SharePoint for ECM

SharePoint is the collaboration platform of Microsoft. And it is very important to distinguish a platform from a product. SharePoint provides lot of different features and functionality in many areas so it is not a single product. According to Microsoft

“SharePoint is the place to share ideas, content and the vision of your company. It’s scalable enough to organize and manage all your information assets but it’s also designed to organize and store documents to enable personal productivity, keep teams’ in sync, and projects on track. It’s where you go to discover experts, share knowledge and uncover connections to information and people. It’s a hub for developers to build and deploy modern apps and for designers to build eye-catching websites.“

So basically you can think of SharePoint as the Swiss army knife for information management.

At a higher level we can group SharePoint features and functionality in to few main areas. And it is important to understand each of these, in order to clearly define what SharePoint is.

  1. Portals – SharePoint is a portal solution capable of creation and management of web sites in forms of Intranets, Extranets or Internet Sites.
  2. ECM – SharePoint provides a rich set of content management tools.
  3. Search – SharePoint comes with enterprise search capabilities.
  4. Enterprise Social – SharePoint can be used as an Enterprise Social networking platform.
  5. BI – SharePoint in combination with tools like Excel, provides Business Intelligence capabilities .
  6. BPM – SharePoint workflow platform allows us to create workflows and applications that can be integrated with other systems.

Depending on the functionality being used, SharePoint can be perceived in different ways by different users. One of the comments from a recent AIIM industry watch survey was “SharePoint is seen within our organization as a jack of all trades but master of none.”

So what does this mean? It means that SharePoint is not a ECM product. SharePoint is a platform that also provides ECM functionality among its other uses.

What is Enterprise Information Management

To understand what Enterprise Information Management is and why we need it, first let’s see where a typical business user saves his content.

There are several commonly used tools that a typical business user will use to save his content.

1. My Documents – This is probably the first option that an average user will use to save his content. Even if they are supposed to use a file share, there is a high probability that they will save a copy in their “My documents” folder.

2. Desktop – Many of the users will first save their content in the desktop with the aim of moving them to another folder later, which may or may not happen.

3.Attachments – Most of the files we receive as well as sent on email, will be kept as attachments throughout their lifecycle. This is why most of us first search through our emails when we need to find such a file rather than searching in the file share or the ECM system.

4. Cloud storage – With so many options to choose from, cloud storage services are becoming more and more popular. Most users now tend to save their files in a cloud storage service such as DropBox, as they support anywhere access with mobile devices.

5. USB drives – Also many users will have some of their files stored in a pen drive or external hard drives.

6. File Share – Any organization when trying to bring some discipline in to how their files are stored, will start with a file share, arranged according to their departments / team structure.

7.ECM systems – Apart from all these options, there are many ECM systems also being used.

As the next step of identifying why we need Enterprise Information Management systems, lets look at how a user will share their content with others.

1. Email – The first and most preferred option to share a file with others (with internal colleagues as well as external parties) is to send them on email. Sharing files as email attachments continues to grow, and it is becoming even more popular with ever increasing mail box sizes and attachment sizes.

2. Pen Drives – The second most popular file exchanging method is to use a pen-drive. Nowadays pen drive has become an essential tool for business users.

3. File Share – File servers are the next option. A user can save a file in the relevant folder, or most probably in a common shared folder so that others can get a copy of the file. If a user knows how to copy the file path, they will share that with the intended recipient on email. Otherwise they will have to call the other party and guide them on how to find that file.

4. Cloud – Due to the popularity of cloud storage services in the recent times, users tend to share their files directly from cloud. Especially when the file size is bigger and is not possible to send on email. Since these cloud storage services are easily accessible from any device using apps, this option is becoming more and more popular.

5. ECM systems – Matured organizations use ECM systems to encourage collaboration and information sharing. However due to the complexity and the information overload, in most of the cases it is not possible to manage all organizational content using a singe ECM system.

Having several such options to save and share files with others, now lets look at what happens when we do not use a proper information management system.

One of the main issues that many organizations as well as individuals are facing today is information overload. Even with the ever-growing technological advances, still we find it difficult to access the relevant information when we need it. If the users store their files in a personal storage location such as the desktop or my documents folder then other users will not be able to access these as and when they need. So finding and accessing information has become a costly exercise. A typical knowledge worker spends a significant amount of his time looking for the required information rather than actually processing it.

Irrespective of the way we share our files with others, there is a high probability that we end up in having multiple copies of the same file. Especially when multiple users are working on the same file, it becomes difficult to track and manage all changes. This obviously makes it difficult to find the latest file or the original file. This is why we need to have a proper file versioning mechanism irrespective of the ECM system being used.

Another disadvantage of not having a proper information management system is poor knowledge sharing. For obvious reasons organizations encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing. Unfortunately In an environment where there is no controlled information management practice, a significant amount of its knowledge is not being shared. Think of a situation where a knowledge worker is leaving an organization. There is a high probability that a part of the organizational knowledge also leaves with that individual.

Lack of a proper ECM system will also result in other issues such as information theft, legal and compliance issues etc… These have increasingly become concerns for CIOs around the world.

Selecting the best processes for document imaging – 2

This is the second post on how to select relevant business processes for document imaging. You can read the first post here .

Lets look at another example on how to decide whether a particular process is suitable for document imaging or not. Let’s imagine that we have a business objective to speed up the processes in order to reduce the response time to customer queries. So the first thing that we need to do is to list down all the processes relevant for customer interactions. Then we need to list down the different document types for each process and identify the relevant characteristics for each document such as;

  • approx. how many documents are accessed / retrieved in a day?
  • how easy is it to search a particular document and how long does it take ?
  • What is the cost involved?
  • What is the impact of reducing that access time?
  • for how long we need to keep that document? etc…


Document Type

How many documents are accessed during a day

Time / Cost it takes to access a document

Importance / impact of quickly accessing a document

Retention Period

Insurance Policy


10 mins


7 years


When we have these details, then we can identify whether that document is a good candidate for document imaging or not. Of course there is no rule or formula for selection as it varies according to your objective. The key is to have a specific criteria so that the selection will be more objective. And it is important to decide on a selection criteria that aligns with your business goals.

As an example we can use some selection criteria based on the above table such as;

“If the impact is high and at least another one criteria is high then that document type is suitable for imaging”

One important thing to note is that this selection criteria should be aligned with your business objective. Otherwise it may result in an incorrect selection which will not help achieve the business goal. As an example think about the following criteria

“If the number of documents accessed a day is higher than 1,000 and the retention period is higher than 3 years then that document is suitable for imaging” –

For sure digitizing such documents will be beneficial for the organization in terms of archiving, saving working space etc…. But it will not help achieve your original business goal unless the impact of quickly accessing the document is high.

To summarize, the idea here is to have an objective selection process based on a criteria that aligns with the business objectives.  

Selecting the best processes for document imaging

When implementing a document imaging solution it is very important to select the processes that will bring the maximum ROI. Not all processes are suitable for document imaging. So we need to evaluate each process carefully in order to select the most relevant ones. Business needs will definitely vary from one process to another and a single product may not be able to cater for all requirements.

Lets look at an example. Assume that your objective is to reduce the usage of paper. It could be because you need to minimize the cost of printing or you have a sustainability initiative to reduce the usage of paper. It is not possible to reduce the usage of paper in all business processes. So we need to analyze and then identify the best few processes for this. To do this we need to identify the document types involved in a particular process and estimate the number of physical copies being used. When you start doing this sometimes you may be surprised to note that there are multiple copies of the same document being printed. There was one project where we discovered that a particular document being printed for 6-8 times by different teams.

You can follow these simple steps to identify such processes;

1. List down all the processes that generate paper documents


1. Accounts Payable

2. Petty Cash reimbursement

3. Work Order process

2. For each process identify the associated document types;

E.g. For accounts payable process

– Invoice


– Inspection Report etc…

2. For each document type estimate the daily volume / transactions and the number of copies from the same document. 

Document Type

Daily Volume

No. of physical copies







Inspection Report



3. A process with a high number of physical copies is a good candidate for Imaging.

Once identified it needs to be further discussed in details in order to identify whether it is really possible to reduce the number of copies.

  • How many copies of a particular document is printed?
  • If this is just 1 copy then is it practical to reduce that to 0?
  • Do you still want a physical signature?
  • Can the finance team accept only the electronic copies? Or are there any supporting documents being printed that we can reduce etc…

Download "8 secrets of an effective content or records management implementation" (free)


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    eBook "8 reasons you need a strategy for managing information — before it’s too late" , (free)

    AIIM President John Mancini has published an eBook named “8 reasons you need a strategy for managing information — before it’s too late”. This eBook (free to download, no registration required) is the first in a series of eBooks that represent the compiled contributions of the guest expert columnists on his blog.
    The book is presented in an interesting manner with lot of examples and is a good source for anyone to increase awareness on organisational information management. (download a copy here)

    Achieved Master Certification @ EE

    Amila Hendahewa
    Master 50,000 Expert Points
    Document Management

    Last week I was awarded the Master Certification for Document Management at EE (Experts-exchange).     

    I joined EE last year to get some expert advise on certain questions I was facing in a SharePoint project. Within a very short period of time, I was able to solve my questions with the help of participating experts. Then I realized the importance of sharing knowledge and continued to help others by providing answers. As a result I was able to achieve 50,000 expert points thus being the first one to achieve expert certification on Document Management at EE.

    (For those who are not familiar; EE is considered as the best place for finding answers on IT related questions. So if you have a difficult question, give it a try here ) .