Does SharePoint measure up for Enterprise Content Management?

IDM readers outline some of their experiences with SharePoint and ECM

Over recent years SharePoint has evolved to cover a wide range of enterprise responsibilities including intranets, portals, collaboration, forms processing, business intelligence, business process management and content management. Microsoft critics like to paint SharePoint as a software system where sharing content comes first, and finding and collaborating on that content from a very specific place comes second. 

Many organisations are using SharePoint in tandem with traditional ECM platforms.

The question of whether it provides a true Enterprise Content Management (ECM) capability, in comparison to traditional ECM suites, continues to be hotly debated.

Even when implemented on its own, SharePoint users often require the deployment of a growing catalogue of third-party add-on products and integrations that fill in SharePoint's functionality gaps and extend its capabilities.

At first, Microsoft's foray into the ECM space was lacklustre. The company gained some supporters, but many corporations determined that SharePoint didn't match the depth and breadth of functionality found in other solutions. 

"For a while, competitors ignored SharePoint and deemed it irrelevant," says Mark Gilbert, a research vice president at Gartner Inc.

The product is now on its fifth iteration and has started to gain significant traction. Even though it has garnered many more supporters, the solution still has some warts. "SharePoint has still fallen short of its promise of storing all of a company's information centrally in an organised way," says Melissa Webster, program vice president of content and digital media technologies at market research firm IDC.

Historically, ECMs were designed for large enterprises and carried six- and seven-figure price tags. 

"Microsoft has put a lot of pricing pressure on its competitors," says Gilbert. The vendor's solution starts off with free software and works its way to the five- and, in select instances, six-figure range. 

Herbert Smith Freehills

The Australian arm of global firm Herbert Smith Freehills is using SharePoint 2010 as its enterprise intranet platform, and Autonomy Interwoven Filesite for enterprise content management. It is also in the process of rolling out Recommind’s Decisiv Search and has deployed HP TRIM for some record-keeping applications.

Herbert Smith Freehills was formed after the 2012 merger of Australian top-tier law firm Freehills and the UK's Herbert Smith and is now one of the world’s ten largest law firms by number of lawyers.

"Being a document heavy law firm we don't use SharePoint as our enterprise content management system in Australia," said Matthew Jones, Knowledge Centres Manager.  Jones is responsible for Herbert Smith Freehills’ Knowledge Centres in Australia, which provide high-level research services to lawyers and business development managers. He was previously a Knowledge Manager with the firm’s Litigation and Corporate practice groups and a solicitor with both Freehills and Freshfields Brukhaus Deringer.

"We obviously have documents on our intranet and use a combination of SharePoint and Decisiv search, but we don’t find that it really does the heavy lifting in terms of the kind of complex large documents that we store and produce.

"A number of law firms have implemented Recommind’s Decisiv Search both in Australia and overseas, and we’re currently in the process of rolling that out over a selection of our enterprise knowledge. It has already being used to provide staff with access to our knowledge content (legal precedents and other know how) and the Australian intranet, and will soon provide access to matter documents and expertise."

Strategies to unify the merged firm's global intranet and collaboration platforms are also being explored, with a brief to examine the way forward for enterprise social collaboration, using web based platforms.

"We are very interested in collaborative tools and using them effectively is definitely one of the goals of the merged firm, given the geographic spread, but there is a challenge getting the balance right between the capabilities of social media and the security and cultural issues." said Jones.

"The effectiveness of social media within law firms on a large scale still needs to be tested but the potential benefits could be significant.”

"I know it’s been tried in a number of law firms and there are some success stories, particularly with small discrete teams that naturally lend themselves to greater levels of interactivity.”

"We’re looking at the whole issue, including the strategic benefits of doing it, the strategic challenges, security issues and obviously some of the practical issues around privacy and client confidentiality." 

“SharePoint is being used to provide some extranet capability to allow for document collaboration with clients but adoption has been uneven and the firm is now moving towards web-based solutions with specific capabilities in this area.”

"We found that while SharePoint can be useful as a common document library with clients, there are now other tools - like Intralinks Dealspace for example - which allow us to set up online data and deal rooms.  SharePoint has a lot of useful features if you implement the full solution, however we have found that it can be easier and cheaper to simply implement a tool which focuses on one specific skill. Similarly, while it can be great for collaboration, it doesn’t really allow for the needs of law firms, which often need to keep sensitive documents and matters behind information barriers.”

"This allows us to provide a more agile, targeted solution for clients which doesn’t necessarily need to be customised, upgraded every few years, or for which you need to purchase additional modules to get the full benefit. Our clients appreciate this and so do our IT team!"

AIIM recently released a whitepaper that explores the topic of SharePoint adoption, titled: “The SharePoint Puzzle.”   In this Whitepaper, AIIM discusses why organizations selected SharePoint in the first place and how it performed against expectations.  AIIM describes the drivers within this report:

“The collaborative aspects of SharePoint were the strongest original driver for exactly half of our respondents, rising to 57% for the largest organizations, with 38% for the smallest. Web portal/intranet (26%) and project management (13%) were also strong drivers but of more interest is the fact that SharePoint was more often selected to be a file-share replacement than a live document/content management system.”

Some key findings include:

- 28% of respondents have SharePoint in use across their whole workforce. 70% have at least half of their staff using it once a week or more.

- Over half feel they would be 50% more productive with enhanced workflow, search, information reporting and automated document creation tools.

- Over half (54%) are using or planning to use 3rd party add-on products in order to enhance functionality. Only a third thinks they will stick with the vanilla product.

- Difficulty of content migration and information governance capabilities are given as the biggest shortfalls in expectations.

The City of Bunbury

The City of Bunbury, a large local government area on the picturesque WA coastline south of Perth, has a foot in two camps at the moment. It has commenced a rollout of SharePoint 2010 as its primary electronic document and records management system. SharePoint is also being used for the council intranet and Web site.

Implemented by Perth-based solutions provider Bluebox Solutions, SharePoint 2010 has replaced a large volume of unmanaged network file shares supported by a TRIM recordkeeping repository. It was determined that this environment presented a key management risk in allowing manual version control of documents and resulted in many process bottlenecks. 

The network store had grown to over 240GB (396, 600 files) in network files shares and 260GB (770,000 files) held in TRIM, and this was increasing at a rate of 5-10GB a month.

Other problems included limited capacity for disaster recovery and business continuity.

In tandem with the SharePoint deployment the City of Bunbury implemented a capture solution for all correspondence coming in to the records department. This employs a Fuji Xerox ApeosPort-IV C5580 multifunction device equipped with EzeScan software, and an OCR connector which enabled the council to scan documents directly into SharePoint 2010.

Enterprise software in use at the City of Bunbury include the Civica Authority financials and a CRM product called Merit.

Mike Fletcher, IT Manager, City of Bunbury, said council staff were experiencing difficulties in finding content with limited search capacity.

“Duplicate content appearing in different locations across the network was hampering efficiency. There were also issues with embedded business processes and invisible content and transactions. Our objective is one document, many places.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with TRIM, but it’s not a system for managing digital information which is what we wanted. TRIM is a record-keeping system.”

The City of Bunbury also undertook a refresh of its network servers and desktop operating environment, deploying Windows 7, Office 2010 as well as a virtual desktop and virtual storage at its data centre.

Having content stored in multiple filing systems meant the council was not able to fully comply with WA State Records Guidelines. In addition to fileshares and TRIM, staff held documents in email, removable storage and backup devices.

Without an overarching information management plan  for unstructured content there were issues with inconsistent indexing and missing context.

Content was buried in embedded folders up to 12 layers deep in some instances with inconsistent naming and indexing.

David Dunn, CEO of Bluebox Solutions, said, “We have been able to implement all of the functionality of a traditional eDRMS using SharePoint, including enterprise search, document security and management, compliance and extensibility.”

“SharePoint provides the ability to have council employees to work with centrally defined standards and reference data with strict version management of documents using a familiar interface.”

“SharePoint is an integral part of the Microsoft Office suite and is easily able to integrate with other enterprise systems.

“Unlike a pre-made application SharePoint is platform that requires configuration.

“A successful implementation needs BAs, Developers, Architects and Trainers and the good thing about external consultants is they aren’t party to the internal politics.”

In preparation for migrating content to SharePoint, the network was examined in order to remove duplicates and unnecessary old files and inappropriate content (.ra, .zip. .pst files, etc).

The council is taking a staged approach to migrating staff to SharePoint with around a third having made the move so far. Staff undertaking the migration engaged to review their own fileshares and consolidate content in a single directory. Once relevant content has been migrated the remaining fileshares are set to Read-Only to encourage SharePoint uptake. 

While the remaining staff continue to use TRIM it will continue to be updated with content, however this is expected to end in around 18 months when all staff have been transitioned to SharePoint.

“Being a SQL database its not a major exercise to extract content from TRIM and deposit it in SharePoint,” said Fletcher.

A records management plan has been implemented that provides staff with dropdown menus and taxonomy to apply metadata when content is stored in SharePoint, as required by WA State Government record-keeping regulations.

“My goal is to make it very easy for the end-user to do record-keeping, although really we should stop calling it record-keeping and refer to it as information management.

“All of us are creating digital content and the only thing we need to do is create some rules around it. If we keep the means of doing that simple then it’s not onerous for the end user to apply those rules.

“A new eDRMS will impact many existing systems and work processes. 

“Costs need to be understood and funded  and you must be ready to leverage any opportunity for additional functionality. It all starts with understanding the problem and being committed to the solution.”

“Buy-in all across the organisation is crucial but the records team is critical. However, SharePoint can comply with State Records requirements,” said Fletcher

One Australian company that has SharePoint deployed as an intranet portal is still using traditional ECM systems for content management. It considers that  SharePoint does not have sufficiently robust Document & File Management, offers poor email integration and  inadequate records management.

"SharePoint  has helped put users in more control of document management and collaboration instead of relying on IT, but the organisation has little governance over the SharePoint deployment. So while the user is in control of document management and collaboration, the whole implementation is out of control as everyone does their own thing," said a representative.

"Its very difficult to have proper ECM or Collaboration separated. They go hand in hand, how can I collaborate on something if I am not managing the content and how can I do proper content management if I cannot collaborate?”