A buyer's guide to selecting the best ECM tool
A collection of articles that takes you from defining technology needs to purchasing options
Microsoft gradually entered the enterprise content management (ECM) market through in-house development of its SharePoint product. First released in 2001, SharePoint was originally designed to help companies create Web portals through Microsoft Office.
Over the years, content management became a focus for Microsoft, and the company developed SharePoint into a system that enables individuals and teams to quickly access business information. The product evolved, and Microsoft integrated other proprietary software with SharePoint to create an ECM suite that provides collaboration, access control, versioning, records management, workflow, indexing and search, audit, electronic forms and Web content management.
The key components of the Microsoft SharePoint ECM suite are:
- SharePoint Online, a cloud-based service hosted by Microsoft that targets organizations of all sizes.
- SharePoint Foundation, the foundation technology for SharePoint that provides tools for collaboration and document sharing.
- SharePoint Server, the underlying package for on-premises use of SharePoint, which provides tools for ECM, business intelligence and enterprise search.
- SharePoint Designer 2013, which allows customers to design workflows.
- OneDrive for Business, which synchronizes team content to folders for offline use.
- Microsoft FAST Search, which provides indexing and efficient search of content of all types.
SharePoint is used by many enterprises for needs other than ECM. Many business use SharePoint for its original intent, which is to create and manage Web portals and to publish Web content. Many others use the tool for collaboration and sharing, without relying on it as a full-blown ECM product.
The Microsoft SharePoint ECM suite integrates with popular Microsoft tools, such as Microsoft Office. Users can access ECM features through Microsoft Word, as well as through Web browsers and use Microsoft Visio as a diagramming tool to design workflows.
The Microsoft SharePoint ECM suite also integrates with a number of large enterprise applications, such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM); and SharePoint comes with various APIs, which make it easier to integrate more applications. Because SharePoint is compatible with the Content Management Interoperability Standard (CMIS), it's relatively easy to integrate with other ECM systems.
SharePoint provides several interfaces for sharing information with social media platforms -- both publicly through sites, such as Facebook, and privately through services, such as Yammer. Sharing through social media works in both directions, so that internal content is automatically posted to social media and relevant external content is retrieved for internal use. SharePoint also provides blogging and Wiki functionality.
Microsoft SharePoint can be purchased and installed on premises, or companies can opt to pay a subscription fee and use it as a cloud-based service. A hybrid option is available with the latest version, Sharepoint 2016. The cloud version of SharePoint is upgraded continuously. The on-premises versions are released every few years; the last release was SharePoint 2013 and the next release will be SharePoint 2016.
SharePoint 2016 includes the following new features:
- Hybrid deployments that let users enjoy the benefits of cloud while maintaining the level of security they prefer for on-premises systems. The new Hybrid Search feature lets users find content across both on-premises and Office 365 cloud environments with one search.
- A new SharePoint mobile app that allows users to access content on iOS, Windows and Android devices.
- The SharePoint Framework, which can now support client-side application development.
- A new set of administration controls, access policies and reports that provide enhanced security, privacy and compliance.
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