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Is SharePoint Trustworthy For Business-Critical Processes?

With workflow improvements in SharePoint 2013, more companies may consider it. Here's what else to consider in Microsoft's latest version.
Claims-based Authentication. SharePoint 2013 offers OOTB Claims Authentication using Open Authorization 2.0 (OAuth). OAuth is an industry-standard security protocol that provides temporary redirection-based authentication. This means that SharePoint 2013 will let users give apps access to SharePoint resources (sites, lists, items, etc.) without the app having to obtain, store or submit the users' credentials. This allows for improved authentication between server-to-server and app authentication.

This differs from the default Active Directory (AD) authentication model and will be the default authentication model going forward. In the AutoCAD file-comparison app example cited above, the app would be able to take the files for comparison and insert the compared file back into the document library without having to use or verify the user's credentials.

OAuth allows for different credentialing systems to be integrated more easily into SharePoint. For example, if OAuth credentials are established with Live ID accounts, this could be used for authentication purposes in SharePoint. Because these features are so new, it is recommended that your IT team gets up to speed on the capabilities of OAuth 2.0 and what it means in the world of SharePoint.

Search. Microsoft has embedded FAST search into SharePoint 2013. In prior versions, FAST was a secondary search engine that had to be purchased. With the combined SharePoint search and FAST search architecture, new capabilities include the ability for visual refiners to more quickly get to the right results, and a new "hover panel" that shows details about a file when a cursor is over it.

Workflow. Features such as support for calls to Web services, REST, visual workflow design, looping and the calling of other workflows are among the improvements that weren't supported in prior versions. That meant SharePoint-based workflow would often require Visual Studio development or third-party workflow products.

These new features mean more workflow operations can be performed by non-technical business analysts and power users. Under the covers, Microsoft introduced a new workflow platform for SharePoint 2013 that can work in parallel with SharePoint 2010 workflows. The new platform, built on top of .NET Framework 4.5, is substantially improved and includes a Workflow Manager for better orchestration across a company. These capabilities should let companies use workflow for more advanced processing such as case management and human resource on- and off-boarding, with integration to third-party service bureaus and other more complex requirements.

So who should consider SharePoint 2013, and who should avoid it? Walton Smith of Booze Allen & Hamilton, a speaker at SPC 2012, offered these three practical guidelines:

-- Companies using SP 2001 or 2003 won't be ready for 2013 and will need more time to prepare for the changes.

-- SP 2007 should bypass SP 2010 and jump to SP 2013.

-- SP 2010 users need a compelling, appropriate use case to justify an immediate upgrade. Smith also recommends introducing some SharePoint 2013 features using the cloud-based option, which is less risky than doing a big quick upgrade.

SharePoint was once seen as not much more than a simple team collaboration site. Those days are gone, and more companies will use SharePoint for true business-critical applications. Law firms such as Clifford Chance are heavily leveraging SharePoint, Merck relies upon SharePoint for business planning and United Airlines uses it in a strategic capacity for procurement. Over the next two years, we'll see a collection of success (and horror) stories coming from the masses, so make sure to take controlled and managed steps in implementing SharePoint 2013.

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