With the release of SharePoint 2010 in beta and the anticipated production release sometime in the first half of 2010 (one source says it will be released late in Q1 but that’s a full-blown rumor, so don’t hold me to that), it is time to provide an update on the latest incarnation of Microsoft’s collaboration/content management/business intelligence/portal/ECM/records management tool.
In an earlier post I listed Eight Things SharePoint 2010 Needs to be a True ECM System, and, at first glance the new version looks very encouraging from an ECM perspective. As I’ve said before, I get excited by anything that can help my clients better manage their information and SharePoint has the potential to be a transformative platform bridging structured content, unstructured content and social computing in one flexible package. SharePoint 2007 does a decent job of this but it has some deficiencies when it comes to managing all content in the enterprise.
I’ll also give you the same caveat I gave last time; While this post focuses on SharePoint as a technology, technology is about the very last thing that should be considered when an organization sets out to manage its content more efficiently. Information management should start with a good business case, appropriate sponsorship, choosing the right areas of focus then building capacity within the organization to truly succeed. Technology is only the last piece of this puzzle. All of that said, there has been an incredible amount of interest in SharePoint (as illustrated by the 7,500 people who attended the SharePoint conference from October 19 to 22, 2009) and many of my clients have questions about where (or whether) this tool should fit into their ECM strategy.
Finally, the updates below are based on my attendance at the SharePoint conference where I went to as many breakout sessions as possible and chased down beleaguered Microsoft staffers to ask questions in what must have felt like a trip to the old Roman Coliseum (with the lions, not with Caesar). I tried to focus on attending ECM-specific sessions and have done as much reading as I can but as a vendor-neutral consultant Microsoft hasn’t seen fit to furnish C3 Associates with a pre-beta version of SharePoint 2010, so I haven’t actually used the system myself. As always we will continue to learn as much as we can about all of the ECM tools and technologies that are of interest to our clients but in the absence of actually working with SharePoint some of our understanding will be incomplete or possibly incorrect. I will provide updates in future posts as I learn more.
I have used a five point scale to evaluate the how well I think SharePoint 2010 meets my “Eight Things” criteria for inclusion into the ECM club. Remember that these are based on only my first look at the tool and are subject to revision as I learn more about how the new features and functions actually work.
Initial Ranking Scale
4 – Feature exists with some minor shortcomings
3 – Feature exists but doesn’t satisfy all use cases
2 – Feature may exist but satisfies only a narrow use case or feature does not exist but can be created through a customization
1 – Feature does not exist
With all of that out of the way here are the eight reasons I think Microsoft has moved towards a more complete ECM solution.
1. Persistent links – The single biggest shortcoming of SharePoint 2007 is the inability to link directly to a unique object ID. One of the greatest benefits of ECM systems is the ability to send content via a link rather than relying on email attachments. In traditional ECM applications this isn’t a problem; each content object has its own unique ID that doesn’t change regardless of where it lives in the repository. In SharePoint 2007, links break if you rename or move a file. The other benefit of persistent linking is that it enables the management of compound documents (a container that stores multiple documents like the chapters of a book) and the ability to link directly to an older version of a document.
Initial Rating: 4
2. Store once, use many – SharePoint 2007 had a nasty habit of copying content throughout the system rather than using pointers to a single source of the truth (because content links might break as noted above). Perhaps the best example of the misguided use of “copy” capabilities in SharePoint is the “Send to…Records Center” feature where a copy of a document is sent to the Records Center while leaving the original in place rather than either moving the document and leaving a pointer or changing the state of the document to indicate its changed status (see point 3 for more on the RM capabilities of SharePoint).
Initial Rating: 4
3. Honest-to-goodness Records Management – I recognize that that SharePoint 2007 is DoD 5015.2 certified but the statement from the product development team that the DoD 5015.2 components are “not intended for customers…who would like to enhance the records management functionality of MOSS 2007 with particular 5015.2 oriented features but are not required to run their system in a certified configuration” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Add to this the fact that SharePoint doesn’t allow users to efficiently manage physical objects out of the box and it is clear that Microsoft needs to decide if they are really serious about the records management space or if they will leave it to partners.
SharePoint 2010 records management likely isn’t going to replace traditional ECM applications when it comes to meeting stringent compliance requirements and I suspect this is where these vendors will focus their “embrace and extend” strategies when it comes to SharePoint. Although Microsoft says industry standards like DoD 5015 and MoReq were considered when the RM capabilities were designed, I doubt very much that organizations with strong requirements in this area will find that SharePoint 2010 meets their needs and I also suspect that this the current incarnation of records management in SharePoint 2010 is about as far as Microsoft will take this capability.
Initial Rating: 3
4. Better metadata management – Metadata in SharePoint 2007 took a quantum leap forward with the introduction of Content Types. However, managing metadata in SharePoint 2007 can be difficult especially when dealing with multiple site collections.
Initial Rating: 5
5. Reusable search templates and stored search results – There is no question that search is a focus for Microsoft based on their acquisition of FAST and their push into public internet search with the recent launch of Bing. Search in SharePoint 2007 is reasonably good but the tool does not have the ability to either store a “snapshot” of search results for future reference nor does SharePoint 2007 allow users to create reusable search templates. This feature would save users time by allowing them to create a search query then either re-execute that query in the future or add new criteria without having to rebuild the entire search.
Initial Rating: 4
6. More granular security – This is one area where SharePoint was already reasonably strong but truly deep ECM systems include advanced security features like the ability to deny permission to certain objects on an as-needed basis. The current process for managing security is a bit cumbersome but I expect this is something Microsoft is working on. It will be interesting to see if what changes, if any, make it into the final release of the product.
Initial Rating: 4
7. Surface the audit trail – One of the things I like the best about established ECM applications is the ability to see who has opened my documents. I find this particularly handy on status report day when I inevitably discover that I’ve made a mistake in the document I’ve just sent out (as an unbreakable persistent link of course). I can check the audit trail to see if anyone has opened the document and if not, make my changes without anyone knowing I’d messed up in the first place. While SharePoint tracks most major audit events, the list of events is not as extensive as in a traditional ECM application nor is this information surfaced through the function menu of the content object.
Initial Rating: 2
8. More and more mature line-of-business integrations – This should be a strength of SharePoint given the sizeable .NET developer community as well as the extensive Microsoft partner ecosystem, but SharePoint still has a lot of catching up to do in this area. Organizations deploying SharePoint won’t be able to hold a single vendor to account for a series of modules (or Content Enabled Vertical Applications, as Gartner likes to call them). This may or may not be a bad thing depending on your perspective but established ECM vendors have offerings that satisfy a variety of industry verticals and business functions. To achieve the same thing with SharePoint customers will need to research, purchase and deploy modules from a variety of Microsoft partners. CMS Watch offers a good summary of the issues associated with third party add-ons for SharePoint.
Initial Rating: 2
To sum up, it is clear that SharePoint will continue to have a significant impact on the ECM landscape. The question is whether the functional improvements evident in SharePoint 2010 mean that organizations with significant commitments to other ECM platforms have to start all over again with SharePoint? In the short term, I think the answer is no. In many cases, the true benefit from the investments made in traditional ECM can be realized by surfacing some of this content though SharePoint interfaces; done well this can significantly enhance the user experience while still ensuring that the strong compliance engine in your existing ECM system keeps your content safe and your CEO out of jail.
I suspect that any changes in the ECM world will be evolutionary rather than revolutionary. SharePoint is a disruptive technology to be sure, but given it’s breadth, relative lack of maturity and a widely varied partner community Microsoft will help the overall ECM market grow and likely take established ECM vendors with it. As they (used to) say on Wall Street, a rising tide floats all boats.
This is not to say that things will be easy for the makes of FileNet, Documentum, Livelink and others; they have a significant challenge ahead in trying to position their products not relative to one another, but relative to SharePoint (whether they like it or not). The vendors that do this well will continue to thrive and any that choose to ignore SharePoint or do not recognize the significance of the changes in SharePoint 2010 could be in trouble.
As always I appreciate your feedback on anything you read here. Feel free to leave a comment here or drop me a note via my Twitter account at GregClarkC3.