LA Fitness is working on a project to renovate and rebuild its intranet for more than 25,000 users using SharePoint 2013, and the IT teams needed customized coding for extensions on layout and master pages, says Jim Zhang, manager of SharePoint development. One major benefit LA Fitness has seen already with SharePoint 2013 over 2010 is that custom coding and extensions in general are much easier to accomplish in the newer edition, says Zhang. They're still needed in 2013, but they are easier to do.
Custom extensions have also been made to connect SharePoint 2013 with other Microsoft applications, such as the financial management and ERP product Great Plains. That wasn't easy to do directly out of the box with SharePoint 2010. "We had to build a lot of Web services and work flows" to make it possible, Zhang says.
Another area where extensions were needed was in controlling content availability for users as they log in to the intranet, to be sure they can see only the content they are authorized to view.
Similar extensions and additional code were needed to provide custom search of the intranet and of the data available within SharePoint to users, says Kathleen Cramm, director of business intelligence for the company.
In addition, creating very sophisticated workflows, including things that are based on a series of conditions, requires extensions that are built by the LA Fitness IT teams, says Bedar. "It's easy to do some limited workflows out of the box, such as alerting somebody that something has been changed. But if you actually want to put some Boolean logic in there ... then that requires more sophistication."
Overall, big design changes in SharePoint 2013 make it much safer to run with extensions, consultant Beckett says. Now, instead of the extensions running within SharePoint, they run alongside it, making them less problematic for the main application.
"This is better," says Beckett. It appears to be fairly well-integrated, but the actual code is running somewhere else. "That mitigates a lot of the quirks and makes it much simpler for organizations to manage and control it."
Even with the new version, however, there are always going to be cases where users will need to extend SharePoint's built-in capabilities, Beckett says. "Companies are always going to push the boundaries."
Scott Jamison, CEO and chief architect at Jornata, a consulting company that has developed SharePoint extensions and customizations, says these are the most popular areas where customers ask for help:
- Social media add-ons to enable employees and partners to find better and broader ways to interact with other people. The recent addition of Yammer is intended to fill most of that need.
- Scanning capabilities, to more effectively use SharePoint for document management or records management. Users "just want to put [the document] into a scanner and have it automatically fed into right place," Jamison says. "SharePoint will do a good job with the storage but it won't allow you to easily get them scanned in."
- Interaction with the desktop. Since SharePoint is mostly a browser-based Web application, it needs some help when people want to use it along with desktop applications, says Jamison. "There are tools out there that help enable that rich desktop experience, for offline work, to take content out of SharePoint and use it on local machines or the desktop."
- Mobile apps. SharePoint, particularly prior to the 2010 version, needs add-on tools to do this, he says. "SharePoint 2013 gets much closer to not needing those specific applications because it includes support for HTML5," Jamison says.
- Management tools, especially when large organizations are managing multiple SharePoint deployments for various business units or departments. "That is not uncommon," says Jamison. "You might have one installation for document collaboration, another one for business applications that people are building on top of SharePoint and then a third for the company's intranet. You might have them separated due to different SLAs or due to a plain vanilla installation for Web content management and a more customized deployment for something else."
Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for Computerworld.com from 2000 to 2008. Follow him on Twitter, where his handle is @TechManTalking, or email him at email@example.com.
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This story, "Smacking SharePoint into shape" was originally published by Computerworld.