SharePoint® meets ECM: Comments on the 2007 AIIM Roadshows

I just returned from Rai Wasner’s ECM VARfest, put on by the The Rheinner Group. It was an excellent event where document and content related resellers convene annually to network, understand changes occurring in the market, and learn how to better position their businesses to achieve future success.

I continue to be amazed by the visibility and the impact that SharePoint is having on the ECM space. Of course, since the team here at Clearview is uniquely poised to ride the SharePoint wave in a favorable way, we are pleased by the momentum and visibility this has created for SharePoint-based solutions. At the VARfest, I spoke with the owner of a long-term and successful ECM reseller and he says it best: “Mike, in my 20 year history in this industry, I have never experienced such a compelling event that is having a short-term, and perceived long-term, transforming effect on the way I run my business.”

Even more telling perhaps is that there were a number of non-traditional ECM resellers at the event (companies that originated from the copier dealer landscape, for example) who were telling me that their customers were already inquiring about SharePoint and asking them what they could offer that incorporated a SharePoint strategy. Each year, AIIM puts on the spring and fall ECM roadshow. This is an event that travels to 12 major cities in the country during each roadshow and presents a compelling topic that has current market relevance. This fall’s roadshow series is “SharePoint Meets ECM.” Obviously, this provides even greater evidence that SharePoint is having a broad and significant impact on the ECM market. Credit goes to AIIM for getting in front of this at an early stage and trying to help the classic market better understand how SharePoint differs from traditional ECM products.

Due to the compelling topic and obvious relevance, Clearview will be exhibiting and I will be speaking at the seminars held in Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. At the roadshow, as I currently understand it, one of the key messages is to suggest that ECM and SharePoint can “co-exist” in order to provide full ECM functionality while leveraging the value that SharePoint offers. Being a member of this ECM community for many years, I respect the need to protect the legacy ECM business, and understand that many of the traditional ECM vendors have worked with analysts to craft this message. However, I’m not convinced that this message and positioning is better serving the consumers in the market, or if it is better serving the traditional ECM vendors trying to protect their future revenues. I have had the opportunity to see a number of vendors portray their “SharePoint strategy.”

I describe these as being either a “co-existence” strategy, or a “content migratory” strategy. In the co-existence message being put forth by a set of vendors, the strategy is one of “shared existence” within the organizational environment. For example, let’s say you have deployed a legacy product or a variety of products, perhaps from a variety of vendors. Now your organization sees the very rich collaboration and application platform that SharePoint can provide as a significant component within a Microsoft® technology infrastructure.

So what do you do? In this model, you would keep the legacy products running, and place all new content repositories into new SharePoint Site Collections (also referred to as “sites”). Via a programmatic integration module (obtained from a priced module from the legacy vendor), the SharePoint portal users can see and access not only the new content sites, but they can also access the third party historical repositories of content and documents provided by other ECM vendors. The issue that concerns me in these approaches is whether real value is provided to the consumer. I can’t help but wonder when the educated consumer will begin to ask, “Why should I keep multiple systems?”

But perhaps the more significant question would be, “Where is the incremental value of these strategies?” It seems to me that these strategies also propagate new and larger challenges for the consumer by creating and maintaining disjointed silos of information across the enterprise.Not to mention the cost and resources associated with maintaining multiple systems from multiple vendors.

There is an alternative to the co-existence and migratory strategies presented to the market by the legacy ECM vendors. It is one where the strengths of SharePoint are embedded into a new age content solution as a key part of the architecture – and where the end result is a simple, comprehensive solution utilizing SharePoint but providing the higher value content services desired via extended solutions built upon SharePoint.  

In the content migratory message that is being presented by several of the larger ECM vendors, the SharePoint repository becomes a “temporary” facility to manage content during its active or creative stages. Once the content is finalized and needs to be archived for long-term retention or even enhanced records management, the content is “migrated” from SharePoint and placed into the traditional ECM repository from the third party vendor to provide increased security, records management, retention, and other high-value content services.

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