Like SharePoint 2010, SharePoint 2013 is feature-rich almost to a fault. As a result, it creates opportunities for an organization to do more than just ratchet up and gain a step. And SharePoint 2013 goes even further: In concert with other new Microsoft offerings, several capabilities can form the basis of business process reinvention.
Optimized search across airports
With a SharePoint 2013 migration, you can vastly improve enterprise search capabilities that users can tap into to quickly access documents and data. Recently in France, a corporation managing the civil airports in Paris (including Orly and Charles de Gaulle) faced the problem of unifying and optimizing a SharePoint 2010 content management system that included 2 TB of data in almost 70 content databases. The problem: making all this data (2 million objects' worth) efficiently searchable throughout the organization. In all 13 airports, many employees must be able to retrieve and deliver data on demand. And beyond that was the impetus to share expertise between airfields.
The benefits go beyond efficiency gains. When enterprise search is enabled in a global context, the information available to one local operation is available to all; in problem-solving, business intelligence, and both local and global decision-making, everyone has more to work with. In this deployment, every airport has the immediately accessible benefit of all the others' operational experience.
With some of the improvements in SharePoint 2013, processes are simplified.
In this scenario, two things work to the advantage of the enterprise. Upgrading from SharePoint 2010 to 2013 works well, and the Paris upgrade was smooth, according to Pierre Siffrin, who was the tech lead on the project. And the SharePoint 2013 Community Site feature helped solve the challenge of sharing expertise across functional boundaries.
The real issue was implementing efficient, enterprisewide search that could accommodate real-time demand. Two strategic initiatives made it work. The first was to organize search terms by the document type most commonly used by the employee doing the search. The second was to implement continuous crawl of the CMS, so that documents become discoverable as soon as they are entered.
The gotchas. In a scenario like this, continuous crawl presents a serious processing burden on the system. The computational cost of a perpetual crawl that deep will offset its benefit, unless the application tier is beefed up with additional servers taking up some of the processing load. In other words understand that the expense of boosting the processing capacity of the application servers isn’t trivial.
A SharePoint deployment for law enforcement in Cambridgeshire, England, helped consolidate far-flung data into a centralized SharePoint repository to improve service to the public and reduce operational expenses. Unlike the Paris deployment, the Cambridgeshire constabulary migrated to SharePoint 2013, after maintaining Lotus Notes for many years. The goal was to unify the management of many separate databases that contained criminal information, public safety information and operational data and to allow greater collaboration among divisions that protect nearly a million citizens.
Another issue: The Lotus Notes content management system had compatibility issues with the rest of the IT infrastructure, which included Microsoft components (Exchange Server, Lync and so on). Employees had the time-consuming (and costly) handicap of having to search Lotus Notes databases individually.
A SharePoint 2013 migration made sense, enabling the consolidation of all those databases on a much lower-cost platform. But the real impact of the shift was to enable data to be shared collaboratively: Cambridgeshire has deployed a series of SharePoint portals that make its CMS available to constabularies, commissioners and city council. And employees can synchronize their documents offline via SkyDrive Pro.
The gotchas.The cost savings of migrating to SharePoint 2013 are undeniable, and the long-term efficiencies gained are desirable. But there's also a period of recouping on investment. While the setup of a collaborative SharePoint 2013 structure via team sites, community sites, news feeds and wikis is fairly easily achieved with proper planning, the migration of the Lotus Notes content -- and the creation and implementation of a metadata taxonomy to service the data, once migrated -- was not only nontrivial but substantial. The lesson: Migrating large amounts of data into a SharePoint CMS is either time-consuming for in-house staff or costly because of the third-party services required to get it done. Factor that in upfront.
Reaching the public with SharePoint Online
Toyota Motor Corp.'s recent SharePoint 2013 cloud deployment for public portals indicates how to mix and match the platform to the benefit of the enterprise.
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Toyota's Internet presence is vast. The sheer volume of data available for public consumption is staggering: 300,000 pages of content, which is accessible to nearly 2 million registered users through its gazoo.com Web portal.
Migrating from gazoo.com to SharePoint 2013 Online helped Toyota get all that public information into a cloud environment, where it would be easier (and less expensive) to administrate. A cloud-based solution reduced Toyota's in-house IT burden substantially. Cloud-based technologies free up infrastructure and maintenance resources. Moreover, the SharePoint solution greatly enhanced the searchability of Toyota's consumer-oriented content, which benefited its end users.
The gotchas. SharePoint Online is low cost and easily implemented, and it offers tremendous utility for the money.
But even with SharePoint 2013's improved branding features, any enterprise seeking heavy customization -- as Toyota required -- has a huge hurdle to deal with. That hurdle is the inherent cost and difficulty of customizing a portal in a multi-tenant environment, which is one of the principles of clouds. Competent .NET developers can work wonders with SharePoint customization, because SharePoint is.NET under the hood. But, in the cloud, customization is costly, requiring expensive dedicated resources (which can defeat the purpose of a cloud deployment) or requiring innovations far beyond what is necessary in an on-premises, public-facing deployment (reintroducing infrastructure and maintenance costs).
Toyota straddled the fence, leaning heavily on Microsoft for support and employing its own army of .NET resources. It worked, but at great cost.
The lesson? Change your game, innovate, rebuild what you have with SharePoint 2013 -- but consider the hidden costs.
This was first published in September 2013