Top business benefits and reasons for SharePoint 2013 Upgrades

An unbiased look at who should upgrade when and why

by Richard Harbridge on 3/25/2014

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Date Revised:
4/22/2014

Applies to:
business, Microsoft SharePoint 2013, upgrade


When a new version of SharePoint comes out, customers face several decisions related to upgrading their current SharePoint environment. For example, should you perform a full upgrade of all existing sites and content? Should you upgrade only certain farms or collections and take a phased approach? Answering such questions requires a lot of thought and information. Here are some ways to look at the issues as you evaluate your options.

Why upgrade?

So why do people upgrade to SharePoint 2013? First, it's worth noting that IT faces internal and external pressures to upgrade technology.

Internal pressure

Internally we are always in a cycle of doing more with less. Often upgrades provide many ways to do things in an optimized or more efficient way that supports the increasing demand placed on IT.

Maintaining old versions of a technology like SharePoint can be challenging. For example, finding people who have experience or knowledge of SharePoint 2003 (and want to work with it) is extremely difficult now--not only because there were fewer SharePoint experts back then, but mainly because experienced professionals want to work with the latest versions.

Often upgrades (especially SharePoint ones) provide increased support for standards or newer technologies. In the case of SharePoint the improved browser support, device support, and Windows/Office integration can tie into related upgrades of other Microsoft products or the growing needs that result from new technologies in the workplace.

External Pressure

In the consumer marketplace, we have a plethora of options and increasing expectations for technology user experience and ease of use. This is putting considerable pressure on IT to be more responsive and to accelerate upgrade cycles internally. This pressure comes from a need to ensure that the organization has competitive offerings and the usability users demand. This is especially evident when leaders within organizations go around IT and buy into SaaS or alternative technologies that may or may not be initially sanctioned by enterprise IT.

Mobile, tablet, and the resulting pressure for remote device support are all primarily driven by the increased comfort with and reliance on these tools in the consumer world. In Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environments, there is increased pressure for IT to provide support and options for devices that historically may not have been supported or considered.

Why are people upgrading to SharePoint 2013?

With such pressures driving the market, what are the real issues that lead to upgrades? No one is going to upgrade to SharePoint 2013 for the new Geo-location field or a minor feature change. But there are some benefits that businesses believe they will realize by upgrading sooner, rather than later. Let's look at top reasons I hear regularly for why businesses are really considering upgrading to SharePoint 2013.

End user improvements that lead to increased productivity and adoption

The most significant improvements in SharePoint 2013 are those that don’t require deep technical understanding to admire or see the value of. These are the little things that begin building up very quickly. For some organizations the potential increase in adoption and productivity due to easier drag and drop, simpler sharing of content and general UI improvements may be a strong driver for encouraging a partial upgrade of generalized team sites or content.

   

Beyond basic end user improvements like drag and drop, when you combine the following benefits, these factors also can add up to a strong motivation for an enterprise upgrade or 2013 farm.

  • Simpler sharing and permissions management for sites represent a huge potential benefit, and is something you should really look into
  • Embedded and intuitive social capabilities (for personal recall, and social sharing)
  • Improved task management and automatic (configurable) task rollup and aggregation across SharePoint, Exchange, Project Server etc.
  • Themes and a more accessible design experience for many developers or end users. (Example: HTML vs XSL based)
  • Office Online integration/improvements such as hover over previews (not really SharePoint anymore since it’s a separate product, but worth noting)
  • Cross site collection roll ups and fewer site collection boundaries. For some organizations using Office 365, this may be a huge boon as there are no effective ways beyond search to do this in previous versions
  • Video and iframe embedding/support improvements. There is a plethora of interesting changes that support the editing, and content management experience. The social ability to tag media content could also be considered here if media is a big part of your organization’s need.
  • Better mobile support and browser support, especially for those building mobile solutions and options due to the increased demand/expectation of businesses

Social improvements can be a significant driver

With its new social improvements, SharePoint 2013 is comparable to many social enterprise tools (and much easier to extend). For many organizations that are evaluating enterprise 2.0 platforms, this may be a primary, or at least significant, driver--especially if they have already invested heavily in SharePoint but not in enterprise social. I've worked with Newsgator extensively, and there will still be a need for third-party improvements on top of the improved SharePoint 2013 model,. But even without these tools, SharePoint 2013 supplies a fairly complete social experience OOTB.When you add up the new improvements, I believe this richer feature set and improved capability can stand on their own as a reason to upgrade for some organizations. In fact this has been a motivator for a few I have spoken with. (As an example this post lists 72 social features in SharePoint 2013. Some are a bit of a stretch to consider as a feature on its own, but this list shows a bit of an idea for just how much is available.

The New Search Experience & Engine Can Transform Your Organization’s View On Search

At a personal level I am extremely (unbelievably) happy and excited about all the work Microsoft has done incorporating FAST and BING capabilities into SharePoint in a way that makes sense. This new search core makes it so much easier for end users to use the OOTB search experience. Here are a few spotlights (by no means a complete list) of why the new Search is just so much better and has a truly exciting enhanced capability set.

A new feature shown in Figure 1 allows you to see--as you type your search, or after you search and are reviewing the results--what you have searched for and selected previously. This is such a simple but impactful feature. For recall scenarios it will have a significant positive impact.

 1q

 2q

Figure 1: Visible search

Content by search allows a user (still a technical one) to very easily build the query they want and see the results as they build it. If you haven’t taken a good and long look at this web part in 2013, make certain that you do.

Continuous crawl and general performance enhancements enable a potentially much faster crawl of new/changed content ensuring the results are up to date and relevant.

Many minor enhancements to the experience are also interesting, such as File Type identifiers on the left of search results for quick recognition, native PDF support on indexing, and a much more developer-accessible HTML/JavaScript model of changing how search results display.

Technical Benefits

Technical benefits are typically not a significant a driver for many organizations to upgrade. However, sometimes it can be enough of a driver for an organization that appreciates or understands the technical benefits they will realize by upgrading. Here's an example to illustrate this point: At SharePoint Conference 2009, several attendees were excitedly discussing how SharePoint 2010 was going to make their jobs so much easier in IT. Virgil Carroll asked, “When was the last time the business made an investment (like an upgrade) to make your jobs easier?” His point was that technical benefits typically motivate upgrades only when there is a clear cost benefit. For SharePoint there is typically an additional cost for hardware for the new environment, which means an upgrade brings increased costs up front--not to mention potentially related licensing costs, and the migration/upgrade cost itself. So the cost benefits of technical benefits can be very difficult to illustrate if they aren’t immediately demonstrating increased business value.

As an example, an organization may be able to predict considerable storage savings and performance improvements based on shredded storage, improved caching, and improved control and flexibility at a site-collection level (for organizations that have a distribution model based on site collection access rights/controls). Based on technical changes or factors like this, an organization may be able to provide reasons and benefits for upgrading by demonstrating how they reduce technical limitations or provide IT cost savings.

Solution Benefits

Depending on the solutions you have built and offer in your SharePoint implementation, certain capabilities may be extremely important to you. Here are a few examples of minor capabilities that may be important, depending on how you are using SharePoint:

  • New Document Set features may be important if you are heavily leveraging this feature
  • If your organization believes that its eDiscovery needs can be met for Exchange, file share content, and SharePoint and is considering alternatives, this might be a strong motivator for evaluating an upgrade
  • Organizations that support multiple languages may find the improvements to variations and automatic translation to be a driver for upgrading
  • Metadata navigation, image renditions, clean URLs, and other WCM improvements may be extremely important for your public facing website or publishing based intranet

Example risks when you don’t upgrade

Cost can also be a risk if you don’t upgrade. While such costs aren’t often the primary drivers, they can still motivate upgrades. A few examples of these potential costs are:

  • It costs more to upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2013 than it does from SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2013. (This is my opinion based on experience. I firmly believe this.)
  • Integration scenarios and third-party product availability may be very different based on the versions of your SharePoint implementation. (In addition, Microsoft officially only supports certain versions).
  • Moving from SharePoint 2013 to Office 365 will absolutely be easier than moving from other versions of SharePoint to Office 365.
  • Storage improvements! The amount of content in our organizations is always growing, and storage becomes more challenging to coordinate, control, and manage over time. However with new versions of SharePoint and the underlying storage technologies (like SQL Server), new features enable better scale, performance, and flexibility; shredded storage is a great example.
  • Some web-based systems require certain browsers or browser compatibility that can be costly or challenging to maintain over time if they are not upgraded (IE 6 examples abound).
  • When you skip a version or two, it results in even more significant changes for the end user experience. Training can be more challenging (at all levels), and so can dealing with the change management involved.

Example issues when you do decide to upgrade

SharePoint 2013 is visually very different from previous versions. Quite a bit of functionality has changed, and the way users perform actions that they may be familiar with has changed. Here are a few changes in 2013 that the user will notice and that require some communication planning:

  • No Design View in SharePoint Designer 2013
  • No Breadcrumb (By Default)
  • Create Sub-site has moved
  • No option to Sign In As a Different User
  • App Naming and Organization: For those who are used to previous methods for creating new lists/libraries, the App Naming can be confusing
  • Share instead of Manage permissions: this is better than the previouse model but requires explanation

Longer explanations of a few of these changes can be found in my “SharePoint 2013: A Few Changes That Might Surprise Users” article.

What about you? Do you have specific reasons you are considering an upgrade to SharePoint 2013?


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