Boyd Collins is a senior consultant with the Enterprise Content Management practice for SAIC. He has over 15 years of Web development experience for a wide variety of corporations, including super major oil and gas companies, Continental Airlines, and Reliant Energy, and many others. Currently, he is implementing a company-wide content management system for a major pipeline company. His current area of practice is content management systems using a variety of platforms, Web site usability and information architecture. He obtained a master's degree in library and information science from the University of Texas at Austin.
Believe it our not, I had two submissions with this same title! For those that missed the first, Greg Clark's excellent submission is located HERE.
[Editors note: I'll soon be publishing an e-book compiling all of the SharePoint blog submissions. I have enough content now on all of the aspects of SharePoint 2010 that make it different from MOSS. If there are any END USERS who would like to share their implementation experiences and lessons learned and "things that I know now that I wish I knew then" I'd love to hear from you and include in the e-book. Keep in mind that if you can't comment publicly, I can publish you anonymously. See the very creative 8 Ways to Kill Your ECM Project for an idea of how to go about it. And I'll never tell. Promise.]
Before SharePoint 2010, Microsoft provided an attractive entrance to its Enterprise Content Management (ECM) edifice, but much of the foundation was missing. During its organic growth over the past eight years, it remained unclear if the SharePoint product architects had really thought through the underpinnings necessary to support a true ECM platform. To many SharePoint pros, it appeared that Microsoft was simply adding new features to the product without tying them together into a unified ECM infrastructure.
With SharePoint 2010, that infrastructure has risen to the surface. In Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007, the fundamental unit of content management was the site collection. But even average implementations could have hundreds of site collections. Content types offered an apparatus that might lead to effective metadata management, but the inability to cross site collection boundaries meant that we were still stuck on islands of metadata lost in the oceans of content. Fundamental questions concerning metadata consistency seemed not merely unanswered, but unasked.
With SharePoint 2010, Microsoft appears to be asking the right questions and providing answers that often exceed expectations.
Another 8 Things That Make SharePoint 2010 a True ECM System
1 -- Managed Metadata
Companies often require the use of approved terms from a centrally controlled taxonomy. The SharePoint 2010 response is managed metadata, which is the ability to create, manage, and publish term sets across the enterprise from a single point of reference. Term sets are hierarchical trees, internally connected structures that display parent-child relationships. Term sets and content type galleries are available to any site collection that can securely access the url for the managed metadata service. With the new service structure, we have finally connected the metadata islands into a coordinated lattice of consistent terminology.
2 -- Document Sets
Individual documents often belong to a larger construct that is what the organization really needs to manage. Consider the typical proposal. A proposal is actually an ecology of documentation, containing PowerPoint presentations, Microsoft Word documents, qualifications, case studies and so on. What matters at the end of the process is the complete portfolio of documents. The Document Set allows multiple items to be treated as one in terms of workflow, compliance, and versioning. Versioning is applied to the Document Set as a whole, allowing us to capture snapshots of the version of each document at a point in time in case we need to roll back. Workflows can operate against the entire Document Set to automate the process of integrating component documents into a master deliverable. Each document can be routed to different approvers. As each part passes through the review process, the master deliverable can be assembled from subsidiary workflows spawned during the approvals.
3 -- Document IDs
When a major piece of ECM infrastructure turns up missing, many of the guests in the SharePoint house start staring anxiously at the ceiling, wondering what else might have been forgotten. In MOSS 2007, moving or renaming documents changed their urls because documents were unbreakably tied to the library they inhabited. With SharePoint 2010, documents are free to roam across site collections, secure in their identity, which is now stamped with a unique ID. This is an enabling technology behind Document Sets, since all the component parts must have persistent links. Rather than scattering copies of business records across the site, record content can now represent a single source of truth.
4 -- Content Organizer
In MOSS 2007, content organization was largely a matter of individual upload decisions. Administrators could help guide those decisions, but ultimately, it was up to the contributors to decide where the content ended up. The new Content Organizer allows routing decisions to be centrally organized. It takes these decisions out of the hands of users and ensures that items are well organized. Users are guided to enter appropriate metadata rather than being allowed to dump documents wherever they like.
5 -- Location-based metadata defaults
In MOSS 2007, folders had no function other than to act as dumb containers. "Dumb" here means that they couldn't pass values to their contents or add any help to browsing and searching other than their names. Folders are now first-class objects. Documents and subfolders can inherit metadata from their parent folder. How much easier it is to find documents when metadata is automatically added, instead of forcing users to add the same value over and over to the hundred documents they just uploaded.
6 -- In-place Records Management
MOSS 2007 records management was more a rough draft than a real product. The most noticeable oversight was the lack of support for a usable file plan. Records could not inherit metadata or information policies. You could not route documents to a specific folder in a records library, but only to the records library itself. With SharePoint 2010, folder-based inheritance enables hierarchical file plans to be created in the Records Center (or anywhere else for that matter). We can now create policies that propagate across the inheritance hierarchy for a set of nested folders. In addition, record management can now take place anywhere that the feature is activated and compliance details for any item are only a click away.
7 -- Search
The new search system keeps track of how often search results are clicked on and feeds these metrics into relevance ranking. The more popular the link, the higher it rises in the results list. The new Refinement Panel sorts results into facets such as Author, File-type or Location. Even better, it also organizes the results by metadata attribute such as Proposal, RFP, or Update Notification. It may not be the holy grail of automatic classification, but it makes the benefits of tagging immediately obvious to the user.
8 -- Auditing
In SharePoint 2010, full-featured auditing is as close as the Compliance Details screen, a new menu item added to every document. It brings many useful details to the surface, such as who opened, edited, checked out, moved, deleted or even searched for the document in question.
Though this is only a sampling of the new ECM features, it is enough to respond to the frequently-identified gaps of SharePoint as an ECM platform. Whether SharePoint 2010 will start to eat into the market share of the ECM goliaths is another question. My sense as a long-time SharePoint implementor is that many large organizations are now evaluating SharePoint 2010 as a possible replacement for more high-end platforms, but the decision hangs in the balance at the moment. In the small and mid-size market, despite many worthy competitors, SharePoint has been the default choice of many because its Microsoft Office integration capabilities give Microsoft an obvious advantage. While Microsoft's ship may not sail to the front of this flotilla, it may soon be accepted, grudgingly perhaps, among the major ECM carriers.
Some other SharePoint related posts that may be of interest: