Sunday, November 30, 2014

SharePoint 2013 Improvements

In this post, I will describe few improved features in SharePoint 2013.

Cross-Site Publishing

SharePoint 2013 has cross-site publishing. In the previous versions of SharePoint, it was not possible to easily share content across sites. Using cross-site publishing, users can separate authoring and publishing into different site collections: authored content goes into an indexable "catalog", and you can then use FAST to index and deliver dynamic content on a loosely coupled front end.

This feature is required for services like personalization, localization, metadata-driven topic pages, etc. An example of its use is a product catalog in an e-commerce environment. It can be used more generally for all dynamic content. Note that cross-site publishing is not available in SharePoint Online.

Here is how it works. First, you designate a list or a library as a "catalog". FAST then indexes that content and makes it available to publishing site collections via a new content search web part (CSWP). There are few good features put into creating and customizing CSWP instances, including some browser-based configurations. Run-time queries should execute faster against the FAST index than against a SharePoint database.

Cross-site publishing feature could significantly improve your content reuse capabilities by enabling you to publish to multiple site collections.


Creating templates still begins with a master page which is an ASP.NET construction that defines the basic page structure such as headers and footers, navigation, logos, search box, etc. In previous versions, master pages tended to contain a lot of parts by default, and branding a SharePoint publishing site was somewhat tricky.

SharePoint 2013 has new Design Manager module, which is essentially a WYSIWYG master page/page layout builder. Design Manager is essentially an ASP.NET and JavaScript code generator. You upload HTML and CSS files that you create and preview offline. After you add more components in the UI (for example, specialized web parts), Design Manager generates the associated master page. Page layouts get converted to SharePoint specific JavaScript that the platform uses to render the dynamic components on the page.

You can generate and propagate a design package to reuse designs across site collections. There are template snippets that enable you to apply layouts within a design package, but they are not reusable across design packages.

This process is more straight forward than the previous versions, but it still would likely involve a developer.

Contributing Content

SharePoint 2013 enables contributors to add more complex, non-web part elements like embedded code and video that does not have to be based on a specific web part. This feature is called "embed code". Note that if you are using cross-site publishing with its search based delivery, widget behavior may be tricky and could require IT support.

With respect to digital asset management, SharePoint has had the ability to store digital assets. However, once you got past uploading a FLV or PNG file, there was scant recourse to leverage it. SharePoint 2013 brings a new video content type, with automatic and manual thumbnailing.

Creating image renditions capability has also improved. It allows you to contribute a full fidelity image to a library, and then render a derivative of that image when served through a web page.

Other added features include better mobile detection/mobile site development and an improved editing experience.

Metadata and Tagging Services

SharePoint 2013 has solid metadata and tagging services with improved and simplified the term store. However, there is still no versioning, version control or workflow for terms.

Big improvement is that using FAST, you can leverage metadata in the delivery environment much more readily than you could in previous versions. You can use metadata-based navigation structures (as opposed to folder hierarchies), and deploy automated, category pages and link lists based on how items are tagged.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Enterprise Content Management and Mobile Devices

With mobile devices becoming increasingly powerful, users want to access their documents while on the move. iPads and other tablets in particular have become very popular. Increasingly, employers allow employees to bring mobile devices of their choice to work.

"Bring Your Own Device" (BYOD) policy became wide spread in organizations and users started expecting and demanding new features that would enable them to work on their documents from mobile devices. Therefore, the necessity to have mobile access to content has greatly increased in recent years.

As with most technology, mobile and cloud applications are driving the next generation of capabilities in ECM tools. The key capabilities in ECM tools are the ability to access documents via mobile devices, ability to sync documents across multiple devices, and the ability to work on documents offline.

Most tools provide a mobile Web-based application that allows users to access documents from a mobile’s Web browser. That is handy when users use a device for which the tool provides no dedicated application.

The capabilities of mobile applications vary across different tools. In some cases, the mobile application is very basic, allowing users to perform only read-only operations. In other cases, users can perform more complex tasks such as creating workflows, editing documents, changing permissions or adding comments.

Solutions and Vendors

Solutions emerged that specialize in cloud based file sharing capabilities (CFS). Dropbox, Google Drive,, and Syncplicity (acquired by EMC) provide services for cloud-based file sharing, sync, offline work, and some collaboration for enterprises.

There is considerable overlap of services between these CFS vendors and traditional document management (DM) vendors. CFS vendors build better document management capabilities (such as library services), and DM vendors build (or acquire) cloud-based file sharing, sync, and collaboration services. Customers invested in DM tools frequently consider deploying relevant technology for cloud file sharing and sync scenarios. Similarly, many customers want to extend their usage of CFS platforms for basic document management services.

DM vendors which actively trying to address these needs include Alfresco (via Alfresco Cloud), EMC, Microsoft (via SkyDrive/ Office 365), Nuxeo (via Nuxeo Connect), and OpenText (via Tempo Box). Collaboration/social vendors like Jive, Microsoft, and Salesforce have also entered the enterprise file sharing market. Other large platform vendors include Citrix which acquired ShareFile. Oracle, IBM, and HP are about to enter this market as well.

Key Features

Number of Devices - Number of devices that the ECM vendor provides mobile applications for is very important. Most tools provide specific native applications for Apple’s iPhone and iPad (based on iOS operating system) and Android-based phones and tablets. Some also differentiate between the iPhone and iPad and provide separate applications for those two devices. Some provide applications for other devices such as those based on Windows and BlackBerry.

File sync and offline capabilities - Many users use more than one device to get work done. They might use a laptop in the office, a desktop at home, and a tablet and a phone while traveling. They need to access files from all of those devices, and it is important that an ECM tool can synchronize files across different devices.

Users increasingly expect capabilities for advanced file sharing, including cloud and hybrid cloud-based services. Most tools do that by providing a sync app for your desktop/laptop, which then syncs your files from the cloud-based storage to your local machine.

Most tools require users to create a dedicated folder and move files to that dedicated folder, which is then synced. A few tools like Syncplicity allow users to sync from any existing folder on your machine.

A dedicated folder can be better managed and seems to be a cleaner solution. However, it means that users need to move files around which can cause duplication. The other approach of using any folder as a sync folder allows users to keep working on files in their usual location. That is convenient, but if users reach a stage when they have too many folders scattered around on their laptop and other synced machines, they might have some manageability issues.

Some tools allow users to selectively sync. Rather than syncing the entire cloud drive, users can decide which folders to sync. That is useful when users are in a slow speed area or they have other bandwidth-related constraints. In some cases, they can also decide whether they want a one-way sync or a bi-directional sync. Once they have the files synced up and available locally, they typically can work offline as well. When they go online, their changes are synced back to the cloud.

Most tools that provide a dedicated mobile applications can also sync files on mobile devices. However, mobile syncing is usually tricky due to the closed nature of mobile device file systems.

While most ECM and DM vendors provide some varying capabilities for mobile access, not all of them can effectively offer file sync across multiple devices.

Your options should be based on your users' requirements. Access them very carefully before deciding on a suitable solution for your organization.