SharePoint 2010 for Collaboration: Something Old, Something New, Something Blue
It’s been over a year since Microsoft announced the details of SharePoint 2010, and now six months since the product has been on the market. SharePoint 2010 is a substantial update to the SharePoint product, with new capabilities and enhancements strewn throughout the code. Microsoft has continued its policy of tightly linking the latest release of the Office productivity suite with capabilities in SharePoint 2010 too, in order to drive uptake. In this article, I look at the collaboration capabilities of SharePoint 2010—what’s old, what’s new, and what’s blue.
Collaboration—providing specific software capabilities to support people working together on common projects and activities—has always been central to the technology of SharePoint. If we look back a decade, the 2001 edition of SharePoint was composed of two parts. The first was “SharePoint Team Services,” and the second was the Portal. Team Services laid the foundation for the collaboration capabilities—sites, lists, and libraries—that have continued over the subsequent four releases. Of course new capabilities have been added in other areas, such as search starting from SharePoint 2003, and content management and business intelligence making a first appearance in SharePoint 2007.
However, we should call out a change in ethos with the collaboration support in SharePoint. While SharePoint has always been about supporting teams and groups in their collaborative activities, both SharePoint 2007 and 2010 include a much greater focus on organizational or social collaboration. Profiles, shared wikis for collective intelligence, and Twitter-style updates in SharePoint 2010 are all part of this added focus.
Collaboration is also the most commonly-embraced SharePoint capability by organizations. Three different surveys published in August 2010 report that collaboration was the number one active use case for organizations using SharePoint; the surveys were from Colligo Networks, Global360, and The Michael Sampson Company. For historical purposes, if we look back two years, the data for the Global Intranet Strategies Survey 2009 reported the same finding. Supporting collaboration between people is clearly firmly entrenched in organizations with SharePoint.
Before we turn our attention to the new collaboration capabilities in SharePoint 2010, it’s important to note that governance for collaboration with SharePoint remains a critical issue. For example, in a survey I recently conducted on what organizations did with project or team collaboration sites in SharePoint at the end of the project, over 70 percent of respondents said their organization had no site closure policy. Sites were left in place after the project had finished, and there was no active management of the content therein or associated risk. We have had this problem with earlier collaboration technologies (think Lotus Notes for example) and have learned that failing to close sites will lead to significant problems downstream.
Microsoft added new collaboration capabilities to SharePoint 2010, or capabilities that greatly aid in SharePoint’s ability to support collaboration between people. The three key additions in my opinion are Managed Metadata Services, SharePoint Workspace, and content scalability. Let’s look at each in turn.
Managed Metadata Services enables everyone across the organization to speak the same language. Classification of documents draws from the same set of terms. Country names, city names, business unit descriptors, customer classifications—all of these can share a vocabulary so similarities and differences between items can be intentionally set, not unintentionally propagated.
SharePoint Workspace 2010 provides the ability for users to take SharePoint site content offline, with full-fidelity synchronization and conflict checking. SharePoint Workspace is the update for Office 2010 of the Groove technology, acquired by Microsoft in 2005. The initial Microsoft Groove product, in the 2007 wave, offered only the ability to take document libraries offline from SharePoint. With the 2010 update, most lists and libraries can be taken offline, with the calendar and wiki being two exclusions. Users now have much better support for out-of-the-office and mobile work styles, a reality for many information workers. SharePoint Workspace 2010 is one of the applications included in Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010. Third-party vendors such as Colligo Networks have offered offline clients for SharePoint for some years, and while SharePoint Workspace meets a broad set of requirements, IT organizations should still do a feature-by-feature evaluation between SharePoint Workspace and alternatives before deciding on their particular approach.
SharePoint 2010 offers much improved content scalability. Document libraries in SharePoint 2007 had a recommended limit of 2,000 items in a view, which led to unnatural acts being done to work around this limitation. Microsoft claims this limit has been blown away in SharePoint 2010, with the ability to now scale to 50 million items! Whether it really is 50 million or not remains to be seen in customer situations, but regardless, there’s a big difference between 2,000 and 50 million.
There is no escaping the color blue in SharePoint 2010! The colorful MOSS 2007 pie has given way to an all-blue pie with SharePoint 2010; it looks much more staid and corporate, illustrating perhaps that SharePoint is growing up. But beyond the actual color, blue can denote feelings or reactions - the reaction of “cool” or the feeling of being “depressed.”
Some of the new collaboration capabilities in SharePoint 2010 are cool - no doubt about it. Office Web Apps enables real-time collaboration between people using Office 2010 or a browser. With Word 2010, the dreaded “Checked Out” notification can be gone for good, since multiple people can open and edit a Word document simultaneously. With paragraph-level locking and paragraph-level in-document presence notification, Microsoft has taken a great first step with real-time collaboration. Excel spreadsheets can also be shared between multiple users in real-time, with cell-level locking in place. Based on a couple of early adopter experiences, there could be a 10-20 percent efficiency gain available by getting rid of document co-authoring using check-in and check-out.
A second cool aspect of SharePoint 2010 is the softening of the Enterprise licensing requirements. Microsoft’s hard line approach in SharePoint 2007 of requiring everyone to be licensed for Enterprise if only one person required Enterprise-level capabilities has given way to user-level licensing. Only those users who require the Enterprise capabilities have to be provisioned for an Enterprise license; everyone else can have Standard. Part of making this approach work involved shifting away from two separate installations for SharePoint Server—a Standard installation and an Enterprise installation in the 2007 wave. With 2010, it’s a single server installation, and depending on which license the user has dictated, they are presented with Standard or Enterprise features.
Blue can also mean depressed, and I continue to shake my head in disbelief over the poor integration between Outlook 2010 and SharePoint 2010. Simple things like the inability to drag-and-drop an email from Outlook to a connected SharePoint document library are beyond belief—there are third-party offerings that provide this functionality, but surely after 10 years on the market, this should be a standard capability from Microsoft. More complex integrations like seamless calendaring between Outlook and SharePoint also remain unresolved by Microsoft. Of course no technology is perfect, but when Microsoft controls both products, and there are natural points of integration between the two, doing a half-baked job is inexcusable.
SharePoint 2010 includes a lot that is new and improved on the collaboration side, and the people I speak with at organizations are very keen to get their hands on the new capabilities. As with any technology, features and functions are merely opportunities for doing work in a different way, so IT organizations and departments need to create strong engagement strategies for exploring fitness to task with their business department clients. Once opportunities for improving business activities have been identified, they then need to cultivate various user adoption strategies to ensure that the hoped-for-value translates into delivered-value.
Messaging News writer Michael Sampson advises organizations on Making Collaboration Work. He blogs at currents.michaelsampson.net and can be reached at michael [at] michaelsampson [dot] net. His latest book, “User Adoption Strategies: Shifting Second Wave People to New Collaboration Technology” was published in June, and is available from http://www.michaelsampson.net/useradoption.html.
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