If you’ve been thinking about migrating to SharePoint 2013, but still aren’t sure if it’s entirely worth it, check out the following helpful series on SharePoint 2013.
The idea is to make the migration process as smooth as possible, and show you exactly what to expect when taking the plunge and switching to SharePoint 2013.
In this introduction, we'll take a look at the new features in SharePoint 2013 that could make the migration worth it.
Articles in this Series 1. SharePoint 2013 New Features: Should You Move?
2. Migrate to SharePoint 2013 - Supported Upgrade Paths
3. Designing a SharePoint 2013 Architecture
4. How to Build a SharePoint Migration Plan
5. Building a SharePoint Governance Plan Before Migrating
6. Predicting Post-SharePoint 2013 Migration Issues
What Is SharePoint 2013?
Let’s begin with the basics: what is SharePoint 2013? According to Microsoft:
SharePoint 2013 is a collaboration environment that organizations of all sizes can use to increase the efficiency of business processes. Its sites provide secure environments that administrators can configure to provide personalized access to documents and other information.
In other words, if we had to compare it to its earlier iterations, SharePoint 2013 is an improved collaborative space with a user-friendly UI, improved search functions and much more flexibility in terms of customization and personalization.
What’s New in SharePoint 2013?
Before we start looking at the new features in SharePoint 2013, I should mention that it’s not always necessary to move to the newer and shinier version of SharePoint. It’s important to evaluate the time, effort and resources required before jumping into a such a big project.
I have listed some of the new features that I consider significant enough for a business to justify an upgrade to SharePoint 2013, but in the end, it will always come down to – “does this help our business or is it just cooler?”
The Design Manager
The Design Manager is more than just a new feature, it’s an entire new web-based tool to help you manage Master Pages, Composed Looks, Devices, Reusable style templates and more.
The tool helps broaden the audience of designers that can work with SharePoint. Granted, it doesn’t replace a competent and knowledgeable SharePoint designer who understands the ins and outs of SharePoint, but it helps in making life a little easier for administrators in their daily tasks.
A perfect example, is how it simplifies transforming an HTML page into a Master Page. This could change the way teams work together, because now you could have a designer create an HTML and CSS design for you and pass it on to your team. They could then use the Design Manager to integrate the HTML into a functional master page.
The tool can also provide teams with a way to choose specific master pages for different devices such as iPhone, Windows Phone, Surface and iPad. This can prove very useful if it required within your organizations to make SharePoint available on all devices.
While there is so much more that can be done with the Design Manager, like Display Templates, what I listed above is what I think could best justify an upgrade to SharePoint 2013. I’ll discuss Display Templates a little later with the new Content Search Web Part.
HTML5, CSS3 and More
Currently, what’s most important for an organization’s collaborative space, is cross browser performance and device support. We are at the end of an era where choosing between Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome were our only considerations and thankfully, SharePoint 2013 works great on all these browsers.
With the device channels in the Design Manager for device support and the native use of HTML5, SharePoint 2013 helps jump start collaboration on multiple browsers and devices. I think we can all agree that, these updates are a step in the right direction.
Community Sites and Community Portal
In SharePoint 2013, there is a new site template called Community Site, which is one of my favorite additions. This is basically a space that promotes discussions between members in forum-like manner.
There is also some gamification integrated within the site, like assigning badges and points to the more active members that answer the questions of others participants.
I have often seen organizations requiring “Power Users” for tools in the company. They’re generally called Subject Matter Experts, or SME. But how do we find them? How do we get answers? With Community Sites, they’ll be much easier to identify.
What’s interesting with this type of site is that it provides an easy way for people within a company to ask questions based on the topic, and use popular social techniques like “@” mentions and “#” hashtags to tag categories.
Next, comes the Community Portal Site Collection template, which automatically aggregates Community Sites for easy viewing and access. A concept that is similar to LinkedIn groups.
Community Sites (Groups) are created for each subject matter, followed by the Portal, which can then be used to see and access all sites. Within each group, you will likely have more engagement through discussions, which will help to identify potential SMEs in the company.
The new Search Experience
The Search Experience is SharePoint 2013’s focus, as far as I can see. You might have seen that FAST Search no longer exists, and now its technology has been integrated within Search 2013. It’s important to note though that there are differences between the Standard and Enterprise editions.
The most noticeable difference, and clearly a game changer, is the new “Continuous Crawl” option for search, which always keeps the index up to date. Constantly crawling means that you can always leverage the search, and best of all, you can always trust the results.
The Content Search Web Part
The power of the new search experience is apparent when used in combination with the new Content Search Web Part. This newest addition is kind of like a more mature Content Query Web Part, which I have been using for many years and have always loved.
Despite the Content Query Web Part being a great feature, the issues we ran into most often in the past with SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010, is trying to aggregate content from multiple locations, and displaying it all in one place. To accomplish this, we had to style the web part, and XSLT is a difficult language to master.
Luckily, the Content Search Web Part solves that problem. It can be used to create a search-based query, using a much more user-friendly interface, or advanced query building, to aggregate as much content as needed. This works great with the continuous crawl, as the results show up almost instantly.
In earlier iterations of SharePoint, we would have to create “templates” of designs for the results of the Content Query Web Part by using item styles and the XSLT language.
Now, we can leverage Display Templates in the new Design Manager to create HTML and JS friendly “templates”, which can be used by a few Web Parts, like the Content Search.
So why is this noteworthy when considering a migration, you ask?
Well, for starters, the sheer power of the search engine considerably changes the game, as it can go as far as crawl emails (if used with Exchange 2013) and have it display in the results. Imagine being able to work within one Web Application, and have another Web Application query and show the results for partners in an extranet.
There is so much more to learn about the new Search that isn’t covered here, but the changes I’ve listed are the biggest game changers.
Apps and the App Store
As expected, SharePoint 2013 introduces the concept of apps into the SharePoint experience. Now, an organization can create its own private App Store, with external applications that interact with other in-house applications. With these changes, every user can now add an app on their SharePoint Site, and easily access other applications.
For example, let’s say an airline company is building a .NET application to helps users book a flight. They could host this App in the cloud (Azure), and make a SharePoint 2013 app that would simply display this .NET application within their sites. The airline company could then publish their App to the App Store, and allow anyone to use it within their SharePoint Intranet.
This opens a world of possibilities for organizations to create and share new apps!
However, it will only be as good as the quantity, variety and quality of the apps available. This is the type of change that will mature with time.
Web Content Management (WCM)
The overall experience in combining the Apps, the new Search, the Devices and the Design Manager enhances the ability to manage the publishing of a pages’ environment. But, SharePoint 2013 also offers a new way to handle the navigation, through Managed Metadata.
This helps to easily manage the structure of the navigation, but only one Term Set can be used in One Site Collection at a time. Despite this, it does have one huge advantage: friendly URLs.
Visitors will no longer see long, complicated URLs like /pages/mycustompage.aspx – the experience will be much simpler, like /AboutUs, and that’s it. This aspect is particularly interesting for Intranets, Extranets and Public Facing sites.
Check out this comparison guide if you’re looking for a more complete list of the differences between SharePoint 2010 and 2013.
Is SharePoint 2013 Worth the Migration?
The many features listed above have incredible business value and, in my opinion, should convince any IT administrator to take the plunge and migrate to SharePoint 2013.
There are also several other new features and changes within SharePoint 2013, like BI, Reporting, Records Management and more, that have not been explored in this article, but these changes alone are probably not worth the migration in most cases.
NEXT ARTICLE IN THE SERIES 2. Migrate to SharePoint 2013 - Supported Upgrade Paths
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