Enterprise Content Management at a Crossroads - The Case for Microsoft SharePoint (Part 2 of 2)

By Greg Clark posted 05-20-2010 14:00


This is the second of a two-part series that summarizes the main points in the ongoing debate about the impact of Microsoft SharePoint on the ECM community.  Last week I reviewed several reasons why traditional Enterprise Content Management vendors will continue to thrive despite Microsoft's push into the ECM space.  This week, it's Microsoft's turn.  As before, my goal is to summarize the key points in the discussion about the impact of SharePoint and allow you to draw your own conclusions.

Please leave your feedback or comments below, drop me a note on Twitter or feel free to contact me directly at greg.clark@c3associates.com.

Here are a few reasons SharePoint may become the dominant force in the Enterprise Content Management space. 

  1. SharePoint 2010 is more than just basic ECM.  Where SharePoint 2007 could still be considered "basic content services", SharePoint 2010 has addressed most of the shortcomings that prevented this platform from competing head-to-head with traditional ECM tools.  A couple of months ago I summarized the eight reasons SharePoint 2010 is a true ECM system and based on the feedback I have heard from several of my clients, most feel that SharePoint has reached the tipping point where they will start to seriously consider shifting their ECM platforms over to SharePoint.  For most organizations considering a net-new ECM implementation, SharePoint is often the only candidate, especially where the organization is already committed to the Microsoft stack.  Microsoft has invested heavily in building out key ECM functionality like records management and has significantly improved SharePoint's ability to handle metadata and very large lists, among many other improvements.  The list of functional differences between SharePoint and traditional ECM systems has become so small that traditional ECM vendors will have an increasingly difficult time differentiating their products from SharePoint.  
  2. SharePoint is the silver bullet of user adoption.  User adoption is a challenge that has dogged the ECM industry from the very beginning.  Many organizations feel the only thing preventing ECM from becoming truly successful is a poor user interface that limited user uptake (for an excellent summary of this question, read the wisdom shared by experienced ECM practitioner Mike Alsup, who reminds us that user adoption is about far more than a slick user interface), it seems that everyone wants to believe that SharePoint 2010 is the answer to all of their prayers.  Whether it is or not seems almost beside the point; perception is reality and that poses a big problem for traditional ECM vendors.  The fact remains that SharePoint offers an excellent user experience. To Microsoft's credit, SharePoint has been designed with the information worker in mind.  The tool "thinks the way the worker thinks" and user uptake of SharePoint tends to be quick and requires minimal training. This can pose a problem where the implementation is unplanned, leading to a rapid  proliferation of SharePoint sites and some would argue simply replicating the shared drive mess in SharePoint. However, as integrators and Microsoft partners learn how to plan and govern SharePoint deployments, the intuitive user interface will help SharePoint dominate the ECM space in the same way that MS Office has dominated the desktop.  
  3. Size matters. The sheer scale of Microsoft poses a big problem for traditional ECM vendors.  They clearly can't outspend Microsoft on marketing and Microsoft's partner ecosystem is unmatched anywhere.  In the first part of this two-part series I said that one key advantage for traditional ECM platforms is their strong vertical story. This could be quickly eroded by many of the partners who have built and continue to build tightly integrated solutions suited to nearly any industry you can think of.  Yes, traditional ECM vendors have a head start in this area but Microsoft and their partners are hot on their heels.  Further, there is a wealth of SharePoint information freely available from MSDN, Codeplex and the many thousands of SharePoint MVP and partner blogs and websites.  It seems that if it can be known about SharePoint, it will be available somewhere for free and this will lead to rapid innovation and an improved product.  
  4. SharePoint has a strong social story.  SharePoint started life as a collaboration platform and has evolved from this into a social computing platform. As the demands grow to provide Facebook-like tools in an enterprise context, SharePoint is very well positioned to meet this need. SharePoint may not be best of breed but many enterprises seem comfortable collaborating using a platform from a know n quantity such as Microsoft. To date, the efforts of traditional ECM vendors to "socialize" their platforms have not received widespread adoption and there are questions about their continued desire to play in this space in light of stiff competition from Microsoft.  
  5. SharePoint is much more than just ECM.  SharePoint is a portal, a document management system, a business intelligence tool, a records management system, a social networking platform, a web content management system, development platform and an enterprise search tool.  Many established ECM vendors can say many of these same things, but the Microsoft story is especially compelling for organizations already committed to the Microsoft stack.
  6. Microsoft will win because they're Microsoft.  The intangible advantage that Microsoft has is based on their history. Whenever Microsoft sets their mind to do something, very little will get in their way.  Remember the early days of the relational database wars?  Ask yourself when the last time was that you came across a Sybase database and you have some idea what that might mean for some traditional ECM vendors.   And if you don't think Microsoft is targeting traditional ECM vendors with SharePoint 2010, think again.  With SharePoint 2007, Microsoft started the process of embedding SharePoint into their core Office suite but was clear that most organizations still needed a traditional ECM system for the higher ECM functions. For more on this, see my blog post outlining some of the functional gaps between SharePoint and traditional ECM. With SharePoint 2010, Microsoft has changed their focus from partnering with traditional ECM to trying to out-compete them (of course they won't say this officially but their all-out marketing push at the 2010 AIIM show is a clear indicator).


I hope this short series has been useful. I'm sure there are other reasons why SharePoint may or may not dominate the ECM space and I am keen to hear your perspective. 

Please leave your comments below and I will reply as best I can.

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