SharePoint 2010—From Team Tool to ECM Solution

SharePoint (SP) provides for collaboration, document management, workflow, business intelligence and more. With this range of capabilities, CIOs must determine which components to deploy and how to do so. Most critically, CIOs must decide whether SP is just a team tool or part of a larger enterprise content management (ECM) strategy with the implications of cross-organization findability, policy compliance and governance.

Four Key Challenges

The key challenges of SharePoint as an ECM tool fall into four categories:

1. Fitness to purpose: There is no "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to applications and tools. What is correct for one organization may not be appropriate to another. The biggest challenge to deploying SharePoint for ECM is the initial assessment of what capabilities will provide enterprisewide value. Part of the challenge is determining whether your organization has or can build the capability to configure, support and use the target capabilities. 

2. Requirements definition: Organizations need to configure SP to meet enterprise, departmental and process-oriented objectives. This means careful attention to requirements definition. Given the challenge of getting the requirements right, many IT shops set up a SharePoint environment and let users experiment. That approach may work when a team tool is deployed, but proves inadequate for achieving enterprisewide content management objectives.

3. Custom development: Many organizations find that succeeding with SharePoint requires custom development. The challenge is that of controlling development time and expense. Although SharePoint tools allow for rapid development, this is only the case if designs conform to the SharePoint paradigm.

4. Add-on selection: Faced with the challenges of custom development, it is good practice to look for off-the-shelf add-ons. Luckily, there is an extensive community of development partners for SharePoint. The challenge is sorting through and evaluating alternative offerings. One risk is that many of the new offerings are from custom development firms attempting to build products. These firms often do not have the quality assurance disciplines of mature software product companies. Before purchasing add-ons for SharePoint, thoroughly vet vendors. If the add-on is to be used on an enterprise basis, or for a critical business process, be rigorous in applying selection criteria, such as years in business, installed customer base, financial strength and customer referrals.

Four Recommendations for Success

1.  Create a three-to-five-year strategy.
As with any new enterprise-class tool, it's important to deploy and configure not just for today but for where you want to be in the future. This will help ensure that content collected today has value years out, and allow for a rational deployment of capabilities and support infrastructure. A solid strategy starts with a needs assessment and results in a roadmap.

The strategy should be supported with an ROI assessment that looks at cost of ownership. The fact that SharePoint license costs are at the low end makes it even more important to understand the full cost of ownership.

Today ECM is about more than documents. An effective strategy addresses email, instant messaging, Web content and social media—and most importantly how these different types of content can be found with the relevance and precision required by the business. This requires taking a process perspective that spans authoring, access and archive.

2. Develop an enterprise taxonomy and metadata framework.
User satisfaction with SharePoint is most often tied to the effectiveness of search and navigation. This requires close attention to information architecture, tagging and search optimization. An enterprise taxonomy and metadata framework provides the controlled vocabulary for ensuring effective search and navigation of relevant content.

3. Leverage search enhancement and auto-classification.
There are many new tools that enhance search and findability through taxonomies, metadata, thesaurus structures and the complex inter-relationships between them sometimes referred to as "ontologies." Search leverages content models, and classification tools allow information to be managed with less manual intervention. SharePoint can take advantage of these tools to significantly improve usability and findability. The result: greater user satisfaction and ultimately greater return on investment.

4. Create a governance model.
Governance holds all of the elements together. Information is an asset more valuable than any physical asset and it requires policies, procedures, guidelines and compliance mechanisms. Good governance begins with the business case, assigns responsibilities, allocates resources, ensures accountability and encourages ongoing improvement and continuous learning.

Case Study: Getting SharePoint Right

One organization that has done this well is PCL, the international construction firm. If there is a single lesson learned, it is to make SharePoint a real project, not a part-time experiment. PCL took the time and effort to align the project with business needs and information strategy, get management buy-in and support and enroll stakeholders at all levels of the business. They engineered the environment applying best practices in personalization, information architecture, workflow and governance.1


Founded in 1994, Earley & Associates approaches information management solutions by taking into account how people, technology and content relate. We realize that focusing on specific business contexts and goals drives the success of an information management project. We work with companies in a broad range of industries including retail, high-tech, life sciences, manufacturing, non-profit and government. Our corporate headquarters is in Stow, Massachusetts, and our consultants work on projects around the globe.


1 The PCL case study and others can be found at www.earley.com

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