Top 10 SharePoint 2013 Features

Since SharePoint 2013 was released, it’s been heralded as the greatest release yet from Microsoft’s collaboration platform. But what’s so great about it? Is it really any better than SharePoint 2010 for doing what you want it to? Are there any new features in Sharepoint 2013 that make it worth upgrading?

I’ve listed my top 10 favorite SharePoint 2013 features and improvements. It just might be time for you to upgrade.

1. SharePoint 2013 Is Cloud Ready

SharePoint 2013 is built to enable and help usher in cloud services. You can run SharePoint 2013 completely in the cloud through Office 365 and have almost all of the features of SharePoint on-premises. If you want to enable every feature of SharePoint 2013 and still stay in the cloud, you can opt for a solution where you run it on VMs in the cloud through Windows Azure or Amazon Web Services. If running in the cloud makes some sense, but you have some features that you want to stay on-premises, you can implement a hybrid architecture.

Some enterprises aren’t ready to embrace the cloud just yet, even if they know that cloud services will be in their infrastructure within the next couple of years. If this describes your organization, you’ll be glad to know that the cloud isn’t being forced upon you. You can still do everything on premises in SharePoint 2013 with no help from the cloud at all if that’s what you want to do.

(Video via Technet.)

2. Workflow Integration with Workflow Manager

In SharePoint, workflow is huge, so it makes sense to talk about some of the improvements in workflow in SharePoint 2013. For example, SharePoint workflows will now integrate with Workflow Manager. So, as your enterprise starts to look more and more to the workflow manager infrastructure in place in your organization, SharePoint workflows will be able to leverage those services as well.

3. Machine Translation Services

Machine Translation Services is one of the new features of SharePoint 2013. Machine Translation Services performs automatic content translation by the same Web Services that translate for Bing.

I know that some people view automatic translations to be second best to having a human translator who is able to infer the intricacies of context, but not every organization has the time and resources to push all of their content through human translators.

Buyer beware on any automated translation services, but if your content needs to be translated consistently into one or more languages, then the Machine Translation Service in SharePoint 2013 is going to be a huge help to your content creators.

4. SharePoint Store

This is one of the most recognizably different feature changes in SharePoint 2013.  This is not something like workflow, which already existed and is now made more robust. The SharePoint App Store is something completely new, where your organization and even individual users can choose to license, activate, and use software within SharePoint.

5. Improved Search Capability

Search is one of the killer features in SharePoint. I’ve seen users that are resistant to moving to SharePoint, but when shown how effectively SharePoint can index websites, SharePoint sites, and even existing NTFS file shares, they go from “resisting SharePoint” to “resisting SharePoint but loving SharePoint search”.

Improvements for searching in SharePoint 2013 were eagerly anticipated, and they don’t disappoint. First, analytics is now integrated into the search engine. This is huge, because it modifies how search results are displayed.

You might think that searching for “leave request form” would include the content related to the leave request form that was highly trafficked, and you’d be right. But with integrated analytics, SharePoint Search identifies that people searching for “leave request form” it bypasses other content and choosees the actual leave request form. Once Search learns which content people are actually searching for, the search results are improved.

Another huge improvement is the ability to use query rules to create promoted results. As in the previous example, you could specify that when users search for “leave request form,” they are provided the form they are looking for as a promoted result.

And search presentation isn’t the only thing that got an upgrade. Crawling gets a nice feature upgrade, too, with Continuous Crawl. SharePoint search can now place a content scope under “Continuous Crawl,” making new content appear in search results that much faster.

6. Simplified Licensing

This isn’t so much a feature unto itself, but it is worth mentioning here because the improvements made to the licensing allow you to get access to features that were previously restricted to additional license fees.

FAST Search, which carried with it an additional cost in SharePoint 2010, is now integrated into the SharePoint 2013 search service – no extra license, no extra fee.

In SharePoint 2010, you also had to take on the more expensive “For Internet Sites” license if your server provided any services to Internet users. In SharePoint 2013, Internet users are included as part of the Standard and Enterprise SharePoint Server licenses. No more “FIS” license concerns.

7. Increased Performance

Performance gains in SharePoint 2013 are widespread. The new version takes a streamlined approach to handling data from the bits stored on disk to the application presentation. For instance, only data that has changed on a viewed webpage is sent to the client. Any pieces of the SharePoint site that remain unchanged after the page is updated stays presented from cache. A similar approach was taken at the SQL level: If you make a change to a document stored in your SharePoint document library, only the delta is modified in SQL. This can have a dramatic performance improvement, especially in cases where the editing of large documents are taking place.

8. Full Cross-browser Functionality

SharePoint 2007 was Internet Explorer-only. SharePoint 2010 tried to work with other browsers, but the differences were apparent and frustrating. Working with Chrome or Firefox would work in some parts of SharePoint 2010, but for doing some features you just had to switch to IE to get things done. This was due to the reliance on Active X to perform site administration. Even though some items could be done in other browsers, for anything that required Active X you could only perform that in Internet Explorer.

SharePoint 2013 now works with no Active X controls, so you can do everything – from working with lists and sites to fully managing your farm through Central Administration – through any modern browser.

9. eDiscovery Advances

Performing discovery for an audit or investigation can be a time-consuming, error prone, and frustrating process. Unfortunately, it’s also a completely unavoidable and absolutely mandatory process in many organizations. e-discovery is the process of identifying data that has either been accessed, edited, or communicated about either a person or a topic. This is for legal professionals to make a request to “give me all of the documents dealing with X former employee” (or partner, contractor, product, or client).

SharePoint 2013 includes an eDiscovery Center site template; what’s more, it makes the process of finding the data available through Enterprise Wide eDiscovery. Enterprise Wide eDiscovery lets SharePoint 2013 be the central authority for finding this documentation, whether it exists in an Exchange 2013 mailbox, Lync 2013, a SharePoint site, a searched website, or an NTFS share.

If the legal team needs to find all data relevant to their investigation, a discovery can be completed quickly and the results saved off in a format that can be accessed later.

10. OData Connections in Business Connectivity Services

Business Connectivity Services is not new, but like workflow and search, it’s such a huge part of SharePoint’s successful features, that its improvements are worth mentioning. Especially this one, because SharePoint already did a great job of surfacing data from external sources through Business Data Connectivity, that the inclusion of OData is the frosting on the cake.

For those that aren’t aware of OData, it’s a protocol for posting data to the web. If you’re already thinking that sounds cool, and that you’d like BCS to connect up to some web data, you’re right. If you weren’t already thinking that, you might like to know that there is some pretty awesome web data out there that is waiting for you to connect up to it using OData, including:

  • Netflix
  • Ebay
  • DBPedia (an OData representation of Wikipedia)
  • Datalab
  • Pluralsight
  • Stack Overflow
  • TechEd 2013
  • Twitpic
  • Server Fault

And not only are websites making their data accessible through OData, but other applications make their data available as OData producers, too.

  • SharePoint 2010 and 2013
  • Team Foundation Server
  • SQL Server 2012
  • Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM
  • Windows Azure Table Storage
  • Sitefinity CMS by Telerik

I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops into some great mashups of data pulling enterprise documentation with inline resources from Wikipedia, Server Fault, or Team Foundation Server as columns in a list.

What is your favorite new feature?

So now you know some of the new features that I’m most excited about, but let’s turn this around: Which of these are features that are benefits to you in your organization? Are there features that didn’t make it onto my list that you would have included in your Top Ten? Is your organization moving to the cloud and wanting to use SharePoint 2013? Let me know in the comments below, or start a conversation on Twitter (@FlashDenning).