Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Secret of SharePoint Microsoft doesn't want you to know

Many people asked us if they should pick Stellent over SharePoint and vice versa. The choice is not immediately obvious and there are long ranging implications. With the recent launch of SharePoint 2007 or MOSS both products seem to be offering the same things. Both manage content, publish it on the web and allow creation of complex custom workflows.

SharePoint 2003 and now 2007 offers an attractive set of collaboration tools and deep integration into MS Office so if you are looking for collaborative content creation or interactive project workspaces - you will be hard pressed to find a rival match to free SharePoint Services 3.0. However when it comes to collecting, storing and managing content - its a different ball game.

SharePoint relies on folder structures or taxonomies for its document storage system. Here is what Mark Suster of Koral Inc, the industry leader in document management, says about the limitations of a taxonomy:

"The folder hierarchies that were established at the start of projects by well intentioned and very competent file storage experts are often only as good as the training and communication plans to educate the masses of users that need to use them. Even in successful projects there is often a huge transition period when the resident document experts, change managers or project sponsors change jobs or move roles. The trained staff invariably turn over and new staff do not always get the expert training that those at the start received.

I think most of us have experienced the dilemma of seeing our own Windows folder structure on our desktops grow unwieldy over time and we soon get lost trying to remember where exactly we stored that important financial projection from 4 years ago. ... The problem of file storage systems is naturally exacerbated in a shared network structures. Folders are a taxonomy-based system and there is a fundamental flaw in the taxonomy-based structure of most content systems."

While being a great tool for collaboration inside a small group, SharePoint does not address issues of enterprise-wide sharing and reuse of content by encouraging people to store their documents in a set of isolated document libraries. Not only each library has its own taxonomy that in most cases is not self explanatory, many users face a dilemma of which particular document library should they commit their current working document into. This creates a set of documents that is not only duplicated but potentially outdated. For example, if you as project manager, have posted John's latest work assignments to the project site and John is looking them up on his team site - he'll be looking at the old copy and possibly work on the wrong stuff.

Stellent Content Server provides a single point of storage and management for the entire set of enterprise content. Not only this helps eliminate duplicate copies of content but also helps people from outside the work group or project to find the information they looking for. Unlike conventional search engines such as Google and Yahoo, where you're looking throughout the entire content of documents, Stellent content server allows you to define and search for business specific metadata fields like project name, cost center or document type such as project plan and other relevant and intuitive data.

On the other end of the spectrum, Stellent metadata fields need to be properly planned and managed. If you notice contributors filling in garbage into your the checkin form - your metadata model is due for a checkup. Garbage entered into required fields will be diluting existing valid entries making it harder to find information and discourage other contributors from entering valid data into those fields. In a matter of weeks, years worth of metadata may become contaminated and require massive cleansing efforts to recover.