Monday, 3 September 2007

eRoom versus Sharepoint

There has been some discussion in the blogosphere about EMC’s strategy ref MS Sharepoint (MOSS 2007), the new Documentum integrations with Sharepoint and where eRoom fits into the picture, including a new comparison by Laurence over at Word of Pie, so this is my own take on the whole thing.

I do not have first hand experience of MOSS 2007, which is possibly not a good place to start ! I do have experience of SharePoint Portal Server 2003, including setup, configuration and administration. I also have experience with eRooms Enterprise 7.3, which is part of the Open University ECM system.


OK, firstly, why does EMC’s product strategy seem a little confused on the whole working with Microsoft as a partner, versus competing against Microsoft in the collaboration space ? Well how about because EMC is a very big company, with lots of divisions, and I have to say from bitter personal experience, it occasionally appears that the right hand does not communicate too well with the left hand……. that apart, some will say you can still be both partner and competitor with the same third party in today's complex business environment.

MS Sharepoint is a phenomena whether you like it or not. Thus AIIM has dedicated a blog and a multi-city seminar tour to this subject. Plus many ECM vendors have decided not to fight MS on this turf, but instead to use Sharepoint in the portal role as an alternative front end to their ‘proper ECM’ systems at the back end. This has led to all sorts of confusing messages about Sharepoint providing “Basic Content Services” (could we not have picked a different acronym, as a BCS is already a Business Classification Schema!) whilst ‘real’ ECMS provide the more sophisticated features.

However we digress, back to collaboration features and Sharepoint versus eRoom. On a feature by feature comparison, the two products look pretty evenly matched. I decided to borrow some generic headings from a third party rather than direct from MS, so this is from BlueArc and is based around their view of Sharepoint for collaboration, and my take on where eRoom fits in their categories

Improve team productivity

  • Give users the ability to create and control their own collaborative workspaces. Make it easy for teams to adapt workspaces to the needs of the project - eRoom does this too, with devolved , easy to manage roles based access

  • Manage projects more efficiently with the project tsk list template. Visualise task relationships and project status with automated Gantt charts – yep, eRoom provides built in Project Management tool and also has an MS Project “Viewer” which allows users who don’t have a copy of MS Project to view Project files.

  • Coordinate teamwork with shared calendars, alerts and notifications. Connect team calendars to the desktop with Microsoft Office Outlook® 2007 – eRoom also connects / synchronises calendars and task lists to your Outlook

  • Communicate with team members in context using presence and instant messaging – eRoom has IM via its very simple ‘intercom’ tool, or proper integrations to get full IM and presence information.

  • Make it easy to include and work with team members from outside the organization – eRoom allows authentication against LDAP sources, or allows an administrator to create accounts directly on the eRoom system – ideal for ad hoc collaboration with external contributors.

Author, review and publish documents

  • Use document workspaces to streamline the document creation process – eRoom allows you to do this, and even better if you have eRoom Enterprise gives you the linked folders capability, allowing users to push content into a Documentum Content Server repository.

  • Enable disconnected participation with offline support – I admit this one is not so easy with an eRoom !

  • Manage the document lifecycle with integrated Enterprise Content Management (ECM) capabilities – see above, but do they mean Sharepoint integrating with other third party ECMS, or is this a rather over-blown description of the ‘document libraries’ feature ?

Streamline people-driven business processes

  • Deploy standard site templates to improve common people driven processes like issue tracking – eRooms can be templated

  • Drive out process variation with workflow – simple workflow can be achieved in an eRoom, or the eRoom can be part of a tightly integrated process based application when integrated with Content Server.

  • Create collaborative applications using integrated application development capabilities – eRoom even uses the same MS technologies, .net and Active Server Pages to achieve this.

Create, capture and share community knowledge

  • Broadcast information with blogs and Really Simple Syndication (RSS)
  • Capture community knowledge with wikis.
  • Encourage dialogue with surveys and discussions.

Ok, you will notice no comments appended against the last 3. I have spent the Product Advisory Forums at Momentum Anaheim (2006) and Orlando (2007) asking for out of the box integrated RSS in eRoom, and I think this is its biggest deficit at the moment – but to be honest how many organizations have really grasped enterprise RSS so far ?

As for Blogs and Wiki’s – well, horses for courses. You could be using a blog or wiki instead of an eRoom, if those tools that fit your requirements better. To be honest if you could easily (i.e. out of the box GUI configuration) change the eRoom discussion forums to post comments “the other way up” i.e. blog style, last posting at the top, you could use a forum as a blog. Also if you want to (and we do some of this) you can use the ‘page’ object in an eRoom and let multiple people edit it – instant simple Wiki page (OK, I know I am pushing the boundaries on that one……).

However in my opinion eRoom has plenty of stuff that’s advantageous over Sharepoint as a collaboration product. Its easier to administer (in a sys admin context), its designed for project teams from the outset – so for instance once a project is complete, you can export and entire eRoom as an XML file and store it as a record (I know big U.S. law firms that do this), It also has its synchronous meetings module, giving shared whiteboarding, Powerpoint presentations, shared apps and desktops etc.

Finally, in the Documentum D6 universe (coming soon…..) eRoom really becomes a Microsoft .net based interface to the Documentum Content Server system, providing a full integration, so that for instance, all your collaboration objects in the eRoom could be placed under seamless (and invisible to the end user) records management.

In conclusion, as a stand alone, web based collaborative workspace system, I think eRoom beats MOSS 2007, with its Portal, Document Management, Web Content Management bi-polar confusion. Is Sharepoint a “jack of all trades and master of non” – only time will tell.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've not seen the ability to export an entire eRoom as an XML file. Can you point me to how this is done?

Thanks.
HJ

Jed Cawthorne said...

Dear HJ

I dont currently have access to an eRoom system, I shall consult with colleagues and get back to you.

Jed

Tony said...

Sirs,

We have developed a Tool to migrate eRoom to Sharepoint seamlessly no matter how big is your eRoom implementation. If interested please email me at tmannem@gmail.com