Many organizations are making hard decisions about whether to move from their existing SharePoint environment to the latest version of the platform. Unfortunately, the decisions don't stop there -- this latest release from Microsoft is causing many organizations to seriously consider their near-term and long-term strategies for the cloud, as well. While there is definitely a lot of hype around "the cloud," the reality for the SharePoint platform is that this decision is in front of us all: do we remain on premises or move to the cloud? And is now even the time to move to SharePoint 2013 at all, or do we augment what we have today? There are many options available, from architectures to hosting options, and from social collaboration solutions to workflow tools. As Tony Byrne from analyst group Real Story Group puts it, we can "extend SharePoint, supplement it, or complement it." All of these possibilities give CIOs and their SharePoint administrators options and flexibility in how they design their platforms, allowing them to focus on the needs of their business.
These are not easy decisions. I talk with customers regularly who are trying to decide how to move forward, and my advice is purposely broad: make your decisions based on the needs of the business, not based on industry buzz. One of my most popular SharePoint webinars and presentations is on how organizations can get the most out of their existing SharePoint deployments (usually 2010). That is not to say that there are not compelling reasons to move to 2013, but is more of a testament of a strong 2010 platform -- and the need for organizations to really understand what it means to move into the cloud, and to appropriately set expectations for what SharePoint can and cannot do within each version.
The following outlines some of the advantages and disadvantages of each, hopefully helping you to better understand which option may work best for your own business needs:
- Remain on premises using SharePoint 2010
There is nothing wrong with making the most of your existing SharePoint investments. Let's face it -- SP2010 is a stable platform, and may be delivering solid value to your business. While you should definitely weigh the costs of managing the infrastructure, maintaining the necessary support and development expertise in house to keep things running, and any other 3rd party or educational costs, the numbers may lean in the direction of keeping things where they are -- at least for the time being.
As your end users begin asking for features and capabilities not available out of the box -- such as social collaboration, or deeper line of business application integrations -- make sure you adequately identify the costs of enhance the existing toolset, either through custom development or through the partner ecosystem. For example, solutions from partners like NewsGator, Neudesic, and Attini provide fully integrated social tools that work natively with SharePoint. Or you can subscribe to Yammer, which provides some light integrations into the platform, allowing you to push content one-way from SharePoint to Yammer, as well as to embed your Yammer feed into team sites.
I do recognize that there are still some customers on older versions of SharePoint, such as 2007 or 2003 (I haven't run across many SPS2001 installations for a while). In these cases, I'd say that there is even less of a reason to stick with your current system, and to consider jumping ahead to 2013.
- Move to Office 365
While there may not yet be complete parity between on prem and Office365 versions of SharePoint, you can bet there soon will be. When you bundle the power of SharePoint with the #1 enterprise email platform in the world and the most economically-priced communication tools out there, how can you not see the value of moving to the cloud? But the real story here is not as much about the capability of the solutions as their delivery method: is your business goal to develop and maintain SharePoint hardware and software expertise, or to run your business? Do you want to constantly test and deploy patches, updates, and new features -- or let the system handle these remotely? That is the power of cloud.
Of course, for some organizations, the lack of parity between platforms is key. Many companies extended SharePoint to meet their unique business requirements, using it as their central collaboration hub. The costs of re-architecting these platforms in the cloud (possibly using Windows Azure) may be expensive, or not yet possible due to limitations of Azure or the SharePoint APIs. Before you run head-first into talks with Office365, take the time to understand what workloads, customizations, and features are essential to your business so that you can accurately map them to Office365's available features.
- Move to on-premises SharePoint 2013
Microsoft recognizes that a percentage of organizations will never be able to move SharePoint activities to the cloud -- whether because of compliance and regulatory issues, or out of perceived (or real) data security issues. In these cases, there will continue to be an on premises version of SharePoint available.
As with organizations who plan to stay with their 2010 environments, there are advantages (customization and integration flexibility) and disadvantages (slower update/new feature release cadence from Microsoft). As you review your SharePoint strategy, make sure to discuss your requirements and concerns with your Microsoft rep, as they do listen to feedback from customers on which features and capabilities within SharePoint Online (office365) should be prioritized for release to the SharePoint 2013 on premises version.
- Maintain a hybrid environment, with both SharePoint on-premises and Office 365
Hybrid will likely be a popular solution for the next few years as the online platform matures, and as organizations slowly migrate their on prem assets toward the cloud model. Some advice for organizations considering this model: be sure that you thoroughly understand the governance and administrative overheard of managing two platforms. For example, Office365 provides some great tools and reporting for management of your SharePoint Online environments, but the granularity of this data -- and your ability to dig into log files -- is very different than what is available on prem. As part of your platform requirements and planning, be sure to map out your reporting and governance requirements in detail, and thoroughly understand the gaps between platforms.
As many of you know, Axceler has established itself as a leader in the SharePoint partner ecosystem with our flagship product, ControlPoint for SharePoint Administration, giving administrators a powerful and flexible tools for permissions management, reporting, information architecture management and re-design, auditing and compliance, and for distributed management that gives farm admins down to power users more control over their environments. ControlPoint leads the category, and provides powerful functionality to help organizations quickly clean up and maintain control over their SharePoint environments -- which, by the way, is an essential prerequisite to moving to a new version so that you know exactly the state of SharePoint, from permissions and content storage down to your team-level governance policies.
As you begin to think about your SharePoint 2013 upgrade and which aspects to move into the cloud, remember that Axceler offers flexibility in how you manage these environments. Of course, ControlPoint works with SharePoint 2007, 2010, or 2013, but we were also the first vendor to provide governance and administration for the Office365 platform. What's more, our award-winning platform allows you to manage your SharePoint assets across a hybrid environment within a single interface, reducing the risks and overhead of managing two platform architectures.
You should migrate to the latest version when it makes sense for your business to do so -- not because a vendor tells you its time to move. The reality is that security or regulatory issues may require you to keep certain assets on premises, while other assets and workloads can easily fit into the cloud model -- and Axceler can support this hybrid model, giving you a single console view into both on premises and cloud SharePoint environments, simplifying the complexity of governance and management across an otherwise complex architecture.
If you have not yet seen ControlPoint in action, isn't it about time you saw a demo of the #1 SharePoint governance and administration platform? Contact Axceler today.
The short answer is, not a lot.
Many people who I have spoken to seem to think the new version of SharePoint will bring a new age of security, a world where permission managements takes but a second and 2013 central admin is as different to 2010 as Windows Vista was to Windows 7.
Permission levels themselves are the same in 2013, there is only one notable difference; Override Check Out is now Override List Behaviours, otherwise it won’t take you long to familiarise yourself with the levels; which are identical.
One of the biggest changes to security in 2013 is the Authentication Model; claims are now the default for SharePoint 2013 web applications. Claims-Based authentication uses ‘tokens’ which identify the user and certain attributes like username, email etc.; these attributes are known as claims. The good thing about claims is that you are able to allow multiple authentication types on a single web application, and you don’t need to extend it (allowing different sets of users to see the same content by using an addition IIS web site to host it). For those of you wanting to use classic authentication I’m afraid that Claims is the default, you will need to use PowerShell if you want to use classic, but I wouldn’t recommend it (and neither would Microsoft)
End users will not see much difference from all of this, one thing new to the 2013 environment though is the use of OAuth. OAuth is used to authenticate and authorize apps and services, without the user having to provide credentials to the app (many social media sites use the same feature, so you have probably used this already yourselves without realising) it does this by establishing a trust between the app server and SharePoint so the app can access its request. So how does this all work then? A user signs in to SharePoint 2013 and is authenticated through Claims. They then use an Office Store or an app catalogue app; the app is granted permission by the user to access SharePoint resources on the user's behalf. When a user launches an app, SharePoint 2013 posts a context token to the app. The app then calls back to SharePoint 2013 to access the SharePoint resources on behalf of the user by using an access token.
If you look at pairing this with Active Directory Federation Services you can set up multiple applications and systems that trust the authentication cookies you enable, so the user just signs into ADFS and has access to all these systems without having to sign in again. This would be my recommendation. It will simplify the permission process and allow a uniform access for users, after all we want to increase adoption on our new SharePoint as much as possible, so let’s make it easy for them, even if it is not much easier than 2010 for you.
To continue our monthly series on major conversations, news and analysis that impacts the enterprise collaboration market, this month we’re addressing how enterprise collaboration impacts a business.
Most CIOs have a hard time measuring the business value of social collaboration tools because they don’t have control or insight into the platforms. This is a hot topic right now as companies are realizing that in order to make collaboration successful, they need a unified plan with visibility into how the tools work together and who is using them. The value of collaboration is seen when the tools employees use empower them to find information they wouldn’t have known existed.
Below are a few articles that highlight the latest conversations around how enterprise collaboration is leading successful business communications:
Report: 6 ways social media can drive business impact
In March, Brian Solis posted an article on VentureBeat around how the disconnect between social media strategies and business value is causing executives to rethink their approach. In his survey of close to 700 executives and social strategists, only 34 percent of businesses felt that their social strategy was connected to business outcomes and only half of all companies surveyed felt their top executives were “informed, engaged and aligned with their company’s social strategy.”
Axceler’s take: We couldn’t have said it better. In a recent blog post, our CEO, Mike Alden discusses our company survey data, which also demonstrated a disconnect between understanding the value of social collaboration and governance strategies within organizations. In order to increase employee productivity and gain valuable company insights, businesses need to ensure strong governance strategies are in place when implementing social collaboration tools.
Office 365 and Yammer integration: What's coming
Mary Jo Foley of CNET recently published an article that highlights Microsoft’s news around the Yammer integration roadmap. She also reports that starting in 2014; Microsoft will be updating Office 365 with "new social enhancements" every 90 days, which will include integration between social and collaboration/e-mail/IM/voice/video and line-of-business apps.
Axceler’s take: We applaud Microsoft for recognizing the value of integrated social collaboration and look forward to evolution of the company’s solutions. Regardless of how businesses prefer to communicate, governance is the key to successful company-wide collaboration. The benefit of Yammer integrated into SharePoint is the search experience, yet social is another layer of the search experience and it’s about adding context to content, making documents and information much more easily accessible and findable. Considering these additional layers of integrated tools, unified governance across platforms, even non-Microsoft applications, will be even more crucial as data will be shared in even more places.
Enterprise apps get social
Bob Violino recently covered that while enterprise social software adoption is accelerating, executives are increasingly demanding the data to support why they should be using the software in the first place. Bob outlines the key reasons for using social and also defines where companies are facing collaboration challenges, such as making the decision of whether or not to use multiple social platforms with enterprise applications or to standardize on a single social platform.
Axceler’s take: The data collected in enterprise social tools can enhance business processes, make employees more productive and can also offer an analysis of the company’s efforts for executives. Business can learn a lot about their customers using social tools to communicate with a brand, as well as about their employees communicating internally. With insights into who is collaborating the most often and how, businesses can then make actionable decisions to empower their employees and improve the collaboration environment. With governance policies in place, businesses can also set permissions and have control over the collaboration platform to ensure data is secure and accessed by the appropriate user groups.
Is your business getting more comfortable with social collaboration tools? If not, what should be done differently?
The Axceler team is in Sydney, Australia this week participating as a Gold sponsor of the 4th annual Australian SharePoint Conference (#AUSPC). With members of the team from Axceler offices in Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Sydney offices (what, nobody from London?) it has been a couple lively days demonstrating the ControlPoint suite, including Administration, Governance, and Migration, as well as the new ViewPoint for SharePoint product. There has been a constant flow of traffic through our booth, and some great partner and customer discussions.
As part of the Australian SharePoint Conference program, Axceler participated in the SharePoint Idol contest in which applicants were encouraged to create videos showcasing one or more SharePoint solutions. Axceler's Los Angeles Sales Engineering team accepted the challenge, and created something light and fun rather than bore conference attendees with another product overview video. The end result is entitled "A Tale of Two SharePoint Admins" and can be seen in full here:
Representing the Los Angeles SE team, Steve Goldberg (@iamgoldberg) took to the stage and walked the audience through the video spot, which has also been playing in steady rotation at the Axceler booth. Other finalists included Zevenseas, Newsgator, and Mindjet. Conference organizer Debbie Ireland counted votes from the audience, and quickly declared Axceler the winner, with a visibly emotional Steve Goldberg accepting the award on behalf of his California team.
Other notable events from this week's conference: the Axceler team, with partners Artis Group (http://www.artisgroup.com.au), hosted a SharePint Wednesday evening at the Hilton, with many of the conference speakers, organizers, and attendees participating. I was also a speaker at the event, presenting my popular session '10 Best SharePoint 2010 Features You've Never Used (But Should)' and receiving great feedback from the audience.
From Sydney, some of us make our way over to Auckland for the New Zealand SharePoint Conference (#NZSPC) and look forward to doing it all over again. For those of you planning to attend -- see you there!
Good collaboration is essential for any organisation to improve efficiency, drive innovation, save time and ultimately reduce costs. By mixing collaboration and technology, processes can be greatly simplified which will return huge cost savings.
Collaboration now comes in many formats including sharing ideas, file/document sharing, knowledge transfer and good old fashioned communication. People can now communication in so many different ways such as phone, instant messaging, web/video conferencing and email.
When thinking about how we collaborate in SharePoint specifically, there are essentially three types of collaboration:
- Community focused (blogs, social)
- Content focused (sharing documents, ‘liking’, rating, commenting, etc.)
- Knowledge focused (finding people with the necessary skills, knowledge and experience)
In SharePoint 2013 you will find a new site template called a Community Site, which provides a forum experience in the SharePoint environment. Communities can be used to categorise and cultivate discussions among a broad group of people across organisations in a company. Communities promote open communication and information exchange by enabling people to share their expertise and seek help from others who have knowledge in specific areas of interest.
SharePoint 2013 has also drastically improved the way that users can collaborate socially. Firstly the new MySite capabilities are a great improvement and you only have to look at Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer last year for $1.2B to see how serious they are taking the social way of working.
These changes also show how collaboration and technology in the enterprise is adapting to a workforce that expects the same experience they get through public social software such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
And it is not just SharePoint. Look at the other collaboration platforms that may ‘pop-up’ within an organisation. Within Axceler we have a number of platforms in use such SharePoint, Yammer, DropBox and SalesForce’s Chatter.
With all these different ways to collaborate it has never been easier to share knowledge, ideas, share documents and communicate both within and outside the organisation. All of the new SharePoint 2013 features are specifically going to drive SharePoint adoption so you are going to see usage grow.
The challenge to IT is that this only increases the risks of information getting into the wrong hands, intellectual property leaks and your organisations reputation damaged.
Your users will also find it more challenging to locate the information that they need with so many different places to collaborate.
To help minimise the risks of increased collaboration, these are some of the things that you should be considering:
- Define best practices, particularly if there are multiple collaborative platforms in the organisation
- Ensure sufficient user training so they know these best practices
- Assess and reprioritise the IT security program’s balance between compliance and protecting secrets
- Increase visibility of content and collaboration
- Define a clear governance strategy
Best practices are important so users know when and how SharePoint should be used. If there are other collaboration platforms in place, users need to know which data should be stored within SharePoint and what data should be held elsewhere.
Reviewing security across SharePoint on a regular basis helps to ensure that content does not get into the wrong hands. This should not be simply an exercise in IT; end users also need to get visibility on permissions to their content. For example, when a document is uploaded to a document library, do users truly know who will have access to view it?
By increasing your visibility on how users work with SharePoint and how they collaborate, you can make adjustments and recommendations to those best practices. Ensure you understand what content is being uploaded? Who has access to what within SharePoint? Who is actually accessing the sites?
All this information will then feed into your collaboration governance strategy.
For many users, the importance of a strong metadata and taxonomy strategy is unclear. Unfortunately, this lack of clarity is fairly widespread across most organizations using SharePoint. But it's not a problem just with SharePoint -- the same issues we experience within this community are often times common to every other knowledge management or collaboration platform. SharePoint stakeholders need to understand that metadata is foundational to everything else you want to accomplish on the platform.
Some metadata and taxonomy management can be streamlined and automated, but it will require a lot of up front work. There's no getting around it. It should be central to your SharePoint strategy, and a core aspect of your regular governance discussions. In my presentation The Connection Between Metadata, Social Tools, and Personal Productivity, I share a few "universal truths" that should be considered as you begin planning your metadata strategy:
- Metadata is fundamental to making social, knowledge management, and SharePoint work
- The business dynamics of how Information Workers capture, consume, and interact with data are changing
- Social tools are just another layer of the search experience
- Organizations don’t understand, much less track and measure, user productivity
Three of these four points are clearly visible within SharePoint's new social features, all of which center around keywords and metadata -- and can take advantage of your organization's taxonomy structure. Between development of SharePoint 2013 social features and the acquisition of Yammer, Microsoft has shown that they are serious about addressing the changing way in which we work, and improving the ability of our intranets, extranets, and external-facing websites to surface the right content, at the right time.
- Metadata drives search, content and task aggregation, and it enables most of the new features within SharePoint 2013. Think about the most common SharePoint scenario: adding a document to a document library. As you upload a file, you might have the ability to apply relevant keywords from a pre-defined term store. Your taxonomy adds structure to the content. In addition to the required taxonomy fields, you may also apply a few relevant keywords that are not part of the taxonomy, but which you know will provide richer context to the content. Folksonomy, in conjunction with a proactive governance model, refines your taxonomy so that common folksonomy terms eventually find their way into the managed taxonomy, so that others can use those terms more broadly. To make this model work requires some effort from your team -- a governance process to regularly review end user keywords, delete irrelevant terms, promote others, and overall optimize your platform for a healthy search experience.
- Social utilizes your metadata to enhance conversation, and make your dialog applicable to your work output. As shown in the following image, social interaction further enriches the context and visibility of your content. I my example above, the document owner applied both taxonomy and folksonomy. Social applies additional folksonomy -- by sharing the document with others, liking it, rating it, commenting on it.
We don't always know what content we're looking for. The limitation of the traditional search model is that we only find that content which fit into our specific search terms. If someone uploads content without applying taxonomy or folksonomy (which, let's admit it, is the case for the majority of our content) then you rely on your search crawler to search through titles and metadata descriptions. But through our social connections, we may locate new content based on personal and professional relationships, and through tags (an ever-growing folksonomy) applied by people you've never met and maybe never will…..because they were able to find that content through their social circles and apply some context of their own.
- Productivity improves when people can find their content, and (more importantly) when the processes you ask them to follow -- to ensure that metadata is assigned, and that your compliance/security guidelines are being met -- also fits into the way they need to work. That's really the key: design solutions that match the needs and working habits of your people, rather than force people to learn a new way to work. Social tools tend to be a more natural fit for the way that people connect and collaborate.
To be honest, the last universal truth is still a "work in progress." Measuring end user productivity is a difficult task to master -- and is a topic for a future post. My best advice is to monitor usage of your platform, and begin to understand the features and tools that people gravitate toward, and those they avoid. Overall, I cannot stress any more the importance of thoughtfully building out your metadata and a taxonomy strategy. The lack of a strategy can impact these common scenarios outlined above, and your ability to leverage the full functionality of SharePoint.
I have been spending a lot of time recently looking into some of the new features of SharePoint 2013 and trying to really rip them apart to see how they work. One of the most impactful additions has to be the new app model. This has implications for developers, administrators and end users by offering a completely new platform for delivering custom content.
SharePoint 2013 has taken much of the technical language off of the sites for end users. In the previous editions of SharePoint there were options for lists, libraries and web parts, but now everything that can be added to a site is called an app. While the app store has really done a lot to make SharePoint easier for end users, very little has changed for the admin. If anything, there are now even more responsibilities and intricacies to manage. My goal with this blog post is to touch on some of the larger topics and then follow up with some deep dives and how-to’s in the future.
What is an app in SharePoint 2013?
First, it might be helpful to explain what apps are and how they fit in with SharePoint 2013. Apps are essentially the replacement for the now deprecated sandboxed solutions. You can still use sandboxed solutions you already have but all new development should be focused on the 2013 app model. Though this might be a bit painful for some, there are some really good reasons for this change. There were (and are still) many people experiencing issues with sandboxed solutions. Namely, they are very resource intensive, difficult to maintain, break frequently and end users can’t customize them very easily. Despite this, they are still useful for those who want to utilize custom code within a particular area of their farm without the risk of exposing the whole environment.
In 2013, apps have filled many of the gaps that were left by sandboxed solutions. They are able to act outside of the site collection in which they are hosted and don’t have the performance implications that sandboxed solutions do. Sandboxed solutions also require a good amount of resources to be used so I believe that there will be less of a performance hit to sites. The use of Farm Solutions is still fully supported, but if there is a need to have custom code run in a restricted portion of the environment then apps are the way to go.
So where do these apps come from? One new source for apps in 2013 is the online SharePoint Store. This store is very similar to the Play Store or Apple’s App Store where users can see a catalog of apps and then request to have them on their site. Within the farm there will be an app catalog, here you can publish apps that you get from the online SharePoint Store or anything built in-house. If the admin allows it, the site owners can add apps from the catalog or on their own from the online SharePoint store. The deployment is completely customizable to however the administrator wants apps to operate within their environment.
Permissions and governance of apps
Governance of apps will also need to be a subject to address for each environment. The first option for an administrator is to prevent apps from being available within the farm completely. This might be a bit restrictive for most so there is also a system that allows the site owners to request for administrator approval of apps before they are able to be placed on a site. I imagine that many administrators would like to have a good idea about all of the apps that exist within their farm. This can be achieved be allowing owners to only install apps from the catalog and not the online SharePoint Store.
An interesting feature of apps in 2013 is that they can have their own permissions model, standalone. Apps take full advantage of claims in 2013 which allows the apps to act based on their own permissions as well based upon a claim made by the user. The scope of app permissions is either set to the site collection, web site, list or tenancy and can request read-only, write, manage or full control to the content.
In an upcoming post, I will go over what it takes to set up an on premise app catalog. One thing that I would like to point out is so far, my App Store setup adventures have been painstaking and arduous to say the least. Hopefully banging my head against the wall trying to get this thing to work out well prevent you guys from having to do it.
With Microsoft’s acquisition of Yammer last year, the ever-evolving social collaboration space is changing once again. While SharePoint had social features natively built in, the addition of Yammer into Microsoft’s portfolio and the subsequent integration has ramped up SharePoint’s social capabilities. Here is an introduction to a few of the features that involve both SharePoint and Yammer integration.
Send to Yammer
Send to Yammer allows SharePoint users to send documents, announcements and tasks to Yammer. This allows users to collaborate real time on projects. Once in Yammer, users can monitor who has viewed or downloaded these files by using the recent activity stream. Furthermore, Yammer’s integration with Office Web Apps will allow users to view and edit these documents directly from the Yammer activity feed.
Primary Yammer Web Part
The Yammer web part allows users to monitor Yammer streams and notifications directly from any SharePoint site. For example, a user might want to place their “My Feed” as a web part on their My Site to consolidate that information. Or a business unit might want to place their Group Feed onto their department site. The Yammer web part also allows a user to send private messages and track those conversations through a separate tab. Placing this web part on their My Site just gives the user another way to track their collaboration from one central location. Of course, the ability to utilize Yammer features like metadata tags, mentions of other users, etc., within SharePoint will ultimately help increase collaboration, search and ultimately, productivity.
Admins can also configure this web part using native SharePoint web part controls. They can also make Yammer activity streams available as read-only, so those folks who don’t have Yammer access will still be able to access the streams in SharePoint.
Office Web Apps/SkyDrive Pro
Microsoft also announced their plans to integrate Yammer with Office Web Apps and SkyDrive Pro by summer 2013. The integration with Office Web Apps, as mentioned above, will allow users to view and edit content directly within a Yammer activity stream. This will enable users to monitor changes and collaborate real time.
SkyDrive Pro is online storage where a user can upload and access files within a personal library that can also be shared with others, both within and outside of the organization. Yammer will be utilizing SkyDrive Pro as its underlying platform for file storage. Just another way Yammer will tie into SharePoint, by allowing users to download content from SkyDrive Pro that was uploaded using Yammer.
The internets are awash with SharePoint blog posts about how to increase adoption. After hours of searching and reading I can honestly say I think it’s the most discussed topic out there, which really isn’t any surprise. What fun is it to throw a big (expensive) party if nobody comes? And yes, it is a lot about building buzz, running contests and doing campaigns to encourage users to come and bask in the glory that is SharePoint, but if your SharePoint isn’t glorious, users won’t stay. If you tell someone to come check out the coolest car in the world and you show them a Ford Pinto, they’re going to forget about it and go about their business.
So how do you get them to stay?
A cool splash screen?
A dancing kitty?
The best way to get users to stay is to make it effortless for them to get what they need. The problem is, as with everything in this world, first impressions are everything. If your users come to SharePoint and it’s not faster and simpler to operate than what they’re currently doing, they’re just going to go back to doing what they did before.
Search in SharePoint has always been more of an art than a science. The concepts are fairly straightforward: crawl, index, query, rinse and repeat; but the challenge is getting the terms right. In 2013, these core concepts are going to stay pretty much the same, but there are some other fairly noteworthy features that have been added as well. For starters, there is now an analytics processing component that allows for search specifically by activity, and, fairly uncharacteristically, Microsoft has also added the ability to add custom code. Hmm….
So let’s start with the crawl component. Similar to before, the crawl component of search goes through the all the content sources (web sites, file shares, SharePoint, profiles, etc.) and temporarily stores all of the information in the temporary crawl database. The crawl database contains detailed information about items that have been crawled such as last crawl time, crawl ID, and type of update (full or incremental). If there is a large amount of content to crawl through, you can simply add more crawl components to do the work. A general rule of thumb is to add one crawl component for every 20 million items.
Once the items have been crawled, content processing takes the crawled information and feeds it into an index. The index parses the documents using iFilters, and then transforms the crawled content into indexed content. There is also a separate link database that writes the information about the links and URLs associated with the information.
Now on to the new hotness. The analytics processing component has two separate components itself. Search analytics goes through the crawled items to find activity information such as links, related people, and metadata. Usage analytics contains information like views on an item from a front-end event store. The processing component then returns the information to the content processing component to include them in the search index. Default usage events are things like views, recommendations displayed and recommendations clicked. Results from usage analytics are then stored in the analytics reporting database. Along with the new analytics processing comes some new default reports such as popularity trends and most popular items.
The index is different as well in 2013. This time around there is just a single index, but the partitions can be stored across multiple servers. The upside is it’s easier to add a new server to share the load, but it’s also difficult to remove one, should you need to. There are also separate index components and partitions. Each index component takes in the information from the content processing component. Queries are then sent to the index replicas from the query processing component. As a general rule, you should add one index partition per every ten million items and a replica should be created for each partition.
The last piece of this puzzle is the query processing component. This little guy sits between the search front-end and the index component. The purpose of the query processing component is to analyze and process the search queries and results. Once done, it submits the query to the index component and then returns it to the front-end.
Confused yet? It’s really not all that complicated. To sum it up, if your search is going slower that you’d like, add more horsepower. For faster crawl times, add more crawl databases and content processing components. If the results are taking too long to be returned, replicate the partition. Or in the case of a larger farm, split the index into more partitions. To increase the availability of query, create an extra query processing component on different application servers.
So why go to all the trouble of learning how all of this works? Because search is the backbone of SharePoint. The fact that you can search at all is the reason to migrate your network shares into SharePoint in the first place. So how do we get adoption to where we want it? Configure a fast, accurate, efficient search so your users can find what they’re looking for.
It’s not uncommon to get excited about discovering a new productivity tool, such as SharePoint, that will help the enterprise perform more efficiently. It is a good thing to bring tools to people to assist them in their job. The thing to keep in mind is that any introduction of something new brings change – multi-faceted change. Some of these changes include:
Processes, policies and procedures will most likely be affected by introduction of a new tool. These adjustments should be analyzed and planned for in the implementation.
New hardware and software will most likely be required. This affects budgets, capital planning, etc. and needs to be accounted for to ensure all pieces are factored in to make sure nothing is missed – especially in a phased approach to deployment. We don’t want to add ‘surprise’ to ‘change’ if it’s not necessary!
How will this new tool affect the overall strategy and goals of the business? Nothing should be introduced into an ecosystem that does not strive toward a planned goal or objective for the business. This is where organizations can easily hemorrhage in budget, profit and efficiency.
Teams can also view these tools as ‘just another thing to learn’ with no true value. And an often missed perspective for this change is human capital. How are the masses accounted for in this change? Miss this mark and despite the best of intentions, a deployment can become a grand failure.
In IT deployments, launch of the idea often is originated within that department. When planning starts, it is energetic. Excitement abounds with getting new gear and new software, and building the infrastructure. The main focus, especially in the beginning, is how to best fit this new tool and its requirements into the existing infrastructure and how to maintain the new tool. Much time is spent on evaluating different hardware options and review and analysis of the best fit.
Training seems to remain in the forefront of focus at this point. IT staff that are in charge of maintaining the hardware are often sent to training, especially if the gear is new to the enterprise and/or staff. Admins of the new tool will often get robust training as well. It is not uncommon that these folks are sent to weeklong trainings.
Now we have IT staff enthusiastic about digging into this new tool. Riding on this enthusiasm a testing environment is set up. Enthusiasm grows as IT staff has a place to test and stretch the tool, try out new things and analyze its capabilities within the organization’s environment. This phase is often done in organizational silence as the masses are not aware of the testing going on.
Now that the tires have been kicked so to speak, it’s time to share this experience with a pilot phase. This usually means that a small group will be the guinea pigs. This is the group that will use the tool in their workload to demonstrate day to day use. Here is also where the implementation tends to hit the skids.
As this pilot team begins using the tool, as they foresee they will use it in their normal workflow, issues arise. Barriers and gaps are identified. IT staff goes from a more playful interaction with the tool to more fixing how it performs. Interaction with the tool becomes more work than fun. The pilot team usually begins to express some frustration at limitations they are experiencing and patience begins to dwindle.
Even though this is just a pilot and is meant to identify shortcomings of the initial configuration, this process of criticisms, fixing, tweaking, feedback, more fixing, etc. can become tiring. Now in the timeline of the deployment, the teams involved are now road-weary. Enthusiasm can wane, especially of the pilot does not conclude on a positive note.
This point represents a large point of failure. It is here that a major implementation blunder can easily occur. Enthusiasm has waned. And all too often, rather than reevaluating the deployment to take into account the results of the test and pilot phase, the tool gets rolled out anyway. Timelines may have slipped creating a rush to get the tool rolled out. Budget may also have been burned through by this time. This is usually most evident in lack of training for the end users.
Now let’s think about this for a second. The organization has evaluated a productivity tool that should build efficiencies into teams. This tool is meant for the masses, yet this is the one demographic group that most often gets left out of thorough training. We have IT staff trained, a few pilot staff somewhat trained, and now the remainder of the organization is left to their own devices. This is a huge invite for end users to avoid using the tool entirely, or developing enough hacks to get by, yet clinging to the same processes the tool was meant to streamline.
It is imperative to plan for thorough training for all demographics using the tool. This will help to ensure user adoption. Now while this is not the only factor in user adoption, and there is never a guarantee of adoption, training will build a strong foundation of confidence for end users to utilize the tool as intended. If done right, the end users can also be allies in discovering additional efficiencies through the tool helping the organization to increase its ROI.
All levels and stages of training throughout the deployment lifecycle should be accounted for via a well-defined and realistic training plan. This documentation should include every layer of training from initial training of IT staff through end user training. This plan should help guide the implementation and keep the end user in mind. It follows the best practice of “keeping the end in mind” when performing a deployment.
Of course there are other factors affecting user adoption, such as making sure process and procedure revisions have kept up with the deployment, that an effective communication plan is being followed and is embedding excitement to the end user all along the way showing them the value of this tool to their everyday efforts, and adequate support has been established to help teams with the inevitable learning curve. But by establishing and executing a strong training plan for all involved this will go a long way in alleviating frustrations, building confidence and paving the way for success.