Q&A: Extending SharePoint in the Cloud Webinar

On February 23, 2010, I was a featured speaker on the SpringCM webinar entitled “Making SharePoint Work.”  The slides from the presentation can be found here.

Additionally you can listen to the archive of the webinar.

In the webinar, I reference a survey and study I conducted on SharePoint user experiences.  You can access that paper here.

There were many questions asked and some answered during the webinar.  As has always been my policy, I will answer all outstanding questions, in this case, in this blog post, save for those posed to my co-presenter,  Jeff Piper of SpringCM.  Jeff has posted his answers separately.

So without further ado, here goes:

Q: What is ECM?

A:   I find this question eye-opening because all too often, those of us in the industry forget that terms and acronyms we use on a daily basis have not yet been fully absorbed into the general business lexicon.  ECM stands for, at least in the way I use it,  Enterprise Content Management. There is no standard definition for it, but it is an acronym and phrse that I am very opinionated about. Rather than state my definition here, I refer you to another recent post, in which I define ECM.

Q:How can SharePoint and/or SpringCM be used for project management?

A: I find this question somewhat confusing, and hope that my answer addresses it properly. Neither SharePoint nor SpringCM (or any ECM product for that matter) provides project management per se. There are methodologies, practices and programs that specifically address project management. Indeed, these could be used to manage the roll out of an ECM and/or SharePoint implementation. Functionality in either product (e.g., collaboration and wikis) could be used to augment project management. Functionality in SpringCM (e.g., workflow) could be used to manage specific processes.  But again, neither provides a full-fledged project management system.

Q: Does MS SP 2010 provide new or added functions for integration to third party applications via .Net?

A:  Microsoft has added much to the integration capabilities of SharePoint in 2010. Programmer interfaces exist for not only .Net, but also REST, XML, and JavaScript.  In addition to enhanced APIs, there is better integration support in Visual Studio 2010, Visio, and SharePoint Designer 2010.The list of improvements made in this regard is extensive, and I will not try to list them all here. You should refer to the Microsoft site for more details.

Q:  How can SharePoint work in a cloud environment?

A:  This question is not as simple as it may seem. First – Microsoft provides 2 SaaS (Software as a Service) versions of SharePoint.  So there are 2 ways to access Sharepoint in the Cloud (Saas).  But it must be appreciated that these are limited siloed deployments. The access to SharePoint in these cases is “in the cloud”, but the focus of the webinar was how to EXTEND SharePoint into the Cloud, not how to simply access it that way. Extending SharePoint via the Cloud refers  to making SharePoint an integral part of cloud-based business applications. In order to do that you either have to undertake a rigorous amount of customized development, or leverage the connectivity of SharePoint into a Cloud-based application – such as SpringCM for ECM, workflow and other related applications.

Q:  Is it best to utilize SharePoint as your ECM or use it as a portal that is integrated with other Document/Records Management solutions that have all the existing features such as image capture?

A: The essence to the answer was a major theme of the webinar. While the webinar focused on leveraging the Cloud to extend the reach and capabilities of SharePoint, it started by  making the case that few organizations use SharePoint as an ECM solution.  It is part of a solution. Based on market trends, SharePoint is best used as an internal website for simple document management,  file sharing and simple collaboration.  Based on the definition of ECM provided above, it should become apparent that SharePoint should not be positioned as the ECM solution or even platform, it is a component.   (See the next two questions and answers for additional examples of how/why SharePoint would not be positioned as the ECM solution.)

Q:  What are the Records Management capabilities of MOSS 2007 vs MOSS 2010?

A: SharePoint users ranked the records management capabilities of SharePoint very low in the survey I conducted. Overall market opinion is  that records management is not a core strength of SharePoint.  I am aware of more than one system integrator that make a good business integrating records management into SharePoint.  While SharePoint does provide some records management capability , the Microsoft product development blog site itself states that the records capability is “not intended” for customers with serious/confidential records needs. Little has changed in this regard between 2007 and 2010.

Q:  Has anyone added  MOSS 2007 Records Management Application to SP?

A: (See the response to the preceding question.) Additionally, yes, I am aware of  organizations that have integrated records management products/functionality into their SharePoint environment, and know of  several system integrators that make a fair living from doing this. I suspect the genesis of your question stems from the fact that MOSS 2007 lacks “serious” and simple to deploy records management capabilities.

Q:  Can you give me some more examples of what complex applications are?

A:  Let me put this question into context, for those who were not part of our live audience. A major theme of the webinar was the need to extend SharePoint with complementary tools and functionality in order to support complex business applications. This was specifically stressed in this webinar because a strength of SpringCM is workflow and BPM functionality, functionality required in order to automate complex business applications. But, the audience wanted to know what is meant by the phrase “complex application.”   This is somewhat of a subjective question –  complexity is in the eye of the beholder. That said, complex applications typically involve intricate multi-step and multi-participant workflows. They often encompass multiple sub-processes, and several decision points. They often require access/integration between several content resources and applications.  Some examples include: contract management, case management, claims management (e.g. processing an insurance claim), event planning, on-boarding new customers and employees, product lifecycle management, loan applications, SOP (standard operating procedures) development and management, and new drug submissions.

Q: You talked about scaling.  Did you mean development or performance scaling issues?

A:  Both.  Development scalability relates to the issues  addressed in the webinar around tools, skills, and complexity in delivering business process and document management applications.  Performance scalability is something that cloud can address by accessing a shared resource optimized for Enterprise Content Management, but perhaps more importantly by eliminating the complexity of operating and managing all the hardware and software components necessary in, for example, a customer-facing case management application, where crossing the firewall creates all kinds of challenges in native SharePoint.

Q: ­We are just getting ready to install MOSS 2007 at our company.   What areas of SharePoint are noticeably strengthened in versions 2007 and 2010?

A:  Wow – loaded question. Improvements made in SharePoint 2007. I will not attempt to answer that here. SharePoint 2007  is now 3 years old. I do not succinctly recall what was added in 2007, but do recall that it was this release that turned the general market perception about SharePoint around. This was the first release of SharePoint in which organizations began discussing real application development. But there still lacked much functionality.  Some of that is addressed in 2010.Enhancements include: improved user interfaces (especially concerning content creation), tighter integration with MS Office, better integration capabilities (see discussion above regarding .Net), enhanced support for virtually all web browsers, much improved and centralized administration capabilities, enhanced navigation and search through increased support for meta data (i.e., tag clouds, formal taxonomies, user-created folksonomies,  bookmarks), support of  “in-place records,” (i.e., locked official files),and inclusion of three different types of search (including integration with FAST search, which Microsoft acquired a few years back – cost of this functionality still not released). It should be understood that the statements made here are speculation as SharePoint 2010 has not been released yet.

And now for the final question:

Q:  Our gov’t agency deployed SharePoint 4 years ago without a formal deployment plan, project management plan, or governance. Now, SharePoint is unwieldy…no guidance on site design, permissions are not managed.  How do we get back control and add some management?­

A: This question reminds me of the old joke “A tourist in New York stops a man on the street and asks ‘How do I get to Carnegie Hall?’, and the man answers “Practice, practice practice’.”   Unfortunately there is no easy answer to your question. You need to undergo a full-scale ECM strategy development project.  This will include an inventory of all the current SharePoint sites.  There are two pieces of good news I can provide however:  1.  Misery loves company – you are not alone. Many organizations have released SharePoint without a strategy and suddenly find themselves in a runaway uncontrolled environment.  In fact that was one of the findings in teh SharePoint research I conducted. A significant portion of user organizations did not know  the number of SharePoint sites or volume of content housed within SharePoint inside the organization.   2. SpringCM will be hosting another webinar on April 13, with me as a guest speaker, this time focusing on how to conduct a needs assessment and build an ECM strategy.  Register now,

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