Categories
Latest News

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

This is an updated and extended version of the article that appears in today’s Legal IT Insider – and, in case you are 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. 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.

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.”

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

In September 2003 our firm installed iManage MailSite (WorkSite) for the first time at a Dutch law firm. A DMS was new, the product offered improved search (metadata fixed to 16 fields) and e-mail integration in Outlook. Ten years later the company Autonomy was sold for the fourth time to a new owner, this time for 10 billion+ dollar.

SharePoint 2007 offered Metadata using Content Types, SharePoint 2010 improved the scalibility (64 bit),
SharePoint 2013 added FAST Enterprise level search.

If you use third-party tools on top of SharePoint 2013, that get the 100+ small details of creating a Legal DMS right, then SharePoint is a proper Legal DMS.

But SharePoint is not only a DMS, it is an application platform, an intranet, an extranet and a true collaboration platform.

The legacy DMS functions were special in 2003, but their functions are commoditizing in 2013+, SharePoint has all the components required to become a Legal DMS, if the right recipe is applied to this platform.

This polly is deceased, it is no more, it is an ex-parrot. Lets not pretend it isn’t. Lets not nail its feet to the bar and pretend it is alive.

Surely there is something logically dodgy about posing a question in the form ‘Is it A or is it B?’ and then saying ‘the short answer is “yes”‘.

I tend to agree with Tom …
And anyone who posts a definitive Yes or No, under the guise of Anonymous is either hiding something or has nothing to contribute.

And the big unanswered elephant in the room is “Just what is wrong with SharePoint as a Legal DMS?”

As someone who has worked with SharePoint since 2001 (SharePoint Team Services 1.0, SP2007, SP2010 and now SP2013), while working in a law firm that uses OpenText eDOCS (since before I arrived in 2000), the main difference to me, is that it does things a different way (e.g. versioning). And we all know lawyers hate change…

Any other shortfalls are pretty much covered off by 3rd Party add-ins and minor customisation/development work.

And before you scream “Why should we have to use 3rd Party add-ins?”, if I recall correctly, many (if not most) of the more useful parts of the likes of iManage/Worksite and eDOCS have been bought/licenced from 3rd parties (e.g. ELM for eDOCS).

Just my 2c on the matter…

Thank you – and your last point is very valid as there is a whole industry out there supplying WorkSite add-ons, utilities etc

Check out MacroView DMF. We use it on top of Sharepoint it doesn’t fall short of HP worksite in terms of functions. Sharepoint has co-authoring which is great!
And i think there is a big price difference between sharepoint and a monoploy software.

We’ve included this comment even tho it’s pretty spammy and the writer is anonymous – and also doesn’t know how to spell the word “foreign”. Or maybe the writer just means MacroView is the DMS of choice for semi-literate anonymous lawyers?

my tweet from 2011 – nuff said

‘200 year old newspapers now online- apparently 1 of the headlines is “SharePoint to deliver robust DMS soon”:) http://bbc.in/sagY1A #legalit’

Worksite, while powerful, has all the usability of a turd. It’s strengths are its weaknesses. SharePoint seems to provide what is needed for a DMS in a far simpler, cheaper package. Also, there are so many people working on Sharepoint systems the support you can get, for free, is virtually limitless. Yes there are issues with SharePoint, but there are also issues with Worksite. Worksite costs a bomb and requires specialised support which is itself costly. Others have already pointed this out, but SharePoint is a starting point that you can use to custom build whatever you want. With Filesite you get what’s in the box.

Comments are closed.