Innovation & Technology
Overcome the limitations of SharePoint with ECM: Two real-world examples
While many of our customers use Microsoft SharePoint, each does so in a slightly different way and in pursuit of distinct goals. But what they all have in common is the need to collaborate and share documents. In this regard, SharePoint shines: It guides the user into a familiar world of structures not unlike the file system, and combines this with the presentation of information via websites and data. Not only that, but SharePoint also integrates really well with Teams, OneDrive and other Microsoft products. As digital transformation advances (driven in large part by the COVID-19 pandemic), and given the fact that many businesses already pay for Microsoft licenses, we are often asked: Why can’t we just use SharePoint for collaboration?
In answer to this question, we offer up two real-world examples from a current project with a large, multinational corporation. The company had been deploying Microsoft SharePoint with diverse use cases for several years already and it was widely used. Incredibly, in virtually every use case either the standard scope of function was inadequate or SharePoint’s inherent limitations — for instance regarding document capture, business process mapping or maximum storage capacity — were the source of further problems. The result: multiple workarounds, from programming and extensions to modifications, new solutions and more besides. In some cases, users simply had to accept the solution’s limitations.
Limitation #1: Secure contract management is impossible with SharePoint alone
The management of contracts using SharePoint is one specific case in which the company had clearly reached the platform’s limits. It had already expanded the metadata model, added reminder and notification functions, and purchased an additional workflow solution. Then came functions for full-text searches, inheritance of metadata and more. Some functions even had to be developed and realized specifically for this use case. Critical functions, such as access authorizations, workflows and retention periods for uploaded contract documents, posed a particular challenge. At the same time, these areas involved the most work in SharePoint.
Although users could make use of SharePoint’s basic collaboration and document-filing functions, for the platform administrators it was a nightmare.
Limitation #2: SharePoint complicates joint project work
For our customer, a global leader in the manufacturing sector, project work with SharePoint revealed further limitations. Users would create a separate SharePoint page for each project as a space for internal team members to exchange information. As time went on, this exchange dwindled to the extent that the page was used solely for storing documents: drawings, plans, written correspondences, acceptance documents, etc. No further value was being leveraged from the solution, since it was being used mostly as nothing more than a slightly more up-to-date file system. Other exchange functions fell completely by the wayside despite having been specifically implemented for this use case. However, the reasons for this ran far deeper.
It was high time for a solution for joint project work. The goal was to bring together all documents and information and make them available from a centralized location. However, they failed to consider the many documents coming from third-party systems that are not filed manually due to the disproportionate amount of effort required. In addition to the individual documents themselves, several other content sources stemming from the ERP system or the production process were also never uploaded to the project page in SharePoint. The entire project centered solely on the input of users who then lacked essential information on billing processes, processing statuses, offers, etc. The resulting gap had three chief implications:
- Following the initial euphoria, acceptance of the solution ebbed over the years. Workarounds (shadow IT) were the result.
- The effort involved in upkeep and searching for documents grew ever bigger while the desired transparency when working together declined.
- A lack of functions for controlling access authorizations and ensuring compliance with legal retention periods increased exposure to compliance risks.
Not only was it impossible to retrieve all information at a single location, but ensuring quality and compliance in projects required considerable effort.
Integrated customer management and team collaboration in SharePoint
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Two approaches, one goal: A 360° view of information
Success always rests on one question: Which software fulfills all my requirements? And the answer is always: There is no ONE solution, but rather a combination of several.
The above examples based on contract management and joint project work clearly show how SharePoint on its own cannot serve all needs and fulfill all requirements, regardless of how much time and effort is invested. The onus was thus also on the SER Group to find out which approaches would genuinely lead to success from the users’ perspective and also generate value added for them and the entire company. In conjunction with the original objectives of both sub-projects (contract management and project collaboration), our integrated approach was to create a 360° view, which we took into the customer workshops. This resulted in a separate approach for each of the two sub-projects.
Approach 1: Migration to Doxis4
For contract management, a migration of the existing contracts to the SER Group platform, Doxis4, was favored. The focus was on using the standard functions already available in the contract management solution to dramatically reduce the complexity by maintaining and extending the existing SharePoint solution. The migration was performed using simple standard mechanisms. After the migration was executed and validated for completeness, the corresponding SharePoint pages and documents were ready for deletion. Tens of thousands of contract eFiles were created in Doxis4 and the documents were transferred from SharePoint. Document archiving in particular is a standard process that works seamlessly with existing SharePoint environments. It allows documents to be copied or moved, and their metadata transferred and archived in Doxis4 in compliance with the corresponding guidelines on retention periods and access authorizations.
Approach 2: Content federation
The project management issue required a different solution, since it already utilized some of SharePoint’s strengths. The answer was to retain the single point of access for project teams but to add the missing information. First, the necessary documents were archived in Doxis4 from the ERP system and other key applications. These documents were easily and automatically assigned to the correct projects using the corresponding metadata.
Second, during the integration of Doxis4 and SharePoint an option was set up that enables users to call up Doxis4 project eFiles directly in SharePoint. These project eFiles had been automatically created in Doxis4 on the basis of data in SharePoint and populated with the documents already stored there. This has two main advantages:
• All SharePoint users can view and search for all project-related documents via the integrated Doxis4 project eFile, regardless of how they were created and filed.
• All non-SharePoint users can access any project document via Doxis4 as well as documents moved from SharePoint to Doxis4.
This federated approach makes information from both systems available to users and creates a 360° view of all project documents.
What's next: Further connecting information & processes
One possibility that was once far from anyone’s minds is now the goal of the next implementation phase. Since our customer’s projects are always based on one or more contracts, the obvious next step is to connect the two worlds of contracts and projects. The migration of contracts to Doxis4 and the comprehensive implementation of project eFiles means contracts can now be linked to projects and vice versa. This improves all-round visibility and makes it easier for project managers in particular to access related project contracts and maintain a full overview.
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