Insider Extra: Is SharePoint a DMS contender or merely the Monty Python’s Parrot of Legal IT?

MontyThis is an updated and extended version of the article that appears in today’s Legal IT Insider – and, in case you were wondering, the short answer is “yes”.
We’ve tried, we’ve really tried to be supportive of efforts to transform Microsoft SharePoint into a viable legal document management system.
Going right back to late 2001, when Elite first announced its SharePoint-based Encompass DMS/portal thingy, we’ve been keen to advocate SharePoint as alternative DMS platform.
We’ve even sat in meetings where Kool-Aid drinking Microsoft executives have described iManage WorkSite as a “parasite” for exploiting gaps in the Microsoft Windows/Word platform and promising it was “toast” because document management would eventually become an integral part of the wordprocessing and operating system environment via SharePoint.
Twelve years on, what do we see? To put it politely, SharePoint as a DMS is a flop and even Microsoft have stopped pretending it will ever meet the specialist needs of the legal market.
In the UK, the Sword Excalibur* product, which spun out of the Lewis Silkin DMS project, never took off and the firm is now talking to alternative SharePoint providers. In fact in recent years more UK law firms wanting an alternative to “traditional” DMS products have gone with Elite MatterSphere rather than SharePoint.
In the US, Miller Johnston, who had a very high profile SharePoint DMS implementation a few years ago – with the CIO winning several awards for the project, have quietly dropped SharePoint in favour of HP WorkSite. (The CIO has moved on.) And it was a similar story at Burr & Forman with a failed SharePoint implementation and WorkSite subsequently purchased to fill the DMS gap. Keith Lipman of Prosperoware adds that his company has carried out three WorkSite conversions with firms that had tried and failed with SharePoint.
In the EMEA market, the home to several SharePoint DMS specialists, both Hjort and Simonson Voght Wiig in Norway have swapped out SharePoint in favour of WorkSite, as has Glynn Marais in South Africa.
By way of redressing that balance, David Cunningham, the CIO of Winston & Strawn in Houston, told us “I agree that it’s not for everybody but we are committed to a SharePoint-based ECM (documents + records + email + search) to complement our SharePoint-based collaborative portal rolling out this year. We have assessed and dismissed existing SharePoint add-on solutions so are working with a group of firms to create the missing navigational elements we need. There will be some announcements later this year. Nothing is guaranteed at this stage but it would be a sad day to declare that the existing document management software is good enough when the market hasn’t yet solved the need to re-create the electronic client file.”
True, there was a possible tipping point about three years ago when the WorkSite business (although not the product) seemed to be in a bad place within the Autonomy empire and then there was all the controversy surrounding the HP acquisition. However the iManage team rode out these difficulties and now WorkSite is continuing to expand its market share.
Even with OpenText apparently in terminal decline, SharePoint has failed to make any inroads, with WorkSite the vendor of choice for Large Law and NetDocuments and Worldox (in the US) cornering the cloud and mid-tier corners of the market. As Ray Zwiefelhofer, the CEO of Worldox (who, incidentally, are currently developing their channel partnerships prior to a renewed push into the UK and European DMS sector) recently commented “We never run into SharePoint nor hear of any firms adopting it.”
Of course there will always be the exceptions to the rule who do opt for SharePoint, just as there are large firms who go with SAP rather than Elite or Aderant. (The “whacko iconoclasts” as Daniel Pollick of DLA Piper once famously described them.) Given the huge amount of time, money and resources that have already gone into the project, Microsoft and Clifford Chance look set to pursue their SharePoint DMS project to the bitter end. And, no doubt some smaller European firms (where lawyers do not share the Anglo-American Common Law obsession with documents) will go with their local SharePoint providers.
But that’s it. The dream is over. The reality is a modern legal market specific DMS needs so much specialist “stuff”, that it does not make financial sense to try and reinvent the wheel with SharePoint when there are existing products out there that will already do the job.
As a viable alternative legal DMS, SharePoint is an evolutionary cul-de-sac. To parrotphrase Monty Python, SharePoint is not a legal DMS, it’s kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible! It is an ex-DMS.
* One law firm CIO did tell us “I did give a good look at Sword ECM a while back and was quite impressed by it (mostly by how close it looked to WorkSite, to be fair). Keep in mind this was the completely rewritten Sword ECM and not what Terry and the Sword gang originally acquired. My team at (name of law firm deleted to avoid reprisals) could not say enough bad things about the original product and were pleasantly surprised by how far it had come.”