The role of MOSS in an large scale ECM environment (Part 2)

In this series

Part one
Part two

Introduction

In the previous post I gave an introduction what it takes to be an ECM enterprise. At this point any Sharepoint professional can already detect what functional requirements lack in the current MOSS implementation. However, be aware that only a relatively small portion of companies will actually need all the requirements of an such an ECM enterprise. So you want to review whether the standard MOSS ECM features provide enough functionality for your company. In this post I will dig deeper on the matter, and where to draw the line in the gray area of MOSS only or extending MOSS with third party ECM tooling. In many situations it is  unclear for both parties. The ECM party knows what it means to be an ‘true’ ECM but doesn’t seem have enough Sharepoint knowledge or experience to make a comprehensive decision. On the other hand, the overall Sharepoint party is new to ECM and has none to limited ECM field experience.

Its not really a matter whether the full ECM functionality is possible in Sharepoint since the foundation of MOSS is excellent and every ECM requirement can be custom build on top of MOSS. But more whether it is out-of the-box available, and ready for the real world.  For instance, if you want to store millions of files you can easily develop logic that distribute the files over different document libraries and folders. Single instance archiving and CAS can be achieved custom policy development. So you can basically bend Sharepoint enough to be full ECM compliant. However, custom development is costly and it is your responsibility to maintain the code throughout your enterprise existence. You also want to incorporate more tooling and content services to manage your content on an overall basis. You also need to keep in mind to keep the code working with every iteration of MOSS.

Is MOSS out-of-the-box ECM enterprise ready?

As an independent Sharepoint consultant I feel to obliged to advise clients on whether to use Sharepoint standalone or consider augmenting Sharepoint with third party ECM tooling. So is the current version of MOSS out-of-the-box ECM enterprise ready? Well, it really depends on your company requirements. As it comes to the features, MOSS has a wide range of ECM capabilities that would cover most companies’ needs. However, its not as specialized or out-of-the-box ready as the older ECM players of this world like OpenText, Interwoven or EMC2. MOSS has very good and tight office integration and user experience for creation of documents and supersedes other players in this area. But lacks the out-of-the box ECM features like document imaging, single instance archiving and hierarchical storage management that other vendors provide.

MOSS is very good for the ‘active’ part of document management like ad-hoc document creation, collaboration, basic approval workflows and sorts. But for more complex services one might rely on other vendor’s products or custom development. As for record management MOSS is certainly going in the right direction, but at this iteration of MOSS there is no information on the amount of data the record center can handle. Also the current out-of-the-box functionality is rather limited. However, the 5015.2-STD add-on pack which will be released later this year (Fall 2007) will increase the amount of functionality, and will cover probably enough of the record management requirements for most companies. There is however no detailed information available on what this record management pack will include, or whether it supports CAS or HSM.

Common ECM scenarios when one might consider the use third party add-ons or custom development

I’ve created an basic ECM requirement list that can be used to identify whether one might want to extend MOSS with third party tooling. Keep in mind that this is just a very limited set of requirements. At the moment I am building an extensive requirement list that can act as a guide when making a choice.

ECM requirement
Need for a single instance archiving
Need for hierarchical storage management or content addressed storage
Need for complex workflows, that need to be globally monitored
Need for high volume batch import & export of large quantities of files
Need for multiple classifications of files
Need for meta-data inheritance
Need for digital imaging
Need for extensive reporting over content
Need for rich content services like case management
Need for extremely large storage (Dozens of TBS)

The role of MOSS in an ECM enterprise

Depending on the amount of content and the level of ECM complexity your company requires, one could go for an MOSS only solution or augment MOSS. If the content management complexity is fairly limited, no rich content services required and the amount of content doesn’t fall in the range of HSM you could configure MOSS as your central record system. I do recommend to configure a very hard and explicit line between what is active and what is passive and can be declared as an record. Without such a explicit architecture you are risking fragmentation of your information.

Personally, I think that an augmentation or an co-existence of both ECM systems would create the ideal solution for a large full fledged ECM enterprise. This way one can use MOSS for the active in-flight part of document management such as ad-hoc creation and management of content and basic workflow. Use sites for showing context related files from external repositories. Use the CAS and HSM, DIS, case management functionality provided by third party tooling. When information is solid enough to be of critical value and can be defined as a record, it can be transparently transferred from MOSS to a more advanced ECM system. Also from my point of view, Sharepoint should not be bothered with the high speed import of large quantities of files. After classification only the files that need to be processed by humans should be promoted to the Sharepoint environment to be augmented. The others can go to the advanced ECM system directly.

However the tooling nowadays  provided by the leading ECM parties create an overlap of functionality which you might not want to pay for. The whitepaper of Doculabs describes more on this issue. Personally, I think its a matter of time before ECM vendors start building software solely for bridging the gap without the functional overlap. Microsoft surely provides enough extension points and documentation in its MOSS & WSS foundation to enable this.

What others say

Gartner has written an couple of good documents on MOSS regarding to its ECM capabilities and its position in the ECM world. Unfortunately, since these require you to be a member of Gartner, I can’t go in detail. Make sure to get them if you are.

Doculabs provides an excellent (free) whitepaper regarding the coexistence of MOSS in an ECM environment.

AIIM has an (free) seminar dedicated solely on how to efficiently let MOSS2007 and core ECM systems coexist in the same environment. If you live in the US I would recommend visiting. You can find the link below. I would highly recommend reading this. 

There are more resources available in the section ‘Recommended Reading’.

What’s next

My upcoming project will be a WCM one, so I probably won’t be blogging too much these two months about this topic. However, I am scheduled for another ECM project which involves integrating MOSS with an external ECM system later this year.

Recommended reading

Gartner:
 – Microsoft’s 2007 Sharepoint Products and Technologies in Action (June 2007) – (Excellent)
 – Q&A: Microsoft’s Content Management Software and Strategy (September 2006) 

Doculabs:
 – Analyst Report: Doculabs: The Coexistence of Sharepoint and Advanced ECM platforms ? What You Need to Know  (See the solution information bar)
 – Microsoft Sharepoint 2007 and Your Existing ECM Solution: Which Should Be the System of Record?

AIIM:
 – Free seminar by AIIM  ‘Sharepoint meets ECM’ 

Misc:
 – Office 2007, Records Management, and ECM

Blogs:
 – Sharepoint meets ECM  (AIIM)
 – Better ECM
 – So is MOSS an ECM tool or not? (C3 Associates)
 – EMC Industry Watch

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One Response

  1. Hi Emile,

    Excellent summary of how and where MOSS could and should be used in an enterprise. I’m also glad to see that you’re staying true to the consulting fraternity by answering “it depends” to the question of whether MOSS is truly an enterprise class ECM!

    A couple of points:

    1) There is a good summary of the functionality provided by the upcoming DoD 5015 service pack on the Applied Informaytion Sciences site (the folks who helped Microsoft develop the tool). Here’s the link: http://www.appliedis.com/Events/white_papers.htm

    2) I really like your ECM Requirement table, although I question whether organizations need a more mature ECM product for document imaging. Kofax (and others) have MOSS integrations and there’s no reason to think that millions of documents couldn’t be scanned into MOSS. The only limitation, as you note, may be when your imaging needs grow to many terabytes.

    Love the blog. Keep up the good work!

    G.

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