How SharePoint Improves Business Processes through integration with Document Imaging Solutions

As one of the most widely used document collaboration tools, it is no wonder organizations want to understand how to build better business processes in SharePoint. Of course, not all documents are electronic. Organizations still deal with a vast amount of paper-based information. So you look for document imaging software to help you get those documents into SharePoint easily. But once they are there, how can you leverage the SharePoint environment to improve your business processes?

Business and IT professionals are increasingly looking at how to leverage their existing investment and knowledgebase in Microsoft SharePoint to achieve success with business process management (BPM) initiatives.

Mauro Cardarelli, director of Portals and Collaboration at Vitale Caturano, took the time to address questions on strategies for linking document scanning with SharePoint to eliminate business process bottlenecks. (Editor Note: This interview was conducted by eCopy)

Given Microsoft SharePoint's prevalence in the marketplace, often there are differing expectations and understandings of its capabilities. How do you define SharePoint to your customers?

Mauro Cardarelli said: "First and foremost, SharePoint needs to be viewed less as a solution and more as a framework that can be used to augment new or existing ECM initiatives. An empty SharePoint repository brings no value to a business worker. The value an organization will achieve with SharePoint is a direct result not only of the content stored in SharePoint repositories, but also how the SharePoint implementation is structured. Companies need a SharePoint strategy that says we will put corporate knowledge into the repository so that others can use and repurpose this knowledge. Basically, anything that can help you do your job better – hyperlinks to Web pages to unstructured information that is currently paper-based – should become part of SharePoint."

In your view, how does SharePoint fit into the enterprise content management (ECM) world?

Cardarelli said: "SharePoint is a platform that can augment ECM solutions. Users can build both external and internal facing applications with SharePoint and need to be thinking about the content management aspects of those applications – putting both structured and unstructured (including paper-based) content into SharePoint. A successful SharePoint implementation involves empowering and entrusting business users who are most intimately involved with the content being managed."

For companies already utilizing document management technology, what is the value of integrating SharePoint into their infrastructure?

Cardarelli said: "Adding SharePoint does not mean an organization should kick out the DM technology they have already invested in. SharePoint plays well with others. Companies should utilize SharePoint to fill in the holes they may have in document management, workflow and security. For example, you can leverage the ease of use of SharePoint to expand the reach of DM in your enterprise. Also, SharePoint has excellent capabilities for posting to content, tagging to content and applying security to content – as well as strong version control features."

What is the value of automating paper-based processes within SharePoint? Any tips on how best to do this?

Cardarelli said: "SharePoint allows you to set up well-defined workflows and paper-based information is still a necessary part of most business processes. Adding document scanning capabilities to SharePoint lets you place document capture activities at the points most appropriate in the workflow. A product like the eCopy Connector for Microsoft SharePoint plugs in nicely with SharePoint because it makes scanning easy and has document imaging capabilities like OCR to create searchable text – a feature not native to SharePoint. Doing so allows users to more effectively leverage SharePoint's search capabilities to find and retrieve required information.

"Regarding tips, here are a few essentials when getting started. First, look for document scanning software with tight integration with SharePoint. Second, the application should have zero footprint on the SharePoint server to avoid impacting SharePoint performance. Third, as you add scanned documents, don't just put them into a big bucket online. Invest in an information architecture to manage the meta data from scanned images at the point of capture. Finally, remember the 'crawl-walk-run' adage; start small and layer in increasingly complex solutions as users throughout the organization become more familiar and comfortable with the integration."

How does SharePoint integrated with document scanning help an organization advance business process management?

Cardarelli said: "The people involved in a specific business process are the ones best able to determine at what step in that process paper should be added to a workflow. Companies don't want to hire administrators to add paper into applications. The faster and more reliably business process participants can add paper into SharePoint, the more quickly the entire organization can leverage that data out of SharePoint."

In making recommendations on how to manage SharePoint, you have said organizations should move away from version management and more toward continual, collaborative content collection. Could you elaborate upon this?

Cardarelli said: "With a typical business application, an organization deploys a particular version of the software and it just sits on the server until the next release becomes available. Companies should not limit the growth of their SharePoint application to particular software versions. They need to think of SharePoint as a framework – that will be constantly evolving as users find more and different ways to use it. Great SharePoint applications grow organically and no one can predict the directions it will go. IT needs to give people freedom to take the tool where they want to go with it."