Friday, 23 April 2010

More SharePoint 2010 seminars and learning

It's been a busy couple of days ! Yesterday morning the Toronto AIIM Chapter held a MS sponsored event on the 'future of productivity' - mainly Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010. This morning was a longer session held by EnvisionIT at the Microsoft Canada offices in Mississauga. Strangely enough it was EnvisionIT who brought two early adopter SP2010 clients to the AIIM seminar as case studies too !

The opening part of the AIIM session was presented by Sam Fung and Savash Alic from Microsoft. It was a very high level overview of what's coming in the near to mid term. I have to say I was slightly disturbed by Savash' constant references to 'ease of use' for end users, how they could build this and build that. We all know how easy it is to build SharePoint sites, and it one organization I had as a consulting client, the resulting chaos of over 1,400 teams sites and portal sites was a vivid example of why unmanaged / ungoverned 'ease of use' can be a bad thing !

Anyway, new things that I had not seen before including the LookingGlass project, which appears to be social media analytics served up to the user via a customised SharePoint portal. There is also a data visualization tool from Live Labs called Pivot - you can check it out at

There was also mention of an Office Labs project called SISR - Social Inranet Search Ranking, but it does not seem to be mentioned on the Labs site at the moment. Basically it appears to be an enhancement to the SharePoint intranet search engines ranking algorithms to include social ranking (an OOB feature in SP2010).

Today at the EnvisionIT seminar it was the turn of ECM or the 'content' slice of the SP2010 'pie chart'. You can check out the Content section of the SharePoint 2010 site to see what Microsoft includes under this heading.

Interestingly the AIIM definition of ECM was used to set the scene, but if you have ever read this blog or my articles elsewhere, you will know that I do not consider MOSS2007 as an 'ECM platform' in any shape or form ! As far as I am concerned MOSS2007 is a Portal platform (similar to IBM WebSphere for example) with built in simple content, document management and collaboration features (and for developers it is of course a .Net development platform). It is simply missing too much functionality compared to EMC Documentum or OpenText ECM Suite (ex-LiveLink) for example, to be considered an ECM platform. Which is why the term 'Basic Content Services' was coined by Gartner to describe SharePoint (and other similarly limited products).

Which of course does not mean that MOSS2007 has not been a successful product ! It has it's niches in divisional level portals, collaboration workspaces (Team sites) and document centric collaboration. But as I work with it day in and day out, I find I am constantly frustrated by its limitations. Often those limitations can be overcome with a large dolop of cash for a third party add on, or custom development work, but in my organization (as in many I suspect) - "out of the box" is the current mantra.

So, what does SP2010 bring to the party ? Is it truly an ECM platform on a level playing field with the 'big boys' now ? Well, no, not in my opinion, but its got a lot of features that were required, and so its much better than it was - and therefore it might well be 'good enough' to meet your requirements.

New OOB Content Types for rich media have been added. So instead of the old 'picture library' you can now have a 'Digital Assets' library, but from what I have seen the Content Types do not as standard have the fields required by any of the industry standard digital asset metadata schemas (such as XMP), so I am guessing uploading an asset does not including removing any metadata from the file and auto-populating the SharePoint 'columns' with it. However, as I noted this is an improvement over MOSS, and elements such as being able to stream video from within the library (via built in SilverLight) will go over well in many intranet scenarios I suspect.

The new Unique Identifier feature, pretty much does what it says on the tin. Set up at the site collection level, you can provide some characters yourself for the beginning of the ID string, and then SP2010 will give each new content item its unique ID, which also happens to be a persistent URI, or 'permalink' able to point to the document wherever you move it within the SharePoint site.

Metadata management is much improved (thank goodness !). The new Managed Metadata Service allows structured hierarchical taxonomies to be created and shared across site collections. This CMS Wire article: "Overview: SharePoint 2010 Metadata and Taxonomy Management" by Stephanie Lemieux of Early and Associates, is an excellent introduction, so I don't need to repeat its content here. However as well as the 'managed' metadata features described by Stephanie, SP2010 allows 'user tagging' or a Folksonomy approach to metadata to be used as well. Finally, it provides a bridge between the two, allowing often used tags to be added to the official taxonomy. So, all of this is good, and much better than what was previously available, but even better in my opinion is the ability to set metadata at the folder level and have any content item uploaded into the folder inherit that metadata. Why is this such a good thing you ask ? Well because even though we information management professionals understand the importance of metadata, your average end user just see's it as an extra impediment to actually getting their work done. So if you can set it up so that as much metadata as possible can be inherited without human intervention - that is a good thing !

Records Management is also much improved, with possibly the biggest change being the 'manage in place' facility, which means you no longer have to send the potential record to a separate Records Centre (but you still can if you want to). Interesting on this front, at the AIIM seminar I bumped into a contact who used to be an RM specialist for the big Canadian consulting firm CGI. Tim has got together with some colleagues to create a start-up called OceanRoad Software, and they are developing a product which further extends the RM functionality of SharePoint. I wish them a lot of luck in their new venture.

In summary, SP2010 is still missing a lot of features of the big ECM suites. That might be countered with the argument that it is simpler to deploy and use, but I don't think that is always true either. However I am not actually intending this to sound like a negative review. I have a SP2010 demo disk, but I don't have enough memory on my iMac to install it on a Windows 7 VM, so it will be a while before I get to thoroughly kick the tires, and get under the hood. Meanwhile, my bottom line is what it has always been for MOSS2007 - don't blindly believe the SP2010 hype, sort out your requirements first, then talk to MS or its partners, and see if SP2010 will be a good fit for your requirements - you will either be slightly disappointed, or pleasantly surprised :-)

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