SharePoint might be the steak… but partners are the sizzle

Dave Martin
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I was reading Christian Buckley’s blog post, SharePoint wins with the ECM Ecosystem, and I think I got a little confused, I started to write a comment to his post and that comment sorta became a post of its own – this post to be more exact.  The last thing I want to do is ruffle feathers as I respect Christian and consider him one of the most knowledgeable people on the planet (Buckley’s and the Earth itself) around SharePoint, but I needed some clarity.

In Christian’s post (in terms of how I understood it, which may result in a response from Christian in terms of a misunderstanding) he outlines that SharePoint beats "traditional" ECM solutions because it is easier to deploy and cheaper... and it is easier to deploy and cheaper because it does not have as much technology/functionality.  So if I do understand this correctly, then if, or when you need to fill the gaps in features (with add-ons from the aforementioned 640,000 partners, because it does not have things like capture out-of-the-box, amongst other capabilities) then by default you are raising the complexity, cost and effort required to deploy. This thought made me postulate further that maybe the theory was a little too: have your cake and eat it too.

But then I started to consider things a little deeper and it brought me back to when I wrote the blog post, “Welcome to the club SharePoint (Club ECM)” and it would be fair to say that I am thinking about the big picture here, and in reference to the "E" in ECM. But here, I think we’ve progressed to a new realm and that is discussing ECM as part of a broader Enterprise Information Management (EIM) infrastructure. With that I’ll once again reference the concept that SharePoint is not an enterprise organization’s information infrastructure, but in fact a part of it.

An end-to-end EIM solution for me would at least have to include capture (get it in), advanced BPM (connect it to processes and content within the entire information infrastructure - not just content in SharePoint) and archival (long term tiered storage under strict records management for inactive SharePoint content amongst other volumes of old non-SharePoint content that we need to keep). In my post I commented that: SharePoint, as all would agree, is a platform, and Microsoft depends on its vast partner ecosystem to fulfill all of the "unique" requirements of its many thousands of customers. If anything third-party solutions help take it to the next level.

I think we would indeed all agree that SharePoint is a platform, and that partners build off of and support this platform, and I think we’d likely all agree again that when you start to do that add-on thing to provide the additional functionality (really making it part of a complete EIM infrastructure) the cost, complexity and deployment time all goes up. A positive result of this is that at the end of the day the customer gets exactly what they need, SharePoint, a capture solution that directs content into SharePoint, a workflow solution that extends the value of that content with other content repositories across the enterprise and an archive that locks down the content against required policies and regulations over the long haul. 

We can’t ignore these unique requirements that necessitate the use of add-ons as we look to truly consider SharePoint a complete ECM solution.  The reason traditional ECM providers brought so much into and around their solutions is because the market, analysts and customers were demanding it.  The net result of this is that traditional ECM solutions are often complex, costly and take a little time to deploy – when compared with SharePoint out-of-the-box.  With that said the only way you could compare traditional ECM solutions and SharePoint (as an ECM solution) is to account for the add-ons required and demanded.  Otherwise it isn’t really apples-to-apples.

I’ll end with an analogy. When people ask me what I am having for dinner, tonight, I would answer: steak. To me this is the most important part, or centerpiece of the meal (at least to a carnivore like myself, for my vegi friends feel free to replace with tofurkey) but then there are the potatoes, carrots, corn, butter, steak sauce, salad and of course desert.  I don't think anyone would argue that SharePoint could be considered the meat of the solution, but it isn't really a complete meal without all the fixin's. 

Maybe we just need to agree on what ECM means... or be a little more clear on what's really for dinner.



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Christian Buckley


Dave, I agree with just about everything here, except your mischaracterization of my point that SharePoint "beats "traditional" ECM solutions because it is easier to deploy and cheaper." Not my point at all, but closer to your comments.

SharePoint is just a tool. Part of the reasoning behind my post was a response to other article beating up on SharePoint for everything it doesn't do, but I may not have articulated it very well. Chalk it up to being a talker that sometimes thinks out loud, and employs a 'stream-of-consciousness' writing style that closely mirrors my need to constantly talk.

My point was twofold: First, you need to understand what you're trying to accomplish for the business. Until you have that figured out (and most organizations have no idea - they have *some* idea, but don't think hard enough about what they want, what they need, and what will get them there), discussing technology is irrelevant. I then went off on a tangent about capture technology -- which was just me making a point that no single feature should be your decising factor over any platform, but to look to the whole.

The second point I was trying to make, and which is the primary reason why SharePoint has rocketed to the top in the category, is its versatility. Give the people the core features they need, follow the 80/20 rule and give them 80% of what they need with enough hooks into the platform, and a sizeable partner ecosystem, to allow them to build out and customize that last 20%.

As you know, SharePoint is not just about ECM -- we can argue about the definition, which goes back to the first point: understanding what you need in the first place. You may enter with the intent of comparing SharePoint to other more established ECM solutions and find what your business needs is much more/different than just ECM. And the fact that SharePoint can provide much more (even without being the acknowledged leader in any of those categories) is a testament to its breadth and the strength of its partner community. And no other vendor/solution comes close to that.
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