January 18, 2013 by Tom Zeliff Categories: Document Management

Like the old EF Hutton, when Microsoft speaks, people listen. They’ve earned it: Microsoft is the established leader in desktop software, internet browsing and email, just to name a few applications. As a simple example, this blog post was initially written in Word, emailed through Outlook and viewed in Internet Explorer.

SharePoint has been a compelling addition to the Microsoft software family. It’s estimated that there are over 100 million SharePoint users and its collaboration capabilities have allowed millions to migrate from static Windows file shares to dynamic SharePoint libraries. Because SharePoint can serve as a corporate intranet, project management platform and has many other capabilities, some have started to wonder if it can do anything.

For the past few years, Microsoft has promoted the idea of using SharePoint for document management. Many were initially excited, but users started running into problems. The daring question arose: does Microsoft SharePoint really provide document management capabilities? If not, can SharePoint be useful as part of a document management solution and overall enterprise content management (ECM) solution? Or, is “none of the above” the answer for SharePoint being used for document management because of the high cost of professional services required to customize it, initially and in the wake of every major release?

SharePoint vs. Document Management

Traditional document management solutions incorporate the following functionality: capture, store, manage, integration and workflow. How does SharePoint relate to these functions?

  1. Capture: SharePoint lacks the ability to capture images from document scanners, so this requires third-party applications to address this function
  2. Management: SharePoint does offer basic document access, security and version control, which are document management hallmarks
  3. Integration: while organizations can integrate with SharePoint, this is not out of the box functionality, so it must be customized by .net programmers, which are in high demand (and expensive)
  4. Workflow: SharePoint does have workflow functionality built into its core, but requires difficult and laborious custom programming to deploy or the use of third-party workflow platforms that also require a significant amount of professional services

An unpleasant surprise: each SharePoint upgrade results in a need to reprogram every set of customized code from one version to the other, e.g. 2007 to 2010. With custom code, the amount of resources spent on the first project will have to be re-spent to configure SharePoint after each new release (every two years or so).

By comparison, document management software either has its own document capture capability or seamlessly works with third-party capture software. Document management typically has API and/or web service integration with leading enterprise resource planning (ERP) and line-of-business applications for seamless and quick integration. Lastly, full-featured document management applications typically include a workflow module, which provides exponential value and tighter control of critical business processes.

Analysis from the Industry Experts

Industry research has yielded a number of interesting pieces of information about SharePoint deployments relative to document management, and their success:

  • “Two major limitations of SharePoint include the lack of a capture/scanning functionality and no built-in support for transactional content (i.e. AP and HR).” (Source: In Context)
  • “Microsoft SharePoint can provide some of the basic features of an ECM solution; however, it is much more effective when used as an underlying platform and third-party solutions are integrated with it to provide more advanced ECM functionality. In most situations, businesses will utilize Microsoft SharePoint’s ECM capabilities, evaluate their specific needs, and then go out and find an ECM vendor(s) that are able to satisfy more complex requirements.” (Source: The Radicati Group)
  • “Its user interfaces for document and records management are not the best, and there are no scanning tools or image viewer in the product. You have to add them using third-party tools. High volume, high transaction applications are not a good fit. Over 10 million objects stored and you will face performance problems, unless – again – you add third-party tools.” (Mark Mandel, public records administrator for the Office of Public Records, Washington, D.C. Source: In Context)
  • “The difficulty of content migration and information governance capabilities are given as the biggest shortfalls in expectations. In terms of functionality, records management, workflow, social tools and email integration are considered lacking in capability.” (Source: AIIM)

What to Do Now?

If you want to simply replace your Windows shared drive or need a business collaboration platform, Microsoft SharePoint can be a good fit. SharePoint also provides basic document management functionality out-of-the-box, such as version control and archiving. However, for more powerful document management features that significantly improve efficiency, provide visibility and tighter controls of your business processes, document management software with capture, workflow and e-forms may be the better choice. Although SharePoint can be configured to do everything that document management can do out-of-the-box—you will need to spend hundreds of hours in professional services professional services to do so. Or, you could simply implement document management software for a fraction of the cost and save even more by utilizing cloud document management. You can also consider using either SharePoint or document management for archival storage for your electronic documents with the other used as the interface, but beware of integration pitfalls and cost. Let us know if we can help you determine the best way for you to manage your documents.

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