Over the past 12 months alone, there have been two reports that suggest that SharePoint is being widely adopted across the enterprise and that it is being used in many cases as an enterprise content management system. A recent paper from Microsoft makes the business case for these two trends.

SharePoint as an Enterprise CMS?

The research that suggests SharePoint is being widely adopted comes from the AIIM State of the ECM Industry report, which showed that 70% of enterprises as of last April had completed SharePoint deployments.

In a later report entitled Using SharePoint for ECM. How well is it meeting expectations? Doug Miles, also of AIIM, examined whether it was meeting enterprise CMS expectations and concluded that over half of the companies surveyed intended SharePoint to become their primary enterprise CMS system.

What neither report asked -- nor answered -- is whether it made business sense to use it as such, especially now as many of the individual components of enterprise CMS can be sourced in the cloud relatively cheaply.

The report from Microsoft is entitled the Business Value of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 Enterprise Content Management. Needless to say, coming from Microsoft, it is going to argue that the business advantages of using it as an enterprise CMS are considerable. Nevertheless, there are still some significant points worth noting.

Citing the AIIM definition of enterprise CMS as “…the strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes…”the report argues that an enterprise CMS platform must contain some, or all, of the following components:

  • Document Management
  • Records Management
  • Web Content Management
  • Rich Media Management
  • Archiving and Library Services
  • Human Centric Workflow
  • Business Process Management
  • Transactional Content Management
  • Scanning (Image and Capture)
  • Document Output Management
  • Customer Communications Management
  • E-Mail Archiving

In addition to this, it also manages both structured and unstructured content as well as retention policies that keep useful information on in situ and moves useless information out.

Most enterprises, the paper says, have identified one specific type of document, or kind of information to be held in their enterprise CMS. The rest is relegated to file shares, email accounts, or even desktops, leaving a vast resource of information outside of the system, and outside enterprise use.

Microsoft and Enterprise CMS

Microsoft says, though, that for an enterprise CMS to be properly effective it must reach all corners of the enterprise; it brings structure to all manner of information and tracks it from one set of tools.

However, many enterprise CMS deployments fail for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The solution is not adopted by workers and remains outside their work processes
  • Users don’t adopt the solution and incorporate it into their work processes.
  • Often targeted at specific group or department limiting use and accessibility
  • They can be expensive to deploy and if the ROI is not evidently clear, many enterprises will give up on them.

SharePoint Data Management

SharePoint 2010, however, is different, Microsoft says. It can manage both types of data -- structured and unstructured -- and overcomes deployment problems with:

  • Easy Tools: SharePoint provides easy-to-use tools through familiar interfaces that enable the easy achievement of important functions like document tagging and metadata management
  • Architecture: Provides security and offers ways of managing compliance policies; it can also adapt easily to new types of emerging content
  • Technology: Avoids the costs of enterprise CMS point solutions that typically are only used by a subset of employees, and problems associated with the integration of silos

Out-of-the box, SharePoint provides most of the capabilities of the tools listed above through a standard platform, while the growing number of integration tools enables it to connect with most legacy systems.

The result is that it is easier to deploy it to a broader set of users as well as integrate it into a wider set of business processes enabling content management and collaboration across a wide cross-section of the enterprise.

In sum, using SharePoint, Microsoft says, overcomes issues around silo integration, maintenance issues of disparate enterprise CMS elements as well as the costly and timely application of constant upgrades.

SharePoint for Content Management

Ultimately, it is the user who will decide whether SharePoint is successful as an enterprise CMS. If users are to take it into their work processes and everyday work, they must see it as useful and easy-to-use. Microsoft says it conceived of SharePoint around:

  • Easy to use, integrated tools and features for managing, finding, and sharing documents
  • Easy to add and identify document metadata to track, find, and share documents
  • Where possible, automated metadata capture -- and where use input is needed, non-invasive inputs built into standard save and upload functions

The result is a number of features within SharePoint 2010 that are designed to make it more attractive as an enterprise CMS. These include:

1. Productivity tools

SharePoint comes with collaboration that can be managed without IT help and built with Office Client applications that they use every day. Users can set up collaboration workspaces, social pages such as wikis and blogs, pictures, video and audio files, and business process workflow and forms -- all still managed through SharePoint Server.

2. Information aggregation

As SharePoint is designed to reach across the enterprise, users can pull information from across the enterprise to deal with whatever customer-facing problem needs to be resolved.

This is facilitated using the sharing and collaboration options, related content and properties (including metadata) pane, metadata capture from Office and improved authoring rights.

3. User-Oriented document management

Using the customized data fields, users have greater control over the data provided around documents -- such as metadata -- so that retrieving documents afterwards is easier. It also makes archiving documents for compliance issues easier.

However, metadata and categorization is automated as much as possible making the task easier for user, and makes it more attractive as an enterprise CMS.

4. Flexibility and control

For any enterprise CMS to be effective, administrators must be able to control who has access to what.

It must offer document-level control to limit access; set archiving, retention or deletion schedules; place legal holds; manage taxonomies and “folksonomies” and manage and publish key information from the tools and Web pages already opened.

5. Compliance

SharePoint Server provides “Compliance Everywhere,” which means all the expected tools -- retention, legal holds, etc. -- are available through SharePoint Server and Office, so compliance managers can identify and set policies on Content Type and location for documents, groups of documents and list items.

6. Risk management

Governance is becoming more important as compliance regulations become stricter. A number of features in SharePoint facilitate that. They include:

  • Information architecture (site structure)
  • Taxonomy (consistent naming)
  • Branding (correct use of company imagery)
  • Provisioning (consistent site usage and user policies)
  • Search (find what’s needed)

In addition to this, all content can be made subject to the above and applied across intranets, extranets, social media and web content.

The Business Value

Taking all these elements together, Microsoft argues that the business value of using SharePoint as an enterprise CMS is realized through:

1. Content integration

Integrated content management that offers enterprise-wide access as well as integration across all enterprise CMS components. Using one platform across these elements results in better content insight and improved analytics.

2. Enterprise-ready

SharePoint provides integrated enterprise CMS components out of the box as well as the possibility of easy integration with third-party software. 

Many enterprise CMSes are an amalgam of components from different systems that are expensive and time-consuming to set up.

Documents may be managed separately from records or documents managed for an Intranet may be managed separately from documents for Web use. SharePoint Server provides one platform (and investment) to provide a solution that crosses many enterprise CMS functions

3. Ecosystem

If you haven’t seen it already, there are thousands of SIs and ISV that are part of the partner network and extend the reach of SharePoint either through connecting with other systems, or by providing additional functionality.

4. Development effectiveness

Internal development costs are reduced through out-of-the-box components of SharePoint Server, such as built-in integration with Office and by using .NET Framework object models to reduce learning curves and development time.

While it is clear from this that there are many business and technology reasons why enterprises may be interested in SharePoint as an enterprise CMS, it does not argue that it is necessarily better than any of the other products on the market.

It simply provides an assessment of what Microsoft sees as the reasoning behind SharePoint as an enterprise CMS, and why its use as an enterprise CMS is growing, as outlined in AIIM’s report from last year.

With SharePoint Server, Microsoft has clarified its Platform enterprise CMS strategy with the balanced set of end user information management access as well as comprehensive compliance management and governance tools.