By Darren Edwards, ImageFast Managing Director
The question that I often get asked by our clients is:
“Can I use SharePoint 2010 as a document management system?”
…and how does it compare to the more traditional document management systems (DMS)?
As always with questions like this, it depends on several factors;
- your specific requirements
- the systems you currently have in place for managing documents
- and of course how much money you have
I often hear people comment that SharePoint is free so it is a simple option; this can be especially true of sales people in traditional document management companies when they have just lost a deal…
Whether your organisation is considering SharePoint or looking to expand your existing SharePoint implementation, it is important to understand that SharePoint is not free, no matter what the actual software costs. As a minimum you need to consider costs related to; the infrastructure to support it, the ongoing management and support, plus more than likely other 3rd party products to give extra functionality.
Let’s first consider whether SharePoint has the key components that an organisation requires for document management?
The answer is a very clear yes, as long as you are using SharePoint 2010. Features such as; managed metadata, version control, document sets, search and records management are all provided as standard and provide most organisations with more than enough functionality. SharePoint also has lots of other features and functions such as blogs, wiki’s, workflow, and reporting that can offer true collaborative solutions.
With all this considered, is there still a place for traditional document management vendors?
Well again the answer is yes.
If you don’t have SharePoint, then implementing SharePoint to help you provide document management can in lots of cases be described as taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Most organisations implement document management on a department by department basis, where select departments have a need and then this grows across the business. If you are looking for departmental solutions, such as in-house legal, then you would be better focusing on traditional document management systems, as these can be easily installed and configured for quicker delivery to the users. This is of course assuming that your organisation does not have SharePoint implemented.
Another consideration is to look at how the users would interact with the system.
Many of the traditional document management vendors, such as OpenText, provide a very integrated solution for the user, that allows very easy profiling (entering metadata) and interaction with the DMS from a range of applications. This helps with the adoption and use of the document management system.
You must also consider and clearly think through how you are going to ensure that your information and documents are secure. Whilst both SharePoint and traditional document management systems provide a robust security model, some of the organisations that ImageFast have worked with require very strict security that even stops administrators from having access to certain information. This is normally achieved by creating silos of document management for specific business functions, and can generally be achieved far better with a traditional document management system than SharePoint.
The amount of data and documents that organisations are creating is increasing rapidly each year. Therefore the ability to archive this information, whilst keeping the ability to know what you have and where it is, is vital to any organisations management of their information life cycle. Again this is where traditional document management vendors can excel with their specific solutions, as most have been providing capabilities such as this since the 90’s.
SharePoint is best used for the initial life of business documents where they need to be referenced and accessed after time. It is often beneficial to archive these to overcome for storage and performance issues. Some of the document management vendors have realised the opportunity here and, using OpenText as an example, have provided specific archive capabilities for SharePoint that allows documents or entire sites within SharePoint to be archived.
So what about the benefits of SharePoint?
There are not many large organisations now that do not have a SharePoint implementation of some sort. For some it has been an IT project to see what they can achieve with it, for others it has been used as a collaborative platform or in many cases an extended intranet. SharePoint 2010 has changed the game slightly as the improvements that Microsoft have made have been noted by organisations, and we are seeing a lot of companies starting to build specific business applications using SharePoint as the basis, and nearly every business process will require documents at some stage.
If you require a document management system and have SharePoint in place then it can be a relatively straight forward decision to use SharePoint, as long as you have reviewed the considerations just discussed. At ImageFast we have helped several organisations significantly reduce their document management costs, by; migrating old legacy document management systems onto SharePoint, reducing their requirement for in-house skills to support several document management applications, and removing the sometimes astronomical annual maintenance costs for these applications.
The additional features within SharePoint 2010 can also help extend the functionality of document management, for example ImageFast have recently developed a full case management system for an insurance company – where not only are all of the documents relating to a case stored, but also information on the case, tasks that need to be completed and complete reporting, to allow management of the workload and any potential risks to the business.
The collaborative nature of SharePoint 2010 is also a massive advantage, as specific departmental or project sites can be created quickly and easily that allow workers to interact in a variety of different ways using one source of information. This also benefits an organisation with regards to how they manage the knowledge that they have, as if all of their information is in one source then it is naturally easier to search and manage.
Back to the original question – can I use SharePoint 2010 as a document management system?
Yes you can, and it should be considered as one of the key options.
However is it right for your organisation?
As just discussed, this can only be determined after defining your requirements and also planning a longer term strategy for how you will manage your documents and information.
ImageFast has a free white paper available for download, ‘Using SharePoint 2010 as an Enterprise Content Management system’, visit www.imagefast.co.uk/consulting/sharepoint-adoption