Understanding the Architecture of SharePoint 2010 : Capabilities

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Think of capabilities as user-facing functionalities that provide direct business value. By empowering business users with these capabilities, SharePoint 2010 enables them to do more, faster, and with less effort. These capabilities also allow users to build their own tailored solutions using SharePoint 2010 that adhere to the defined business processes within their organization. These capability areas define SharePoint 2010 as a unique product in the marketplace and allow the expandability and flexibility needed to empower both customers and independent software vendor (ISV) partners to create their own unique solutions to line-of-business problems. Figure 1 shows each of the capability areas provided by SharePoint 2010. The following sections provide a review of these capabilities. Each area will be explored in more detail.
Figure 1. Capability areas provided by SharePoint 2010

1. Sites

SharePoint 2010 includes power collaboration capabilities. These capabilities are delivered in the form of site templates that are included with the product. By creating a Team Collaboration Site, small groups can work together on document deliverables and can track outstanding tasks, events, contacts, and other supporting list information.

Collaboration in SharePoint focuses on empowering users to take ownership of the site and its content, which will drive user adoption and self-support. A fluent user interface, with the familiar Microsoft Office Ribbon, delivers a contextual experience that lets users find the information they deem most relevant. Integration with the Office client applications improves productivity by allowing users to open, edit, and save documents to SharePoint using the applications most familiar to them.

Enhancements in the mobile experience give users the option of taking their work on the go. Improved mobile browser support allows users to access SharePoint data from most devices using the mobile browser interface. Microsoft Office Web Applications let users view Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Microsoft Excel documents on mobile devices. Microsoft Office Mobile 2010 and SharePoint Mobile Workspace 2010 provide Windows Phone users with a mobile rich client experience, allowing them to work directly on documents in real time or offline.

With Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010, users can synchronize their local offline enabled workspaces with both SharePoint and Microsoft Groove. Acting as a completely integrated offline client for SharePoint 2010, SharePoint Workspace gives users increased flexibility as they take work with them wherever they go. Microsoft Outlook Sync provides the ability to keep up to date with feeds, lists, and document libraries on mobile devices, using the familiar Outlook interface.

Finally, Web Parts provide a flexible way for users to tailor the experience within sites to meet their needs. By providing a wide array of out-of-the-box Web Parts for use within their sites, users can organize and present information the way they want it, based on their needs or the needs of their team. Personalization lets users tailor certain pages or Web Parts to meet specific needs, at the same time allowing other users who haven’t personalized the page to see the shared view arranged by the editor. Alerts can be set on any item or list in the system to inform users of any changes made.

2. Content

The content capability within SharePoint 2010 provides many feature areas that are central to providing the management, publishing, retention, and disposition of content throughout the enterprise. Web publishing allows you to make information available to others in a structured way. Approval workflows provide a mechanism for automating the content approval and publishing process. Content deployment makes it easy to move content between staging and production of Internet-facing Web sites. Quick deploy allows for the on-demand deployment of specific content between sites. Multilingual capabilities provide an intelligent interface that detects a client user’s language in addition to providing process automation for the translation of content between languages.

Managed metadata makes it easy to share common, well-understood field selection and taxonomical structures throughout your organization and across site collections. By scoping the metadata services at the site collection level as well as at the enterprise level, identified valuable structures can be promoted and can be easily made available across the enterprise. Furthermore, content type syndication makes the publishing of content types across multiple site collection possible. A new content type called hub site collection acts as a master copy for content types that are pushed down to subscribing site collections that leverage a common managed metadata service.

Document conversion lets users create content in familiar formats, such as Microsoft Word, and have that content converted into Web page content. This allows for an array of possible content source formats while ensuring that a common Web page content output is available for use within sites.

3. Communities

Communities provide the social networking backbone of SharePoint 2010. Central to the social capabilities is the concept of My Site, which provides each unique user with a home within the system. This gives users a place to bring together content from other sites, update profile information, join networks, and connect with other users based on interests or expertise. New activity feeds provide users a way to see what other users in their network are doing. Profiles let each user describe herself or himself. Profiles are synchronized with Active Directory, LDAP, or business data systems. When users have established an identity within the system, social search—or people search as it is commonly called—allows users to find one another quickly and easily.

User presence information allows users to contact one another instantly using Office Communicator through integration with Office Communication Server. Wikis and blogs provide familiar ways for groups and individuals alike to publish their thoughts, opinions, and knowledge in a quick, easy, and informal way. New social features such as tagging, notes, and ratings create a community context for content stored within the system. Users can tag content using tags stored within the managed metadata service, or they can create new tags on the fly. Notes can be added almost anywhere within the system and are brought together for a given user within her My Site.

4. Search

It’s great to have all your information in a common system, but what good is it if you can’t search for and find the information you need? SharePoint 2010 provides a comprehensive search capability, which includes a multitude of search experiences that are tailored to specific usages. From a simple list level search to a FAST enterprise search experience, SharePoint 2010 integrates the latest search technologies and makes them available in a unified way.

A robust indexing capability can be configured to search for content both inside and outside of the system. Bringing all of the content available within a common index delivers search query results quickly. Search results include relevance, best bets, and many other sophisticated search features you have come to expect.

Federation allows you to search multiple indexes in different physical locations in a unified fashion. By integrating with the back-end metadata capabilities within the system, the search feature becomes even more powerful, as users search for documents and content based on metadata fields and tags. Alerts keep users up to date on specific search queries as the results change over time, making it easy for users to keep up with content as it changes.

5. Composites

Business connectivity services provide a way for users to work with business data stored in other systems within SharePoint 2010. SharePoint 2010 expands on the connectivity capabilities of previous versions, allowing bidirectional interactions with business data as well as the ability to integrate with more third-party business systems. Access Services allow users to render and interact with data stored in Microsoft Access databases, and Visio Services provide a similar capability for data stored within Microsoft Visio files. SharePoint Designer provides a rich interface for creating publishing master pages, page layouts, human workflows, and customized pages.

Human workflows allow users to create workflows that are based on people processes and adapt those workflows to an ever-changing process as it evolves. Forms Services provide a robust way to render InfoPath forms within the Web interface, including the ability to leverage custom code and external data. Finally, Sandboxed Solutions let administrators upload and manage customization within their site collections. New isolation and throttling capabilities ensure that user customizations don’t adversely affect other sites.

6. Insights

Microsoft PerformancePoint Server is now part of SharePoint 2010, enabling a whole host of new features for the analysis of business intelligence (BI) and decision information. Integrated rich analytics allow users to interact with BI data through client applications and the browser. Dashboards, key performance indicators (KPIs), and extensive charting capabilities complete the feature set in a powerful new way. As was the case in prior versions, Excel Services allows for Web rendering of Microsoft Excel data within the browser.

Real World: SharePoint 2010 and Middle Management

Throughout 2009 and into early 2010, most large enterprises did not view the demand for SharePoint 2010 very seriously because of the economic conditions looming over the global workforce. But the engineering workforce at one organization quickly identified the significant benefits that SharePoint 2010 offered compared to its previous version and lobbied their middle management, creating a business case for upgrading to SharePoint 2010. As a result, in the year 2010, SharePoint 2010 gathered enough attention to be on the CIO’s top five most demanded projects list.

In this large organization, the demand for upgrading to SharePoint 2010 came from the bottom levels of the company and worked its way up. The engineers and architects created a high-value business case not only for upgrading their existing SharePoint service to SharePoint 2010 but also for deploying a new service to host business applications across the enterprise. Middle management offered significant resistance to adopting SharePoint 2010 because they were concerned that being an early adopter of a new product could pose significant risk to the existing service.

The consulting architect’s recommendation was to create a quick pilot project for SharePoint 2010 that would incubate a number of key company-wide initiatives, not only proving the stability of SharePoint 2010, but also building organization capabilities around the new product. The pilot project would also help align central IT with various projects across the enterprise. This was a real opportunity for the IT department to jump ahead of business-specific project requirements and demands. Selecting the right product for a services deployment can make the difference between anticipating business needs and playing catch-up for years to come.

A similar demand arose from the engineering workforce in a financial institution when they realized that SharePoint 2010 would help them rationalize most of their business applications on a single platform with potentially less hardware than their existing SharePoint Server 2007 infrastructure. In this organization, middle management was agile and provided a bridge between technical and business groups across the enterprise. The proactive managers realized they would not be able to justify a new platform to upper management for an upgrade, however, because the company was experiencing extreme cost-cutting measures.

They thought creatively, and instead of focusing on one SharePoint 2010 project, they focused on creating a cross-organizational collaboration and business intelligence strategy by including all of their IT and business unit projects. The strategy was to leverage Microsoft’s SharePoint Online service as the new platform instead of building everything themselves from scratch. The strategy demonstrated significant cost savings in terms of time to market and elasticity offered by the online platform in scaling up and down as per the demand. By moving to a cloud SharePoint service, they would automatically benefit from SharePoint 2010 and be able to take advantage of future upgrade processes. Upper management was sold on the utility computing concept and quickly responded with funding for executing the collaboration and business intelligence projects across the enterprise, independent of the type of platform used. In this example, middle management executed the project on a short timeline because they were creative and proactive.

Both of these examples demonstrate the crucial role that middle management plays in driving IT service capabilities in any organization. Organizational culture plays an important role in determining how proactive middle management becomes. Organizational culture can be transformed from reactive to proactive by identifying key gaps in people, processes, and technology. In the first example, middle management was risk averse, and as a result became reactive to the needs of the business. In the second example, middle management identified and elected to take calculated risks, as long as the risks were managed. As a result, they were able to move several initiatives forward proactively.

As an architect, it is your responsibility to formulate your recommendations based on the best possible path for your customer. Likewise, it’s equally important that you are willing to justify your position, even when your recommendations are not well received. In such cases, you should also try to explain clearly how your recommendation can transform IT capabilities into strategic assets rather than cost centers.

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