Welcome to the club SharePoint (Club ECM)

By Dave Martin posted 01-30-2012 11:02


It was about six months ago when a friend of mine from Microsoft told me a story where he had been in a room with all of the established ECM solution vendors as well as some of the newer Cloud file-sharing vendors.  He told me of a moment during this event where one of those Cloud vendors referred to SharePoint as, “One of the old traditional ECM vendors.”  I looked at my friend and said, welcome to the club.

ECM, or Enterprise Content Management, is a solutions arena that Microsoft entered with much hype and fanfare in late 2006.  We’ve all seen SharePoint rated and ranked in ECM analyst reviews, some with almost too good to believe results and some with “obviously they don’t believe” results.  The market has adopted SharePoint en masse and deployed it broadly as an ECM platform, sometimes with a solid plan in place, and some times, not so much.  Regardless, it has been five years since we were first introduced to SharePoint, the ECM solution, and I for one wanted to say that you’ve taken your lumps and have certainly been indoctrinated.  Welcome to the club… I wish I could tell you it gets easier from here.

I suppose many would say that SharePoint has been a long-time member of the ECM club, but I would argue that it has really only recently gotten there.  To be a full-fledged member of the club you need to account for a lot of things, and although SharePoint is unquestionably a collaboration superstar and a great document management solution, it has really only started to prove itself as worthy of carrying the full value of the “E” in ECM.

I say this full knowing what it takes to earn your stripes as an ECM vendor – having worked for two of the Big Three ECM vendors and felt the praise and wrath of both the analysts and the users.  The truth is no matter how feature complete you are, it’s never enough, and even worse, once you’ve become feature complete you get slagged for being too complex… this is your destiny SharePoint, embrace the bi-polar nature of those who demand and analyze ECM solutions.

So from my perspective there are some hurdles you’ll need to jump and land safely in order to get to that full “E” ECM designation, starting with what you get slammed for the most: Scalability.  I know what you’re all thinking, “externalization, BLOB handler, RBS… blah, blah, blah.” I get it, if you need to conform to SharePoint’s suggested limitations there are third-party solutions for that.  But IBM, EMC and OpenText don’t need third party solutions to scale; and I’m not actually stating here that any or all of these vendors do scale, what I am saying is you need to do what all those vendors did (themselves, not through a third-party): benchmark testing.  You need that alliterative press release that ECM vendors all had, “Billion Object Benchmark.” It is a rite of passage, and a painful requirement.

Next on the list of big hurdles, if not better described as a 20-foot barbed-wire fence, is cost.  SharePoint Foundations is a free product, but Foundations is not an ECM solution.  I won’t even try to sugar coat this, traditionally speaking an ECM solution comes at great cost, and I think the thing that infuriated ECM vendors most about SharePoint was the misrepresentation of it being a free ECM solution.  But those days are gone now; people are savvy to the fact that if SharePoint is going to be deployed as an ECM solution, it will bear the costs of an ECM deployment.  A good example is that of a deployment that requires DoD 5015.2 records certification.  It can absolutely be done, but it will require third-party solutions to be purchased (at extra cost) and all of that will require complex custom services (at extra, extra cost) to get it all off the ground – and don’t forget the cost for infrastructure (hardware) and the Windows Server, SQL and of course the Office licenses that are also required.

ECM is also a giant catch-all of acronyms that includes RM, DAM, WCM, BPM, as well as capture, physical content, and more.  Yes SharePoint provides much of this natively, and again in many cases, such as the records example above, there are third-parties that pump up these native capabilities to well beyond good enough.  But it isn’t so much of what you’ve integrated within the platform, it is how you integrate out.  How do you integrate with external ERP, CRM, archives, file systems, email systems that an organization might have?   With third-party add-ons this is all possible, but beware your competitors SharePoint, as other ECM vendors also claim to be platforms that can be extended through third-party add-ons and custom services. And of course all ECM vendors make these statements to fulfill their customer demands.

And that is what this post is about: satisfying customer demands.  It isn’t me pointing out deficiencies in SharePoint, as I truly believe the design and model Microsoft has taken with SharePoint has brought ECM back into the limelight when it had seemingly jumped the shark.  This post is outlining that to be a player in the ECM market, and truly compete with vendors who have been defining ECM for the better part of three decades you’re going to take some shots, and they’ll fall hardest and most often when you are down.

And it won’t be the traditional competitors that throw the biggest punches it will be the customers and the users.  Now that the marketing hype and aura of new market entry have worn off, SharePoint has to deal with all the same disappointments and dissatisfactions the other ECM vendors have had to deal with, things like not providing the new features and functions the customers or analysts wanted, being too complex to deploy, and everyone’s favorite, being too costly to maintain.

SharePoint is well entrenched in the ECM market now, demands are being made for it to live up to the same inflated, and sometimes over-inflated expectations all ECM solution vendors are measured against, it will be expected to have filled any and all gaps, it will be expected to provide innovative new value, and I expect it will have put itself in a position to carry the full value, and weight, of the “E” in ECM.

Welcome to the club SharePoint, drinks are on me.

#compliance #governance #WCM #ECM #RM #BLOB #RBS #ElectronicRecordsManagement #SharePoint #sharepoint