It has finally happened: The cloak of secrecy has been lifted and the functional features and design aspects of SharePoint 2013 have been announced. People are now aware of the platform changes, the new interface, the app store, what will be removed in the next generation of the product, and the massive amount of new functionality that will be available.
Like any new software version, SharePoint 2013 will now be subjected to the feedback from the “market”; that is, people who will evaluate it and comment on whether Microsoft has helped—or hurt—their clients with the changes being made or introduced. In my view, it’s a “help” and a move in the right direction; the question is, how do you prepare yourself for this new world of Microsoft technology?
Now that word is out on potential release dates for 2013, the onslaught begins among IT managers and staff around the globe with the looming question: “When should we upgrade?” That is the genesis for this article, as it is truly a loaded question with multiple options and yet-to-be-defined theories on best practices. Though Microsoft has published an upgrade model for those playing with the 2013 preview, there is little guidance in the planning and governance of such as a process at this point.
What we do know is, as SharePoint has evolved extensively over the past 11 years, so too have the business requirements, features and benefits of each version. With SharePoint 2013 waiting in the wings, businesses will now be tasked with making the tough decisions about aligning SharePoint to their strategic plan and road map. Companies will once again be faced with the issue of knowing when to upgrade their environments and how to make the right choices regarding ownership, buy-in, training and rollout. The question is, where do you begin the cycle of evaluating what you have, or what you need to move forward with SharePoint? This article offers some suggestions on how to addresses exactly that.
Every American knows what the State of the Union is, the annual address where the President reports on the condition of the nation and outlines his or her legislative agenda and priorities for the coming year. From my perspective, this is the opportunity to have your own corporate SharePoint State of the Union, to bring your staff together and have the exact same conversation. I am coining that phrase here and now, and have already put together an abstract for conference talks in 2013, so stay tuned!
To begin the conversation, bring your business unit leaders and as many senior staff possible together in order to discuss the current state of your environment. Be sure that these people are the decision makers, people who are aware of the current state and can provide insight toward the technical road map and plan for SharePoint. Involving the wrong people would be a critical mistake at this point. The goal of the meeting is to get a baseline for your corporate usage. Once you have that, only then can you begin your analysis of SharePoint 2010 or 2013 and determine whether an upgrade is right for your business, when it will be right for your business, and who will be required to get it done right.
Start the meeting by stating your purpose: to discuss the current state of your usage of SharePoint. Note that I have specifically not used the word “environment” here, which is typically used as a more technical term to discuss infrastructure, and you don’t want you attendees mixing up the message and purpose of the meeting. Additionally, you are potentially trying to uncover some of the unknowns about how SharePoint is being used by the business, so using more generic terminology will promote a better conversation.
Begin by asking the questions that will formulate the picture of your usage; ask your attendees one by one how they are using SharePoint, how it impacts the operation of their department on a daily basis, and what custom applications they may have built to help along the way. Note that a custom application means different things to different people. Some believe that a custom view is a new application, while others will see their custom-built Web Part as their customized piece. Either way, this application inventory is a very important step as you begin to consider upgrading.
Now that you have gone around the room and discussed usage, everyone will have heard different scenarios and expectations of SharePoint. This conversation typically includes many common scenarios and a few departments that are doing extraordinary things with SharePoint, all of which are important to long-term governance and adoption, regardless of the version you are using or looking to upgrade to. Be sure to ask some tough questions through the conversation, such as why SharePoint is being used in a certain way, or how a Web Part was developed.
Hopefully the discussion generated some conversation between teams about how SharePoint is being used, and has provided a strong common understanding for the needs of each department. Ensure that you have someone taking notes through the meeting to capture the pertinent information. With your usage now defined, adjourn the meeting by reviewing your goals and some of the outcomes. Highlight the most innovative and creative solutions, and stress that there is no right or wrong way to use SharePoint; you are just doing an evaluation to get a sense for how to move forward.
Next, gather your technical team to discuss the usage of the technology from both a client and server perspective. This will include questions about the current versions of standard programs and servers internally, such as Office, SQL, Windows, Internet Explorer and Active Directory. You may uncover another project underway to upgrade one of these products. If so, you will have to navigate through their priorities and ensure that competing projects do not overwhelm your resources. At a minimum, the outcomes of this meeting will provide a good picture of where your organization is from a technical perspective.
With these two pieces in place, you can begin to formulate your direction for SharePoint. In my next article, I’ll discuss how to take these elements forward and measure your corporate goals and objectives against the SharePoint product road map.
Eric is the EVP of Systems Integration for Concatenate, a software firm focused on maximizing SharePoint through product innovation and systems integration based in Toronto. You can reach Eric by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @rizinsights. Read his other SharePoint thoughts on his blog at www.ericriz.com.