SharePoint and ECM: Is “integration” really all you need for your business?

I’d like to focus on what I will refer to as the “integration phenomenon.” And what is this? Well, having now been on the road for the past few weeks presenting Clearview’s SharePoint-based ECM suite to audiences at the AIIM ECM Spring Solutions Seminar, I have now lost count of the number of legacy ECM vendors who have announced or talk about their “SharePoint integration.” This vast sea of companies includes not only ECM suite vendors; they have been recently joined by almost every image capture software company or scanner manufacturer with their “scan to SharePoint” solution. I, for one, would be seriously concerned about our future business if Clearview was only an “image solution” or “scan to SharePoint” solution vendor. While the early pioneers of these technologies enjoyed some exclusivity, it has quickly become a very crowded and non-differentiated vendor landscape. But I’ll save the “scan to SharePoint” discussion for our next column.

Based on the volume of “integrations” announced with SharePoint, I thought it might be appropriate and maybe appreciated if I discussed what this means to end user organizations, and help those who are seeking to extend SharePoint into a full ECM platform better understand some of the options that are available in today’s ECM vendor landscape.

Why are so many legacy ECM vendors announcing SharePoint “integration?”

This question is actually fairly simple to answer. What else can they do? Of course, I can say this with a little bit of pride in that Clearview saw, anticipated, and planned a next-generation ECM solution suite based on SharePoint. However, as you may very well know by now, SharePoint in many cases replicates some very foundational ECM capabilities like document management functionalities that have been the lifeblood of many document, content, or image-based solution vendors.

I think that many have ignored (and will continue to ignore) the impact SharePoint has had on dramatically changing the ECM solution model. The effects of this will likely be seen for many years to come. Legacy vendors, in a reactive mode and trying to respond to the unexpected disruption SharePoint has had in the ECM business community, are trying to position themselves as a higher-value, yet complementary (but at a higher price, of course) value add to SharePoint’s core ECM capabilities.

So let’s be bold and suggest that perhaps the “integration phenomenon” isn’t necessarily one of brilliance or innovation. It is more appropriately described as the only thing legacy ECM vendors can come up with right now to protect their proprietary solutions, aging architecture, and high-dollar costs.

SharePoint “integration” Defined
I will try to explain exactly what this means to you from a user organization or knowledge worker perspective. As I see it, this is not unlike a short-lived strategy that occurred in the 1990’s in the ECM space. This was the Open Document Management Alliance (ODMA) initiative that was designed to allow content systems to interact with one another and exchange information using standards that each vendor was adopting into their solution suite. Essentially, the “integration” that I’ve observed within the ECM market takes on one of two forms: a co-existence model or a migratory (or archive) model.

Co-existence Model
In the co-existence model, systems are essentially allowed to “play nice” with each other. This would be like having adjoining hotel rooms with a shared doorway between the rooms. This allows us to pass between the rooms, yet each room contains individual resources with its own set of furnishings and accommodations. ECM vendors have built an integration that commonly takes on the form of Web Parts built for SharePoint. This enables the SharePoint user to execute a search and view content that is stored within the legacy ECM content repository. In most cases, you can search and view it, and sometimes you can even choose to move it from the ECM repository into the SharePoint repository as a copy of the original, or move it completely from one source to the other.

As organizations move to adopt SharePoint as their intranet, collaboration project platform, or even for their internet sites, they can leverage the existing investments that they have made in the legacy ECM product—for a period of time. Unfortunately, just like in the adjoining hotel room example, the two do not really offer any aggregate higher value in combination. The only way we can actually enhance our space and enlarge our living quarters (or make the two more meaningful in combination) would be to rip down the wall and create a new and expanded space.

The Migratory or Archive Model
This model really plays into the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that SharePoint is not or will not be strong enough in its functionalities and capabilities to provide a true information management platform.

In this model, it is suggested that the user organization use SharePoint for content creation and editing during the collaborative phase of the content lifecycle. Once the content is finalized and no longer requires edits, it is migrated to the legacy ECM repository for long-term archival and management. This to me actually has a little more merit than the first model, yet it still is not a long-term and sustainable value proposition for maintaining disparate information silos or allowing redundant functionality to be conducted in non-standardized procedures or user experiences. Legacy ECM solutions have their own “take” on document management, library services, and versioning that is not aligned with the new de facto standards introduced by Microsoft via SharePoint 2007 and Office 2007 functionality that is available “out of the box.”

Where does “integration” fall short?

I would like to suggest that the biggest concern with the entire “integration” element is wondering how long it will take intelligent business leaders, IT professionals, and records professionals to realize that they are not gaining any uniformity in their policy enforcement, security, or audit standards by maintaining disparate systems with overlapping user experiences and functionality. At the end of the day, the “integration” story just doesn’t seem to provide organizations with the consolidated ease-of-use in user access and use of content—nor does it do anything to simplify the back-office management of the information management infrastructure.

What are the alternatives today?

Unfortunately, there has not been the same level of innovation around ECM solutions for SharePoint as there has been in “integration” pitches. Real innovation means vendors starting from scratch or tearing down their product to the foundation and rebuilding it. Neither of these is really attractive or viable for vendors in today’s business climate. I would invite you to explore Clearview’s unique approach to providing a new era of ECM that is built solely upon and innovatively leverages SharePoint’s native capabilities to deliver a new platform for ECM that speaks to modern technology and business needs. With Clearview, your collaborative needs for SharePoint and your security, governance, or compliance requirements for enabling better control over your business information truly come together in a unified and simplistic ECM solution.

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