SharePoint muscles into records management systems

SharePoint is making strides in records management systems, despite shortcomings. Some gaps will go away in SharePoint 2010, adding to Microsoft's dominance in content management.

Forthcoming data from Forrester Research Inc. indicates that Microsoft's blockbuster SharePoint platform is making inroads into records management systems, a subset of enterprise content management (ECM).

"Microsoft has blown the doors off the traditional ECM vendors from a content management perspective," said Forrester analyst Brian W. Hill, survey author and ECM expert at the Cambridge, Mass.-based research house. "What surprised me is that organizations are also using SharePoint for records management purposes."

Of the 434 respondents in the Forrester survey who identified themselves as records management stakeholders, 17% said they were currently using Microsoft Office SharePoint Server for records management software. That was more than double Microsoft's closest competitor, Hill said.

The finding is surprising because SharePoint 2007 has some "significant shortcomings" when it comes to records management (RM), said Hill and others. While miles ahead of its portal-centric 2003 version, SharePoint 2007 is a less-than-ideal tool for the exacting task of maintaining records -- from paper, digital documents and databases to physical objects -- throughout their lifecycle. Missing features include:

  • Physical records management -- for example, the ability to apply retention policies to warehouse boxes.
  • Federated records management, or the ability to apply controls to objects in other repositories.
  • Department of Defense certification for records management, (DoD 5015.2-STD V3), required by many federal and other agencies of business partners.

The good news? Many of the constraints are expected to be addressed in SharePoint 2010, expanding Microsoft's dominance in the expanding content management market. "With the forthcoming release of SharePoint 2010, Microsoft will be introducing some significant additional records management functionality and the burden will really be on the traditional records management vendors to prove their differentiation from Microsoft," Hill said.

Until that time, however, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server is "not something I would personally suggest organizations use for records management," he added.

Records management systems fixes in SharePoint 2010

Guy Creese, an analyst at Midvale, Utah -based Burton Group Inc., said he's not particularly surprised that companies have glommed on to SharePoint for records management, despite its limitations. SharePoint is better than nothing -- particularly for companies doing little in the way of records management.

SharePoint 2007, with its greater emphasis on content management, offers "a sort of document archetype," that allows users to link content type and metadata and say where the document should go when it gets saved, Creese said. "One of the things that the content type can trigger is records management," he explained. "You can set the content type so it says, 'Yes it becomes a record,' or not" -- a welcome byproduct of the re-architected 2007 version.

The feature, however, is built for SharePoint documents and, as noted, does not have capabilities for managing paper or physical documents, Creese said. For companies where RM processes are "manual intensive" -- for example, a last-minute scurrying for project documents for end-of-year reporting -- SharePoint provides a "nice capability," but Creese concurred that it does fall far short of a robust RM system.

[After SharePoint 2010 is released] ... the burden will really be on the traditional records management vendors to prove their differentiation from Microsoft.

Brian W. Hill, analyst, Forrester Research Inc.

"I think even Microsoft would say it does not compete with the best-of-breed records management systems," he said.

But SharePoint's use for document management is not limited to its intrinsic features, Creese and Hill pointed out. A number of vendors, including Open Text Corp., Autonomy Corp., CA Inc. EMC Corp. and others, however, have worked with Microsoft to develop integrations for many aspects of content management and governance, so that their systems become the system of record for the SharePoint interface.

"With all the connectors now available with SharePoint, a lot of companies now use SharePoint as a front end to the best-of-breed documentation system they have had for years, such as [EMC's] Documentum or Open Text," Creese said. "For example, you can save a document to SharePoint, in the content typesetting, but say, 'OK, when the document actually comes in ship it to Documentum.' Then Documentum can do the records management."

CA, for example, has capitalized on its DOD-certified status while working closely with Microsoft on SharePoint integration, said Reed Irvin, vice president, product management, information governance, at the Islandia, N.Y software provider. "We take what is good in SharePoint, make it better and leverage it across the enterprise," Irvin said, adding that CA, like other vendors, is a big fan of the blockbuster product. "Everybody is trying to do something with SharePoint," he said.

Hill also recommends that companies using SharePoint 2007 for records management look for vendors that have DOD certifications or similar certified RM offerings.

SharePoint 2010 will offer improved legal hold capabilities, with options to classify records using a "manage in place" mechanism or archiving, to classify by content type or in hierarchical fashion, Hill said. In addition, the new product will provide "multi-phased disposition," meaning the flexibility to adjust a record's status based on business events.

Concerning other intrinsic improvements in SharePoint 2010, it is "still in the real early days," Creese said, referring to Microsoft's announcement at its Las Vegas conference last month that the beta version would be delayed a month and the product will not be out until May. Like Hill, however, he said he expects that many of the constraints that have prevented enterprises from using the platform for records management "will go away."

As for SharePoint's current popularity among records managers, despite the gaps? Hill said a familiar interface is a powerful thing. "I attribute it to Microsoft's extremely bright strategy of tying together SharePoint with its office portfolio and giving knowledge workers a user interface they are very familiar with," Hill said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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