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SharePoint 2013-a new way to work together?

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According to the Microsoft SharePoint product website, "SharePoint 2013 is the new way to work together." So what is so new about SharePoint 2013? Will it really change how we work together? The short answer is no, probably not for the readers of an article like this. However, the longer answer (for many people) is that it may make their jobs a little easier, and those who haven't really invested heavily in SharePoint might want to take another look.

As a TAP (Technology Adoption Program) member and a Microsoft Managed Partner working with TAP customers to implement and upgrade SharePoint 2013, Portal Solutions has been working with SharePoint for a good while now. To understand the way SharePoint 2013 may be a better way to work together, it's necessary to understand key areas of improvement over previous generations.

Area of improvement #1: search

Enterprise search capabilities—like search recommendations, "did you mean" clarifications, and even previous personal searches—may be expected in sophisticated (and often expensive) search platforms. In SharePoint 2013, those are provided as part of a new core search that takes advantage of some of the best things FAST search was capable of, and quite a few lessons learned from the extensive enterprise use of SharePoint's former search offering.

When an organization plans and implements effective search verticals (like people, videos and conversations) and query rules, the new SharePoint search experience may finally be the search solution that helps users find what they are looking for. Complementing the tunable and highly scalable search architecture, a new analytics processing engine provides more personalized and relevant results each time the user searches.

The story just gets better as search results are returned. Additional features also help further refine or verify the results. Deep refiners (those wonderful options on the left) show valid counts and make it very easy for users to filter down their search until they find what they want.

The results that are displayed after a search are also more robust and provide complete previews (as long as the user is running Office Web Apps) via the search result hover panels. Those previews enable a user to quickly verify which similarly named document might be the one for which they are looking. The hover panel even shows deep links where it found the key query term within the document (such as a PowerPoint slide title reference), allowing the user to find even more quickly specific content within a document.

Could this be a new way of working together? Probably not. However, for many organizations that haven't quite gotten search "right," this might be the opportunity for which they have been waiting, and certainly it may be the search technology for which they have been praying.

Area of improvement #2: collaboration

The social features of SharePoint 2013 and Yammer offer a comprehensive and compelling combined offering that really does hit the social enterprise nail on its head. While SharePoint 2013 offers a plethora of social capabilities-from robust activity streams to significantly improved discussion boards-it's the way it ties those features together with existing (and often familiar) SharePoint content that makes it truly valuable for many enterprises.

As an example, the community sites of SharePoint 2013 offer the same robust capabilities a SharePoint team site offers, but with added features such as easier onboarding for new members, a pre-configured rollup of community discussions along with the ability to mark posts with "best reply," reputation management and member rollups, report to moderator capabilities and report management capabilities, ratings, likes, private group conversations and more. Instead of just the community features of great social enterprise tools like Yammer, users get the easy customization, control and manageability of SharePoint.

Each site and the content within it uses the new (and simpler) sharing and permission management capabilities that make collaborating with others a much easier process. Immediate visibility is given on who has access to a document while also enabling users who don't have the rights to administer permissions the same familiar interface for making permission requests on behalf of other users (or themselves).

While improvements to collaboration  are based significantly on the improved social capabilities of SharePoint, there are quite a few other notable improvements to how people can work with one another more seamlessly, or with less friction. The enablement of drag and drop in SharePoint 2013 is a big step in the right direction. No longer does it take multiple clicks or require a specific browser to upload documents, folders or content easily.

Those improvements to social, sharing and uploading enable more seamless collaboration and may enable greater adoption for many enterprises. For those who are seeing resistance to technology-enhanced collaboration, it might just be that the friction and intrusive nature of previous collaboration systems (including SharePoint) added too much effort and confusion into the process. While SharePoint 2013 isn't perfect, it's certainly a step in the right direction.

A new way of working together?

This was only a review of two areas of improvement in SharePoint 2013. The reality is that there are a great many additions to SharePoint 2013 that impact the way we work, and for the better. I wouldn't call it a revolutionary step for most people and enterprises, but it certainly is a positive and significant one.

From the app approach Microsoft has taken (everything in SharePoint is now an app) to the improvements around specific workloads like workflow, records management, Web content management and developer/designer support, one thing remains consistent: SharePoint is becoming more integral and useful in our everyday office work.

[Authors Note: This article does not differentiate enterprise level features from standard or foundational features of SharePoint 2013.]

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