Should Sharepoint 2013 be on your intranet roadmap?
Over the last 10 years, SharePoint has grown to be the dominant platform for intranets. With the next version due out around the end of the year, it seems timely to ask if intranet managers should be pushing to embrace it, either as an upgrade or a switch from another technology.
Much is being written about the technology improvements in SharePoint 2013, but in this special guest post for Intranetizen, Sam Marshall from ClearBox Consulting takes a look at it from a business perspective and asks: are the improvements compelling enough to take on the disruption that goes with an upgrade?
Current SharePoint users may do a side-by-side comparison between 2013 and earlier versions and see upgrading as a no-brainer as it is undoubtedly an improvement. However, the drivers for the original decision to go with SharePoint may no longer be in place, and user expectations are evolving rapidly. The wise organization should be looking at its wider digital workplace and deciding if SharePoint will be a good fit.
Why you should
For site owners and end users, the most visible change to 2013 will be the social and community aspects. Status updates and discussions have been overhauled so that they work in a contemporary way, with the ability to follow hashtags, refer to people with @name conventions, like posts etc. (see screenshot).
The concept of communities is directly supported with a new template that highlights trending topics and topcontributors. It even brings in an element of gamification with badges, attainment levels and a points system (though as gamification takes a lot of pre-planning, there’s a risk that this may be too-readily available to site owners).
The out of the box navigation has also improved. Instead of My Sites, users have a series of hubs:
- Newsfeed – like a Facebook wall
- Sky drive – a personal document storage, like Dropbox
- Sites – a directory of sites you follow and your organization’s main portals (see screenshot)
Intranet managers and site owners will also see some changes that will make their lives easier. Governance is often seen as a challenge with SharePoint, but with 2013 most of the functionality needed is now in place. In particular, a request process for new sites is straightforward to implement so that you can easily add workflows and a site deletion policy. Governance will doubtless continue to be a challenge, but no more so than with other intranets.
I’m undecided about the benefits of the new App Store model. It may appeal to developers, but for site owners it will initially just look like the web-part gallery re-branded. Let’s hope that Microsoft manage the central app store well and it becomes a useful marketplace for third-party add-ons too.
If you’re already on SharePoint you will also appreciate the numerous smaller fixes, ones that seem small but can become major irritants. For example, pasting from Word into the text editor used to send the formatting haywire with hidden codes, but this has now (they say) been fixed.
Overall, if you’re committed to the SharePoint platform and social is a strong part of your future plans, then 2013 will be a worthwhile upgrade. Indeed, the frustration may well be the delay between the product launch and its actual deployment in your organization. If you’re thinking of transitioning to SharePoint then it offers strengths in team collaboration and a broadly integrated set of tools that also reaches into Office applications and real-time communication through Lync. Office 365 as a cloud-based option is also more appealing because much more of the on-premises functionality is now supported.
Why you shouldn’t
What SharePoint represents is the ‘party bucket’ approach to intranets. It gives you a lot as a starting point, but it’s not necessarily wholesome or a good match to everyone’s needs.
Fundamental drawbacks to SharePoint still exist:
Firstly, the vision for what SharePoint is for is not well articulated, leaving companies to figure this out for themselves. In Turn this can leave stakeholders feeling overwhelmed by the options and deployments that never live up to initial hopes.
Secondly, as a content management system very little is offered as a starting point for communicators. There is still no ‘news centre’ facility that someone used to web CMS would recognise; the building blocks are much more basic than that.
Thirdly, the user experience is still patchy. Newer parts like communities work relatively well, but the wiki tool soon requires arcane markup codes, and the generic ribbon exposes far too much complexity for scenarios such as blog writing.
My other main reservation is around SharePoint’s support for mobile devices. There are some improvements – for example, you can design pages for different ‘channels’, such as laptop, handheld and tablet. However, when you view the mobile version of a team site, all the visual context such as images and descriptive text is lost. If this already seems rather primitive – think how it will look by 2016. Microsoft have missed an opportunity to partner the launch with a series of compelling mobile apps, optimised for handheld screens and a toolkit that allows site owners to easily create a rich experience for their users.If you don’t currently use SharePoint, there are certainly benefits to avoiding a big package approach. Some companies such as AEP say they have achieved much more at lower cost by building in-house. Small to medium organizations may also find that more focussed intranet packages give a much richer starting point (see Intranetizen’s vendor profiles). Mixing and matching tools allows you to add in functionality as you need it. However, this comes with its own price as each tool can end up as a silo, particularly if some are cloud-based.
Wait and see?
A good argument for a wait-and-see approach is that your intranet should be driven by your strategy, not Microsoft’s release schedule. Although your IT department may face pressures to stay in step due to support contracts, there is also the business stakeholder view. One LinkedIn commentator reacted to the SharePoint 2013 announcement with “we’re only just moving to 2010, the last thing we need is more change”, and they’re right, people need time to adapt and migration can be disruptive. It is still rare, for example, to see SharePoint 2007 team sites used to their full extent, with many ending up as Network Drive 2.0.
A second argument for waiting is about SharePoint’s own future, to do with the post-launch update cycle. Three years to plan and release leaves each version with gaps compared to rapidly-moving user expectations. SharePoint 2007 was weak on blogs and wikis when they were at their peak, 2010 missed the Facebook/Twitter wave. 2013 is too weak on mobile support.
Google, Facebook and others have moved away from the large release model on onto smaller incremental upgrades (much as Intranetizen have argued should happen with intranets too). There is speculation that Microsoft will do quarterly updates for the Office 365 version of SharePoint , but it isn’t clear how significant these will be or whether they expect enterprises to commit to such an upgrade cycle too.
Fundamentally, SharePoint is starting to suffer big-system inertia, leaving it exposed to permanently looking outdated. This in turn creates pressure for unsustainable ad-hoc and third party add-ons to fill the gaps, much as we saw with unofficial Yammer adoption alongside SharePoint 2010. There’s much to be sai, then, for waiting to see if Microsoft can bring back enough agility to overcome this before making a decision.
Find out more: this blog post is a summary of a longer set of blogs by ClearBox consulting, see the full SharePoint 2013 for intranet managers series.