Co-Existence of SharePoint and ECM

A few weeks ago, I attended the AIIM seminar SharePoint meets ECM. When I registered, I received Doculabs’ White Paper, The Co-existence of Microsoft SharePoint and Advanced ECM Platforms: What You Need to Know. I hinted in my post about the event that I would write another post specifically addressed to this White Paper and I have finally gotten around to it.

Before I dive into the nitty-gritty details, I wanted to share an interesting observation. I started this blog to talk about things that were of interest to the EMC/Documentum crowd. That has expanded to encompass broader ECM issues such as standards. I think these topics are of interest to Documentum Architects, so it isn’t a reach. However, I’ve noticed a trend. Whenever I post on SharePoint, my hits jump way up. If I was just after hits, I’d just switch to SharePoint all the time. However, I expect this to be one of my last posts on the topic for a while as I have bigger fish to fry and I think I’ll have covered most of what I feel I need to cover for the short term.

It does make one think. I wonder how far my hit rate would jump if I included the name of a celebrity who is named after a French city? I’m not shameless enough to find out. Now on to the meat of the post…

Q: Install SharePoint or ECM? A: Yes

That sums up the White Paper. Doculabs spends quite a bit of time saying how Enterprises will get the most value if they implement both MOSS 2007 and ECM systems such as those from EMC and IBM (Note: They only refer to these two vendors during the paper). We’ll get to why over the course of this post, but I wanted you to be ready for the overall theme.

The paper starts by talking about the ubiquity of SharePoint and how organizations need to address that situation now. This is similar to observations by myself and others. In fact, they even make the Lotus Notes comparison.

Left on their own, existing departmental users will continue to implement radically different index hierarchies, design templates, and portal interfaces. Organizations should consider the potential ubiquity of MOSS 2007 implementations and put the appropriate policies and procedures in place to prevent the situation that many firms experienced with Lotus Notes.

The paper is broken into answer 10 questions. These 10 topics address both the how and why of SharePoint in your overall IT infrastructure. Let’s focus on some that why.

SharePoint and ECM Working Together

This isn’t a new thing. Both Documentum and FileNet have integrations into SharePoint. What Doculabs focuses on that a majority of users and solutions don’t require full ECM to provide Document Management functionality. They have several charts describing the functionality of SharePoint and when the level of functionality rises to the need of a full-fledge ECM system.

MOSS 2007 offers a core content management design for a broad user-population, but the system is not a substitute for functions such as support of an externally-facing transaction web portal; the authoring and publishing of complex documents; high-volume, task-intensive workflows; records management and e-mail archival.

SharePoint provides Collaborative Content Management, not Archival, Rich Media, or Transactional. The functionality that it does provide is less robust and rich in features as well. A perfect example is the Document Management functionality. While noting that Microsoft refers to this as ECM, they state that most authoring and reviewing tools that users need are supported in SharePoint. However, when that is expanded to internal and external parties, rights management, and advanced versioning, it is necessary to add a full fledged ECM system behind the scenes.

The Total Value Proposition

One of the points that they make is that SharePoint may only cost X, but the functionality delivered is less. ECM systems while costing more and delivering more, have greater complexity and lower adoption rates. They speak to the fact that by implementing both, Enterprises can take advantage of the viral nature of SharePoint to deliver ECM functionality behind the scenes. That is one thing that most ECM professionals can understand, the greater the adoption, the greater the value. The more content in the system, the deeper the impact in the organization.

However, the key is best put by them:

The critical success factor for the successful deployment of MOSS 2007 and any advanced ECM solution is this concept of proper controls, together with an enterprise strategy for how content services will be provided to the various user constituencies throughout the organization…It also requires that you develop (and implement) policies and procedures that will not impede your users.

This is a standard approach for implementing ECM systems. It isn’t just technology, though that is important. What is key is that you define policies that clearly define how to make the most out of the features of both SharePoint and ECM systems. They suggest putting all draft and collaborative content in SharePoint, but once it is final form, it should be moved to the underlying ECM system. This doesn’t mean that the document can’t be accessed from SharePoint. It only means that the storage, and the rules around managing that content, should be handled by an ECM system.

So how would I do this if I had to work with SharePoint? Simple. Plug an ECM system into the back-end of SharePoint. Let the users use SharePoint without knowing the power behind it. Hopefully this can be done using some sort of ECM SOA standard. If not, at least Web Services which easily tie into SharePoint. Then, by extending the already defined definitions, the richer ECM functionality can be exposed into SharePoint.

When will we be there? Not as soon as I would like. A better answer sooner rather than later.