In a previous post, I made some business-centric predictions about enterprise content management (ECM), but being an IT person at heart, I couldn’t resist putting on my techie hat to make some IT-focused predictions for the new year.

In that spirit, here are my three SharePoint trends to watch for 2011:

  • Competition with social computing platforms heats up
  • ECM coexistence division of labor shifts away from big ECM towards SharePoint 2010
  • Increased deployments of SharePoint 2010 as core ECM system

1. Competition with Social Computing Platforms Heats Up

One of the most significant changes by far to the landscape of ECM as a domain has been the emergence of social business software, which adds a new dimension to the coexistence of SharePoint with more traditional ECM systems such as IBM FileNet, EMC Documentum and Open Text (see Figure 1 -- A Very Short History of SharePoint Coexistence).

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Figure 1 – A Very Short History of SharePoint Coexistence

And when you look at the overlap in functionality between SharePoint 2010 and social computing platforms, the picture gets messier still.

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Figure 2 – Functional Overlap Between SharePoint 2010 and Social Business Software

As Figure 2 -- Functional Overlap Between SharePoint 2010 and Social Business Software shows, SharePoint bridges the gap between document collaboration and conversational collaboration within the enterprise. By so doing, it “does the job” of both traditional ECM systems and applications such as blogs, wikis and intranet portals. Until recently, you could simply make sure SharePoint and these other applications stayed out of each other’s way, and you’d be fine.

But as Figure 2 also shows, when you throw a social business software (SBS) product such as Jive or Drupal into the mix, things get more complicated.

Because SBS bridges the gap between internal and external conversational collaboration, it overlaps with SharePoint -- which brings another player (and set of vendors and products) into the coexistence mix.

Add to this the fact that social computing for the enterprise is becoming much more mainstream -- even conservative organizations are making inroads -- and we’re going to see increasing overlap/competition between SharePoint 2010 and social computing platforms like Jive, Drupal, etc.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether more organizations will choose SharePoint 2010’s “good enough” approach or the best-of-breed approach of the niche social computing players. My gut tells me that most organizations will choose SharePoint, given how many of them already own SharePoint and how tight IT spend will be over the next 12 months: buying a new, niche platform will be a tough sell in 2011 when something you already have in house does a good enough job.

2. ECM Coexistence Division of Labor Shifts Away from Big ECM Towards SharePoint 2010

SharePoint will still be primarily used as the front-end point of access for end users to create, share, collaborate on and manage documents, while ECM systems will continue to be used to “back-end” that activity and provide more robust search, indexing and document control than SharePoint can provide. What gets lumped into “front-end” versus “back-end” is changing fast, however.

In the world of MOSS 2007, what was considered “back end” (and therefore off limits for SharePoint) was a fairly long list of significant content management capabilities -- capabilities so significant that it was pretty much impossible for most medium- to large-sized businesses to use MOSS for “real” ECM.

In the world of SharePoint 2010, in contrast, as you can see in Figure 3 – Increased Overlap Between SharePoint 2010 and Traditional ECM Platforms, things have changed quite a bit -- so much so that I’ve run into a number of organizations (a few of them in the Fortune 500) that are considering using 2010 for their primary ECM systems (more on that later).

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Figure 3 – Increased Overlap Between SharePoint 2010 and Traditional ECM Platforms

And while the jury’s still out on whether they’re crazy like a fox or simply crazy for doing so, there’s a range of new functionality that at least makes this direction a lot less crazy than it would have been for MOSS:

  • Records management (RM): SharePoint 2010 enables a range of RM functionality, including systematic disposition of content (for an in-depth treatment of SharePoint’s evolving RM functionality, see David Roe’s excellent CMSWire article, “Has Records Management in SharePoint 2010 Improved Enough?“).
  • MySites revamp: SharePoint 2010 adds a lot of capability here and is now more “social,” a la Facebook/LinkedIn for the enterprise.
  • Taxonomy management: SharePoint 2010 cranks up the functionality to enable more robust taxonomy management (see Stephanie Lemieux’s “Overview: SharePoint 2010 Metadata andTaxonomy Management ” for a closer look at taxonomy management in 2010).
  • Metadata inheritance: SharePoint 2010 makes the inheritance of metadata much easier by allowing objects to inherit from “parents” -- e.g. documents in a folder can inherit metadata from that folder.
  • Folksonomy: SharePoint 2010 allows users to right-click any object and tag it, comment on it or rate it, and makes these actions visible to all users who have access to the object (see Jeff Carr’s “SharePoint 2010: Using Social Features for Personal Classification & Improved Findability” for an overview of this functionality).
  • Workflow: SharePoint 2010 provides many more out-of-the-box options so that end users don’t need to be SharePoint designers/programmers to leverage workflow beyond the basic document-centric capabilities of MOSS.
  • Faceted search: SharePoint 2010 offers a refinement panel (essentially a left nav advanced search web part) that allows for dynamic and powerful use of facets to narrow search results (see Jeff Carr’s “SharePoint 2010: Using Taxonomy & Metadata to Improve Search & Discovery” for a good walkthrough).

3. Increased Deployments of SharePoint 2010 as Core ECM System

Closely related to the shift in the division of labor away from traditional ECM and towards SharePoint 2010 will be the increasing number of organizations deploying SharePoint 2010 in the next 12 months as their core ECM system. I expect this to be especially prevalent among knowledge-worker organizations because these companies are already pushing the envelope with how far they can take SharePoint for their ECM needs.

This is not to say that SharePoint 2010 will be able to function on its own as a standalone, enterprise class ECM system -- it can’t. But there are already many independent software vendors (ISVs) developing SharePoint add-ons and plug-in solutions for vertical markets and specialized processes (e.g. pharmaceuticals, financial services and manufacturing), and just in the last six months I’ve seen a range of clients with successful deployments of SharePoint for core ECM using offerings from these ISVs.

Now, who goes this route in the next 12 months will depend in large part on where they’re starting from. I see there being three broad categories of adopters:

  • “Green field” (no SharePoint, no big ECM): these organizations are prime candidates to deploy SharePoint 2010 as their core ECM system
  • “Brown field” (MOSS, but no big ECM): these organizations are prime candidates to rip and replace (i.e., build a “from scratch” SharePoint 2010 deployment as core ECM)
  • Big ECM already in place: these organizations are prime candidates (and will overwhelmingly opt) for SharePoint -- ECM coexistence

As with social computing platforms, it’ll be interesting to see not only how many organizations deploy SharePoint 2010 as their core ECM system, but also the results of these deployments. By the second half of 2011, we’ll start to get reports from the field on how these brave (or foolish, depending on how you see it), SharePoint-only organizations have fared.

The Final Word

So there you have it -- my best guess at what 2011 will bring for SharePoint. My next post will sketch out what I think every organization’s SharePoint New Year’s resolutions should be, but in the meantime, I’d love to hear what folks think about my predictions: Do they match what you’re seeing on the ground in your organization or consulting practice? Do they seem on target or hopelessly off base? Jump in, share your thoughts, and let’s get the conversation started!