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SharePoint and mstore: A 2-part paper by Paul Grant & Neil Maude (Part 1)

SharePoint and mstore: A 2-part paper by Paul Grant & Neil Maude (Part 1)

Benefits of EDM

Arena are sometimes asked to consider other Electronic Document Management Software (EDMS) alongside its own software, mstore.

mstore is built and updated by our in-house software development team, ensuring best practice and chance for bespoke solutions for the ease of document workflow and compliance processes in businesses. For those new to mstore, we have written some key features implemented in the latest update, version 4.

While Arena are very successful in installing its own software, mstore, this does not mean that we are against other software such as SharePoint. Far from it – we’re a Microsoft Gold Partner, we use SharePoint ourselves in-house, and we have deployed many solutions where the mstore EDMS works hand-in-hand with SharePoint. In short, we like SharePoint! 

However, it is important to understand some of the subtle details in order to make an informed decision so you have a better understanding of which product is right for your organisation.

SharePoint and mstore

First of all, SharePoint is – like most Microsoft products – a toolkit that creates solutions. This is great in terms of creating a rich ecosystem, and many companies have built successful software business models using SharePoint as a base - just like Arena has done with data capture tools, which feed into SharePoint.

However, this means that document management isn’t “solved” by simply buying SharePoint. We’ve seen many IT managers fall into the trap of deploying SharePoint and hand it over to their business as a solution – the problem with this is that the business is left to define structures and information governance within this toolkit, and usually they just don’t have the skillsets required. This is why there is such a large industry in SharePoint consultancy. It’s not uncommon for a low initial cost of SharePoint deployment to turn into a nasty surprise when the costs of additional third party work is considered.

This is in contrast to an EDM solution, which is provided as just that – a solution, not a tool.  To illustrate this, below are examples of the standard search screens in a (fairly) out-of-the-box SharePoint installation and a sector-specific mstore solution.

SharePoint gives you search tools – but it’s quite unstructured. You need to first be able to know quite a bit about what you’re looking for. And, critically, there’s no structure imposed around how documents are going to be stored. Of course, this can be built, but this takes time and specialist skills – and the chances are that many IT departments and businesses won’t have these analysis skills.

In contrast, Arena’s mstore solution comes with a pre-configured structure in place. This example is from the education sector, where Arena can provide a turn-key solution with structure, referencing, and best practice document retention tools – which comes with practical experience of hundreds of installations on top of best practice guidelines. In other sectors, this structure may be pre-built or created as part of the project to implement the EDMS. mstore also walks users through processes, using concepts familiar in the paper world that are relevant to their work and the information being held. This makes the system much easier to use, and is potentially more readily-adopted by the user community.

So, when considering SharePoint versus mstore, the first questions to ask are:

  1. If implementing SharePoint, who in your organisation will define your information storage (“information architecture”) needs and do they have the necessary skills?
  2. If these skills are not present, how will this be done and what will that cost on top of the initial SharePoint licenses purchase?
  3. Will the end solution be easy to use (and how can you tell without having seen it in advance)?

Screenshots

SharePoint

Figure 1: Searching in SharePoint – a single screen solution

mstore


Figure 2: Searching in mstore - note the familiar concept of “cabinets”



Figure 3a & 3b: Searching in mstore - structure is already in place, guiding the user

Complications with third parties

A second question to consider is whether SharePoint contains all the features you will want to use. As previously mentioned, there is a rich ecosystem of add-ons for SharePoint, and for good reason. SharePoint has evolved over time, but Microsoft – as part of their strategy to build ecosystems of software vendors and developers – are not intending to provide a turn-key solution, which means there will always be a space left for third parties. 

For example, there are several tools available to deliver workflow functionality in SharePoint (Nintex, K2, Plumsail).  Scanning tools such as KnowledgeLake are also common bolt-ons used to complete a SharePoint solution. This highlights an additional problem – as SharePoint evolves from one version to another (i.e. 2010, to 2013, to cloud), the user needs to make sure that bolt-ons are also migrated, which isn’t always possible.

Below are extracts from recent discussions within the AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management) community forums, in response to the question: We’d like to create some workflows in SharePoint, any tips?

…one consideration you need to be aware.  In some cases SP2013 workflows do not work for certain actions … then you need to switch to SP2010 workflows … there are actions and steps in which you need additional functionality … for companies that cannot afford Nintex we use Plumsail…”

… in SharePoint 2013 we have two workflow engines running…”

In regards to this, additional questions to ask would be:

  1. What scope of functions are required – both now and in the future?
  2. Will your organisation need specialist advice on what’s possible?
  3. If using bolt-on additional 3rd party solutions to SharePoint, what can be done to protect that investment and avoid being stuck at a point in time because it isn’t possible to upgrade?

The alternative to this would be an EDMS solution from a specialist vendor – who, as part of the initial project, can advise on required features and can provide a future roadmap. There is considerable simplicity to be gained from a single vendor solution of this kind, not least of which is that you only deal with one vendor if a problem was to arise!

The example above is around workflow tools, but the same applies to a number of aspects of document management functionality, including the following list (which is by no means exhaustive):

  • Scanning
  • E-mail integration
  • Extranet/security
  • Redaction, annotation, and previewing
  • Data migration (in and out)
  • Document lifecycle management (retention, disposal, records declaration, and integrity management)

Find out more in the second-part of our 2-part paper.

Are you considering a more robust, bespoke Electronic Document Management Solution? You can call our team on 0344 863 8005 or visit http://www.mstore-edm.co.uk/

Already an mstore customer? Be a part of the conversation. Join our user group today.

About the authors

Paul Grant

Account Manager

Tel: 0344 863 8000 | Email: PaulG@arenagroup.net

Neil Maude

Electronic Document Management General Manager

Tel: 0844 863 8000 | Email: NeilM@arenagroup.net

For article enquiries please email marketing@arenagroup.net

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