Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Is SharePoint a true Document Management System (DMS)? Rumor explored.

In my 10+ years working with SharePoint I've heard 3 individuals declare that SharePoint isn't "a true Document Management system".  When questioned about this they bring up instances of poorly architected solution issues or performance limitations as the justification.  I too have experienced poor performance, bugs, limitations, and have inherited poorly architected SharePoint solutions; but my tendency is to address the underlying issues or engineer proper solutions rather than discounting the software out-of-hand.  This leads me to believe that there are some outdated primary sources for this rumor that were introduced outside of these users' own experiences.  This article will look into some of these sources, listing their bias.  I will also post some refuting articles.

Disclaimer: Obviously my bias is towards SharePoint as I am very familiar with its capabilities and have used it to implement more than 40 document management solutions with each one exceeding its unique requirements

Sources of Rumor (SharePoint is not a DMS)
  • eFileCabinet - SharePoint competitor (2010)
  • ContentVerse - SharePoint competitor (2014)
  • Fishbowl Solutions - Oracle WebCenter SharePoint Connector provider (2012?)
    • Has a good overview of the history of SharePoint issues pre-2010 but is mostly propaganda for keeping WebCenter and using their connector instead of migrating everything to SharePoint
  • Reva Solutions - Alfresco (SharePoint Competitor) ISV (2015)
  • DocFinity - SharePoint competitor
  • Lexmark's In Context - Perceptive Software (SharePoint Competitor - now Lexmark) interview  (2011)
Refutations of Rumor (SharePoint is a DMS)

SharePoint (2007 or later) is a bonafide Document Management System with its own unique advantages and disadvantages.  The rumors appear to have been initiated by competing vendors as marketing propaganda from sources with limited knowledge of SharePoint's capabilities or from early reviewers who balked at the new technology and its use of third-party vendors for imaging and other advanced functionality.  It's fair to mention that SharePoint 2007 (pre-2010) was missing some of the more enterprise scale features of a DMS, but even those features were not mandatory to consider that version a "true DMS" as typically defined unless third-party products were excluded from use.

The closest you can get to the original rumor while maintaining the truth is that "SharePoint is not just a true Document Management System." Even the terms "Document Management System" and "File Management System (FMS)" are outdated.  "Enterprise Content Management System" (ECM, ECMS, or CMS) is now the preferred moniker to describe platforms that do more than just manage files and documents.  SharePoint, being one of the most widely used ECMs, benefits from the fact that it also takes on collaboration, intranets, extranets, (WCM) web content management, workflow, insights, enterprise search, and more.  It does so while maintaining one of the largest ISV (partner) communities of any ECMS, including most of the other ECM vendors who are struggling to maintain their relevance by integrating with SharePoint and Office 365.

This brings about the final argument against SharePoint, "it's not specialized only for document management, thus taking on too much and spreading too thin."  I agree that if the entire SharePoint team focused on just the DMS side, then it would be more feature rich in that area.  However, the true benefit of SharePoint over other DMSs is that it is a multi-tool that excels in many areas, each with fringe benefits to document management.  This is one of the primary reasons for the mass migration from single-focus systems to broader platforms.

Note: The meaning of "true DMS" is subjective, therefore if you define a "true DMS" to include a specific limitation (ex: Must be able to render historical versions in search without exposing the versioned documents in a library or folder - SharePoint Limitation), then you can justify your claim.  Just realize that anyone else can do the same to your preferred system (ex: Must provide secure co-authoring capabilities in a web-based note-taking client on MS, iOS, and Android mobile devices - available only with SharePoint).


Please contribute comments below listing specific features that your favorite CMS has which SharePoint may not.  I will do my best to provide feedback on its support within SharePoint.


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