SharePoint zealots are getting smarter about the platform's malleability and also about when not to use it for certain applications. For example, we're seeing more companies use the platform for public-facing websites, contract life cycle management, case management, accounts payable repositories and human resource portals for on- and off-boarding of employees.
On the flip side, savvy SharePoint vets recognize that it isn't very good in supporting transactional applications such as inventory management, warehouse operations and general ledger applications. In those cases, SharePoint may serve as a portal into those systems. Microsoft has a new partner program called "Business-Critical SharePoint" aimed at getting it deeply integrated with line-of-business systems such as SAP, Oracle Financials, Salesforce.com and other transactional systems.
As IT leaders think about their SharePoint strategy, here's a look at the most important changes in SharePoint 2013, broken down by the most likely benefit to line of business teams, end users and the IT organization.
Line of Business
Compliance. One of the key new features in SharePoint 2013 is the e-discovery capability, which allows for more extensive searching and better legal holds of content inside and outside of SharePoint. For example, SharePoint's e-discovery now allows for legal holds to be placed on content that resides in users' Exchange mailboxes, file systems and other locations. In the past, this information couldn't be locked down. This information can then be exported for e-discovery purposes. Additionally, SharePoint 2013 now has the ability to lock down a site rather than just the content in a site through Site Policies.
Collaboration. This version offers improved people-finding and better ability to share content and links and to track activity based on people or content. A big change will be when Microsoft incorporates its newly acquired Yammer functionality. Its roadmap for Yammer includes single sign-on and more document management and activity features.
The Cloud. Microsoft stepped into the cloud a few years ago by offering SharePoint through Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). SharePoint 2013 offers a simpler approach. Cloud-based SharePoint can help with collaboration sites accessed by employees as well as external people, such as suppliers.
Improved Website Management. Though many organizations use SharePoint 2010 for public-facing websites, it is rather clunky in terms of page rendering, navigation and search engine optimization. Improvements in SharePoint 2013 include letting Web teams more easily create readable URLs (such as www.microsoft.com/sharepoint), incorporate search engine optimization tags directly into the configuration (without XML or coding) and supporting catalog management. Microsoft now also allows third-party software to be used for design layout.
Work Management Services. Those familiar with workflow management in SharePoint are painfully aware of the distributed collection of tasks lists that pervade the product. SharePoint is composed of sites, and each site typically has a task list associated with it. But seeing a consolidated list of all tasks across all sites has required custom coding or third-party utilities. SharePoint 2013 creates one place to go for task assignments for a user to take action on a particular document or report.
Improved Mobile Support. SharePoint 2013 improves capabilities for device channels, push notifications, HTML 5 support and in general has a more polished and less painful experience for the mobile workforce. For example, in prior versions, users could not edit or add documents from a mobile device; these functions are now available.
The IT Organization
Apps. Microsoft has at last immersed itself in the app model with SharePoint 2013. Apps in this context are add-on components that work outside of the SharePoint farm, with an integration link that binds the app to that instance of SharePoint. For example, an advanced document comparison service for AutoCAD files could be created in a marketplace. The app could be installed into the SharePoint farm. Once implemented a user could then highlight multiple documents in a SharePoint document library. These could then be sent to the marketplace app for comparison, and the compared AutoCAD file could be sent back directly into SharePoint.
Microsoft has launched an App Marketplace that app developers can use, or they can offer apps that reside on their own servers. It is important to note that IT will sometimes need to run a blended system, where part of the code is running on an external app and part on the SharePoint farm. For example, Timer Jobs and Service Applications within a SharePoint farm cannot be redirected to an app, so applications that require such capabilities will require a blended system.