ECM in the Context of Recent Microsoft Announcements

By Michael Alsup posted 06-03-2015 15:32


This post summarizes several announcements and developments from recent Microsoft events, especially Ignite in May in Chicago and how they impact ECM.  Let’s start with several overall observations on the Microsoft vision for ECM:

  • Microsoft is on a mission to reinvent productivity.  This was made clear in Julia White’s keynote at Ignite and in several sessions.  This seemed analogous to the original consolidation of Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook into Microsoft Office and I believe it will be equally important in the ECM market.  The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  
  • Microsoft believes that identity management, security, privacy and product interoperability will bring users to Office 365 because it is better and safer than on-premises deployments, not just because it is less expensive.  They believe they are creating a trade-up platform for legacy ECM users, not a compromise.
  • Microsoft has made minimal changes to the user experience in SharePoint 2016 compared to SharePoint 2013.  This iteration seems much more about backend and hybrid capabilities and updates. 
  • Microsoft is enabling Office 365 for users by selling its capabilities to consumers (including employees) more than to the enterprise as a whole.  Similarly, they are minimizing the cost of deployment to sell it to IT, not to the enterprise as a whole.  They are focused on growing utilization and active users, not adoption, because they believe that they already have most of the users signed up.  Now they need to convince them to use Outlook for email and OneDrive to store documents that they edit in Word on their iPhones, for example. 
  • There will not be much new in the 2016 release from a records management perspective.  This release is much more about Social, Mobile, Cloud, and Compliance, which was defined by Microsoft as Identity Management, Security, Privacy, and the Localization of files to meet the requirements of governments, and not much about records management as it is traditionally defined. 

Files, sites, portals, and content management are four key SharePoint 2016 and Office 365 focus areas for the ECM market and generally.


Microsoft is expanding the ability of SharePoint to manage almost any type of content:

  • Content database size is increased to Terabytes
  • Site collections per database are expanded to over 100,000
  • List threshold size is now over 5000
  • The maximum file size is now over 10GB (so that engineering drawings and other large document types can be accommodated)
  • Limitations on special characters are removed (so that files from legacy ECM systems can be imported without programmatically altering their metadata)
  • The number of indexed items can exceed 500,000,000 (to quiet the arguments that SharePoint doesn’t scale)

“Millions of users and billions of documents” was a quote I heard at Ignite about the scaling of Office 365.  Microsoft has been listening to customers as they identified the specific reasons that migrating to Office 365 is difficult. 

Microsoft is positioning OneDrive for Business as the replacement for network file shares.  “4 lines of Powershell script” was mentioned several times as all that was needed to migrate File Shares to OneDrive for Business.  Office 2016 and Outlook 2016 store documents by default in OneDrive for Business.  This approach seemed to me as somewhat reminiscent of the 1990’s browser wars with Microsoft competing by “removing the Oxygen from the room”.  For many organizations, OneDrive for Business will be a natural evolution path from Share Drives, but with many more capabilities for content governance built into the platform.  Taking advantage of these capabilities will come from planning and architecting deployments, primarily through portals and site provisioning processes. 


Microsoft has made a huge investment to provision SharePoint sites that are more standard and consistent.  Site creation will no longer be as heavy an operation.  It will be "smaller and faster" and much easier to use in SharePoint site architecture models, both on-premises and in Office 365.  These portals will be provisioned through pre-defined templates that will be chosen by users and will reflect the site model that best addresses the users’ requirements.  It will be harder for a user to know if they are using Office 365 or on-premises sites, because both SharePoint Server and Office 365 sites and services will be exposed through the same Portals. 


“NextGen” portals are how the features and capabilities of ECM will be presented in Office 365.  NextGen portals blur the feature and function distinctions between SharePoint on-premises and in Office 365 platform services.  Microsoft is emphasizing “Ready to go” portals for common site models, such as Knowledge Management portals. 

A key feature of these portals is that there will be a wide variety of site templates to choose from.  Organizations will establish site templates with baked-in metadata inheritance, an information lifecycle, and a wide array of content governance services, such as records management.  I expect that many of the templates and governance services will incorporate capabilities provided by Microsoft ecosystem partners, and the site provisioning processes will enable them to be easily and transparently provisioned by users. 

Content (Traditional ECM, not WCM)

Microsoft is rediscovering the demand in their customer base for ECM at the high end of the market.   The new SharePoint leadership team includes longtime Microsoft SharePoint team members who designed and built the original ECM capabilities in SharePoint 2010, and they have a deep appreciation of the ECM and RM problems to be solved. 

In other announcements:

  • There will be no SharePoint 2010 to SharePoint 2016 direct migrations. Or direct migrations from SharePoint 2007.  Microsoft is requiring that all migrations to 2016 be from SharePoint 2013, so that will be the first migration if necessary. 
  • Microsoft will make more "durable links" for finding files so that it won't matter if the file name gets changed or if the file gets moved
  • Microsoft is moving to a cloud-based identification model with SAML and OAuth
  • Microsoft is adding an ODF file saving capability to mollify European governments
  • Project Server will be integrated into SharePoint architecture stack (although it won’t be free)

Many organizations at Ignite were looking for the enterprise platform confidence to replace silo’d legacy ECM solutions.  A question Microsoft is trying to address for these customers is how best to build robust enterprise hybrid ECM solutions to replace traditional document management solutions from vendors such as Documentum, Open Text, Hyland and FileNet. 

The answer that Microsoft has ended up with is to emphasize the value of the many integrated components of Office 365, portals, and hybrid solutions.  If content migrates seamlessly during its lifetime from Outlook and Yammer and OneDrive to SharePoint on-premises or to Office 365 sites, with full content governance and social and Office Graph support, and with full records management, business intelligence and archiving support, why would anyone need to archive their content outside of this stack?  Especially when most of the archiving approaches require that they be integrated into every site, either on-premises or in Office 365, through the enterprise site provisioning processes.  This runs counter to the Microsoft direction of simplified user site provisioning from pre-built site templates. 

Demonstrations by Microsoft Legal and Corporate Affairs (LCA) at both Ignite and Legal Tech of their Matter Center solution illustrates their path forward to enterprise-wide ECM solutions.  They showed how Microsoft lawyers and legal assistants are enabled to collaborate on legal documents through legal processes from inside Word and Outlook almost exclusively.  The LCA users remain in Office 365 and a variety of processes and services are exposed via App’s and services that comply with the new Office 365 App Model.  Microsoft indicated that they will be partnering with some of the legal add-in vendors to add the vertical capabilities required in the legal industry.  This is the Microsoft ECM solution model: portals, a massively powerful and scalable cloud platform, and partners with vertical expertise, software and solutions.


The consensus I have gotten from customers is that the SharePoint and Office 365 2016 vision is really good but there remains much work to be done.  Everyone thinks Microsoft is doing the right thing moving to the cloud and enabling integrated solutions to be implemented using the Office 365 App Model.  Most analysts I spoke to believe that these developments strengthen Microsoft’s ECM positioning and enable it to increase its market share.  They point out that Google, Box and Dropbox are competing effectively in these markets. 

Microsoft plans to deliver a public beta of SharePoint Server 2016 in the fourth quarter of this year. The product is planned for "general availability" release in the second quarter of 2016, but a "release candidate" version will precede the final product.

It looks like another exciting year in the Microsoft stack for users, vendors and customers alike.