Corralling numerous documents, files, presentations and records so they can be more easily organized, accessed and managed has always been the purpose of content and records management systems. But the evolving needs of organizations to more efficiently and effectively manage these vast stores of documents across departments, user groups, locations and applications is driving new requirements for enterprise content management (ECM) systems.
Three years ago, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in San Francisco sought to improve its content management efforts and business processes, reduce the amount of paper it used and move off a legacy mainframe computer. IS Director John Chiladakis and his team narrowed the vast field of potential content management solutions to 17. Among them was the beta version of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, which seemed to address many of the organization’s needs.
A shoot-off between Microsoft and another software maker cemented the deal, and the Air District, as it’s known, signed up as part of Microsoft’s early adopter program. The agency, which operates under a state law to regulate and monitor stationary sources of air pollution in nine counties, including about 25,000 businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area, now uses SharePoint Server 2010 to automate its online permits and inspection system.
Alan Pelz-Sharpe, principal with the analyst firm The Real Story Group, says that ECM aims to “bring some order to the chaos that electronic and paper documents are typically in.” As organizations continue to struggle with duplication, redundancy and a lack of formal workflows across the enterprise, ECM systems can help. Pelz-Sharpe says SharePoint Server now offers a user-friendly solution that provides a broad level of functionality.
SharePoint Server is gaining ground as a full-fledged ECM solution, progressing from its early roots as a web content management system used for intranets, portals, web pages and other web-based content. In late 2009, Microsoft unveiled SharePoint Server 2010 with new features and functions that have boosted its position as an ECM solution. In fact, a survey by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) found that more than one-third of organizations are using SharePoint to manage content across the enterprise, and over half intend for SharePoint to be their primary ECM system. AIIM focuses on helping users understand the challenges associated with managing documents, content, records and business processes. The 2011 survey, “Using SharePoint for ECM,” is based on responses from nearly 675 AIIM members.
Better Records Management
The Air District realized several benefits from its implementation of SharePoint Server 2010, says Chiladakis. For example, the agency reduced permit processing time from days to minutes. “The amount of efficiencies we’ve gained is great, and it has given us the ability to take this government agency away from being a paper-based agency. We’ve gained 30 to 40 percent efficiencies,” Chiladakis says. “One thing we are looking forward to doing is sharing our experience with other government agencies.”
SharePoint Server 2010 has some distinct advantages over previous versions, Chiladakis notes. In particular, the solution provides for more robust and enterprise-capable records management and controls. Like other government agencies, the Air District has strict policies for retention and controls. SharePoint Server 2010 allows for policies to be enforced on content and records no matter where they reside. “With older versions, you would have had to create the equivalent of a web page and put all the records that you wanted to control in that one spot.”
Another ECM feature is workflows, which the Air District uses to manage documents, records and tasks among various employees, from the inspectors out in the field to the managers in the office.
Estimated volume of digital content that will be created worldwide by the end of the decade
SOURCE: "2011 IDC Digital Universe Study," EMC (June 2011)
Chatham County, Ga., deployed SharePoint Server as an intranet to disseminate information to county employees and support individual department and inter-department sites. The county’s Information and Communications Services department is also developing the Eastern Judicial Circuit Data Exchange extranet, which will enable municipal governments and law enforcement partners to share warrant and case data in electronic format, says Tony Lucento, SharePoint projects manager with ICS.
The department plans to take advantage of SharePoint Server’s broader ECM capabilities as well. The government will use SharePoint Server as the native foundation for its records management, although the implementation is still in its analysis phase.
“Our high-level goals for ECM and records management are driven by improvement of operational efficiency,” Lucento says. “Internally, the project aims to foster better collaboration among departments. Externally, we will enable better communication with partner agencies and better service delivery to citizens.”
The overall goal of Chatham County’s records management is to reduce the space and cost demands of physical storage while ensuring the integrity of records, Lucento says.
Tips for SharePoint Success
To succeed with SharePoint, IT workers need to plan smartly and think strategically. Here are a few tips that will ensure your organization gets the most out of SharePoint:
- Infrastructure matters. Plan for growth and server availability. Consider mirroring or clustering database servers, and installing at least two web front-end servers.
- Set policies and guidelines before going live. For example, if you want to run your SharePoint records center as an independent service, consider implementing the record center as a completely separate SharePoint instance and link it back to your SharePoint portal.
- Don’t skip security. Be certain that you have set security parameters and access controls so that you don’t inadvertently expose private information.
- Put user needs first. Without an intuitive system and robust training and support, end users won’t use the software to its full potential, and you won’t get a solid return on your investment.
- Tap peer knowledge. Find a user group or follow SharePoint bloggers.