Buyer's Guide: SharePoint Document Management Tools

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Everyone knows that SharePoint is a tool for building corporate intranets and serving as hub for internal collaboration among disparate product teams. SharePoint is also a compelling management solution for document sharing, storage, and management, and new third-party tools promise to extend that capability even farther.

Many IT pros are turning to SharePoint to help them organize and manage their digital documents and serve as a central repository for scanned printed documents. Hospitals, legal firms, and just about any organization that deals with large quantities of printed documents can now consider SharePoint an integral part of their document management solution.

Choosing a SharePoint Document Management Solution

So how do you start looking for products that help you meet your document management needs? As is the case with most projects, time spent in preparation and planning is invaluable in helping you pick the solutions that will work best for you and your environment. According to Joel Oleson, a senior product manager evangelist for Quest Software, ensuring that the goals of the company align with your document management project is an important first step.

"A lot of what you’re doing should depend on the company roadmap," says Oleson. "Some CIOs only see SharePoint as a want to rid themselves of file shares and public folders. SharePoint can do that it, but it can do so much more. Taking a serious approach to structured document management is vitally important."

A Document Management Checklist

In order to help your SharePoint document management project get off on the right foot, here are some useful steps to follow:

  1. Anticipate storage: How much storage will you need to archive and manage your documents? "Having a robust storage area network (SAN) for document management is critical," says Ron Cameron, president of SharePoint software vendor KnowledgeLake. "You should also consider extending your document management capabilities into the cloud, whether you’re planning to use Microsoft's Azure or Amazon's S3 platform."
  2. Anticipate interoperability: Will your SharePoint solution need to work with other document management solutions, such as EMC Documentum or Autonomy Meridio? Cameron cautions that doubling up on document management solutions gives you "two platforms to manage and two vendors to pay for."
  3. Establish procedures and encourage adoption: You can often tell how successful a solution will be by how many people in your organization are using it. "Solutions like this need to be available to everyone in the enterprise," says Cameron. "If only 10 users are using the document management system, it really defeats the purpose."
  4. Backup: Any IT pro worth his administrator rights should realize the importance of a solid backup strategy, and your document management system should be a high priority on your backup schedule. Internal corporate records and knowledge assets are often more valuable to a company than the products it produces, so make sure your backup strategy takes that into account.
  5. Security: While Cameron stresses that any document management system should be accessible and used by all members of an organization, he encourages IT pros to employ a rigorous security scheme. "You need to make sure that all of your content is secured by a proper security model," Cameron says. "Everyone in the organization needs access, but you should filter access to documents by assigning security rights to user roles." This ensures that the mail room can easily load and record shipping documents, but prevents them from browsing the HR documents of their co-workers.

Choose a Solution to Fit Your Needs

Every organization has different document management needs, and this buyer's guide should help you pick the right SharePoint document management tools to fit your own specific requirements. Some organizations may be well-served by using a default MOSS 2007 installation with third-party document scanning software, while others may need a full-blown document management platform that incorporates document scanning, archiving, document taxonomy, document workflow planning, extensive search capabilities, and the ability to edit and redact selected documents.

"The native SharePoint platform is a great document management solution in its own right," says Cameron. "When combined with a valid scanning solution, that option could fit the needs of many people. You'll also want to look for vendors that build upon and extend the capabilities of SharePoint, rather than trying to replace it."

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