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The role of MOSS in an large scale ECM environment (Part 1)

In this series

Part one
Part two


One of my clients asked me whether MOSS can be considered a ‘true’ ECM application. That certainly raised an eyebrow. Well, sure it supports ECM functionality like record management, document management IRM and sorts but does that make MOSS an enterprise ready ‘true’ ECM system?

The couple of weeks after I have been discussing the matter with ECM and fellow Sharepoint consultants. The whole large scale ECM world was new for me, but it is quite an interesting one. Now, I am not an ECM wizard but I wish to share my experiences nevertheless.

In this series of posts I will dig deeper into the matter and provide a insight in how such an enterprise works. Furthermore, I will discuss the capabilities and the role of MOSS in such an organization. What you should and what you should not do.

Defining the scope

So the first question one might ask is, what defines an ECM system? In what context are we going examine Sharepoint’s ECM abilities? For answering this question I will be referring to Wikipedia’s definition (AIIM)

“Enterprise Content Management is the technologies 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.”

To understand the span of this abstract explanation one needs to have at least limit knowledge on what it takes to be an ECM enterprise. So let’s take a look at your typical ECM enterprise.

Anatomy of an ECM enterprise in a nutshell

Imagine, that this nifty diagram is our typical ECM enterprise called ‘claims-R-us’. Everyday large amounts of claims forms are send trough regular paper mail and need to be extracted, managed, audited, augmented, stored and destroyed in our enterprise. As you can see, our role model enterprise exists out of a few functional areas:


Information acquisition (process services)

At some point information needs to be imported in the system trough channels. Each channel represent an information flow. This can be of all sorts like paper (regular forms), recorded sound (phone) or information from third parties.

Some channels require conversion of the original media before it can be stored digitally. Think of paper documents that need to be scanned to a certain format. Often law regulations enforces that information that enters the system and can be identified as a record, needs to be stored as-is thus in its original format.

Its not unusual for a large scale enterprise to scan up to half a million forms a day by using multiple scanners. The scanning process is the responsibility of a DIS (Digital Imaging System) .The information from these channels are often augmented with information that enables the process to identify their further journey trough the enterprise.

Information management (content services)

The information that enters the system needs to be classified. Classification happens often from an business point-of-view. So when the scanned document is an ‘car damage form’ it will be classified a such. Often there are multiple classifications possible per document. There will be made a record to keep track of the document instance and the classification data. Usually at this point an separation of document flow will occur. The system will identify which classifications of information can be files directly in the archive (like receipts) or whether it needs further processing (for instance analyze, addition and mutation of claim forms by humans)

Records management needs to be applied that enforces that law regulations such as DoD 5015.2-STD are met. Transformations may be required to make sure that the document is un-modifiable. When necessary IRM is applied. Information Workers work in processes to create new documents or edit existing ones.

This information management functional area is the central information system of your enterprise. All the common document management functionality such as editing, checking in and out, information worker flows take place here.

Storage management (repository services)

Information that is significant for your business needs to be stored somewhere safe. Excuses me as I go a little in depth here since this storage is such an important part of the process.

For this high volume storage of documents, enterprises often implement hierarchical storage management (HSM) which is a data storage technique which automatically moves data between high-cost and low-cost storage media. HSM systems exist because high-speed storage devices, such as hard disk drive arrays, are more expensive (per byte stored) than slower devices, such as optical discs and magnetic tape drives. (Wiki). The surpassing of storage medium is mostly based on activity. For instance, when there is lots of file activity the file remains on the high-speed storage device, with lesser activity it gets demoted to the slower disks.

Often these systems implement an technique called “Content Addressed Storage” (CAS). Which can be seen as a wardrobe at your local club. You give your coat, get a number in return, later on you supply the number and you will get your coat back. A CAS system does basically the same thing with files. It takes care itself on where to store the file, how it works internally, is not for you to worry. You can retrieve it any time. EMC Centera is an example of such a CAS system.

Coming up in the next series

So now we described an typical enterprise we can discuss the matter further in our next post. Where we will describe the possible roles of Sharepoint within this organisation.

Recommended reading

So, is MOSS an ECM Tool or Not?

Update (17th-August): Edited some links and made introduction.

One Response

  1. […] the previous post I gave an introduction what it takes to be an ECM enterprise. At this point any Sharepoint […]

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