone eDiscovery tools.
Some of the key features of the enhanced eDiscovery in SharePoint 2013 include a ‘Case Manager’ which enables records managers to create and manage enterprise-wide discovery projects, place potentially large amounts and various types of content on hold, and preserve a snapshot of content. ‘In-Place Holds’, another key new feature, enables a legal practitioner to preserve a snapshot of content while ensuring that users can continue to make changes without disturbing the state of the content snapshot. And lastly the ‘Analytics’, which enable legal practitioners, administrators, and records managers to collect and analyse data about eDiscovery activity.
Number 6 – Mobile, mobile, mobile. Ubiquitous mobile
Mobile has been cited as one of the big bets for the last two plus years and the statistics in South Africa show that mobile smart device ownership is rapidly growing, spurring the Bring-Your-Own-Device phenomenon, as well as sharply increasing the numbers of people using their mobile to access the Internet. Mobile usage has become ubiquitous ranging from the board executives to the shop floor. SharePoint 2013 delivers significantly enhanced mobile functionality.
First in the new capabilities is the SharePoint 2013 Newsfeed app. This is one of the new features that has finally brought SharePoint 2013 to the realms of being truly social. This new app allows users to post to all newsfeeds, follow people, mention, share documents and follow hashtags. The app can be installed on Windows Phone, Windows 8 and iOS for iPad and iPhone. For those companies that embraced MySites in SharePoint 2010, these new social features are going to accelerate user adoption and usage and enable you to reach new levels of social engagement and collaboration.
Next is an optimised mobile browser experience via what’s called the “Contemporary View”. This feature also enables mobile users to natively start working with SharePoint without the need for a third party app, which let’s face it, is not the ideal solution. Contemporary View delivers a simple HTML5 user interface especially designed for mobile users.
Thirdly, a greatly enhanced Office Web Apps user experience including touch support for tablets. In SharePoint 2010 the use of Office Web Apps on a mobile device was not very effective. In SharePoint 2013 this has been enhanced significantly to deliver a specific user interface for mobile devices ensuring that users can easily work with and create Office documents on the go.
The last one I want to mention is Push Notifications. Push notifications are a given with most mobile apps that we have on our Windows Phone, iPhone, Android device or tablet. Microsoft now brings this feature to SharePoint 2013 to send device updates as a tile or toast notification. At the moment this only works with Windows Phone, but I see no reason why this won’t be expanded to include all mobile devices in due course.
Number 7 – Best in class – FAST Search
SharePoint 2013 delivers a single search engine which combines the best features of SharePoint 2010 search, FAST search and technologies and ideas from the BING search engine. It’s a standard part of SharePoint 2013 providing an extremely powerful enterprise search engine ‘out-of-the-box’.
The new features and benefits of search and threfore the appeal can be split between two groups, the techies and the general user community. The new improved features include native and faster PDF indexing, federated location search, mailbox search and an improved scalability.
The user interface has been improved significantly to deliver a clean and crisp interface that has a richer experience. Results are delivered through Ajax eliminating page refreshes when additional information is requested. Refiners have also been improved with a new visual refiner displaying information in graphs and also a count returning an absolute number of matches in an index. The new preview pane has to be one of the best features designed for the user community and will undoubtedly speed up the process of search for specific documents.
Result Types is a new feature that allows the application of a template to a given result. This can enable different representation of returned information dependent on a customised set of result type rules – this really provides a detailed level of control over results improving the search experience. A simple example of this is the use of different templates for results that are text or image based.
The advanced query syntax facilitates a new level of search that could assist large enterprises with significant repositories of information under their care. For example: A query for documents containing ‘Life Insurance’ and authored by people with ‘John’ in their name would be written: “ALL(Life Insurance) (DetectedLanguage=”en”) (IsDocument=”True”) Author:John”.
Number 8 – The shift to the app model
Like the apps that you install from the app stores on your mobile device, the SharePoint app store allows you to download standalone apps that can be easily installed, managed and removed from your SharePoint solution. This will have the effect of reducing the load on the IT operations and will empower the users to innovate around their collaboration and enterprise social needs.
Number 9 – Shredded storage
Shredded storage is a feature that sounds really technical and could inadvertently be disregarded by many readers. It is however one of the most beneficial improvements potentially dramatically reducing operating and maintenance costs of a SharePoint environment.
Shredded storage will remove file duplicates (from multiple versions in a document library, for example) and reduce the amount of content sent across the wire. That’s it. For the techies that means that delta’s are only being stored and passed, which is going to reduce WAN traffic. For the business manager this is going to positively impact your budgets in terms of data transfer costs, time and effort. And as a user, well you will have one of the most immediately noticeable benefits – your experience should improve in terms of speed and responsiveness; more so if you are accessing your SharePoint document library over a slow WAN link.
Number 10 – The “upgrade” from SharePoint 2010
Microsoft have removed the dread from the upgrade process and provided a way to show administrators and users alike what their site could work and look like in SharePoint 2013.
However, the term upgrade is a bit of a misnomer as there is no in-place upgrade as there was with SharePoint 2010. The database-attach method is now the only supported way to upgrade databases to a new environment which will reside on SharePoint 2013.
The site collection health check will allow you to see what code and templates need attention in advance of the upgrade allowing you to plan for the upgrade without too many surprises.
There is however an ‘upgrade evaluation’ which allows a site collection administrator to request a preview of their site collection in SharePoint 2013 – this is called an ‘upgrade evaluation site collection’. The ‘upgrade evaluation site collection’ creates a separate copy of your site collection in SharePoint 2013 – therefore any changes you make to it, or conversely any issues you encounter, will not affect the original site collection sitting safely on SharePoint 2010. The upgrade evaluation site collection is set to automatically expire after 30 days which makes it an excellent method of trialling the SharePoint 2013 functionality and features with your solution before making a final commitment.
Once you have upgraded you will be presented with the new SharePoint 2013 user interface which follows the Microsoft ‘modern’ (formerly known as ‘metro’) design. Modern design uses tiles and typography to deliver its interface which includes plenty of white space and a responsive design that is gaining popularity in the world of web.
So there you have the top 10 things that Intervate are excite about, about SharePoint 2013. Please feel free to contact me or any of my colleagues with further questions or if you want to discuss the ‘upgrade’ to SharePoint 2013 or any other enterprise information management (EIM) enquiry.