SharePoint – some people love it, some hate it and some deny it is even real enterprise content management (ECM). It really is the proverbial elephant in the room for all ECM conversations, and with the move to the cloud provided by SharePoint Online (or SharePoint 365 as it is sometimes known) the conversation has become even more pointed.
So, can SharePoint deliver full ECM in the Cloud? I’m going to try to answer that scientifically, via the empirical and historical evidence route.
The history of SharePoint
SharePoint has had a long and colorful history since its launch in 2001. People regularly refer to it as the Swiss Army Knife of IT teams as it can be deployed as a file-share replacement, simple collaboration platform, departmental ECM solution, intranet, corporate portal and much more.
The good thing about SharePoint is that it is quick and easy to deploy. But the bad thing about SharePoint is that it is quick and easy to deploy. The ease of deployment works fine for many, but in the land of ECM – a land where control, management, and compliance oversee all – fluidity is not always welcomed.
As a result, what tends to happen is that organizations generate silos of data. For example, individual project teams use SharePoint for specific projects, but forget to consolidate the content they generate with any records management requirements once the projects are complete. This has led, according to AIIM research to SharePoint being an ECM component within most organizations – but not the main one.
The building blocks of ECM
Look at ECM as a discipline. There are the common aspects of scan, store and retrieve – the backbone of many simple ECM solutions.
But increasingly, there are other important elements to consider such as process (or workflow), measurement (audit, performance and compliance) and integration with other systems. SharePoint does most of these to a degree – but in the same way that you would not use a Swiss Army Knife to carve a joint of beef, most would not use SharePoint to perform, for example, enterprise-grade workflow.
This is almost a design point within SharePoint though, as it is expected that Microsoft’s arsenal of systems integrators and software partners will build add-on products to fill these gaps and supplement the functional inadequacies. Do a google search for “SharePoint extension” and you’ll see what I mean. So theoretically, SharePoint can be extended to become a true ECM solution – but out of the box it most certainly is not.
ECM in the Cloud
This is where the nail really is driven into the coffin, so to speak.
On-premises SharePoint (or even a privately hosted SharePoint instance) allows organizations to make use of these third-party add-ons which, as discussed above, are desperately needed to allow SharePoint to play at the enterprise party. The problem, however, with SharePoint Online is that Microsoft has locked down its hosting environment, only allowing Microsoft approved add-ons to be installed. This has effectively stopped a huge number of SharePoint users from ever moving to SharePoint 365, simply because they have custom code or non-Microsoft approved add-ons running on their sites.
This is one of the key factors that have led leading industry analysts such as Gartner and AIIM to question the ability of SharePoint Online to properly deliver ECM in the Cloud. Given the limited feature set of SharePoint Online compared to true ECM in the Cloud solutions, and the fact that add-on vendors seem slow or unwilling to get their add-ons approved for SharePoint Online, this seems unlikely to change anytime soon.
So is SharePoint Online true ECM in the Cloud? Not for me.
SharePoint itself will continue to persist on-premises – complete with add-ons to make it usable – but SharePoint Online, certainly for the near future, will not really be challenging the true ECM in the Cloud players.#cloud #ECM #SharePoint