SharePoint 2013: What’s Different?

In June we presented ‘SharePoint 2013: What’s different?’ to a group of intranet and web content managers for J.Boye. Focusing on intranet-related new features

We just repeated the session at the excellent annual J.Boye conference held in Aarhus, Denmark. The slides are embedded below with additional notes to follow. As always, you had to be there but hope the summary proves useful. Enjoy!

Presentation notes

Here is a very brief summary of the talk:


  • SharePoint has been on quite a journey as it has evolved from the early days of document management and a basic portal user interface to the product that it is today. Each release has seen adaptations to fit as different market trends have emerged, grown and shrunk.
  • The landscape has also changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Many of the content channels that are most popular today didn’t exist 10 years ago
  • Intranets are also evolving. There are four archetypes of solution that fall under the umbrella of the intranet:
    1. Publishing: the traditional broadcast mechanism for communications across the org
    2. Fulfillment: Self-service forms and workflow processes to complete tasks
    3. Search: retrieving content to support decision-making, tasks and actions
    4. Conversation: discussions with peers to share ideas and co-create content
  • The challenge facing many intranet projects is that ownership often resides in just one area
  • And the challenge facing all intranets is that emerging trends are seeing all enterprise software starting to focus on delivering capabilities in these four areas. Will the intranet drive the change? If not, it will likely be replaced by software that overlaps and makes the intranet irrelevant.

Within the context of these, trends, there are three areas of SharePoint that have fundamentally changed in SharePoint 2013: Content, Conversations and Location.

What’s different with SharePoint: Content

  • Web design shift: New and improved tools such as the Design Manager have made web content management far more enterprise-grade in SharePoint 2013. The removal of the design view from SharePoint Designer was controversial but signalled intent. This release marks the end of SharePoint being great for hacking quick and dirty solutions by amateurs. Non-experts are encouraged to stick within the confines of the web browser. Leave the true design work to the professionals
  • Information architecture shift: Much more emphasis on using metadata to help drive navigation structures and automatic publishing of content, particularly thanks to the introduction of the Content Search web part. Broadcast communications should be written once, published everywhere, with minimal manual tweaking
  • Content editing shift: Significant improvements to cross-browser support, including at least being able to edit in Datasheet views within non-IE browsers. Office Web Apps is also now more integrated. And finally, somewhat slowly, we are seeing the arrival of dedicated mobile applications including the SharePoint Newsfeed across the different mobile device platforms. Still waiting for a tablet-version of Office…
  • Document management shift: The coming storm between the convenience of file sync/share – as demonstrated by the popularity of tools such as Dropbox – and traditional enterprise content management systems. The likely solution is increasing separation of the process from the document. That has implications for lifecycle policies and retention management.

What’s different with SharePoint: Conversations

  • Communities: Discussion boards grow up into full site templates that pivot content around the conversation. Familiar consumer trends included such as the ability to use gamification techniques (badges and ranks) to identify most frequent contributors. The focus – fast collaborative decision-making
  • Newsfeeds: A massive improvement over previous versions, with the ability to follow sites, documents, people and topics and see it all aggregated into a single stream with content previews. Highlights the often unspoken benefit of enterprise social tools – improving individual productivity. But with the newsfeed pivoting content and activities around the individual, what value the intranet home page?
  • Social search: Search features and capabilities have had a significant architectural rewrite thanks to the FAST acquisition. From a conversation perspective, starting to see much more context around search results, including threaded conversations and higher visibility of peoples’ skills and expertise
  • But… what about Yammer? The acquisition puts a big question mark over SharePoint’s built-in social features, because Yammer is technically superior. Microsoft has been clear about their recommendation – use Yammer. But the decisions is not always straightforward. Yammer is online only – data is stored in the cloud, and hosted on US-based servers in San Francisco. It simply may not be possible to use Yammer under certain EU-based regulatory conditions. Also, integration is coming between Yammer and other SharePoint and Office features, but will be an ongoing process for sometime yet. For example, Yammer conversations will not yet show-up in SharePoint search results.

What’s different with SharePoint: Location

  • Whilst a lot of location-based talk is around mobile working scenarios, there’s also the small matter of the servers where the data is stored. This is the first version to clearly position two options from the start – on-premise versus online. On-premise is an architectural beast to implement. Clearly intended for large-scale and/or business-critical deployments with new ‘product line architecture’ being issued by Microsoft. The days of a server under the desk growing adoption bottom-up are long gone. Smaller deployments are clearly being steered to consider online first. And online means quarterly updates with ongoing improvements. At a basic level, it’s the difference between choosing when to upgrade versus being told when it will happen.
  • It may not be a simple choice between online and on-premise. For many, the initial move may involve a hybrid scenario with some content hosted locally and other content moving to the cloud. And then there is the growing demand for enterprise app stores. Solutions may increasingly plug into other platforms and development environments.
  • A key industry trend is that increasingly people and content are going to be distributed across multiple locations. This is a fundamentally different architecture and environment to the one that SharePoint, and intranet platforms in general, was designed for

Wrap-up: Planning

  • Vendors are going to continue updating and adapting their solutions to meet changing market demands. What matters is aligning the pace of change with the organisation’s needs. The decision process is a lot more involved. Previously, it may simply have been deciding to deploy an intranet and choosing the platform to run it on.  But as intranets evolve beyond publishing to cover the four types of application: publishing, fulfillment, search and conversations, you need to have a good understanding of what features and capabilities are right to deploy now versus later
  • And whilst sometimes it can feel frustrating that vendors keep moving forward, the reality is that these are fundamental trends that will not be exist. The big four – mobile devices, social media, big data and cloud computing – are all connected and enabling fundamentally new ways of working that will ultimately disrupt the workplace. Change is coming to all organisations.
  • To summarise, what’s really different in SharePoint 2013 from an intranet and web content perspective:
    1. Content: maturing into an enterprise-grade platform for managing content of all types, but also straddling the file sync/share world
    2. Conversations: are still emerging in terms of tools and choices but can dramatically disrupt productivity and decision hierarchies
    3. Location: now two fundamental choices: on-premise and online deployments have very different planning needs and requirements

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

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