Doing it the right way

This post has been prompted by a couple of discussions with some colleagues recently, and its all about doing things the right way with SharePoint. As most people know SharePoint can be many things, it can be a Collaboration tool, a WCM platform, an Application platform, a Document Management system or many, many others. This can cause a bit of confusion around the skills required to implement SharePoint successfully.

Recently I’ve seen implementations where it has been clear that the primary skill of the team implementing has been Development or Engineering. Why do I say it was clear? Because of the focus of the implementation. There was little consideration for the Information Architecture and not enough thought paid to the primary asset in the solution, the content.

Ultimately SharePoint is a Content and Information platform, designed as a repository and an interface for people to create, manage and share their content and information. There are ways to optimise the way people perform these tasks through some development but the Information and Content is the primary asset in the implementation. A Microsoft developer will be able to help in the implementation but it is an Information or Content professional who will be best placed to shape and lead the implementation. 

I would go further and suggest that increasingly we are seeing organisations who have SharePoint and AN Other Content Management System. The approach to the Information Architecture is even more important in situations like this as organisations strive to find the right tool for the right job.

Have I got any evidence to support the above? Well one anecdote is that I have seen two Document Management solutions deployed in Local Government in the UK recently. Both were led by an Information focussed agenda and in fact the people leading the implementations were interchangeable as it was the knowledge of the business and the information required to support that business which made the implementations successful. One was SharePoint and one was Alfresco.

OpenText and Global 360

The recently announced acquisition of Global 360 by OpenText has raised a number of eyebrows and prompted quite a reaction in the blogosphere. I tweeted that I would be worried as a customer of both, especially given the acquisition of Metastorm. However to put this all into perspective I thought I would post an article which put down 3 potential positives from the deal and 3 potential negatives.

On the Plus Side

  1. By purchasing Metastorm and Global 360 OpenText are making a major play into the BPM part of the SharePoint world. This could be viewed as a disruptive or defensive tactic. It is well known that one of the weaknesses of the SharePoint platform is its BPM capability. By purchasing two of the leading BPM vendors who integrate well with SharePoint OpenText could be seen to be putting down a marker to defend their market which is being moved onto the SharePoint platform. Either of the two companies were potential targets for Microsoft themselves so OpenText have moved to stop this.
  2. Both Metastorm and Global 360 are leading BPM technologies, albeit with overlapping capabilities. If OpenText can take the best bits of both and incorporate them into a Case Management Framework with their LiveLink repository as the back-end document store then it could be a very compelling proposition.
  3. OpenText already have a strong relationship and this could strengthen that relationship and move OpenText away from being an ECM player to being the BPM product vendor of choice for SharePoint, given the weakness of SharePoint in this space it could be a very shrewd move for OpenText to diversify from their traditional ECM roots.

Looking for the negatives

  1. OpenText have not traditionally been good at integrating new products into their stack. The typical approach is to rebrand the product as an OpenText product. If this is the case then why would they continue to invest in two overlapping products, it would make financial sense for them to move customers of one on to the other at some stage. Even if they do try and integrate then there will be a need for customers to move to the new solution at some stage in the future.
  2. The timing of the acquisition is strange given the recent Metastorm acquisition. Its hard enough integrating one fundamental component into an existing technology stack, taking on two will be an interesting experience.
  3. Whilst Point 1 of my positives could be seen as a positive for OpenText as they cling on to defend their market share I cannot really justify it as a positive for either Metastorm or Global 360 customers. If it is a defensive or disruptive move then it does not exactly promote OpenText’s willingness for long term investment in the two products. At some stage Microsoft will plug the gap in SharePoint on BPM so this possible tactic would only act to delay this.


All of the above is pure speculation and I would say even OpenText are probably a little unsure of what the future holds. There is the possibility they could make an excellent move into the Case Management market through a fully integrated solution but on past experience this is not how they have operated. The speculation is fun, watching what happens next will be interesting.

General thoughts on (E)CM

Another quiet period of writing, there are a few posts which are itching to get out but they’ll have to wait for another day. I do find though I spend a lot of time just keeping up to date with some of the more prolific bloggers and tweeters in this space such as Pie, Lee and Marko, Ron and Cheryl to name only a few.

Firstly I promise not to break into another post on the E in ECM, there are enough posts and tweets about this in the past to keep you busy but it has been discussed again at length over Twitter.

Three things of interest to me have cropped up in the past couple of weeks which are worth more than a Tweet response:

The Fallout from Info 360 and AIIM in the US

I’m only going on reading what people commented on the event but the things I took from it were:

  • BOX emerging as a viable complementary solution to traditional ECM players. I’ve not completely got my head round the model and implications but the idea of being able to collaborate outside the firewall with other organisations and have that content linked back into your central repository is appealing. That comment is based on talking to customers as well as my own predictions. This is something definitely to look into in more detail.
  • Buzzwords of Cloud, Social and Engagement. (Thanks to @ldallasBMOC for answering my question on what the buzzwords were at the event). Cloud is definitely something I am seeing increasingly as a discussion point, and it is starting to come across more and more in some of the delivery models. Social is something which is ahead of Cloud in its impact on the World Stage but I would suggest behind in the way we are dealing with it in Content Management.
  • An emergence of EMC. Yes the event heralded the departure of Whitney Tidmarsh from EMC but it also saw Jeetu Patel present their vision for the future. This vision was first seen at the Momentum conference in Lisbon last year so this was perhaps the first time it was presented in such a public forum in the US. I was pleased to see this last year and I heard positive vibes from people at Info360 this year. The trick for EMC is now to deliver on that vision and to deliver in a timely fashion or at least to keep the excitement high in the period while we wait, ‘doing a Centerstage’ would be a problem for EMC.

An increase in SharePoint apathy

Now this is only an observation but I am seeing an increase in the number of posts and tweets which are advocating the approach that there is a limit to what should be done with SharePoint. Note the emphasis on should. Most people know how great a product SharePoint is and how it has helped to raise the game of other Content Management players by bringing Content Management more and more to the masses. The big thing though has been an increase in using SharePoint as a solution platform, extending the product to meet much more functionally rich and diverse needs. Now I am not saying this is not possible but there is a point at which you need to start to question whether this is the right thing to do. It is when this line is crossed that complexity and costs rise to a point which is seeing people start to question SharePoint. If you know what you intend to use SharePoint for and are clear on when it should not be used then this apathy can be avoided. This is easily solved through having a very clear roadmap or strategy.

Improved User Experience to be a game changer

This observation is following a post from Brilliant Leap. Now I agree with some of the points in the post about the delays in Centerstage causing EMC to lose market share and also about the consumerization of IT having an impact in the Content Management space. What I don’t agree with though is that this is a Game Changer in the Content Management space. (Note that the post paraphrases this from a presentation at Info360 and is not necessarily claiming it is the Game Changer). Maybe it is a semantic thing on the term User Experience, and maybe I am being a little picky. Why? Well I think if we can remove Content Management from the minds of the people who are creating and managing it and move to a situation where that content is being created and managed for a specific purpose and it is that specific purpose which is driving then we will have a game changer. In fact I had a similar conversation with someone else recently who was focussed on the Content Management solution for an organisation, I argued that Content Management was not a solution but was a layer in the solutions which helped them. With this in mind I really do believe that CMIS, if applied correctly, could be a game changer in the the Content Management world.

Back to the Blog

I’ve been extremely quiet over the past few months in terms of my contribution to this blog but extremely busy in what I have been doing at work, plus there has been the small matter of 3 small children at home. I hope to get back to some posts and will start with my usual accounts of the EMC Momentum event, this year being held in Lisbon.

I’ll attempt to get posts up as soon as possible after the sessions but some will be delayed as my diary is already looking pretty full for the week with planned discussions on xCP and SharePoint/Documentum integration. Plus I am doing a presentation on the latter on the Wednesday.

I’m expecting a really interesting conference this year, and I think it is time for EMC to really start putting some weight behind some of their thinking around xCP and other product developments as well as giving us a vision which will provide a clear roadmap for the next 5 years in the face of some very stiff competition in the marketplace.

The news of the leadership change, announced on Thursday and commented on by Pie, will provide an interesting start to the conference, Mark is supposed to be delivering the keynote on the Tuesday but I would hope that this keynote now delivers a passing of the reins on to Rick and an opportunity for him to deliver his vision for EMC IIG.

Pie has set some very good rules on blogging at conferences and I will be sticking to these. Open presentations will be reported on, when I get chance to attend and write them up. Conversations that I have with individuals will not be commented unless I specifically ask the individuals concerned.

This is my 3rd Momentum conference and I’m delighted to be presenting this year. The bulk of the presentation was given earlier in the year at EMC World by a colleague of mine, Jon Ludwig, however we are adding to it with two topic areas. One will be a more in depth Case Study based on a project my team in the UK are delivering, the other will be based on an exciting announcement which will be released in the next 2 days. However it is the networking which is the real benefit of Momentum, hopefully this year will be as productive as the previous two.

CMIS and SharePoint

Blimey, two in such a short space of time. This one has been rattling around in my head for some time and I was prompted to write based on the post from Real Story Group.

Now I am not a subscriber so I have not read the full report but the mere fact that there is interest in this subject prompted me to write this. I think CMIS and SharePoint is a difficult topic and I think it is a difficult topic for the SharePoint world. Why? Well its not a simple answer but take a look at this diagram. This describes how SharePoint has been built from the UI backwards. It is the UI which has pushed the development and growth of SharePoint and it is the UI which people focus on.

As a sample when I asked a number of SharePoint Consultants how to integrate SharePoint with an ERP solution they ALL assumed that I meant to have the ERP solution as the back-end repository but with the front end being SharePoint. When I clarified that I wanted SharePoint to be used as the document store for content which is used in ERP transactions then they simply didn’t get this.

CMIS is disruptive to this view in that it puts an unknown on the UI and relegates SharePoint to be a document repository. I use the word relegate on purpose as I believe this is how the SharePoint community would view this Use Case. This is wrong, this is an opportunity to open up a new set of solutions for SharePoint, for it to become more embedded in organisations and be more of a platform service.

I’d love to see some uses of SharePoint with CMIS and how this can open up new opportunities for SharePoint usage in organisations.

More on SharePoint and Documentum

One of the reasons why I have not posted something lately is that I wanted to allow the experiences of a SharePoint/Documentum integration project to really settle in before publishing it. Plus I had the opportunity to see where the integration products were heading.

So what has been learned from the experience?

1. Understand why you are integrating the two products! I know this is stating the bleeding obvious but it should be 100% clear from day 1 why you are looking to integrate Documentum and SharePoint. What will the business gain from having this integration? What are they looking to achieve? Is there a specific pain which has been caused which an integration can resolve? I’m a bit fearful at the moment that companies will go down this integration route because it is seen as the thing to do and it will improve their management of content by having an integrated approach. Actually an even better improvement could be settling on one product or the other.

2. Understand the limitations of the integration products. We have used the EMC Documentum Repository Services for SharePoint AND the MyDocumentum for SharePoint products. Using both products is not something which I would usually advocate but the specific needs of the customer required this, and the solution does meet their needs. However you should understand that there are weaknesses to each of the products. Do not expect MyDocumentum to allow you to do all the things you do in a WDK environment through SharePoint. MyDocumentum provides you with a fairly basic UI through which you can view and manage documents in Documentum through a SharePoint user interface. If you have deployed functionality within the WDK layer then it is likely it is impossible to recreate this functionality in the MyDocumentum product. As such do not expect 100% of your users to switch to using the SharePoint user interface. With the EDRSS component you should have a very good understanding of the way content is journalled through to the Documentum repository. Do not expect that this content is fully available through a Documentum and SharePoint interface once it is journalled through. The journalling is enough to reduce the impact on SharePoint storage constraints but does not provide a fully integrated environment.  e.g, the metadata which is journalled through to Documentum is stored within Documentum as an XML rendition of the content.

3. The technology alone is part of the solution. If you look at the last point on metadata and the way it is journalled then consider the following scenario. Typically in SharePoint there is less governance around document types and these tend to be of a greater variety. Documentum implementations however tend to have much more control over document types. Do not expect that there will be a match between the types in two, and if you want to achieve this alignment expect a whole host of pain on the way. The current users of SharePoint are likely to be unhappy at having their freedom restricted, or the alternative approach could be complex to achieve through the Documentum products.

Does this all mean that I think integrating SharePoint and Documentum is the wrong thing to do? Absolutely not, but doing it for doings sake is. However I can think of many Use Cases where this is an applicable and appropriate approach. As I mentioned at the start I have seen some of the improvements which are in the later versions of the integration products, some to highlight include:

  • The ability to add custom menus in MyDocumentum. Whilst this won’t replicate the WDK experience in SharePoint (which should not be a desired route anyway) this will help to fill in some of the functionality gaps which you may experience;
  • The addition of a Subscriptions Web Part; interestingly we found the users were really interested in having this so was a big plus for them when we discussed the future functionality;
  • Metadata based journalling rules in EDRSS. I can see this helping organisations achieve what I have seen as the vision of using SharePoint for ‘collaborative’ content in SharePoint but managing the more compliant content in Documentum. Will still need some thinking but could be a step in the right direction;
  • Content Migration. On our implementation we were faced with migrating a lot of content from SharePoint through to Documentum using the EDRSS component. The method in 6.5 was fairly crude and involved a back-up and restore of the content, with a quick configuration switch in the middle. Now though there is a much improved solution which allows you to schedule and throttle this migration very easily;

This is a subject which has been talked about a lot in the past 12 months, I expect the next 12 months will see the market really understanding how they can use the two technologies together and whether they should. As I say I think there is a place for this but I think we should all be conscious of what we are really trying to achieve!

A word about Case Management

Now I’ve been heavily involved in different aspects of Case Management for some time now, from a number of different perspectives, and one of the things which is being pushed heavily at the moment is putting ECM at the heart of the Case Management solution. CMSWire have posted two articles on this subject, Enterprise CMS Usage Scenario and ECMs that implement Case Management Frameworks.

I would recommend organisations looking at Case Management to be vary wary of jumping into an ECM solution without careful consideration. Why? Well one of the key reasons is embodied in the first article from CMSWire but has not been brought to the surface, early in the article they talk about what a Case is including:

Case Have a Single Location Storage: In a case management system, the information regarding a given client will generally be stored in a single location and in single folder where everyone concerned can access and work on that information. BPMS do not necessarily need all users to have a 360 view, whereas in case management they do.”

Great, and I fully agree it should be possible when looking at the Case to have a complete view of the information related to that Case. However later on there is the following definition of ECM, itself taken from AIIM:

“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.”

I’ve highlighted the key term in the quote, ECM is about managing unstructured information, such as documents, audio files, pictures and video files. They are not intended to be used as a Database, although each one can be used in such a way it is a far from ideal way in which to use them. So that leaves the question of where to store the structured information?

In many Case Management implementations one will find that a common construct of a Case is a person, e.g. an applicant in a registration process, a claimant in a Claims process or a suspect in a Criminal Case Management process. Even more important is the relationships that this person may have with the information in the Case, e.g. in a Criminal Case Management system a suspect may have a relationship with a victim, or was the subject of a digital interview. A person is something which is best modelled as a structured piece of information (N.B. I am not distinguishing between Relational or Object Oriented in this use of the word Structured). There are other aspects which are best modelled as Structured including Locations and Objects (such as Vehicles).

Therefore we have a situation where we need to model and manage structured and unstructured information.

Another typical requirement of a Case Management solution is the need to be able to manage the information associated with the Case for the relevant time periods, and to dispose of it properly when needed. This, Retention Management, is a common feature in EDRM systems, its even making its way into SharePoint in 2010! At first glance this is great, but a closer inspection we find that the Retention Policies tend to be driven by the Persons involved in the Case, e.g. in Claims Management it could be a defined period after the Case has been completed or may be driven by Data Protection Requirements, again focussed on the person. So if we have a situation where the structured data is not ideally suited to the ECM system but the Retention Policies are applied based on information held within that repository we have a problem to resolve.

Now I don’t suppose to have an answer to this problem but when looking at the Case Management needs it is important for people to really understand the mix of data they hold about a Case as well as the other requirements which need to be met. If the content is primarily unstructured then an ECM could well be the answer, if there is more of a mix then the solution will need to encompass products which can serve both needs….there will still be a need for ECM if there is unstructured content within that case which needs managing, its just a question of how much of a role does it play.  This really backs up some of the points which Pie made in his recent post and which I responded to where the ECM product may just supply some of the platform services but the UI and other services are provided from other products.