Is 2010 suited to ECM?

I say “Yes it is” and here’s why…

SharePoint has been dramatically improved with the release of SharePoint 2010, and incorporates many new features which support the use of the product as a platform for ECM and image storage.

Content Types – Determine which Content Types need to be created in order to manage the documents being scanned into SharePoint.  It is important to clearly categorise the types of documents being captured and ensure that the business have been consulted in order to define document policies, retention schedules, security, workflow and metadata requirements.

Digital Asset Support – SharePoint 2010 has a new asset library which is specially designed to manage and share digital assets such as video, audio, pictures, and other rich media files.  It has a new IMAGE Content Type which has specific features and functionality that support document images.   Consider whether or not this is required for your solution or whether you plan to use standard document libraries or record

Scalability – SharePoint has always been discounted as a high end ECM platform due to questions over its ability to scale.  SharePoint 2010 addresses many of these limitations and facilitates its use as a platform for ECM.

  • A single list or library can contain tens of millions of items
  • Hundreds of millions of items can be managed in a large archiving scenario

Consider whether or not your current SharePoint farm can accommodate the volume of
scanning that you are planning to carry out.  It may be that one or more dedicated crawl servers are required in a high volume scanning scenario.  Consider also the impact on database size and transaction logs.  Additional disk capacity may be required.

Remote Blob Storage (RBS) – SharePoint 2010, in conjunction with SQL Server 2008 is now able to store documents outside of the database where traditionally they were stored as BLOBS (Binary Large Objects).   This provides real scalability and enables an organisation to benefit from lower cost storage for documents.  Note that

High volume ECM solutions built on SharePoint should ideally use remote blob storage.  This will reduce the impact and storage costs for SQL Server and will also enable documents to be stored on lower tier storage.

Thumbnails – SharePoint supports image thumbnails which may improve the overall user experience when working with images.

Information Management Policies – Consider setting up Information Management Policies if you have not done so already.  In SharePoint 2010, separate retention policies can be set up for records and documents.  Questions to ask include:

  • How long do document drafts need to be kept for?
  • How many versions need to be retained and for how long?
  • When is a document made into a Record?
  • How long are documents and records retained?
  • What eDiscovery requirements exist?
  • What are the File Plan requirements?

Records Declaration – Records Libraries and other Records Management
enhancements in SharePoint 2010 enable scanned images to be immediately converted
into Records.  Consider whether or not this needs to be activated for your scanned images.  Typically a scanned image cannot be altered and is therefore considered to be a record as soon as it is added to SharePoint.

Content Organizer – This replaces the SharePoint 2007 Rules engine and is far more efficient at routing records to the correct location based on metadata values.  Consider how this can be utilised, especially in high volume mailroom scanning environments.

In Place Records – Rather than having to send a document to the Records Centre for it to be made into a record, a user can now opt to declare a document as a record in it’s original location. This will allow the document to gain the appropriate security, retention and disposition without ever having to be routed to a centrally managed location.  How will the business want to work with documents and records?

If documents are sent to the Records Centre then options exist on whether or not to completely move the document, copy it to the record centre or move it and retain a link.  This decision needs to be made and implemented.

Document IDs – An important new improvement on SharePoint 2007 is the ability for a document to have a unique ID which stays with it throughout it’s lifecycle, even if it is renamed or moved to another list.  Consider whether or not you are going to use this feature and whether or not you require a prefix which will appear before the sequential document ID.  This will need to be set up on the site collection if you plan to use it.

Workflow – The improved Workflow capabilities in SharePoint 2010 make it easier than ever to apply process automation to documents that are scanned into SharePoint.  An example of such a process is the automatic triggering of an approval  process when a
new invoice is scanned into the system.

Consider how your organisation could benefit from the use of workflow technology and whether or not it could be applied to automate specific document centric processes.

All of these, and there are a lot of things I haven’t even touched on (SharePoint Workspace, BCS, Compound Indexing…….the list goes on), show that SharePoint 2010 is suited to ECM.

As an added note, when considering migrating users from an existing document management platform to SharePoint, you may face challenges to replicate some of the functionality that they require.  This of course depends upon the product that you may be replacing and the demands of the various business areas.  Whilst SharePoint may not be able to meet the same functionality, there are a number of third party products that could help.  Areas that we commonly need to consider are:

  • Email Integration – many ECM products offer a fully integrated email client providing advanced drag and drop functionality and very tight integration with Outlook.  Third party tools such as Colligo and the new Workshare Point applications provide this level of functionality.
  • Advanced thumbnail viewing for ‘all’ file types – many ECM products contain a generic viewer that is able to diplay multiple file formats without having to need the client aplication installed on the desktop.  It often also supports advanced thumbnail capabilities.  There is a new product from Surfray which provides excellent thumbnail and document viewing capabilities at the document library level and supports up to 500 file formats.  Another good generic viewer is the one developed by Brava and there is a free version whch handles files such as TIFFs.
  • Remote blob storage – working with third party tools such as those developed by AvePoint and Metalogix enables more scalable and enterprise level heirarchical storage capabilities and bring SharePoint in line with some of the larger ECM vendors.
  • Business Process Management – should the client require enterprise BPM capabilities then options exist with products such as K2 and Nintex.
  • Scanning – many ECM platforms provide their own, or integrate with, enterprise level scanning applications.  Guess what? So does SharePoint.  Products such as Kofax, ReadSoft, Kodak Capture and Knowledgelake all integrate seamlessly with SharePoint and provide advanced, high volume scanninng capabilities.

On its own, SharePoint 2010 has some great new ECM features; combined with third party components it can provide a truly scalable platform for ECM.  The question isn’t “Why use SharePoint 2010 for ECM?” but “Why not use SharePoint 2010 for ECM?”.


About rearcardoor

Chairman and founder of ImageFast Ltd, a leading UK ECM consultancy business and Microsoft Gold Partner. Over 20 years experience delivering successful ECM projects utilising scanning, data capture, document management, records management, workflow, BPM and SharePoint.
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