Q&A: Making ECM a Part of Every Information Worker’s Reality

REDMOND, Wash., May 15, 2006 – As the first SharePoint Conference kicks off in Bellevue, Wash., and vendors from around the world gather in Philadelphia for the annual Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) event, PressPass spoke with Jeff Teper, general manager of the Office SharePoint Server group at Microsoft. Teper, whose team is ramping up for the beta 2 release of Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, explains how and why enterprise content management (ECM) came to be a key focus of the new SharePoint Server platform, and discusses the benefits that customers and Microsoft’s industry partners can expect to see from the innovations that the company is delivering.

PressPass: What’s driving Microsoft to invest in enterprise content management (ECM)?

Teper: There is tremendous – yet still unrealized – opportunity for technology to step up and provide a cohesive system for managing information, both information that is in the heads of an organization’s employees, and information flying around in documents, e-mails and other materials that employees create. Organizations want tools to help them manage and control the vast volumes of information that accumulate over the years. Industry analysts estimate that information workers spend as much as 30 percent of their working day just looking for information they need. Currently, most organizations spend a great deal of time and energy rolling out an ECM solution and strategy, only to discover that its adoption throughout the organization is very low, due both to siloed implementations and to low usage, even in departments where ECM solutions have been deployed.

PressPass: What is Microsoft’s vision for ECM?

Teper: We want to enable all of a company’s information workers to participate in its ECM strategy, using desktop tools that are already familiar to them, such as Microsoft Office and SharePoint technologies. That way, they won’t have to learn to use new tools or change the way they typically work – either of which can be a barrier to adoption. Our vision for ECM also includes providing an integrated platform that partners and developers can use as a basis for creating value-added services and products. Solutions built on top of our platform can extend our base-level ECM capabilities to meet the specific needs of vertical industries, as well as help organizations comply with certain regulations. To that end, we’re making our platform extensible for developers to customize through familiar tools such as the Microsoft Visual Studio development system.

A huge part of our ECM strategy is to search for information wherever it lives – on your desktop, in e-mail, anywhere on your network or on the Internet. We’ve made dramatic investments in SharePoint Search – not just for searching SharePoint but also file and Web servers, Lotus Notes and a variety of systems. This includes big improvements in search relevance and support for Search Alerts and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds so you can stay up to date.

PressPass: Can you explain how ECM benefits customers?

Teper: An ECM solution can address certain specific problems — for example, making it easier for employees to find, consume and reuse the information that they typically need to get their work done; helping to ensure that the organization is in consistent compliance with government regulations, such as Sarbanes-Oxley or HIPAA; and managing content in a way that reduces the legal risks caused by documents that are prematurely destroyed or e-mails that aren’t retained according to a proscribed business schedule.

Before we started developing the 2007 platform, we met with hundreds of customers who had tried to deploy document management technology broadly for knowledge management and compliance, and we found that one of the biggest barriers was usability. Users were frustrated with forms popping up to fill out or confused about the process attached to a document. With the 2007 Office system as a whole, we’ve made this a seamless part of the experience. Just a few examples are the metadata is part of the document frame and pre-populated where possible, there’s a prominent bar highlighting workflow and rights management status and workflow tasks get automatically added to your Outlook tasks.

We also see ECM as a way for customers to automate some paper-based processes. For example, customers can use workflow and forms capabilities to automate credit-card processing, thereby reducing the time it takes to get that work done. Another key application we see for ECM has to do with providing a single infrastructure for organizations to publish their content through intranet sites, extranet sites and Internet sites. Once organizations start using their content as a business asset, they can derive value by driving customer satisfaction and keeping employees informed.

PressPass: What are some examples of ECM scenarios that Microsoft hopes to enable for customers?

Teper: The ECM scenarios that we intend to enable through SharePoint Server 2007 will vary depending on an organization’s existing business processes and needs. For example, a company could implement an ECM solution in the context of document management, records management, Web-content management or process automation – either as discrete solutions or in some combination. But regardless of an organization’s specific requirements, what we hope to enable goes back to the main tenet of our vision, which is to make ECM broadly available throughout the organization. If we look at this from a document-management perspective, our goal is to ensure that the people creating and using content today have a seamless experience — from the authoring environment, to storing that content in a place where it can be managed in compliance with government regulations, to maintaining easy access to resources like built-in workflows, to enabling simple routing of documents for approval or digital signing. We’re also looking to enable scenarios where end users or business units have the flexibility and autonomy to create and publish content to Web sites without having to go through a central IT department, which typically delays the process. And over and above everything, we aim to make the experience user-friendly by providing access to ECM from within desktop applications, which allows people to work in a familiar environment.

PressPass: Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server 2003 supports basic document management capabilities. What are you doing that’s new?

Teper: We’ve made a number of investments in our existing product that bring ECM capabilities to life in SharePoint Server 2007. For example, with regard to document management, we now enable an organization to have a scalable, central repository where people can browse and find content and have a consistent way of tagging that content with the right metadata. We designed the repository to potentially hold millions of documents and records. We’ve also increased the emphasis on secure content by providing item-level security, as well as providing integration with our Rights Management Server, which helps ensure that content continues to be protected even when it’s downloaded from a repository and shared with others. In addition, we’ve developed workflow capabilities that are integrated throughout the platform, and we provide a number of workflows out of the box that take advantage of our Windows Workflow Foundation. Using a workflow, for example, a person can easily submit a newly created document for review, approval and digital signing. In addition, through SharePoint Designer 2007, we provide a way for customers to create new workflows that map to their specific business processes or needs. We’ve also made a completely new investment in records management. Organizations can now create a central repository where records are protected from modification or deletion, as well as a place where records managers can configure a retention policy for various types of records for compliance purposes.

Another significant change we’ve made is merging the Web-content management functionality of our Content Management Server 2002 product onto the SharePoint Server 2007 foundation. The primary benefit for customers is a consistent experience in terms of how content is checked in and out, how a version history is kept, how a workflow is applied, how rights management is applied, and so forth – whether they’re working with documents or Web content. These Web-content management capabilities are designed to scale up to high-use Web sites, enabling an organization to accommodate millions of users hitting the sites.

PressPass: What advantage does merging the Web-content management capabilities of Content Management Server 2002 into SharePoint Server 2007 have for customers?

Teper: Having a single solution for authoring and publishing Web content as well as documents benefits customers in many ways. It provides authors of Web content the same library functions such as check-in/check-out and versioning, as well as the same workflow and search capabilities that are currently available to authors of documents. The benefit for IT is that they now only have to deploy and manage a single solution for document management and Web content management and not have to worry about disparate implementations. With that in mind, we’ll continue to invest in the Web content management arena, and all of the functionality in Content Management Server 2002 will now be available as part of the integrated ECM offering that we’re delivering through SharePoint Server 2007. We’re also adding more Web content management capabilities to the SharePoint Server 2007 platform. Examples include a new authoring tool that enables business users to create sophisticated-looking Web content without having to learn HTML or other complex authoring tools, and server-side conversions that let users author content in Microsoft Word, for example, and have it be converted directly to HTML. We are also working to deliver a variety of tools to help existing Content Management Server 2002 customers migrate to the new platform.

PressPass: What role do you see ECM playing in the forthcoming SharePoint Server 2007 platform?

Teper: SharePoint Server 2007 is moving beyond intranet portals to become a unified platform for information management and collaboration. We’re delivering significant ECM functionality as part of the new release, and ECM in turn is part of an integrated set of enterprise-class capabilities that meet business-critical needs. The integration between ECM, search, workflow, collaboration and the ability to create and publish forms-based processes makes SharePoint Server 2007 a solid foundation for extending the investments that an organization makes in ECM.

PressPass: What differentiates Microsoft’s ECM solution from ECM solutions offered by other vendors?

Teper: The biggest difference is the tight integration between our ECM offering and the Microsoft Office desktop suite. We believe that exposing ECM capabilities through familiar tools, along with our emphasis on ease of use, will help users adopt ECM much more quickly. Also, we decided early on in the product development cycle to build a set of integrated ECM components from the ground up. So instead of offering customers a set of disparate systems, as many ECM vendors do, we’re providing an ECM suite with a common repository and a common set of services like workflow, metadata, IRM (Information Rights Management) and so forth that apply consistently across document management, Web-content management, records management and forms management. We see this as a big advantage for IT departments that roll out our ECM solution, because they will only have to work with a single set of tools, irrespective of the type of applications they deploy, plus they have a consistent architecture and topology for implementation.

Another differentiator is the synergy we’ve created between ECM and digital rights management solutions by integrating rights-management capabilities with our ECM offering. Customers who need to preserve their intellectual property, keep information confidential or maintain data privacy from the perspective of regulation compliance can use these capabilities to ensure that their content is protected, not only when it’s in the repository but also when that content is downloaded onto an employee’s hard drive or attached to an e-mail. And with XPS (the XML Paper Specification, a new file format that will be available as part of Microsoft Windows Vista and as a new “Save as” option in the Microsoft Office 2007 release), that same level of protection can be extended beyond Microsoft Office documents and applied to many other types of documents.

PressPass: In delivering an ECM solution, Microsoft seems to be entering territory that formerly belonged solely to its industry partners. What do partners say to this?

Teper: Our ECM offering is designed in such a way that we provide a lot of extensibility mechanisms for partners to build value-added solutions and services on top of our base platform. The response from partners has been very good. Today, we are working with many partners who are not only providing ECM solutions themselves but also building other products and services that relate to an overall ECM solution. We’ve had highly positive conversations with these partners in terms of the roles they see themselves playing in this model.

PressPass: Given that companies typically need to archive and manage many types of content, can you speak to the issue of file-format support in Microsoft’s ECM solution?

Teper: Our ECM offering supports a plurality of file formats because we want to provide organizations with a solution to manage all of their content, today and in the future. We recognize that customers have different needs, and our goal is to provide a single platform that lets them do what they want to do with their content, when they want to do it. Our agnostic approach to file formats encompasses not only Word documents and Excel spreadsheets but also XML, PDF and XPS files. For example, with the Open XML formats that our new Office applications are using, we enable customers to tag certain sections of their documents with XML, which then allows those sections to be reused and reassembled as other content.

PressPass: What role does the XPS file format play in an ECM scenario?

Teper: XPS is essentially a blueprint for describing electronic papers, so that you can specify how a document looks and feels on your computer screen as well as in print form. And because it’s described in XML, it offers the same level of open, cross-platform capabilities you’ve come to expect form XML-based formats, enabling customers to effortlessly create, share, print and archive paginated documents. We’ve talked a lot as a company about the benefits that XPS provides as a part of Windows Vista, but XPS is also a key part of our ECM strategy, and SharePoint Server 2007 will natively support XPS as part of its ECM platform. With XPS, we enable an organization to extend the key capabilities that we provide for Office documents, such as content protection, rights management and digital signing, to many other types of document formats. For example, using the XPS format, CAD drawings can be protected and managed as easily as Office documents. The XPS format also has portability benefits. Once documents that use the XPS format get published, that content can be available for browsing and viewing on various platforms and Web browsers without users needing to have the full application on their desktop. The experience of using an XPS Viewer will be similar to the way users view PDF files virtually anywhere today using a standardized reader.

PressPass: How should customers go about evaluating various ECM systems?

Teper: Customers should begin by asking themselves how they will get end users to adopt the ECM solution they’ve deployed, because that will make or break their return on investment. Organizations should think about how much impact an ECM system will have on the way people are accustomed to working today, and whether it will require them to learn new tools and technologies before they can take advantage of the ECM strategy. Another question customers should consider is how well their ECM system can be integrated into their overall infrastructure, including their databases, middleware, collaboration suite and other elements that are already in place. It’s very important that customers choose an ECM solution that’s well integrated, not only in terms of having its components built on a common repository and services, but also how extensible it is and how interoperable it is with regard to supporting Web services and industry standards.

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