Is SharePoint 2010 Really Ready for ECM?

By Christian Buckley posted 07-06-2011 21:42

  

Co-authored with fellow AIIM blogger and ECM expert Chris Riley (@rileybeebs)

 

This is an interesting question, and the answer really depends on who you ask. Microsoft has made great strides with SharePoint 2010 to meet the mainstream needs of Enterprise Content Management customers, adding new features like Document Sets (allowing for a document “bill of materials”) and Document IDs (allowing you to track persistence of a document). But I don’t believe companies will go out and replace massive ECM solutions with SharePoint on a feature-by-feature basis. Simply put, the leading ECM vendors have been in the space for a long time, and do some things very, very well. However, people are, in fact, moving to SharePoint because of all the other things that SharePoint can do (or, more precisely, what can be done through SharePoint) -- in addition to offering core ECM capabilities -- that make it appealing to these companies.

 

But let's give the question some background: SharePoint 2007 started getting the attention of the  ECM space, creating a lot of buzz and debate around whether or not SharePoint was an ECM platform.  At some point, industry analysts came together (as they often do) and decided on the primary things that were missing from SharePoint to prevent it from being a true ECM solution. Their analysis drew some lines, making it very clear that without records management, scalability, metadata, granular security, persistent links, auditing, and eDiscovery, SharePoint could not be considered an ECM platform.  And these "outliers" were in addition to what was already available in SharePoint 2007. Together, this group of industry experts outlined what they believed to be the ECM Fundamental features. 

 

However, due to semantic differences, they ignored the fact that much of this functionality was already there….just not in the expected way, such as scalability, and granular security.  SharePoint was much closer than thought. 

 

Enter SharePoint 2010. With Document Sets (to the ECM world, compound documents), Managed Metadata (i.e. Taxonomy and Folksonomy), strong content types/content type publishing (enhanced metadata, and retention schedules), in-place records management (in addition to records center), content audits, eDiscovery, and Document ID service, SharePoint 2010 does satisfy these ECM Fundamentals. 

 

So what are the barriers for a company considering moving to SharePoint? Are there any remaining gaps – possibly industry-specific gaps – that might dissuade a company from moving forward with SharePoint? The big question companies must face now is a justification for adopting SharePoint as an ECM platform, and the associated effort and costs with deploying another system.  There are gaps -- areas where companies need to do some additional development, or consider third party solution, such as the DoD 501 standard, or where the company has complicated business process management requirements.  Companies imposed with these standards have no choice but to go with another solution, and at most use SharePoint as a front-end into whichever repository they choose. These requirements are the strongest barrier to SharePoint adoption and replacement of established ECM systems, especially when they look at their annual maintenance costs for these systems.  At the very least, companies are looking at how they can leverage both their old ECM system and SharePoint.

 

The other advantage to SharePoint, of course, is that is has very broad and powerful capabilities outside of the standard ECM toolset – something which competitive solutions do not offer. For example, it offers a powerful (and relatively inexpensive) business intelligence platform, using features like PowerPivot and Excel Services, combined with SQL Reporting Services, to put BI in the hands of every team, but using an interface (Excel) that everyone is familiar with. These features allow teams and business units, when combined with the ECM capability, to build out rich corporate environments with workflow automation, dashboards and reporting. Teams do not need to build out and maintain separate platforms for each of these functions.

 

With the exception of some unique compliance considerations, SharePoint is ready for ECM.  But like all ECM platforms, planning is required to make the transition successful.  With SharePoint, the first step is setting up the platform in such a way that it can scale and perform, followed by planning for the ECM-specific features and structure.  This planning will be more or less consistent with all ECM systems metadata, security, governance, and so forth.  The goal is to create a blue print that allows for a quick and effective deployment. 



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