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ECM: New facets of a changing market

This article appears in the issue March 2008 (100 Companies) [Volume 17, Issue 3]
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Enterprise content management (ECM) is an increasingly complex sector of knowledge management, with new options and issues arising steadily.

SharePoint edges into enterprise use

SharePoint, Microsoft’s product for storing and sharing information on a Web site, is increasingly being used for enterprise content management. Its relative ease of deployment, integration with Microsoft Office and Web 2.0 features such as wikis have made it appealing to a wide range of users. The number of licenses is approaching 100 million, and total revenues are approaching $1 billion.

In 2007, many partnerships were announced between Microsoft and ECM companies such as EMC Documentum, IBM FileNet and Open Text. The partnerships generally focused on bringing tighter integration between the ECM software and SharePoint so that users could access content from the ECM repositories through the SharePoint interface.

The use of SharePoint as a standalone ECM product is growing. It is being adopted in various settings that include departmental, small companies that cannot afford major ECM solutions, and enterprise situations in which diverse content needs to be stored centrally.

"SharePoint provides a platform to connect applications throughout the enterprise," says Tisson Mathew, CTO of Aivea, an IT consulting firm. "Many of the enterprise infrastructures we are building right now using SharePoint are addressing all of the company’s needs, not just document management."

The ECM needs of the mid-market have been somewhat neglected, according to Mathew. "They often have to be compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley as well as with their own policies, which means they have the pains of a large company, but they don’t have the budget for an expensive solution," he says. "Also, systems have to interoperate and integrate with each other. SharePoint can serve as a back end, while presenting users with interfaces that are familiar to them."

SharePoint is well suited to environments in which collaborative content is key. For example, a provider of evidence-based, clinical guideline software products is using it as an internal communication platform. The company’s complex software is constantly being improved to better meet customer requirements. The director of software development at the company reports that the use of SharePoint as an interdepartmental platform began in mid-2007. Previously, SharePoint was used within departments, but a decision was made to leverage its capabilities across departments, with a first goal of streamlining the software development process.

The company uses the SharePoint discussion boards, message boards and wikis. Discussion boards are used to document interactions between product managers and developers so that decisions about product functionality, which are made along the way, can be captured. The product managers know what the customer’s needs are and how the product should function, so it is important that their insights are consistently incorporated into the modifications.

Previously, development decisions were written in e-mails or communicated through phone calls. Maintaining a history of decisions through e-mails, however, was inefficient and sometimes confusing, and messages could be lost or overlooked. Having all the decisions documented in one location has improved communication, and use of the discussion board has eliminated a lot of phone tag.

The company also uses SharePoint to house a variety of documents, including product, user and technical documentation, which are in Microsoft Word format. In addition, the SharePoint wiki product is used to maintain the most recent version of documents, such as current software and hardware lists—documents that change over time and need to be updated periodically.

Future plans include expansion of the SharePoint application to include some data that is captured through its customer relationship management (CRM) application.

Specialized backup for ECM

A Global 250 civil engineering firm building a large industrial city in the Middle East had collected bids from hundreds of subcontractors to do various portions of the work. The bids went into a life cycle workflow that routed them for approval, and the final contractors had been selected. All of the documents were stored in the company’s ECM system.

Trouble began when an IT administrator erroneously used a "delete" command during a data refresh, and inadvertently wiped out more than 8,500 complex supplier bids. The subcontractors had to be asked to resubmit their documents, and those were successfully obtained, although they had to be manually reloaded into the ECM repository. However, the metadata relating to the workflow that reflected the negotiations and approvals was not retrievable.

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