Almost every enterprise has a SharePoint strategy for their Enterprise Content Management (ECM) business. Small and mid-sized companies have fully embraced the SharePoint platform; however, large enterprises are often stalled because of legacy content management vendors and empire-protecting politics. Are you getting fair and balanced advice on how to best make your SharePoint strategy a success?

SharePoint as an Enterprise CMS

Almost every enterprise has an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) strategy in place for its business. For many companies, SharePoint is the platform for that ECM strategy.

Earlier this year, AIIM published a report, titled “Using SharePoint for ECM: How well is it meeting expectations?” Surveying more than 600 members of their community, AIIM found that 36 percent of respondents use SharePoint across their enterprise for content management. More than half of respondents surveyed (53 percent) indicated that SharePoint was to be their primary ECM system. Twenty-two percent planned on using SharePoint in conjunction with their existing ECM systems.

Editor's Note: Read David Roe's review of the AIIM SharePoint and ECM report.

That last statistic is interesting, because it is a very broad statement about coexistence of content management systems. Companies within this 22 percent tend to be large enterprises who find themselves in limbo with how best to support multiple, and most times competing, ECM platforms in their business.

With the 2007 and 2010 releases of SharePoint, Microsoft made significant investments in the platform, specifically around enhanced scalability, geographically dispersed deployment scenarios and the ability to take on mission critical workloads through the support of a mature partner ecosystem. Business Process Management (BPM), Compliance, Records Management, Analytics, Search and Social Networking are just a few examples where significant platform and partner solution offerings make the case that SharePoint is ready to be the only ECM strategy for enterprises of all sizes.

As a result, companies of all sizes have made the decision to implement SharePoint as a core part of their infrastructure. Small and mid-sized companies have fully embraced SharePoint, having had the ability to define the right platform for their company from the start. After identifying their budget and the specific set of capabilities that they have to deliver up front, these companies deploy SharePoint as their only ECM strategy.

These companies were able to decide on a content management solution with greater ease and then move quickly to implement it because they did not have a legacy solution in place. Although there might be pockets of other silo technologies throughout their enterprise, these can be easily migrated to SharePoint.

Why might companies select SharePoint over other content management options? The cost was likely attractive to them, in addition to the scalability. With SharePoint, these small and mid-sized companies have the ability to scale SharePoint as the business grows. In addition, the number of mature partner solutions available enables a business to find ready and scalable business solutions to address even the hardest ECM challenges in areas such as compliance and records management.

SharePoint Deployments in Large Organizations Still Lag

While their smaller counterparts have effectively implemented an ECM strategy based on SharePoint, larger companies are hitting substantial roadblocks in the process, which are not related to the platform. These roadblocks can be attributed to two major causes: legacy-vendor conflict and internal politics surrounding the implementation. Despite the fact that smaller companies have effectively implemented SharePoint as the ECM platform, and it has been built by Microsoft to meet the needs of big business, deployment in large enterprises as the core ECM infrastructure is still lagging. And that should not be the case.

The first step in implementing SharePoint as an ECM system in large companies is to determine who is guiding your SharePoint strategy. Is it being done through due diligence and careful evaluation? Or, is it being done internally, awash in internal politics and legacy vendors playing a major role in the decision-making process?

Previously, larger companies have invested in what are now referred to as legacy content management systems. Today, many of these companies now have to figure out how to map their ECM over to a SharePoint strategy.

In many of these cases, legacy vendors will argue that the existing content management system is still essential, even with a SharePoint implementation, because it’s necessary to do the heavy lifting. If you are a legacy content management vendor, it certainly makes sense to present a case where your solution and the associated licenses still have value in a SharePoint world. What are some of the common complaints against SharePoint as an ECM platform? It cannot scale. It’s not robust enough. It cannot be compliant. But the truth is that SharePoint does have all of these elements.

In addition, internal politics can hinder effective implementation of SharePoint. In some organizations, empires have been built around legacy content management solutions. Those who championed legacy solutions in the past may be threatened by the prospect of implementing SharePoint in the organization. These proponents of legacy systems might oppose SharePoint implementation because if critical business applications are migrated, so too are the headcount and the budget.

Determine if SharePoint is the Right ECM Platform for Your Large Company

By evaluating SharePoint on an application-by-application basis, larger companies can make informed decisions about the path to SharePoint. Moving applications over to SharePoint one at a time while integrating endpoints back to non-migrated applications will serve as an interim strategy, as there is a longer term roadmap to a single ECM platform.

On the contrary, spreading a single business application across multiple ECM platforms is a costly mistake. In fact, doing so will likely end up costing more money for up-front implementation and cost more over time to maintain. No organization -- especially those larger in size -- should be running a single business application across two competing ECM platforms. That’s simply not solid business strategy.

How can you be sure that the right decisions are being made in your organization? By making sure all of the information on the ECM platform is available and accurate. The key decision makers within an organization might be genuinely confused about what content management system is best for their business. To combat this, they have to rely on the information being presented to them from various sources -- both internally and externally.

To determine if SharePoint is the right ECM platform for your business:

  • Connect directly with Microsoft. Microsoft can advise you how to best implement and use its SharePoint technology. Large enterprises, in particular, have a direct line into dedicated Microsoft sales support teams.
  • Leverage Microsoft’s rich partner ecosystem. There is no other ECM platform in the marketplace with a partner system that rivals that of Microsoft SharePoint. In July 2011, Microsoft announced that there are over 1,000 software solutions available on the market for SharePoint 2010, and more than 1,000 solutions currently in development. In addition, there are over 4,000 implementation partners who have earned competencies on the SharePoint platform. Take a specific look into some of these partners. Do you know who they are? Have you evaluated their offering?
  • Attend a Microsoft SharePoint conference, where Microsoft and partners will conduct demonstrations and discuss the scalability of the solution and the education of the end users. Or join a Microsoft partner webinar, where you can obtain information on how specific industries are using SharePoint. Partners offer a rich variety of educational resources for specific industries. For example, if you are in the life sciences industry, Microsoft has a dedicated partner solution website and sponsors an industry specific conference.

Even if legacy content management systems or internal politics are causing roadblocks, effectively evaluating potential options for your large company will help you become an informed decision maker.

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