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7 things about SharePoint 2013 all IT pros should know

Microsoft SharePoint 2013 builds upon previous releases in 2007 and 2010

SharePoint, for Microsoft, has grown into a billions-of-dollars-a-year sort of business that increases its market share in the double-digit range each year. Not to put too fine a point on it: SharePoint is a beast in its space. Companies are adopting it worldwide to centralize knowledge, increase collaboration, develop applications on top of it and realize actionable intelligence about their overall business health.

However, SharePoint 2013 represents a major new release in the lifecycle of the product, and that may cause you to wonder what it is, what it can do for you and what your organization needs to know before considering and deploying it. Here's a brief SharePoint 2013 cheat sheet to help you sort out with some of those concerns.

SharePoint 2013 Highlights: Better BI, Mobile, Public Website Support

What are the big points Microsoft wants to sing about when it comes to the SharePoint 2013 release? While there are many improvements, the following five points rise to the top:

Better branding for Your Web Presence. What used to be an arduous process that involved complicated designer assets, style sheets and a confusing packaging process has now been made much easier. Now, any Web designer with proficiency in HTML, CSS and JavaScript can in a short amount of time brand a SharePoint site and create a public-facing or internal site that looks good. This will reduce your internal support expense, as well as make it less costly to use SharePoint itself as a platform for public-facing websites.

Improved public-facing website hosting. Hosting a public website (e.g., your .com site) on SharePoint 2007 was an exercise in frustration. Hosting that same site on SharePoint 2010 was better, but that product wasn't as full-featured as some competing platforms.

Analysis: New SharePoint Development Model Triggers Hopes, Questions

SharePoint 2013's capabilities in this regard are a natural evolution into maturity. The new release includes the capability to serve up pages to different devices (such as mobile phones and tablets) based on their characteristics. SharePoint 2013 also includes numerous features for search engine optimization (SEO), including XML based sitemaps, friendly URLs, SEO settings by different site collections rather than sites, and robots.txt support to define out of bounds areas for search engine crawlers.

Enhanced business intelligence. Using SharePoint as a platform to expose business intelligence and big data reports had its coming-out party with the 2010, but the capabilities have expanded in the 2013 release to really make SharePoint the choice to dig deeper into business insights and analytics. Integration between SharePoint and Excel is even tighter, too.

Finally, the PowerPivot program has gotten even more powerful in SharePoint 2013; you can work with billions and rows and columns directly in memory, while features such as PerformancePoint Services, Dashboard Designer and Visio Services all work together to paint a picture of your business' health and metrics.

End-user training. SharePoint 2013 includes a new feature called "deferred site collection upgrade." This essentially lets a specific set of site collections run under SharePoint 2010 while SharePoint 2013 code is installed. You are basically running SharePoint 2010 code within the 2013 product, which makes it easier to test and maintain compatibility with any custom code and applications you have built on top of SharePoint.

It also eases the transition for your users between the look and feel of how SharePoint 2010 libraries and sites operates. You can get the benefit of deploying the new product while you manage the timeline on which you convert the look and feel of your site and turn on the new features and capabilities that face your end users. This is a good thing.

More, better, mobile device support. Of course tablets and smartphones are all the rage these days. With SharePoint sites becoming the home for more and more work product in all sorts of businesses, Microsoft had to address the problem of the poor SharePoint experience for mobile devices in previous versions.

There is now an HTML5 coded view known as the "contemporary" view that is optimized for speedy access across iPhones, iPads, Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone devices. There is also new support for push notifications, so SharePoint 2013 can reach out and push a message to your device based on a variety of factors. Location awareness has been built in as well, if you plan to develop location-aware applications on top of the SharePoint platform.

SharePoint 2013 Concerns: The Onsite vs. Cloud Conundrum

Of course, SharePoint 2013 isn't all wine and roses. Here are two pain points:

Migration. Of course, migrating anything to something new is an endeavor typically fraught with frustration, trouble and delays, and you probably never end up quite where you thought you would end up. SharePoint migrations are certainly no exception to this rule; there is a reasonably high bar to even getting started.

News: Sharepoint Online Upgrades Cause Problems for Some Users, Developers

In short, you cannot move to SharePoint 2013 unless you are already running SharePoint 2010, unless you purchase some third-party tools that are on the market now or will come onto the market soon. This is a reasonably big obstacle for many organizations that are either still on SharePoint 2007 or are already underway with their SharePoint 2010 deployment plans.

Different product editions. As part of Microsoft's cloud strategy, the company is offering this product in two flavors: SharePoint Server, which you install on your own premises and in your own datacenter-just like all previous versions of SharePoint--and Office 365, which runs "in the cloud" in Microsoft's own datacenters. There is a ton of overlap when it comes to features and capabilities between the boxed product version and the cloud-based subscription service, but the company is hoping to appeal to all subsets of customers.

Analysis: Microsoft Debuts Cloud App Model for Office, SharePoint

While this article has focused primarily on the SharePoint Server product, Microsoft has said publicly that it will continue to produce and, perhaps more importantly, support both on-premises and cloud versions of SharePoint for the foreseeable future. The challenge remains deciding the right option for your business. If the answer turns out to be a hybrid of both on-premises and cloud deployment, the further challenge is the ongoing question of managing both. How do you keep them up to date? How do you ensure a great user experience no matter where the data is located?

SharePoint has become a staple for many organizations worldwide. Any time there is an update to such a core technology, there is a healthy amount of skepticism and care required. SharePoint 2013 brings some useful enhancements to the table-including some that have the power to transform the level of understanding you have about your business-but it is always important to understand the complications and obstacles that go along with a new edition.

Jonathan Hassell runs 82 Ventures, a consulting firm based out of Charlotte. He's also an editor with Apress Media LLC. Reach him via email and on Twitter. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, on Facebook, and on Google +.

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