Thanks to Microsoft’s recent announcements, 2016 has become an exciting year for enterprise content management (ECM).

Microsoft’s direction for SharePoint, Office 365 and Azure is supported by market trends and SharePoint should be the platform of choice for ECM solutions. Here are the key questions.

The Reality of Public Cloud Security

Much of the IT world operates under misconceptions about the relative security of internal and public clouds. The reality, according to Gartner, is that brand name, externally provisioned, multitenant cloud services "are not only highly resistant to attack, but also are a more secure starting point than most traditional in-house implementations.”

Because of these flawed assumptions, IT professionals are not taking full advantage of the economies and agility of commercial cloud services.

Ironically, their avoidance may even lead to security risks. Poorly managed in-house systems contain more security vulnerabilities than their public cloud equivalents.

As organizations become more distributed and mobile, users need access from more locations and devices, and the security and identity management capabilities in Office 365 and Amazon Web Services (AWS) provide levels of security that are beyond the reach of many organizations.

Of course, naive users sometimes implement poor practices in parts of the cloud stack that are under end-user control.

But with proper planning and controls, leading public cloud providers are more secure than most private data centers.

How Relevant Is Cloud Scale?

The two leading public cloud providers, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft, have built large public clouds. How relevant is their scale to ECM choices?

The mission of AWS is “to enable developers and companies to use Web services to build sophisticated and scalable applications.”

AWS acts as a great playing-field leveler that enables startups and smaller companies to minimize their IT cost structure. The larger AWS becomes, the greater the advantage Amazon has in pricing its services, which means it can earn ever more business, thereby increasing its scale advantage even more.

Many observers believe AWS will win the largest market share in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) battle. But this isn’t the only competition in play or even the most important one.

Microsoft’s Office 365 is also winning significant share. According to Microsoft, there are more than 290 million Windows 10 users, 160 million SharePoint users, including 75,000 companies. Office 365 has achieved 200 percent year-over-year (YoY) growth in use and 500 percent YoY growth in content.

Office 365 is getting bigger with SharePoint 2016 in the cloud and on-premises, including advances in Files, Fast Provisioning and the new SharePoint Framework. This could result in as much as 10 times to 20 times improvements in site response times. Ten times faster, not 10 percent faster!

Like AWS, the growth of Office 365 and Azure supports Microsoft core business in the cloud, its office productivity solutions, which are now provided as a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). The combination of Office 365 and Azure wins the largest market share in the PaaS battle.

Further evidence for the co-dominance of AWS and Microsoft is that competing cloud vendors are folding their businesses into Azure and AWS.

HPE and Rackspace are giving up competing with Azure and AWS in favor of partnering arrangements. IManage and NetDocuments have announced that they are hosting significant parts of their ECM businesses in Azure.

Salesforce and Alfresco have announced that they are hosting portions of their software businesses in AWS. Instead of building its own international infrastructure, Box has partnered with AWS and IBM to provide Box Zones in Europe and Asia.

In ECM, Hyland, OpenText and EMC are maintaining ECM clouds that compete with Office 365.

Overall, Amazon and Microsoft seem to be driving toward winner-take-all levels of ECM dominance.

The Issue of Information Governance

Information governance is a headache for many executives. The DoD 5015.2 standard was based on moving documents into a repository for records management and ultimate disposition.

However, since SharePoint 2007, it’s been clear that organizations are not moving to store and manage their content in a single enterprise repository of record.

Instead, they’re maintaining their content in silos such as file rooms, email repositories, share drives, SharePoint and specialized ECM repositories, such as Documentum, OpenText and FileNet.

The number of repositories where records exist is increasing in most organizations. As a result, there are valuable records in multiple repositories that need to be governed according to information policies. It is not clear how most organizations will meet their requirements for the governance of their content.

Microsoft’s Office Productivity Tools

Office 365 components are extremely familiar, including Office tools (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote), Email tools (Exchange, Outlook), SharePoint Online, OneDrive and Skype.

Microsoft’s support for Apple’s iOS and Android enables more users to take advantage of Office 365 from all of their devices.

Most organizations develop most of their documents using Office productivity tools, and this has not changed as they have moved to the cloud. According to a SkyHigh Networks analysis, 60 percent of the sensitive information in the cloud is stored in Office document formats.

Governing Documents In the Microsoft Stack

The path of least resistance is to manage Microsoft documents using Microsoft repositories, including Office 365, SharePoint, Exchange, Share Drives and OneDrive.

Microsoft customers should be able to manage content inside the Microsoft stack because this enables content to be found, accessed, and managed more easily and completely as it moves from Outlook to SharePoint and Office 365.

Jeff Teper, Microsoft’s Vice President for SharePoint, has promised to integrate the Office 365 platform components more tightly than Microsoft’s competitors are able to. To enable this vision, Microsoft provides:

  • Portals to enable user navigation and consistency
  • Powerful identity management and cross platform search tools
  • Lifecycle-based content governance, with records management
  • Add-ins to accelerate productivity
  • Integrated Business intelligence and content analytics
  • Archiving support
  • Massive scalability

Managing content inside the Microsoft stack avoids challenges that come with solutions that attempt to manage from outside the stack. Challenges in external governance include:

  • Search and other functions work less well with linked content
  • Managing multiple ECM repositories involves separate user authentication, identity management, and security
  • Managing separate ECM repositories with separate application development environments is more complex
  • As content is synchronized, users no longer know which repository to search
  • International latency can reduce performance
  • There is additional complexity and more integration required as products evolve

Many clients are now looking to replace legacy ECM business solutions with Microsoft solutions. Each iteration of SharePoint has addressed more of its gaps and shortcomings.

With the improvements in SharePoint 2016, Microsoft is closer than ever before. But historical investment in on-premises sites impedes the migration to Office 365.

A Word About Hybrid SharePoint

Billions have been invested in on-premises SharePoint solutions. Unfortunately, many of these solutions need to be rewritten before they can be moved to SharePoint Online.

Additionally, these solutions often serve the purposes that they were built for, and it is hard to justify their re-platforming.

Supporting on-premises SharePoint is critical to protect legacy investments in SharePoint sites and Microsoft has declared that SharePoint will be supported on-premises for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, Microsoft has made significant architectural improvements to enable both legacy and new architecture SharePoint sites to be presented to users via portals and intranets from a common interface. This enables hybrid solutions, combining on-premises sites with solutions in Office 365, and gives organizations an option to gradually migrate their SharePoint sites to the Microsoft Cloud.

How Complete Are SharePoint and Office 365?

SharePoint and Office 365 are great products, but Microsoft has left gaps that need to be filled to meet Documentum, FileNet or OpenText customers’ ECM expectations.

SharePoint add-in providers are frequently able to fill these gaps and deliver their solutions with much greater speed and predictability than integrators are able to customize solutions components.

Additionally, as SharePoint evolves, add-in providers are often contractually obligated to upgrade their components, while integrators have moved to their next projects.

So Who Wins?

Microsoft —because the underlying trends are so favorable.

  • With reasonable precautions, the cloud is more secure than on-premises data centers
  • Scalability matters, and Amazon and Microsoft become co-dominant in the cloud
  • Microsoft Office is foundational because so many people use it
  • All information needs to be governed, and much of it is contained in Office formats
  • Managing documents in the Microsoft stack will make them easier to govern
  • Hybrid SharePoint is a requirement because millions of SharePoint sites need to be available in Office 365
  • SharePoint add-ins are needed, because it is easier and cheaper to buy components than building and maintaining SharePoint customizations

The first four points are automatic. The last three reflect my beliefs about industry trends.

Title image by Hannah Morgan

(Editor's note: Join SharePoint thought leader Robert Bogue and Gimmal CTO Brad Teed on July 12 for a one-hour CMSWire webinar on learning to make the most of your SharePoint investment.)