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Is Microsoft’s flagship product for enterprise collaboration capable of providing a complete ECM solution?

As SharePoint 2010 was introduced as the ‘ECM for the Masses’, packing up classic ECM tools with social and collaboration, search based applications, compatible with CMIS (Content Management Interoperability Standard) and boasting to achieve compliance (with many document retention, record management, document ID and discovery laws), it was still lagging far behind the other ECM providers in term of features, integration, and functionalities.

SharePoint 2013 was designed to catch up with the competitors and fill the gaps, but is it really delivering a full-fledged ECM solution?


Enhanced ECM in SharePoint 2013

The Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) defines ECM as “the strategies, methods, and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization’s unstructured information, wherever that information exists.”

The ECM theme in SharePoint 2013 was presented as such:

sharepoint 2013_ecm
Source: Microsoft


New ECM features included:

  • Bulk metadata Update
  • New task aggregation tool
  • Content-aware switching
  • Content Drag & Drop
  • Exchange site mailboxes
  • Improved video handling
  • Search enhancement
  • CMIS Update
  • Audit center / New e-Discovery framework


But still lacking

According to the new 2015 AIIM SharePoint Industry Watch Report “Connecting and Optimizing SharePoint”, SharePoint is not yet the complete ECM package it is marketed to be.

As seen in the figure below, the use of SharePoint to answer ECM needs is still sparse:



aiim_sharepoint 2013_ecm
Source: AIIM 2015 Watch Report “Connecting and Optimizing SharePoint”


Key Findings In regard to Information Governance:

  • Configuration: AIIM reports that 23% of SharePoint users can match their record management needs (with careful set up), 15% are using specialist customization, and 16% use 3rd party add-ons.
  • Record Management: 17% have a dedicated Record Management system but most are not connected to SharePoint, creating a likely disjoint I many processes.
  • Search & Portal: 15% use SharePoint as their search and access portal across other repositories, but 44% are planning to go that way. Aligning governance, security and metadata is given as the biggest problem.
  • Cloud: 49% are concerned about loss of focus on the on-premise version, and 20% feel SharePoint is under threat from more modern cloud systems.
  • Mobility: the lack of mobile support and the difficulties of external access have been frustrating for 35%
  • Compliance issues: 48% still have work to do to align SharePoint with IG policies, and 19% are not aligned at all. The biggest misalignments are with legal discovery, metadata and retention/disposition
  • Lack of integration: Only 14% have SharePoint connected to other ECM/DM systems, 13% have connections to the CRM/Service Desk, and 12% to project management system. Less than 10% have connections to ERP or Finance systems.


All in all, the main issue that has been brought up when it comes to using SharePoint as an ECM system is the fact that SharePoint is not a standalone ECM solution, but more a toolkit that will require an integrated suite of components and 3rd party applications. Several tools are not provided with the software and would need to be built on or integrated by the IT staff itself: workflows tool, record management tool, and lifecycle management tool for instance.


Conclusion: where does it leave SharePoint at?

Of course, you can always close the gaps in the current ECM SharePoint offering by integrating with 3rd party applications and custom development, as most users are doing. But fundamentally, SharePoint does not have the same level of capabilities as the other ECM solutions on the market.

SharePoint’s functionalities are not the only thing to blame. In addition to its incomplete package, the lack of planning, scoping, engagement of senior management, and user training, are all reasons why most SharePoint ECM implementation project are failing. Indeed, 26% of respondents report that their SharePoint project has stalled, 37% have struggled to meet their original expectations, and a total of 63% with suboptimum installations. 37% are moving forward, but only 11% feel their project has been a success.

SharePoint is actually a very versatile platform, with a rich eco-system of add-on products and features improvement over the years. But at this point in time, SharePoint is better off being used as a collaboration tool, a role that actually fits Microsoft’s product like a glove. On that point, we can also add that SharePoint can work miracles when combined with an integrated ECM solution, you just have to handle it for what it is: a powerful collaboration and social interface.

Down the road we can expect SharePoint to enhance even more its ECM features. Julia White, general manager for the Microsoft Office Product Management team, wrote in the article “Evolution of SharePoint” that the focus of SharePoint 2016 will be in hybrid deployment, ECM, Business Intelligence (PowerBI), and information security. So keep your eyes open for it, however as exciting as it might seems, here are our last piece of advice: be wary of hidden costs and holes in the offering, and keep in mind that planning and training will be keys to a successful implementation.

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