Is SharePoint 2013 Worth Waiting For?
The new SharePoint has been released as a public preview, along with hopes by the Microsoft team of “leapfrogging expectations” (see the launch blog post). Is it worth holding out for the full release? Do the new features make it compelling to those planning a social intranet?
[frame]This post is the first of a series that looks at what’s changed from an intranet manager perspective, in particular things employees will notice and improvements for site and content owners*.
SharePoint 2013 Series
- Is SharePoint 2013 worth waiting for? (this post)
- SharePoint 2013 for intranet sites
- SharePoint 2013 social features
- SharePoint 2013 for collaboration
- SharePoint 2013 digital workplace and mobile (forthcoming)
- SharePoint 2013 governance, analytics and search (forthcoming)
- SharePoint 2013 user experience (forthcoming)
SharePoint continues to offer a very versatile basis not just for an intranet but also the hub of a full digital workplace. The new version has done a good job of playing catch-up with social features missing up until now, particularly for microblogging and activity feeds. If social and connectivity is central to your intranet strategy, then it’s worth pushing to move to 2013 early. In other respects, 2013 will be a welcome upgrade for those already on SharePoint, but is unlikely to sway people investigating other routes. There are numerous other improvements, and the App Store approach shows great potential, but few things are individually compelling from a non-technical perspective. By SharePoint 2010 the main challenges for an intranet manager had become governance and user adoption. Governance has definitely been improved, but adoption has been less substantially addressed. For example, the user experience for content owners is still over-fiddly and at the moment the mobile experience is well below what will be needed over the next 2-3 years. Moreover, the new version has done little to reduce the complexity involved in producing and managing a SharePoint-based intranet for business owners of sites and content.
- Social and Community. My Site now supports a rich microblogging experience with a newsfeed of things you follow – and you can follow most things, including people, documents, tags and sites. There is a new “Community” site type, centred on discussions and interaction. The net effect is very close to that in Yammer, though this doesn’t appear to be connected in any way to Microsoft’s recent acquisition
- Apps and the App Marketplace. Web parts have mostly been re-named “Apps” and architecturally SharePoint has been opened up to make it much easier to add third party apps. Microsoft’s Office Marketplace should help intranet managers who sometimes find it hard to know what is available externally. A Corporate App Store is also supported, like a next generation web part gallery for in-house developments
- “Metro” Styling in Line with Windows 8. The interface is clean and flat. Styling for lists and libraries and general on-screen clutter has been improved
- Hubs. My Site has been split into 3 hubs: Newsfeed, SkyDrive and Sites. At last, it should be much easier to see which sites you are a member of. The ability to “Follow” a site and get back to it readily will be welcomed by anyone who has ever created a site and then struggled to find it again
- Dynamic Publishing. Microsoft’s term for supporting mobile and full-screen versions of a page, as well as multi-lingual deployments. 2013 offers an automatic translation facility too
Conclusion: Is SharePoint 2013 Worth Waiting For?
Most upgrades for SharePoint 2010 seem to have happened 2-3 years from when it was released in beta, meaning that many organisations won’t go live with SharePoint 2013 until 2014 or 2015. As an intranet manager, should you push to bring that point forward or is it right to take time over the transition? Especially as you may have only recently moved to 2010? If you’re currently on another platform, should you switch?
- If you’re already on SharePoint and social collaboration is a key part of your strategy, then SharePoint 2013 is worth aiming for sooner rather than later, primarily for the improved newsfeed (activity feed) elements which help to cross silos. In most situations, it should be a viable alternative to add-ons like Newsgator or stand-alone tools like Yammer.
- If your organisation mostly collaborates in a more structured way – around projects and documents – then there are still benefits from the newsfeed approach, but they are more marginal. In particular, if employees are still getting to grips with SharePoint as a change in collaborative behaviour, then delaying an upgrade may well make sense, as the change disruption will be more detrimental than the benefits of the feature improvements.
- If you primarily see SharePoint as providing a CMS for published pages, then there are few improvements that will make a big difference. Only specific features like video support might sway the answer if your current version doesn’t meet your needs.
- If you don’t use SharePoint currently, then the new version offers a very rich platform not just for an intranet but as the basis of a digital workplace. However, for an intranet specifically, the starting point with SharePoint is still based around much more primitive building-blocks than other platforms such as Interact, ThoughtFarmer, Jive or Intranet Connections, and in many cases these would therefore be a much easier starting point.
- Support for mobile devices should be on everyone’s digital workplace roadmap. Sadly, SharePoint 2013 seems to instantiate only a weak vision of how this should be. It is likely that other companies will begin to move into this space, leading to the risk of platform fragmentation that we’ve seen with SharePoint 2010 and social add-ons.
- Microsoft have done an impressive job with the cloud version of SharePoint (within Office 365), making a hosted approach an attractive proposition for smaller and medium-sized enterprises.
Other Links of Interest:
- SharePoint Team blog
- Microsoft demo videos
- Good overview with screenshots from Chris O’Brien going into more technical detail
- Try the Office 365 preview
*I’ve been evaluating the Office 365 Enterprise preview of SharePoint 2013, so for sure some things will change in the final release, and there may be differences with on-premise installations, although Microsoft’s goal is that the cloud version is equal.