Tuesday, 21 October 2008

A true Information Management niche for MOSS ?

I read something (in paper form - remember paper? no links...) about using Sharepoint to remove user created Access databases from desktops and file shares, and it got me thinking.

This really could be one of MOSS' sweet spots (alongside departmental portal and workgroup DM), because as any Information Management professional will tell you, the good old' productivity war horse that is MS Office can cause all sorts of enterprise information management issues and problems. These include creating and running what turn into business critical 'applications' on MS Access, and running all your financials via an intricate system of linked MS Excel spreadsheets.

Now I am not bashing Access and Excel as tools, they are great for desktop analysis, rapid prototyping, all sorts of work, but they were never designed for putting very large data files onto file shares, and letting lots of users get used to them as their primary reporting or financial applications. I know that my last employer had nothing that could be called an 'ERP', no Oracle Financials or the such, and all sorts of financial information lived in Excel 'documents', and of course, one thing that all ECM / EDRM systems seem to struggle with is MS' embedded linking mechanisms (OK, in Documentum you can check out all of the linked sheets in one go, but come on....). This usually leads to comments like "well you could do it in the old 'fat client' but thats now deprecated in favour of the web client, erm' you could try enabling WebDav on your repository..."

As I am sure many other companies and organisations have done, when free, robust databases were delivered from the open source community, the chant went up "No to Access, use MySQL instead..." but lets be fair, the organisation had been running a 3 day 'end user development in Access' training course for years, so if you did not have a skilled MySQL geek (with PHP skills to build the web front end) in your department, that message was probably going to fall on deaf ears, at least for a while.

However from an enterprise IM viewpoint, I still think its better to move Access databases onto MySQL, Oracle, SQL Server, whatever you happen to have, and to have 'proper' financial systems instead of massess of linked Excel sheets, but perhaps MOSS can come to the rescue?

So, how does MOSS assist in this area, being the 'server' element of the 'Office' suite which it might be suggest has caused the problem in the first place ? Well because like any good portal platform it offers tools to allow users to access and work with information from various sources, and in this case those tools come in the form of:
Firstly then, if you don't want to, or cannot for some reason, break away from Excel sheets for anything other than desktop analysis, then at least get them up on a server, secured, properly backed up and managed. This is what Excel services allows you to do, its also a server side calculation and rendering capability, allowing users to interact with Excel data in their web browser.

According to MS the; "Business Data Catalog bridges the gap between the portal site and your business applications and enables you to bring in key data from various business applications to Office SharePoint Server 2007 lists, Web Parts, search, user profiles, and custom applications."

While its never as easy as the marketing makes out, if you can transfer 'mission semi-critical' (have I just coined a new term?) stuff from Access into a 'real' RDBMS and provide a nice Sharepoint portal provisioned front end, then 'Yay' enterprise information management wins another small victory....

So MOSS as the departmental / workgroup 'work in progress' or light weight document management solution (Basic Content Services has been used to describe this) reducing file share proliferation, and now as a 'server based' alternative to Excel and Access proliferation - it still does not add up to "ECM" in my opinion, but it sure could be useful !

Mind you if you have all the other 'bits' (InfoPath, Office Communications Server etc) you could even use collaboration features (blogs, wikis, forums), presence and Instant Messaging integration, and interactive forms and maybe actually reduce email traffic! But some serious organisational change management required there me thinks........

No comments: