SharePoint 2013 Tips – Part 4 New Collaboration

July 17, 2014 |

Over the last few weeks, I’ve offered my advice for SharePoint 2013 collaboration discussing:

Today I’m discussing new collaboration.

New Collaboration

In 2003, working on documents in SharePoint was centered on the idea of “single occupancy vehicles”.  Much of the functionality was based on this sort of editing process:

  1. Original author writes a document
  2. Document version 1 uploaded to SharePoint
  3. First author sends an email to reviewers asking for updates
    1. First reviewer “checks out” the document
    2. Other people wait until the document “becomes available”
    3. First reviewer makes further edits
    4. Document checked back in (version 1.1)
    5. Edits are reviewed and approved
    6. Second reviewer checks out document, edits, checks in version 1.2)
    7. Process continues until document version 2.0 is published and updates are seen by :everyone”
    8. Additional document updates continue by returning to Step 3.

This was obviously a lot more structured than using a file share.  But this collaboration process opens up a lot of risks:

  • Users get impatient waiting for a document to be checked back in so they email a copy to other editors, creating a duplicate that lives outside SharePoint
  • Parallel editing on different copies (on in SharePoint and one from email) creating two similar but different editions of the “same” document.
  • Versioning was poorly understood or severely constrained – so people made duplicate copies with similar names:
    • Proposal
    • Proposal April
    • Proposal April w JKR comments
    • Proposal Final
    • Proposal Final2
    • Proposal Final as Approved
    • As a result, no one is 100% sure which document is controlling or final, leading to a loss of confidence in SharePoint as the file store “of record”

Despite these issues, SharePoint 2003 offered much better support for controlled, reviewed editing among multiple contributors than anything else.

SharePoint 2013 is different.  It offers intrinsic capabilities that are much more flexible than prior editions – letting you keep the documents entirely in the SharePoint universe while extending them to new people and new devices flexibly, especially:

  • Reviewing documents directly in the browser, without downloading a copy or launching a full version of Word/PowerPoint/Excel etc. (Office Web Apps)
  • Taking a synced copy of selected documents offline on multiple devices – laptop, smartphone, or tablet (SkyDrive Pro)
  • Letting multiple editors work on the same document simultaneously (co-authoring)

Taken together, this allows for much more flexible and dynamic editing periods.  These capabilities build extensively on the capacity, versioning and sharing capabilities as detailed in part one of the series.  We know that collaboration – working together – happens not just in formal processes, but as time and opportunity present themselves.  Let look at how SharePoint helps us work together in our own style and timing.

Office Web Apps (“OWA”)

Microsoft introduced the idea of browser based Office as part of SharePoint 2010.  These proved to be so successful that Microsoft moved them “outside” SharePoint to allow other enterprise systems (Exchange, Lync) to use them as well.

Technically, OWA isn’t mandatory for SharePoint – you can run the farm just fine without it.  But you don’t get document previews or the ability to make minor edits from inside the browser without it.

What’s the best way to install OWA?  The simplest by far is Office 365.  In the cloud, OWA is preinstalled for you and requires no additional configuration.  However, for on premises installations you’ll need to set up a small server(s) to run OWA.

The detailed steps for setting up and scaling OWA are beyond the scope of the post, but the summary steps are outlined here:

  • Install OWA prerequisites on a server or servers NOT already part of the SharePoint farm:
    • Server Features: .NET Framework 4.5 and partially selected.  Expand it and also add ASP.NET 4.5
    • Ink and Handwriting
  • Web Server Roles (IIS)
    • Security / Windows Authentication
    • Application Development
    • NET Extensibility 4.5
    • ISAPI Extension
    • ISAPI Filters
    • Server Side Includes
    • Install OWA on those servers
    • Use the PowerShell command New-OfficeWebAppsFarm  to start a new instance of OWA
    • On the SharePoint farm, use the PowerShell command New-SPWOPIBinding to connect the SharePoint farm to the OWA services

And voila!  If you’re an admin, it’s not hard.  And if you’re not, Office 365 comes with all of this engineering prebuilt.  In addition to the edit features shown above, you’ll now be able to get document previews in context menus and searches.

Why does this help collaboration?  Suppose you’re traveling and your team has just updated next month’s board presentation.  Emailing copies around isn’t the way to go – and you’re staying with family and don’t have access to Office 2013.  Instead, you can review the document from any standard browser (IE, Firefox, Safari) immediately, without having to wait until you’re back at the office.  Faster results.

In my last blog of the series, I’ll discuss co-authoring and OneDrive for business. You can also read my thoughts on SharePoint 2013 in conclusion.

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Diana South

As Senior Product Marketing Manager, Diana South is responsible for Cryptzone’s data loss prevention and digital accessibility solutions. Diana brings over 20 years of experience with enterprise software to help organizations provide equal and secure access for their users, delivering products that become integral to the customers' business.

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