The enterprise content management (ECM) market is growing rapidly and is predicted to be worth a staggering $5.1 billion by 2013, according to Gartner. Taking an increasing share of this market is Microsoft SharePoint. Consistently named as one of the leading technologies in Gartner’s ‘magic quadrant’ for ECM, SharePoint 2010 now offers powerful document management features straight out of the box.

SharePoint document management

SharePoint already has a sizeable footprint in the corporate sector, typically being used for intranets, and the release of SharePoint 2010 marked a major commitment by Microsoft to the DMS space.

With a slew of new and enhanced features, SharePoint 2010 is challenging established document management solutions on multiple fronts. IT managers find SharePoint’s low implementation cost and low total cost of ownership compelling. Equally, end users find its advanced features attractive, these include: improved document search, enterprise class metadata tagging and document sets for compliance automation.

A further key strength of Microsoft’s SharePoint platform is its encouragement of a community that supports and extends the product. The ‘MacroView DMF’ add-on is a good example of such an extension: it provides offline access, drag-and-drop document management and a consistent, intuitive user interface to the DMS across office desktop applications such as Outlook, Word and Excel.

Document-centric organisations and SharePoint

While all companies face increasing challenges with document management, SharePoint’s collaboration and automation features have achieved significant traction in document-heavy and highly regulated businesses, such as legal and property firms.

In these sectors, users need a visible audit trail providing details of activities on documents. There are requirements to store documents in the same location, in the same format: as many documents are confidential, fine-grained security, down to the level of a folder or single document is crucial. Without a central document management system, statutory requirements to store and retain certain documents for significant periods of time are not easily met.

The benefits of SharePoint in a document-centric, regulated business can be seen in law firm Winckworth Sherwood’s implementation of a SharePoint-based DMS to replace its legacy DMS.

As Winckworth Sherwood’s business evolves, so do the types and volume of files that lawyers and support staff need to read, create and share. The firm’s in-house bespoke DMS, originally developed around Microsoft Word had been in use for over a decade. The system was easy to use but was primarily designed to meet document production objectives. Managing the growing volume of emails was a particular challenge and productivity of both fee earning and support staff was being affected.

Winckworth Sherwood had a choice between traditional legal-sector DMS products and newer products like SharePoint. In selecting a SharePoint-based DMS, the firm was able to leverage its existing Microsoft licenses, reducing the cost of the overall solution and on-going annual high maintenance costs associated with leading DMS products. With Winckworth Sherwood being a ‘Microsoft house’, SharePoint also reduced IT management complexity since it was a good fit with the law firm’s existing Microsoft systems.

Winckworth Sherwood’s SharePoint-based DMS stores, shares and manages the firm’s growing volume and variety of document types including email, drawings, plans and PDF files. Drag-and-drop management of emails, attachments and files, together with the ability to search the DMS from within MS Office mean that Winckworth Sherwood’s staff can now find and access documents far more quickly than before, while the organisation as a whole benefits from reduced maintenance and management costs.

The future of document management – SharePoint?

Alarmingly, even in the document-centric sectors, simple file sharing is still prevalent, and users are not benefiting from central document repositories. IT managers in these sectors face barriers when implementing a new document management system, including: the complexity of moving of large volumes of documents to a new storage and retrieval system, the addition of another layer of technology, and implementation and licensing costs.

With regulatory pressures increasing, organisations looking for a robust, fully auditable and cost effective alternative to in-house developed systems, simple file shares or high cost document management systems, will find that SharePoint could provide the answer. This is especially relevant for highly regulated industries, where a SharePoint system can be easily customised to meet specific document management requirements.

As SharePoint is often already part of an organisation’s IT infrastructure, a SharePoint based DMS is a logical and cost effective extension. Indeed, SharePoint Foundation is available as a free add in to Windows server, and companies will often have access to SharePoint licenses at very reasonable rates.