Two weeks ago, I gave a presentation at SPTechCon where I talked about some of the best practices that I have come to rely upon when interfacing production systems with SharePoint. I received some excellent feedback; both in the form of questions and comments, but one comment really made me wonder. At the end of my presentation, a man said that he agreed with the approach I was recommending but he worried that by integrating application software to SharePoint, I was adding a constraint to our environment. “If you go that route, you can’t operate your company without SharePoint” was the way he summed up his point.
The fact of the matter is; if I do my job right, I don’t want to be able to operate our company without SharePoint. We are using SharePoint as our ECM solution. If we successfully identify, categorize, store and manage critical company documents on SharePoint, why should that platform be any less important than our application server, our database server or our email server? Why do people consider non-structured data to be less important than transaction data? You might argue that I am generalizing from a single comment to world opinion, but I think I am correct. I think content managers and record managers understand the importance of enterprise content, but I think the rest of the people in most organizations see content as second tier material.
When you consider the features that SharePoint offers, versioning, auditing, content approval, workflows, and so on, I think you might agree that SharePoint is truly ready to hold important documents. More importantly, it’s ready to help build those documents and to hold data like contacts, tasks and the supporting information that brings context and relevance to the numbers in our database. We would never consider running without access to email, but the fact that I can now tie a transaction to a document and the emails that surround that document make SharePoint every bit as critical as the other platforms.
One of the examples in my presentation was our effort to use a contact list in SharePoint to associate names and addresses with our policies. The fact that our users maintain the robust SharePoint list in tandem with the minimal content list in our application tells me they understand the importance of the data. The permission and management features I can bring to bear on that list, coupled with the Web Service interface, tells me that I can control the quality of the data in that list and that I can rely on the list as part of a transaction process. That we have reached this point in the integration of transaction processing and the elements of record keeping and content management, tells me that this technology has matured.