Smacking SharePoint into shape

Shops often need to add functionality to the core software.

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One big piece of advice that LA Fitness' Bedar has for enterprises looking to extend their SharePoint deployments: Get your own people trained as experts in SharePoint so you can do most extensions on your own.

"Don't hire consultants," he says. "Get something set up and learn from it. Gain some experience. Then you might want to spend some money to do something that you can't do out of the box. That's what we did here."

SharePoint 2013 beckons

Customers say they're excited about SharePoint 2013. Eastman Chemical is evaluating the new version and plans to deploy it later this year, McGuire says. With the latest version, Eastman is looking to expand the reach of its SharePoint investment into more social media and mobile worlds for its users.

"We cannot get to SharePoint 2013 fast enough because we want to be able to deliver documents" via mobile devices more easily, through features such as SkyDrive Pro, which replaces the Work Space functionality that existed in SharePoint 2010, says McGuire.

SkyDrive Pro is a special library or folder that allows users to link to it from multiple mobile devices. It can be synched with other libraries and files to be shared with other users. "We think our users are really going to take advantage of that opportunity," says McGuire. "It really will help our mobile workforce."

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."

This article, Smacking SharePoint into Shape, was originally published at

Todd R. Weiss is an award-winning technology journalist and freelance writer who worked as a staff reporter for from 2000 to 2008. Follow him on Twitter, where his handle is @TechManTalking, or email him at

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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