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With the rapid pace at which technology continues to evolve, maintaining a solid understanding of each new feature can be a challenge. New technologies mean different things to firms of varying sizes; just because it works for one, doesn’t mean it will work for all. Keeping up with the latest and greatest — and understanding what’s most relevant to your firm — can be extremely time-consuming. To save you some of that effort, let’s walk through one of the year’s hottest releases: Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 platform.
A New Level of Search
SharePoint 2013 hosts a variety of new features that provide significant value to the
legal profession. New capabilities in the way we organize, share, discover, build
and manage content have been developed. While not every new feature is perfect, this
release will add significant value to the overall user experience for most firms.
Without a doubt, the improvements to search and the new collaboration tools are the
most impressive enhancements to SharePoint 2013 in a legal context.
“Intent-driven search” was a term popularized by Yahoo in the early 2000s as a way to provide users a method of focusing their search results without the complexity of an advanced search interface. SharePoint 2013 has adopted this approach and now offers a much more robust platform for searching internal and external content. Additional improved search features include:
Analytics: Analytics are now a part of SharePoint 2013, having a direct impact on a user’s search results. These integrated analytics create more relevant search results as the platform learns user intent based on prior search behavior. Search is now a fully customizable experience providing suggestions for related documents, sites and even people that the user might also want to follow.
FAST Integration: In 2008, Microsoft acquired the company behind FAST Enterprise Search and offered the technology as an add-on to SharePoint 2010. FAST provides search capabilities to a wide variety of sources such as websites, file shares, Exchange folders, Lotus Notes, etc. The technology underlying FAST has been seamlessly integrated into SharePoint 2013, bringing new search capabilities to the end user. Unlike SharePoint 2010, this technology comes at no additional cost.
User Experience: The search user experience has been enhanced with:
- Hover panels, which enable users to preview content directly from the browser
- Interactive search refiners, making it possible to hone in on a specific piece of content by refining the search by author, document format, time period, etc.
- Counters, showing the number of times a document has been viewed within search results
Query Rules: In the past, keywords and “Best Bets” were used to refine search results. In SharePoint 2013, query rules are used to create promoted results. Promoted results allow search administrators and site owners to set rules upfront correlating specific keywords to relevant results. For example, if an attorney were searching for a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), the site owner could set a query rule to promote the NDA template because that document would have the highest likelihood of being the most relevant. Users can also reconnect with prior search history quickly, as past queries are remembered and recalled as query suggestions.
Continuous Crawl: In addition to full- and incremental-crawl strategies, SharePoint 2013 adds a third crawl mechanism into the mix: continuous crawl. In a continuous crawl scenario, indexing content becomes a multithreaded process, improving search performance. Multiple continuous crawls can occur simultaneously, maintaining the most up-to-date content. This new feature runs every 15 minutes, but the time interval can be changed as needed.
Similar to earlier versions, content connectors allow content to be crawled from various sources. This functionality further supports powerful enterprise content management (ECM) opportunities. With a less-than-stellar user experience in SharePoint 2010 and an equally lukewarm adoption, it is no surprise Microsoft spent considerable resources overhauling its search capabilities. Search in SharePoint 2013 is now a serious contender among enterprise search solutions.
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼SharePoint 2013 provides a better search experience with:
- “Intent-driven” results and suggestions
- Rich query languages, such as KQL and FQL
- Promoted results
- Saved searches
- Continuous crawl
- Tracked number of views
- “Follow” capabilities
- Visual refiners
- Visual displays
Collaborate with the click of a button
Collaboration is where SharePoint really excels, so further improvement in this area will continue to help law firms be more productive. Whether you want to share a single document or an entire site, you can do so quickly by clicking the “Share” button and populating the “recipient” field with the appropriate email addresses. You’ll also have the ability to drag and drop documents without having to open the SharePoint library, and these capabilities are also supported on mobile devices. Permissions remain secure with only the site administrator granting site access, but now anyone can have the authority to invite new users if needed.
Better intranet and extranet capabilities
- Build a company newsfeed
- Collect feedback
- Create communities
- Announce milestones and birthdays
- Distribute firm calendars
New ways to create and visualize workflows
Creating and managing workflows will be a major improvement for both developers and end users with Workflow Manager. Workflows are now based around ASPX pages rather than InfoPath forms, although InfoPath and the SharePoint 2010 workflow engine remain supported. In addition, the workflow engine is now separated from SharePoint and runs as a separate service. New workflow features include:
- Visual designer
- Stages, which reduce complexities by grouping
- logical sections
- Copy and paste functionalities
- Increased scalability
- Looping (until a specific criterion has been met)
Smarter and faster
Minimal Download Strategy (MDS) significantly improves overall SharePoint 2013 performance by only rendering new changes when moving from page to page, resulting in less bandwidth use and faster page loading times.
Chat and edit simultaneously
While SharePoint isn’t always the best document management system for high-volume law firms, you might still find value in its collaborative editing capabilities. With SharePoint 2013, users will be able to co-author documents simultaneously, while also chatting in real time.
Worth noting, but not worth upgrading for
Social: New social functionality provides users with the ability to:
- Communicate and share with teammates instantly
- “Like” and “Follow” statuses and discussion boards
- Create relevancy with @ mentions and hashtags
- Follow microblogs
- Collaborate within dedicated team sites
With a sound strategy, an enterprise social network (ESN) can add value to your firm, making social a potential game changer. Without a well-thought-out strategy in place, it might just end up as a disruption.
Business Intelligence (BI): With Power View, SharePoint’s newest BI tool, users can visually interact with data that’s been aggregated from multiple sources. Reports can be customized and published quickly within Excel. Data are interconnected among charts, maps and graphs, creating a unique BI experience.
Cloud: In addition to deploying SharePoint on-premise, there are a number of options for leveraging the platform in the cloud. Microsoft’s Office 365 platform provides a multitenant environment, including email and communication options. For organizations looking to reduce IT spending and complexities, this might be of interest. The Microsoft Azure service allows organizations to deploy and manage dedicated virtual machines and configure a SharePoint farm within Microsoft’s data centers.
E-Discovery: The new E-Discovery Center allows users to perform a two-step approach:
Identify and Hold, and Search and Explore in a central location. While many non-legal enterprises might find this a valuable asset to their legal, compliance and audit teams, legal-specific e-discovery platforms are more likely to fit your needs.
Should you upgrade?
Not all firms are created equal, and not all features within SharePoint 2013 are equally relevant. This makes the decision to upgrade a business decision that only your team can make. Start the process by answering these questions:
1. Are you currently running SharePoint 2010? If you’re already running SharePoint 2010, upgrading to SharePoint 2013 is a good option. Anyone who has gone through a SharePoint upgrade can tell you it can be challenging. However, if your SharePoint 2010 environment is customized with mostly out-of- the-box features, there is a good chance of upgrading without a major incident.
2. Do you have a good understanding of what SharePoint 2013 can do for your firm? Before committing to SharePoint 2013, make sure you understand how the new functionality will add value to your firm. If there is value to be derived, allocating resources to the migration might make financial sense. Try to gauge the magnitude of the expected migration effort before jumping in.
3. Do you have adequate IT resources available to implement the migration? Migrating to SharePoint 2013, regardless of which version you are currently running, requires adequate IT resources. If you are going to upgrade, make sure you have the resources and budget necessary to do it properly.
4. Are you currently using antiquated search technology?
If so, upgrading to SharePoint 2013 should be a serious consideration. The vast improvements in search could be a game changer in your firm.
5. Would you consider technology an important part of your firm’s vision? Microsoft has put significant resources behind SharePoint innovation. Upgrading to SharePoint 2013 can give your firm an edge in optimizing your business operations.
6. Can SharePoint 2013 solve a specific problem you are having? Identify your need for SharePoint 2013. If there is a specific gap in your current technical environment that SharePoint 2013 can fill, you’ll want to evaluate an upgrade with your technology partners.
If you answered “yes” to the majority of these questions, upgrading to SharePoint 2013 is likely to be worth your firm’s resources. Take the time to weigh your options and consult with your IT partners on the best approach for moving forward.
This article was first published in ILTA’s December 2013 issue of Peer to Peer titled “What’s the Buzz? Hot Topics in 2013” and is reprinted here with permission. For more information about ILTA, visit their website at www.iltanet.org.