Second Look at SharePoint as an ECM Platform

  • 7-Mar-2011

This past week in Los Angeles I spent a little time talking with three well established ECM (Enterprise Content Management) integrators and resellers.  All three had started out business more than ten years ago, and had initially specialized in building and implementing solutions for the likes of Documentum, FileNet, Hyland, and OpenText.

Nowadays the bulk of their business is focused on implementing Microsoft SharePoint.  Nothing unusual there: many well-established, mainstream ECM channel partners have now shifted focus to SharePoint.  In conversations with them, all three integrators told me that when SharePoint initially hit the market, they thought that the writing was on the wall for their business. They feared the development work where they excelled -- building out major ECM implementations -- was set to die away, as Microsoft moved in, packaged, and rolled-up their space. 

But it turns out their initial fears about declining revenues were completely unfounded. Business today is better than ever.

To quote one, "Everyone buys SharePoint on the premise that it will work 'out of the box', but when it comes down to it nobody actually wants out of the box." Of course he's right about that, and figures from Redmond indicate that a great deal of money is getting spent on customizing and developing SharePoint each year. 

But what he said next genuinely surprised me, "Developing a Documentum or FileNet system could be difficult, but under the covers SharePoint is way more complex to develop on." It was a sentiment echoed by the others. Or to put it more prosaically, SharePoint often costs much more to customize and extend than so-called traditional ECM Platforms.

To be fair, these remarks need some context. All three firms specialize in what I'll call "true ECM" -- big and complex implementations.  The work involves substantial integration with legacy applications, sophisticated business process management, as well as high volume, high throughput, highly scalable environments. They don't work with SMBs or on small departmental projects -- areas where SharePoint traditionally excels.

Still, as conversations with people in the trenches, they point to the conclusion that the larger and more complex the situation, the less competitive SharePoint can be.

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