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Using SharePoint for ECM requires careful prep

How does Microsoft's SharePoint rate as a primary enterprise content management system? It's got the features if you are willing and able to build it carefully.

Figuring out the best enterprise content management option for an enterprise is a multi-layer process that requires active contribution from all of the project's stakeholders. Many enterprises wish to use Microsoft's Office SharePoint Server for enterprise content management (ECM). The software can do the job but customers must realize that SharePoint is not a silver bullet that can address their needs if those needs are poorly defined in the first place.

To start out, I always ask customers what kinds of content they want to manage and to describe the business processes related to that content. Though these appear to be simple questions, many companies find that they are some of the hardest ones to answer. Their answers might also be complicated by other potentially limiting factors, such as legal or in-house regulations.

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Once they define their requirements, you must translate them into SharePoint terminology and this is where a good SharePoint professional is crucial.

You can start your ECM planning without any architectural planning, but, eventually, you might run into trouble if you lack a good information architecture.

To understand what to expect from a SharePoint ECM, let's examine its ECM functions:

Document management

The types of content people think about first are the documents they use every day. SharePoint's DM capabilities are really good. Besides managing the documents themselves, the program puts a lot of other tools in our hands:

  • Metadata management
  • Versioning
  • Content types
  • Workflows
  • Item-level security
  • Information rights management (IRM)

These capabilities are powerful, but they can only help if you have a thorough planning process in place.

Here are some general questions that need to be answered to achieve our ECM goals with SharePoint:

  • What kinds of documents do we want to store?
  • What metadata do these documents have? How can we organize them?
  • What kinds of content types can we identify? What metadata, workflows and other behavior do they have? How should we organize these content types?
  • What versioning setting do we need? Which content requires version management and what types do not?
  • What business processes will we implement? What document types do they belong to?
  • Who can access the content? What privileges are required?

Web content management

Today's Web content is at least as important as the internal business content, so there's no content management without Web content management (WCM). The following are SharePoint 2007's WCM capabilities:

  • Publishing features
  • Page layouts
  • Document converters
  • Approval workflow
  • Content deployment
  • Translation libraries

Those features make WCM an easy task for the end users. The editing phase is followed by some approval steps, and finally the content is published to the Internet, in many cases in more than one language. In order to have a reliable WCM system, be sure and answer these questions:

  • What types of Web content do we have?
  • What page layouts do we want for the content?
  • What constitutes the publishing process?
  • What approval processes can we define for each Web content type?
  • What languages do we want our Web content to appear in?

Records management

Last, but not least, records management is an important part of ECM. It provides a set of features that identify and assign the final disposition of high-value documents. MOSS 2007 also has the following records management capabilities to complete its enterprise content management functions:

  • Records center
  • Information management policies
  • Record routing
  • Holds

Besides ECM and WCM, records management also requires a lot of planning before implementing. Here are the main questions for that process:

  • What content types have to be recorded?
  • What routings and record libraries do we have to create to these content types?
  • What kinds of policies can we identify?
  • What behavior do these recorded documents have?

Planning an enterprise content management system can be tricky. In general, SharePoint gives you an optimal solution, but only after thorough planning, asking a lot of questions and identifying your key requirements.

Agnes Molnar, is a MOSS MVP and has been working with Microsoft technologies and SharePoint since 2001. After releasing MOSS 2007, she founded L&M Solutions, her own SharePoint consultant company in Hungary, Central Europe. She's been working as senior consultant and solutions architect, and has led numerous Central European companies' SharePoint implementation. Visit her SharePoint blog:

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