Me and Content Management

Pie seems to prompt a number of my blog posts on here, actually good that someone can initiate activity and spur me on to provide comment! Anyway, his latest prod has been on how we got involved in Content Management.

I actually started my IT career developing a set of workflow components based on Oracle technology, both Forms and some server side procedures. One of the implementations of this ‘product’ was in a pharmaceutical company within the manufacturing division. We implemented an application for tracking incidents in the plant to ensure they were fully investigated and any corrective action taken. As part of this various parties in the process would produce reports in the Document Management system they used, Saros Document Manager. I was very loosely involved in tha area of the system as I concentrated on the process design and implementation, nevertheless it was a start. (N.B. for those that don’t know FileNET acquired Saros).

I then worked on an eCommerce project for an online music store, well before Amazon! Whilst not Document Management this taught me the need for some of the basic Web Content Management services such as staging, approvals and content expiry…in effect we were building this functionality into the eCommerce application.

Anyway a change in career left me joining a company who specialised in Document Management implementations, amongst other things. To integrate me into the company I was sent to Sweden for 6 months where I learned an awful lot under the tutelage of some very knowledgeable, and patient, experts. The product they used the most was Documentum, and welcome to the world of RightSite…oh how life has moved on.

Interestingly I was asked to look at a new concept, this was in 2000/2001, Microsoft had released a product named Tahoe and I was asked to look at a new offering for the company called ‘Webben som Arbeitsplan’, or Web as a Workplace. We even built some integration between Tahoe and Documentum which we achieved through Web Services and the, at the time, emerging SOAP standards. Funny that 8 years later I’m still speaking to customers about the best way to achieve that!

SharePoint Workflow

I try not to pick on a product and the weaknesses it has but I’ve spent the past week working with SharePoint and in

particular its workflow capability and its integration with InfoPath. For a while I thought it was me being too picky and

relating too much to my Documentum experience but I came out from that slumber, some of this is basic workflow and the fact

that SharePoint does not do it or does not do it well was a bit of an eye opener for me. So what’s my beef:

Auditing – support for Auditing appears to be very poor, in fact when an instance of a Workflow is completed the audit trail is removed, or rather the association of the audit trail to the item. Now there are a number of solutions to this, one suggested one is to create a List to store the audit entries. Fine, but that does involve some coding to get the solution to write to the List…er not good. Then you uncover that Lists start to creak at about 200 entries….er not good at all. Auditing is a basic requirement of workflow and if a product does not support this then in a matter of fact way then its not worth its place on the list of products.

Forms – so we’re using Infopath forms to render forms. We’re not using MOSS, we’re using WSS. We wanted to have an Infopath form be displayed for a task which updates a data object, but we do not want to access the full data object…its unnecessary. One would think this is a straightforward requirement, oh no. In fact as we are not using MOSS only WSS, but with Forms Server, the tasks cannot be presented as Infopath forms…they need to be built as aspx forms; I can see my development work increasing all the time here. Then it becomes clear that SharePoint does not really support the idea of forms updating other objects, or parts therein, the full form should be displayed. I have to say I still doubt whether my reading of this is correct….but if it is, another black mark.

All in all it has been a less than positive experience of using SharePoint workflow. If I’ve misunderstood something above then drop me a note and I will correct it but unless there is a very big eureka moment I won’t be running to a customer with SharePoint as a solution to some of their business processing problems!