The Value of SharePoint-based ECM Solutions

2007 has been recorded and archived into our history books. In the technology sector, it was quite a year and no recent activity has generated the relevant phenomenon that Microsoft® SharePoint® has created within the Enterprise Content Management (ECM) segment of the software market.

While virtually every ECM vendor with some market presence or name recognition has announced their “integration” with SharePoint, there have been few to adopt SharePoint as a cornerstone of their ECM platform. With SharePoint’s rich and deep inventory of ECM functionality designed to meet the business needs of the masses, customers seeking out and evaluating SharePoint-based ECM solutions will clearly become a pervasive business trend in 2008 – and beyond.

Attractive Cost Promotes Widespread User Adoption
One clearly compelling interest in SharePoint for ECM deployments is the perceived attractive cost model. While there is still some confusion about SharePoint being “free” (Windows SharePoint Services is incorporated into the licensing of Windows Server 2008), even the more costly Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) creates a very wide price differential between it and traditional ECM product license costs. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that license is only one part of the total cost of ownership – the services required to create an ECM solution from scratch on top of the SharePoint base platform can be sizable given that it is a platform and not an “out-of-the-box” ECM solution.

Next-generation SharePoint-based ECM solutions provide organizations with similar license and associated services costs savings over traditional ECM products, while providing rich and valuable extended functionality for enterprise-class associated content services on top of the SharePoint platform. With these new and attractive license and pricing models, companies can now afford to adopt ECM across the entirety of the business enterprise.

Extend SharePoint to Complete the “ECM Stack”
Even with rich and deep functionality, one could easily view SharePoint’s ECM capabilities to be centered around Microsoft-generated content since SharePoint provides excellent Document Management, Forms Management, Web Content Management, and Email Management services. Yet core ECM transactional content functionality such as Document Scanning and Imaging, Report Management, and Enterprise-class Business Process Management (BPM) are not provided natively within SharePoint today. Microsoft very publicly directs customers to leverage Partner built solutions to deliver specific ECM components such as Document Imaging to fill any functional disparity.

Modern SharePoint-based ECM solutions take this one step further by providing a comprehensive and highly-unified ECM suite built upon SharePoint that delivers complete ECM functionality and management (also known as the “ECM stack”) for all forms of business content. SharePoint-based ECM suites further extend SharePoint’s native ECM attributes with rich, enterprise-class features like Advanced Content Lifecycles, Unified Policy Administration, Central Audit Logging and Reporting, and Intelligent Content Organization – all features normally associated with much more costly ECM solutions.

The Perfect Fit within the IT Infrastructure and the Desktop
True SharePoint-based suites provide a most compelling case for the appropriate and sound fit within the modern business IT environment. With Microsoft’s substantial presence on corporate desktops and inside the IT infrastructure, it is easily understandable why the utilization of SharePoint functionality for ECM solutions is attractive to Microsoft-centric organizations.

User Adoption via the Familiar Microsoft User Experience
While cost can be a limiting factor to broad organizational adoption of legacy ECM solutions, the usability or classic “ease-of-use” has caused many ECM deployments to fail. This is attributed to the complexity and cumbersome nature of legacy ECM systems not being designed for the modern information worker (end user). With Microsoft Office 2007 and SharePoint 2007, Microsoft has delivered rich ECM functionality seamlessly woven into the fabric of Microsoft’s desktop applications. These capabilities along with future Microsoft ECM functionalities embedded into the desktop will undoubtedly become the de facto standard for content and collaborative ECM process functions. This will drive a significant and painful divide between the organic functionality historically developed by legacy ECM vendors and the new Microsoft-associated standards for ECM functionality being continually introduced onto the desktop.

By leveraging contemporary SharePoint-based ECM suites, the familiar Microsoft interface and user experience is carried elegantly from the authoring applications and information worker applications, and will continue throughout the associated content lifecycle within the ECM content application itself. The Microsoft familiar experience and associated intuitive interface promote rapid user acceptance and broaden the successful adoption and deployment rates that can be experienced around the ECM suite implementation.

The New Wave of SharePoint-based ECM: Beyond “Integration”
Responding to the tidal wave of interest around SharePoint within the ECM software community, legacy ECM vendors quickly introduced their SharePoint integration. Virtually every integration announcement has been a “co-existence” approach that does not provide incremental value or aggregate business enhancement to maintain the continued usage of a legacy ECM product.

SharePoint-based ECM solutions extend native SharePoint functionality with the added value of transactional Document Imaging, Report Management, and BPM, along with enterprise-class Unified Policies and Content Services rivaling the older and costly, yet recognizable names in the ECM industry. They also deliver Microsoft-only functional experiences around native SharePoint capabilities such as Document Management, Forms Management, Email Management and Web Content Management – with enterprise-wide standard functionality and consistency. There is little doubt that SharePoint will raise the bar for the ECM community and it will raise the associated value that consumer organizations will reap from emerging SharePoint-based ECM suites.

The savvy IT executive or business manager who explores SharePoint-based suites for ECM strategies will find that they can achieve enhanced business content control and management, broaden user adoption across the enterprise, and enjoy higher, longer-lasting returns on their ECM investments. This can all be achieved while minimizing the impact on both the information worker desktop as well as the internal IT operational infrastructure. This is the value that users of SharePoint-based ECM suites will experience in 2008 – and well into the future.

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