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SharePoint 2013 for Collaboration

ClearBox Consulting > Collaboration  > SharePoint 2013 for Collaboration

[frame]This post is part 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

  1. Is SharePoint 2013 worth waiting for?
  2. SharePoint 2013 for intranet sites 
  3. SharePoint 2013 social features
  4. SharePoint 2013 for collaboration (this post)
  5. SharePoint 2013 digital workplace and mobile (forthcoming)
  6. SharePoint 2013 governance, analytics and search (forthcoming)
  7. SharePoint 2013 user experience (forthcoming)

See our summary webinar on Slideshare: Is SharePoint 2013 Worth Waiting For?[/frame]

Summary

Document-based collaboration has always been at the heart of what SharePoint is about and by 2010 most of the functionality was there. 2013 consolidates these strengths and brings some refinements, such as SkyDrive and improved navigation, without any large innovations. Where 2013 really wins is the integration between social and more structured collaboration, but overall the user experience needs to do more to keep up (see forthcoming posts on Mobile and User Experience).

Projects and Other Site Types

Remember all the site templates such as decision meeting workspace, social meeting workspace etc? Well they’re all going in 2013.  This is a good thing – they caused more confusion than help, and generally I think it is better to start with very few options and then help site owners tailor where needed. There is a useful new template, called Project. Between Team Sites, Projects Sites and Communities, the templates now have a much clearer sense of purpose.

The Project template adds in a project summary timeline at the top (see screenshot) that picks up task and calendar entries within the site. The usual document libraries are still there and announcements are replaced with a more social project newsfeed area. Standard Team Sites are stripped back, with just documents, newsfeed and ‘Notebook’ (taking you to One Note online). They do, however, begin with a Get Started bar (see the screenshot at the start of this post), encouraging you to add tasks, lists and basic branding. Behind the scenes are more extensive look-and-feel options, thankfully well hidden as the design selection has a visual appeal matched only by looking at PowerPoint 1.0 slides with a migraine.

Collaboration Through My Site

My Site’s file sharing has been enhanced. There is SkyDrive, a Dropbox-like  feature that is accessible within the desktop file explorer, and will synchronize edits made offline. This makes much more sense than trying to sync through Outlook, as 2007 and 2010 did. My Sites also have useful views of “Shared by me” and also “Shared with me”, which aggregates files that my colleagues have given me access to (the screenshot shows this and the new document preview pop-up). Tasks are now much more manageable, with an aggregated task view being a default page on My Sites. This shows not only tasks across all my projects, but those in Exchange as well (and the two can be connected and kept in sync, as with SharePoint 2010). See Part 3 of this series on SharePoint 2013 Social Features for more about My Sites.

SharePoint 2013 sky drive

 

Site Hub, Memberships and Community Portal

The Site Hub is a page accessed from the top bar that shows all the sites you participate in. This addresses a widespread frustration with earlier versions, where users sometimes complained that they created a team site and then couldn’t find it again. Even though My Site showed memberships of other sites, it only worked if you were in the ‘Member’ group and not if you were the site owner, a nuance that made little sense to business users. Site hub now lets you build up a ‘follow’ list and also suggests other sites you might want to follow (though it doesn’t appear to do it as intelligently as it might– for example it would be good if the first suggestion was a site where you had been granted new access or ownership). Microsoft has also put thought into group membership management, acknowledging that the permissions model was often confusing. Instead of a behind-the-scenes “Add to Group” model, there is a clear “Share Your Site” tile, where you can list people to invite.  Site owners also get a “pending requests” dialogue so they can see non-members who have asked to join. However, some people are concerned that the “Share” button will lead to increasing SharePoint sprawl if users confuse sharing documents with sharing sites. A similar idea to the Site Hub is the Community Portal, which can be used to show a list of all community sites that an employee might want to join. A directory of communities is a great idea, but SharePoint 2013 falls foul of the same catch-22 it has always suffered from; it only shows communities that you already have access to. There are sometimes good reasons why a community may want to operate in private and only show contact details rather than give everyone visitor access up-front.

Office Integration

Microsoft are planning their largest across-the-board update for 2013, bringing in a new version of the Office Suite and SharePoint at the same time.  Although the ideal is that companies also upgrade in-step, from a user point of view, I’ve not seen anything that would stop a combination of, say, Office 2007 and SharePoint 2013 sitting together. What you’d lose is the ability for several people to edit documents at the same time, and from an adoption point of view, the backstage feature in Office 2010 onwards makes it more obvious that you can work with SharePoint directly from within Office (something people tend to overlook without training). One of the mantras of SharePoint 2013’s design has been “cloud first” rather than on-premises installation. Employees are unlikely to notice this until they start using Office 2013 and see that the default “Save as…” drive is SharePoint SkyDrive rather than their local disk.  This is a welcome step in nudging people towards a mode of working in SharePoint rather than storing in SharePoint.

 Excel Web App in SharePoint 2013

The lightweight, online versions of Office applications (Word, PowerPoint, Excel and One Note) have been updated with a metro look to align with the Office 2013 styling (see screenshot above). The capabilities stack up well compared to, say, Google Docs, and they have a good track record for preserving the fidelity of document formatting when moving between the web and desktop applications.  Capabilities are enhanced, with Word gaining a Page Layout tab, for example, and PowerPoint offering impressive styling options. Real-time joint editing works well in Excel and One-Note web apps, showing changes on the fly. For Word and PowerPoint, changes continue to be buffered and only show up after a save. Justifying this, Microsoft define 3 levels of  collaboration: Semiformal-authoring, Formal Co-authoring and Comment and Review, and argue that the formal co-authoring model for Word is the right one: “you don’t want half-formulated thoughts shared with other authors”.  I disagree – often collaborating on a document does involve discussion about the wording of a line or paragraph, not people simultaneously changing different paragraphs. One Note would be the work-around tool, but Google Docs trumps SharePoint here.

What Are The Alternatives?

If your collaboration strategy is largely document-based, and you don’t have strong requirements for records management, then there is little to rival SharePoint for its range of capabilities and integration with Office. Version control, workflow integration and metadata are all strong. The improved integration between social and more structured collaboration is also attractive, allowing a freer flow between discussions, managing and document editing. In practice, however, very few organisations manage to go beyond using team sites as glorified network drives, so much of this capability is wasted. Rivals such as Google Enterprise and Huddle are therefore making inroads, offering a superior user experience and much better mobile support than SharePoint, but losing the familiarity of the Office way of doing things. For those looking at a cloud-based solution, SharePoint 2013 via Office 365 is likely to be competitively priced from an IT perspective, but organisations need to carefully evaluate the total cost of adoption and be realistic about how much functionality will really be exploited.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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