SharePoint is the hottest thing to happen to ECM since…

I continue to be amazed at how pervasive and viral in nature the entire SharePoint subject has
become within the ECM space. This interest permeates the ECM Reseller community and ECM end users, as well as Microsoft-associated partners and end users. I will explore the whole Microsoft-associated subject later in this column as it is an interesting element for you to think about and consider, especially if you are a current ECM/Imaging VAR or Reseller.

I may have said this before, but I definitely see SharePoint as the most impactful and meaningful “hype-cycle” that our industry has experienced. Because of the significance of Microsoft entering this space via Office/SharePoint, it has really brought our industry to new heights of interest and visibility that no other single vendor introduction has historically effected. I see all of this as good, as it is opening up a brand new market segment for the ECM community.

Why are Businesses Interested in SharePoint-based ECM?

I recently came across a new white paper offered by a fairly new player in the ECM industry that took a less than flattering stance on SharePoint’s role and capabilities in the ECM space. Besides not doing much for this company’s relationship with Microsoft, this type of approach really does a disservice to our industry. It only creates more confusion and misinformation in an industry that has suffered long enough from this illness. I’m quite hopeful that as organizations come into contact with this information, they understand that, once again, traditional ECM vendors are struggling with their SharePoint strategies – and those that have none can do nothing but take potshots at SharePoint in order to try to survive.

The reason SharePoint is resonating so clearly and in an increasing way to business organizations as they examine their ECM strategy is fairly simple.

In today’s business landscape, it’s common to see Windows as the desktop OS of choice, Windows Server as the network infrastructure, MS-SQL Server as the database engine, and MS Office as the desktop suite on the information workers’ desktops. Since SharePoint fits seamlessly into this environment, it becomes a painless and somewhat simplistic decision for companies to extend the ECM strategies toward SharePoint. However, at the AIIM Roadshow, it was very clear that we are at the first-level of the SharePoint learning curve in this market.

This is evidenced by the lack of understanding as to what SharePoint is, what it does or doesn’t do – and not only from an ECM perspective. I’m actually surprised as to how little most ECM vendors really know about SharePoint given that they’ve all made some sort of “me too” integration announcement around SharePoint. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’ve seen any of these announcements or SharePoint integrations that really offer meaningful value to the consumer.

These all appear to be vendor-based value messages designed to prolong legacy vendors’ attempts to protect their historical ECM revenue prices and margins, so how does SharePoint fit with ECM?

When Microsoft first launched SharePoint 2007 (the first version of SharePoint to deliver ECM capabilities), the messaging surrounding SharePoint’s capabilities was a little vague or ambiguous. Since the launch, Microsoft has worked with AIIM, ECM industry veterans, and others to more clearly define what they now refer to as SharePoint’s ECM sub-capabilities. Evan Richman, SharePoint’s Product Manager for ECM has done an excellent job of clearly articulating that SharePoint isn’t an entire ECM solution, but a platform that provides some very rich and powerful ECM capabilities.

As you examine those capabilities, you will see that they have a heritage of controlling and managing Microsoft-based content, specifically Office suite content, Outlook/Exchange content (email), along with Expression for the Web-based content. Once you begin to understand that SharePoint’s content capabilities were designed for Microsoft-based content, the specific ECM capabilities that SharePoint provides (and those it doesn’t) become very comprehensive and more understandable.

The ECM sub-capabilities are Document Management, Records Management, Email Management, Forms Management, and Web Content Management. Clearly missing from these capabilities are core components such as Document Imaging and Enterprise Report Management (aka COLD). Since these two types of transactional content can represent upwards of 70% of a business organization’s content management requirements, you begin to better understand that SharePoint wasn’t designed to be an ECM product, but rather it provides ECM capabilities that better manage Microsoft-generated or supported content types, while providing a platform for broader ECM functionality delivered by partner-built solutions (like Clearview, for example).

Herein lies the problem for customers. The ECM functionality provided by SharePoint now directly overlaps with organically created capabilities built by legacy ECM vendors over the years. So I’m not really sure how it will ever “fit” nicely, which is why most of the legacy ECM vendors are offering an “integration” or co-existence strategy. They try to suggest that there are higher value requirements that SharePoint doesn’t deliver in order to try to justify their historically inflated price points and margins. The reality is that while SharePoint’s ECM capabilities might not be the absolute best (depending upon who is adjudicating), in reality they are “good enough” (and perhaps beyond) to meet the critical requirements of most business organizations today.

I think that where you see the “fit” with SharePoint and ECM is with new age ECM vendors like Clearview, who have built a SharePoint-based ECM platform. This uses all of SharePoint’s ECM capabilities natively as components of the ECM architecture, but augments those with additional functionalities for high-value ECM requirements like Document Imaging, Report Management, and Business Process Management.

This gives the customers the best of both worlds, and delivers a truly innovative alternative to using SharePoint alongside and overlapping with a legacy ECM product. After all, having a single solution that embeds SharePoint gives the Microsoft-centric or SharePoint customer exactly what they need to provide rich ECM but still leverage SharePoint and Office functionality natively as Microsoft designed.

I truly believe that the ECM market and its future evolution are going to be very interesting to see over the next three to five years. While SharePoint is the main catalyst for change today, what I find intriguing is contemplating which IT infrastructure vendor is going to try to “one-up” Microsoft, and what its SharePoint competitive solution will look like.


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