Over the previous few months, there have been a number of online articles telling you how to prepare for the next version of SharePoint (SharePoint 15 or SharePoint 2013, depending on who you believe).
Some of that advice is sound, but a lot of it is also rubbish, often coming from authors who have a vested interest in how you choose to upgrade and even prepare to upgrade.
Regardless of what others choose to say, however, I do have a few recommendations for how one should prepare for the next version.
1. Have a Problem? Fix it Now!
Look, a new version of SharePoint isn’t going to change your business problems. You won’t get new problems that only SharePoint 2013 can solve, simply because the new version becomes available.
SharePoint’s greatest feature is its ability to help solve your problems. No, not the problems that everyone face, but the problems that are unique to you. It can be everything from a cumbersome onboarding process, to inefficient handling of invoices, to how you do your performance reviews.
If those are problems you face right now, you should start solving them right now. If your biggest problem right now is not having an Education tracking module in your intranet, then sure, SharePoint 2013 may indeed be your salvation, but most likely your business won’t change come November.
Remember, it wasn’t a year ago when SharePoint 2010 was the perfect tool for solving any problem you may have had, it was shiny and great, and everyone knew it was the absolute best. Those voices will be saying the same thing about SharePoint 2013 in three years, and a few months later, everyone will rush towards SharePoint 2016.
Underneath it all, however, your problems remain largely the same, and you can and should solve them right now, regardless of which version of SharePoint you have.
2. Hang On, Don’t Rush It!
SharePoint will be here next year, and the year after. And yes, there will be a SharePoint 2016, which will be so much better, and you should probably wait for that to arrive because it’s going to truly outshine SharePoint 2013.
If, right now, you don’t have a problem that SharePoint can help you solve, then most likely, you won’t get those problems in November either. In other words, Microsoft releasing a new version will not give you new problems.
You see, the value of SharePoint isn’t in having the latest and greatest version of the platform. The most profitable solutions I’ve made are built on SharePoint 2007. As late as October last year (2011) a client approached me to build a brand new solution on SharePoint 2007 to solve a critical need they had, and that’s five years after the platform came out.
There were absolutely no benefits to upgrading to SharePoint 2010. When the client did decide to upgrade early this year, it was primarily because Microsoft was shutting down mainstream support, not because there was actually a set of features the client just had to have, or that even brought additional value.
Mainstream support for SharePoint 2010 isn’t scheduled to end until late 2015 and for a few extra bucks, you can extend that to at least 2020. You have plenty of time until then to evaluate whether upgrading actually benefits you.
3. Have Money to Spare? Sure, Upgrade Immediately!
When SharePoint 2013 hits the shelves, about 50 people in the world will know how to harness its new features. Everyone else will, with regards to experience with the new features, be essentially as blank as you are yourself.
Those people who do have experience will be massively expensive if you can even find them. Even the people who know a bit about the new version will lack the experience that SharePoint 2010 developers have, so they will likely not be very efficient, increasing the risk, time, or errors of your projects.
Your cost for doing anything on SharePoint 2013 in the early months will be massive, if you can even find someone who can do it.
You think I’m exaggerating? From October 2012, I start on a contract that was booked almost a year ago (summer of 2011). The client was willing to enter into a contract for a substantial amount of money over a year in advance just to ensure that they had available the people they need.
My point is this: rushing to get the latest and greatest isn’t historically a good strategy from a cost perspective.
4. Want to Get Rich? Don’t Wait!
If you are, like my client, in the business of knowing things early, then starting now is a better idea than it may seem. An example may be consulting companies or developers who wish to harness the wave of new technology that will dawn in a few short months.
First, as I’ve mentioned, the need for those that do know a little bit about SharePoint 2013 at launch will be massive, far greater than it was during the SharePoint 2010 boom. Back then, you couldn’t spit on the street without hitting someone looking to hire SharePoint people.
As a career move, or if you are in the consulting business and want to make a lot of money, moving to SharePoint 2013 early makes a lot of business sense.
Second, the lifespan of SharePoint version-specific knowledge is short. With a three-year product cycle, anything you learn about SharePoint 2013 today will start being stale in two years. The sooner you start, the longer you have to capitalize on your knowledge.
Consider this: it’s just two years since SharePoint 2010 hit the shelves, and we’ve already been talking about SharePoint 2013 for almost half a year. Had you started learning about SharePoint 2010 when it first came out, perhaps spending six months getting up-to-speed, you’d only have one year of benefit before everyone was talking about the next version.
5. Have Existing Custom Apps? Wait!
If you’ve developed custom solutions for SharePoint 2007 or 2010, then you should know that there is a high chance that those solutions won’t work with SharePoint 2013. I’m not just talking about .NET developed solutions here; anything that involves custom development has a risk.
Why? Well, with the extremely limited information Microsoft has given us, especially concerning programming interfaces, we simply don’t know whether there are breaking changes in the object model, CAML specifications, or even infrastructure, which may affect your custom solutions.
Microsoft are masters of backwards compatibility. They spend huge amounts of resources to ensure you’re still their customers, especially when they launch new versions of their software. It’s good bet that they have done their utmost to ensure that applications and solutions built for earlier versions as well as knowledge gained among the thousands of SharePoint professionals will continue to both work and be relevant.
Still, even the most carefully crafted solutions will have a chance of changes in features or definitions affecting or breaking them.
For example, we know that SharePoint 2013 will run on .NET 4.0, which includes a completely new workflow engine. If you’ve built custom workflow solutions in earlier versions, they may simply not work in 2013, at least not as they were designed.
As such, if you’ve done heavy customization or development, don’t rush onto a new version, but wait until you understand the upgrade requirements. After all, if your current solution solves your problems, why would you even need to upgrade?
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Well, as with all things SharePoint, the answer is: it depends.
The risk of starting an upgrade process, whether on the technical bits or your knowledge, is high. The technical risks are that you start out on a platform that few understand and that most likely will be very expensive. The knowledge risk is that you tend to forget things you don’t do often and if your clients don’t move with you, then you’re learning something that you won’t use for a long time.
However, the rewards are also amazing. Early adoption means a longer time to reap returns. It means you’ll be a highly coveted employee or consultant. If you want a reputation in the community, knowing early is a great benefit.
What you should choose depends greatly on the risk you’re willing to take and the rewards you want from your efforts. Don’t fool yourself: upgrading won’t be as easy as you expect, neither on the technology end or the knowledge end.
Remember that with a completely new version, you also need to retrain your users; it’s a cost often overlooked.
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