SharePoint, Another “Legacy” Content Management System

After waking up to discover that I had a sick kid, I decided to spend my Martin Luther King holiday relaxing and making sure the kid got some rest. I made the mistake of logging onto twitter and retweeting something by Melissa Webster from today’s Lotusphere 2012 conference:

A.Rennie “Content at rest = cost, content in motion = value”, “Sharepoint is today’s document coffin”. Social ->relevancy, currency

The tweet was read by Gabor Fari who took immediate dislike to the tweet. Two facts that are important to know before proceeding. Gabor works for Microsoft and while I have worked with all major versions of SharePoint, most of my experience is with platforms that were mature when SharePoint was first released.

I’m going to recount some points of the discussion and expound now that I’m not limited by 140 characters. If you want to see the tweets, check both his and my tweets from Jan 16.

Proliferation of Document Graveyards

gravestonesGabor was quick to point out that Documentum is more of a document graveyard than SharePoint. I would argue that the number of Documentum and SharePoint document graveyards created since 2003 are fairly equivalent. SharePoint likely has more, but that is more due to the significantly higher number of SharePoint systems deployed since then.

It is more than technology at play here. It is IT generally just dumping content into a system a expecting people to just behave differently. Many just created a new way of access the traditional share drive.

Essentially, you could rewrite the tweet with almost any legacy Content Management system listed. Of course, SharePoint being the largest, or at least the fastest growing over the past several years, that is the one used. SharePoint has the target on their back.

The real point is that it is important to use your content in processes and collaboratively. If you just store it away, it is a cost, not an asset. This is true regardless of the systems in play.

Collaboration as the Foundation

Gabor then said something that I felt was immensely misleading:

Legacy #ECM was not built for collaboration from the ground up, but added as an afterthought.

I agree with this statement. However, I’m pretty sure Gabor isn’t including SharePoint in this categorization. With all due respect, SharePoint’s roots are in basic document sharing. Yes, their first interface was written ten years ago as opposed to 20, but it was still basic document sharing, just like FileNet, Documentum, and Open Text.

SharePoint is actually one of the “legacy” Content Management systems. It may be one of the newest/last ones to fit into that category, but it is there. It lives onsite and it’s initial use cases were the same as most major Content Management systems.

Yes, SharePoint 2010 is much more evolved than the original product, but all Content Management products are. The difference is that SharePoint has been trying to be more Information/Collaboration focused while many of the other legacy vendors have turned to Case Management.

Of course, none of that matters if they aren’t deployed correctly with a strong eye towards Change Management. That truth applies to all Content Management systems.

Final Note Regarding Silverlight

Meanwhile, CMS Wire published an article today asking if SharePoint and Silverlight have a Future. I think the key item in the article is the future of Silverlight. It is theoretically in the last release. Currently, it is believed that HTML 5 is the next thing for SharePoint.

Of course, this had mixed reactions when I share it. For the record, I wasn’t attacking SharePoint.

Personally, I strongly dislike building any user interface using a technology that requires a plugin like Flash or Silverlight. That significantly hurts cross-platform mobility and the ability for changes. Flash is slowly being replaced and I suspect that Microsoft will do the same with Silverlight. After all, it isn’t as if a competitor is going to providing HTML 5. It is a standard.

Oh sure, Silverlight is going to be around for a while, especially during SharePoint 2010’s tenure. I just expect to be talking about SharePoint years after Silverlight has gone the way of floppy disks.

25 thoughts on “SharePoint, Another “Legacy” Content Management System

  1. Let me just say that I have been following your writings over the past few years, and you have been one of the most avid fans of Documentum. So I still think you have somewhat of a bias for the stuff you know best. And that is to be expected. But you appear to have dismissed my other point: while I did state that SharePoint is a far more modern system, built from the ground up for collaboration (document sharing is part of this, of course), there is a huge difference between a legacy code base that is now almost 20 years old, and something that has been built much more recently and overhauled several times. And I noted more than once that impementation and governance are key: without the right implementation practices, even the best systems will fail. Nevertheless, I will stand by what I stated that a system that has built-in collaboration capabilities from the ground up and considers ECM part of the collaborative process rather than a monolithic ECM system which was originally built to be a better file system is what will deliver a higher value to modern enterprises, PROVIDED it is implemented right. What I took a dislike to is a short-sighted statement about SharePoint being a ‘document coffin’ whereas there are still plenty of legacy ECM systems still around that are the real document coffins. I fact, one of my customers referred to Documentum as the document graveyard, so that was the quote that came to mind. It is absolutely hilarious that someone in a Lotusphere conference of all places would refer to SharePoint being the document coffin, while Lotus is one of the most ancient beasts out there, and companies can’t move off it fast enough. So much for the credibility of that statement 😉


    • Gabor, thanks for the quick reply. My response…

      – Governance is always key. That is universal. I didn’t use the word Governance, but I implied it. For me, Governance makes a system go after adoption. The Change Management aspect of Governance drives adoption and proper usage on day one. You did note that previously and I didn’t really cover it because we pretty much agreed.

      – The tweet was heavy into humor. If it wasn’t funny, it wouldn’t have been tweeted. That said, I have run across, and heard about, a TON of Document graveyards hosted by SharePoint. When you consider the headstart the other vendors have, it is no wonder they have a lot of graveyards as well. The difference is that I see a lot of working systems on both sides and that at any given site, Documentum/SharePoint/Other, the odds of the system being a graveyard are actually equivalent.

      – You are right about Notes. Those in glass houses and all that. It’s the same marketing hype that ALL vendors use. Doesn’t make it not funny.

      – After two major releases, no code-base is clean. Documentum’s WDK is only a couple years older that SharePoint and the core server has underwent some major overhaul work in the v4-5 timeframe ten years ago. The core of the data design is primarily the same, but even that has changed. FileNet was completely rewritten ten years ago with P8. Translation, you can’t equate the age of the company to the codebase, doesn’t always work.

      Thanks for the comments, your turn. 🙂


  2. @Lane: Agreed – very funny! Perhaps this is where a good Enterprise Search and Metadata Management strategy could help 😉

    @Laurence: your Retweet may have been heavy into humor, but can you confirm that the original Tweet was not serious? We definitely agree on the Governance part, that is obvious. Regarding which is the most modern ECM system, you are right, that is open to debate. But I am still firm in my conviction that one would miss the point by only talking about ECM systems in and of themselves. This is where I also disagree with analysts who have a bucket called ‘ECM’ and measure everything against that bucket. ECM is the result of collaborative work, and therefore I do think the SharePoint approach is the right one. Before Microsoft, I worked for Open Text for many years, and before they became the self-anointed ‘King of the ECM heap’, they coined the term CKM (Collaborative Content Management). But they were the only ones who used that term, and the analysts were starting to talk about ECM, and it did not hit home. So they moved to ECM in their marketing pitch. But I do think CKM was right on. They had the right ideas in the beginning, and Collaboration is also the heritage of SharePoint technologies. Web-based file sharing was just one aspect of it. ECM is just one of the six pillars of SharePoint, next to Enterprise Search, Composite Apps, Business Intelligence, WCM and Communities. There is no other platform that has all these elements bundled into one. So you could say that there are other best-of-breed solutions that are superior for one of the six pillars, but that was never the intent. SharePoint (and I am focusing mostly on SP2010) is truly an enteprise platform for Collaborative Content-driven apps. Therein lies its unique power. We are working with our Life Sciences ISV community to build next-generation apps for specialized areas such as managing Clinical Trials, and SharePoint really shines in such areas, giving our partners a unique advantage by building on what MS has already delivered in a scalable and extensible platform. The other area that analysts invariably miss is the importance of the integration of the Desktop and the back end. To name a few ECM-related examples: built-in Slide Libraries which automatically update Slide decks as you open them, built-in digital signatures and rights management, the ability to kick off a workflow right from Office, which then routes the document via SharePoint, and my number one compliance-related example: seamless integration of document-level metadata between the document and the back end via the Document Information Panel. Collaboration and ECM also necessitate document exchange, and content without context is incomplete. Legacy ECM systems work as a closed system and they have their own metadata tables. So when you remove a document and send it to another collaborator, the content loses all its metadata. With SharePoint and Office (2007 and above), Content and Context are always in sync. Of course, I know you will point out all the limitations, but let’s face it the majority of documents created these days are in Office format, and the combination of Office 2010 on the front end and SP2010 on the back end has unique capabilities no other legacy ECM system can match. By now, most enterprises have moved ot Office 2007 or above, and MOSS or above. Most of them have no idea about the power of these systems, and analysts don’t do a very good job educating them, because they tend to focus on one particular silo, like ECM. So I hope this helps highlight some of the things from my perspective, as a person who has been practicing ECM from way before SharePoint was a factor in this market, and I am also glad your Blog gave me a chance to transcend the 140 character limitations of Twitter 😉


  3. Jed says:

    Interesting to and fro here. Particularly interested to find that you Gabor used to work at OpenText, as I still find LiveLink (or OT Content Server!) to be better for document centric collaboration than SharePoint in many ways.

    I like the way that as a good and true MS person, you pointed out that “ECM is only one of the six pillars” – but how exactly is Web Content Management not a sub-set of Enterprise Content Management ? Oh well never mind that for now.

    I was also glad that you noted that best of breed products will probably be better than SharePoint at any one particular element of the six pillars – is that an admission of “jack of all trades and master of non” ?

    I have worked with LivelInk, Documentum (which is how I know Pie) and now FileNet. I have worked with SharePoint since the orginal version in 2001, and I was the conference in Annaheim last september; but I am no SharePoint fan boy. I believe it has many fundamental architectural issues, but sure it gets better every release, and SP2010 is not bad for basic document management etc.

    Now to Pie’s point – I honestly believe there are many, many more SharePoint document graveyards than any other system ! Why ? Well because when an organization does a major ECM deployment, putting considerable thought and effort into it, SharePoint will be no cheaper or easier than the “big boys” (sorry, the “legacy ECM” systems). SharePoint will be built upon, used as a development platform, integrated with other systems (e.g. scanning / imaging software) etc etc. I doubt very much that these “high end” SharePoint deployments are any more or less likely to become graveyards than similar Documentum or FileNet systems – they are built to support ongoing transactional business processes.

    In my experience as a consultant, the SharePoint sites that quickly become document graveyards are those team site deployments that went “viral” with all the bad habits of Lotus Notes before it, just slung out there by the IT department – no design, no metadata, no training. Document Libraries with no columns, but plenty of folders ! 3 uses of the Announcement web part before the ‘team’ gets bored with it, 2 meetings in the calendar, no use of even the simple built in workflow, because people don’t know its there…….etc

    When it comes down to it, Documentum, FileNet and LiveLink generally cost too much to be used as general file dumping grounds, replacing file shares. Microsoft however, with its “almost giving it away” approach to spreading the SharePoint goodness has ensured that by it’s very “success” in basic document centric collaboration, that there will forever more be more undead ‘zombie’ documents in SharePoint graves than in other system.


  4. Oh how I hate to disagree with you, but you sent me to this post, so here goes. SharePoint was not built as an ECM platform. It was initially the server side to Microsoft FrontPage. It was started as a platform to build websites, collaborate and to be used as a simple portal solution. I’d say that SharePoint wasn’t even aimed at being an ECM solution until the 2007 release. The document storage elements were there solely for the collaboration functionality, not for ECM purposes. So, legacy? I don’t know that it is the right label.


  5. @Jed: surely, you have to be kidding me. While I was at OT, I have witnessed two attempts to move to a modern code base, and both failed. So people are still largely stuck with OScript and WebLingo and some newer Java wrappers. SharePoint 2010 is head and shoulders above what Livelink (Content Server) can offer these days, even though Livelink was a revolutionary product, and far ahead of its time 12 years ago. And no need to try to twist around what I wrote: you can go with 6 expensive best-of-breed solutions to replace individually what you get in SharePoint, and you will spend 5-10 times more, and end up with a system that all consultants love because the customer has to keep on spending money to keep this contraption together. If you work mostly with FileNet, then you are likely to work in a specialized area of ECM that is not a focus area for SharePoint. Storing massive amounts of scanned content does not have much to do with collaboration, which is the point I was trying to make, in terms of my view of ECM.

    @Nick: agreed! SharePoint and ECM were not even mentioned in the same breath until about 2005, when Russ Stalters wrote in the AIIM magazine about ‘Document Management for Free’ which sent a warning shot across the bow of legacy ECM that the game is going to be changing. And it has changed. The ECM capabilities of SP2010 are a vast improvement over MOSS, and the story will keep getting better and better. Having said all this, I would also need to remind everyone that I completely agree with Laurence that good implementation practices and governance are the key to success and to avoiding graveyards. I never stated that SharePoint content could not lead to document graveyards, as it is all about the soft side, and not the technology. However, I do stand by what I stated about some of the unique capabilities SharePoint brings to the game that legacy ECM systems were never built for, and most consultants and analysts do not even think of as being part of ECM. If you read up on the motivation for this whole thread, it is the absurd comment from the Lotusphere Conference where someone stated that SharePoint is the modern equivalent of the document coffin. I would say to these people to look around, because there are plenty of legacy ECM systems out there, starting with Notes, and they are the real document graveyard. And that is my story, and I am sticking to it 🙂


  6. @gfari Storing massive amounts of scanned documents is absolutely about collaboration. In fact, ai am currently working on a project that involves ingesting whacking great volumes of physical (will be imaged) & electronic documents for the sole purpose of allowing folks to collaborate on case files.


  7. @christianpwalker In your case, the massive amounts of scanned information is an example of ECM supporting collaborative processes, but you first need a system that is built for Case Management, and the six pillars of SharePoint I referred to above makes it uniquely well suited to be a Case Management platform. And that is largely independent of where the massive amount of content is stored: it could be almost any legacy ECM content storage platform, as long as the link to the file and the metadata are connected to SharePoint. BTW – that is how the Open Text Case Management framework works, too 😉 The front end is all SharePoint, and that is what the user works with everyday, while the back end is the legacy ECM content storage platform.


  8. Lee Dallas says:

    too late to comment coherently but me thinks he doth protest too much – Sharepoint is just a portal with a hardwired document system anyway. If you can use it for ECM and make it work good for you great! It still wont solve site sprawl and abandonment which was I think the meaning behind the coffin statement in the first place.

    Like soldiers fallng in battle content is buried where it falls. Sharepoint is a graveyard for content because people put it there in the first place. Its not the softwares fault it dies there so why so defensive. Likewise if Documentum is a graveyard for content it is because that is where those documents fought their battle. Some one made the decision to leave it there.

    And the line “uniquely well suited as a Case Management Platform?” That’s like saying Excel is uniquely qulaified to manage your inventory. I suppose you can whittle down case management too make that statement true for some situations but unique? Perhaps but in its constraints as well as capabilities.

    Case management is all about managing relationships. Patient ot doctor, to condition, to insurer. Vehicle to driver to accident to police report. Administrative, Legal (defense and prosecutorial), Investigative, Social, CRM, etc.Sharepoint handles simple one or two level containment but rich complex relationships must be handled elsewhere. transformations, ediscovery, output mgmt on and on – All of the heavy lifting must be done elsewhere ( database ro other syerm if it is even remotely complicated.

    If you hadn’t noticed – even Open Text saw fit to acquire a case management product I assume partly because of the narrow set of use cases the CM framework could accomodate. In the scenario describe you could make the argument that it is the ECM backend that is really managing the cases. SP then is just used for authentication and a UI –
    i.e. – its only a portal.


  9. LOL – fitting comments from another legacy ECM expert who has obviously not delved deeper in the full capabilities of SharePoint. First of all, you need to check out the K2 Case Management Framework on SharePoint or DeltaScheme (an Open Text partner now focusing on SharePoint). And BTW, I do agree about the CRM aspects of Case Management that most legacy ECM vendors do not really address. This is why we have something called composite apps and the Business Connectivity Services, to bring CRM connectivity into SharePoint. As a matter of fact, some partners are bulding great Case Management soltuions on SharePoint and CRM Dynamics 2011. Ironically, I am not trying to protest, but trying to bring enlightenment and offer a different perspective. However, knowing the makeup of the readership of this Blog, I am not going to waste my time any more, given that all too frequently you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. So this will be my last post here. Have a wonderful SOPA-free ECM day, everyone!


  10. So the post wasn’t meant to slam SharePoint, just point out that it has more in common with the other legacy Content Management systems than most people like to admit. With that in mind, here are a collection of thoughts:

    If you study your history, one of the 2 components of SP back in 2001 was TeamSpaces. Yes, they had a portal component as the other, but what you call collaboration was just basic document sharing. When nCompass was purchased and blended in, that brought some of the WCM flair, but really it wasn’t much to it.

    SharePoint History on SharePoint Blog

    Gabor, respect your decision to cease debate here, but please come back and visit. I feel SharePoint 2010 isn’t a bad solution, it just often used in bad ways, a truth for all systems.

    The tweet that I re-tweeted was from a conference, and I strongly suspect it was used to get a laugh and to preface a talk about how to get value from content through collaborative features.

    SharePoint is over 10 years old, an eternity in IT. It is legacy. It isn’t dead. It just isn’t new anymore. It is part of the Content Management establishment.

    Just think, in 8-10 years, we’ll be saying the same thing about today’s crop of SaaS providers.


  11. @Laurence: OK, no worries. Happy to post additional thoughts. I largely agree with you if we take the Governance issue into the equation, and I think we already covered that. I had two main points to make, which is that ECM = Collaboration + Content, and this is not largely Marketing speak from Microsoft, but really reflects the approach we are taking. You had made a statement that it is largely marketing speak. And in fact, if you accept this premise, then my related point is precisely that built-in collaboration can be a huge asset in avoiding content rot, i.e. being a document coffin. And my second point was that I never had a beef with you reposting the tweet, by beef was with the analyst who re-posted some stupid marketing (yes, that kind of marketing) fluff that the ultimate ECM legacy vendor (Notes) was spreading at their annual conference. I am in no position to judge if it was serious or in jest, but since the quotation marks were missing, I had no reason to assume this was in jest – it looked more like spreading FUD to me. Good thing SOPA protest day is over again, so we can comment on your Blog 🙂


    • Wait, “ECM=Collaboration + Content”? OMG no! ECM is just a strategy. That may be Microsoft’s approach to Content Management, which is a healthy one, but if you equate that to ECM I may have to ban you from commenting on the blog. To save yourself, you need to go to this page and note leave until you are done.

      I would also like to point out that deploying a collaboration-based system correctly is only one way to avoid graveyards. The real key is to implement it in a way that meets the overall business goals. For some organizations, this could be a much more process-centric approach as the Case Management zealots preach.


  12. I assume you are joking about banning me? Just checking…. 😉 ECM is such a broad area that there is room for a lot of interpretation. For ECM to be effective in an organization, you need an ECM strategy, which includes Governance and deployment strategies, change management, Information Modeling etc. I disagree that ECM is a strategy in and of itself. ECM is having the right tools (Content + Collaboration) in conjunction with the right strategy. As you know well, Microsoft is primarily a tools vendor, and in order to make it all work the tools need to be paired with the right strategy, which is where folks like you come in. Now, if you take the approach that ECM is just a strategy, then you are saying that it could be made to work with any set of tools. That is where we largely disagree: given enough time and money, I guess you can make anything work, but these days that is not a viable approach any more, is it? You also need the right set of tools, which can manage content, scale, can be made compliant, and (as I keep on saying) have the right hooks to seamlessly connect the Desktop productivity tools with the back end, can address the issue of Content + Context (which I wrote about earlier) and is all wrapped into Collaboration, so end users can really use the darn thing, so in the end it does not all turn to islands of information (another aphorism for stale content or document graveyards). Case Management fits very nicely into my model too – BPM is very complementary to what I described above. Just so we understand each other, I have over a dozen years’ ECM experience too, and so I think I am perfectly capable of thinking this through, and I am not just rehashing any marketing slogans. In fact, I may be one of them old dogs who just may have taught themselves some new tricks. To quote an earlier comment by someone above: woof, woof 🙂

    But if you want to ban me anyway – just go ahead .


  13. Jed says:

    Hmmm’ not all Enterprise Content Management strategies require collaboration you know, but hey that is another thread…….

    Ref: “I would say to these people to look around, because there are plenty of legacy ECM systems out there, starting with Notes, and they are the real document graveyard. And that is my story, and I am sticking to it”

    Again, I re-iterate the actual point of my comment: Yes lots of document graveyards, and in my personal experience as both an employee of various organizations, and in my short time as a consultant, there are as many if not more SharePoint based graveyards due to the viral way SharePoint “took off” – not for nothing has SharePoint been called the “new Lotus Notes” – I am not slagging off the product, if you don’t put the effort into governance, change management, user adoption etc etc it does not matter what platform your using, but please give up the idea that SP is somehow magically better than “legacy” platforms, and thus has less such graveyards – again in my PERSONAL experience it is just as bad, or worse.


  14. Not magically better. I never said that. It is ECM for the masses and a platform for Content-centric Collaboration apps. An affordable ECM solution after all the over-priced legacy ECM systems out there.


    • Affordable until you have to start paying for 3rd party apps to get functionality that is out-of-the-box with those other vendors. Not everyone needs those items, but part of the total cost.


  15. That is a classic red herring argument. Look at the actual numbers – Dollars and Cents. Because legacy ECM systems do not have all you need either. The vendors offer all these add-ons at extra cost. The only difference is whether you can be a one-stop shop or not. Otherwise, the third party add-ons to SharePoint also cost a fraction of the same add-ons, when supplied by the legacy vendors.


  16. It is not a red herring argument. Yes, the little plugins are great. Yes, they are a risk when you upgrade, but so are the customizations that people write for the same functionality.

    I’m referring to the K2 reference. Adding real BPM or certified RM or a solution that will allow you to scale (new post for that bullet) in a fashion that it has zero impact on the user experience is expensive. It is essentially adding another enterprise grade application. Those are the costs, even before integration.

    SharePoint is great for 80% of an enterprises needs. Most organizations don’t need more than that 80% either. It is when you try and push in to that remaining 20% that issues arise. Issues also arise when people try and stretch what was a department solution into a corporate answer without the proper work. SharePoint doesn’t just scale, you have to plan and work.

    SharePoint is easy. It is easy to get started, it is easy to use (at least compared to the other legacy guys), and as a result, it is easy to abuse.


    • That is a great post.

      My question…when did I say you couldn’t use SharePoint as a platform for your ECM strategy? Heck, I have postulated before that share drives could be part of that strategy as long as it was with intent.

      The whole point of the post was that SharePoint is no longer the new kid on the block. Yes, it has features that set it apart and it is the market leader in Content Management. That all comes with a price. The more installations out there as a whole, the more installations out there that are graveyards. It isn’t a system characteristic. It is a people characteristic.


      • What you wrote is exactly what I predicted. I think we both have a point. I already conceded your point, but it seems that you won’t concede mine, so this will really be my last posting on the subject. Take care.


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