For users of SharePoint 2007 there were many reasons why the platform was not considered acceptable for high volume or complex Enterprise Content Management (ECM) scenarios. In this context ECM also incorporates the concepts of Electronic Document and Records Management Systems (EDRMS).
In my opinion, the improvements in the way that documents are handled in SharePoint 2010 allows for much more document centric control of an organisations information and resources. There have been a number of improvements that have addressed many of the criticisms hurled at SharePoint over the last few years and any organisation who is considering ECM or reviewing their options should evaluate the capabilities of SharePoint 2010.
Granted, those companies that work in highly regulated industries and have very intensive EDRMS requirements may not be able to use SP as a repository and will continue to use their point solutions, but there will still be the opportunity to improve the user experience by integrating with SharePoint. Foe example, See Unity’s product enables SharePoint to operate as an interface to products such as Open Text Livelink, eDOCS, Autonomy iManage and Documentum so that documents can be linked, synchronised and archived between the two platforms. This extends the functionality and life of the point solution and provides for a more rounded user experience.
For it’s core ERM offering, SharePoint has a number of useful new features including:
- The new SharePoint interface adopts the new ribbon used in the rest of the Office 2010 suite and provides a consistent look and feel across all of the Microsoft productivity applications
- The new Office user interface provides a detailed document profile page (Backstage) where you can access the context around the document including tags, related tagging and people
- The process of opening and saving documents is simpler, made easier by the fact that SharePoint sites can now be registered as locations within Office
- The ability to use SharePoint content types as document templates within Office enables stricter compliance and a standardised approach to document creation
- Office Web Apps allow any user to view and even contribute to a document even if they do not have Office installed on their PC
- Simultaneous co-authoring is supported with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote
- SharePoint Workspace (formerly known as Groove) provides an improved local and offline read-write access to SharePoint lists and libraries
- SharePoint Workspace can intelligently reduce bandwidth by synchising changes made to documents rather than having to copy the entire document to the server
- SharePoint Workspace can take external business data offline which could traditionally only be accessed online
- Offline documents can be opened or saved from Office applications through integration with Windows Explorer
- The ability to have unique Document ID’s that stay with a document even when it moves between libraries
- Document Sets enable more functional binders to contain groups of documents such as sales proposals, legal matters etc
- Folders now support metadata inheritance
- Documents can be tagged and rated
- Content Types can now be created centrally and published to a hub to which other site collections can synchronise
- Enterprise Keywords support freeform metadata tagging
- The new Term Store at last brings a level of hierarchical classification (Taxonomy) to SharePoint
- The Record Centre has been extended and updated
- The Content Organiser provides far better rules based routing than 2007
- Records can be submitted from within the Records Centre
- Records can even be created In Place i.e. within their source document library without having to be copied to the Records Centre
- MultiStage Retention provides far more flexible policy options for documents and records
- Documents and Records can have different Information Management Policies
- The new eDiscovery features make it easier to find documents and place them on Hold
- The new Compliance Details option allows administrators to make sure that specific documents are inheriting the right policies and retention settings.
This document is an early assessment of SharePoint 2010 and how it can be used to address ECM requirements. With the release of SharePoint 2010, ECM vendors, resellers and integrators are having to take note of the potential uses of SharePoint now that the document management, records management, client integration and collaborative areas have been so dramatically improved.
Since 2007, Microsoft has invested heavily in improving the Records Management capabilities of SharePoint and it is these improvements which have transformed the product from a collaborative platform into a potential ECM platform. In my opinion, this is Microsoft’s first credible ECM platform offering and still has a long way to go to match some of the functionality offered by the key vendors in this space. Saying that, it does offer a great deal of functionality and in many cases will deliver most, if not all, of the functionality required
The difference between SharePoint and other ECM products is that it is a platform and not a product. This is a benefit because in it’s entirity, SharePoint has a massive amount of potential and a fully integrated platform such as this can only benefit an organisation as there will be fewer integration points, greater opportunities for enabling additional functionality and a lower total cost of ownership.
I believe that SharePoint will continue to improve it’s ECM capabilities and that it will continue to have a significant impact in this area. Whether or not the improvements in 2010 that I have outlined in this document are sufficient, will depend upon the specific requirements of each project. In many cases, where compliance is critical, many organisations may continue to use traditional ECM platforms in the back end and look to improve the user experience by exposing these products through the SharePoint interface.