What SharePoint 2007 means for content management

Better integration with Microsoft Office and a management system based on Windows Workflow Foundation makes SharePoint 2007 a strong ECM offering, according to the Burton Group.

The third time is the charm for SharePoint 2007, at least when it comes to enterprise and Web content management, according to two Burton Group analysts.

In 2001, Office and SharePoint were quite separate. In the words of Burton Group analyst Guy Creese, "they were really different ways of looking at the world." Two years later, the products combined some lower-level functionality, but the content management server, or CMS, was still a separate product. With the third iteration, Office is a front end into SharePoint and the CMS server is there, along with a tiered architecture.

Moreover, Creese noted, files are no longer constrained to what he called "media-centric silos" -- documents in one system, Web content in another, and so on. "There's now enough content, and it's ubiquitous enough, that it's starting to come together. We're starting to see enterprises move toward process-centric systems," he said, adding that this has the benefit of more closely resembling everyday user tasks.

Creese and Karen Hobert, both Burton Group analysts specializing in collaboration and content strategies, highlighted the single media stack and other SharePoint 2007 content management improvements in a recent Burton Group telebriefing.

Thanks to its link to Office, SharePoint has always been very good at allowing users to create, store and distribute files. Microsoft beefed this up in V3 with support for blogs, wikis and RSS feeds, Creese said.

More attention, though, was paid to the processes of discovering, archiving and analyzing documents. For example, the Office development team incorporated search analytics from Microsoft Research, Creese noted. In addition, SharePoint's leveraging of SQL Server's business intelligence capabilities is a bit more user-friendly, he said. Underneath it all is a robust management layer that keeps everything straight by using Windows Workflow Foundation technology.

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Workflow support also makes its way into the new SharePoint Designer, one of two replacements for the design application Front Page. (The other is the Expression suite, which is viewed as an answer to Adobe's Illustrator, Flash and Photoshop.)

In this case workflow refers to the rules and conditions associated to lists or libraries within SharePoint. This is based on the notion that, for every action, there is a serial and parallel action that affects each user differently, Hobert said. A marketing director and a graphics designer may be working on the same campaign, she noted, but that does not mean they both receive the same access and permissions.

"With so many hands in the Web content management kitchen," the ability for developers and administrators to control who does what is critical, Hobert said. "That's where the contributor model comes in. It makes things easier to manage."

The combination of workflow and a single "media silo" in SharePoint 2007 should be enough to compel users of IBM and Oracle content management products to take a look at SharePoint, Creese concluded: "SharePoint is a view to the future of what's going to happen."

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