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Roundtable sees Sharepoint as the future

Following on from the readers poll in the last issue of the Legal Technology Insider newsletter, Avanquest made Sharepoint the topic for debate at its most recent roundtable lunch for IT directors in London last week. The debate was led by independent consultant Neil Cameron and these are a summary of the main points to arise – and which tend to suggest there are currently more questions than answers.

•    Sharepoint is still perceived as all things to all men

•    One key point raised presented a multitude of not very clear answers – What exactly is your firm trying to achieve and do with Sharepoint?

•    Many IT Ddrectors felt that Sharepoint was or will become one of the few IT solutions that present a real test for IT to really listen and understand what the business needs and wants

•    Nearly everyone agreed that level of freedom of speech and interaction or even anarchy, Sharepoint could bring the benefits of Sharepoint into doubt WITHOUT clearly defined and policed policy’s and guidelines for use, CONTROL of use is key to maximise the benefits of Sharepoint but who will create these policies, IT, HR, partners?

•    How can firms who could rely completely on Sharepoint as their portal and access to a variety of key applications deal with Business Continuity and DR for Sharepoint???

•    It was clear that Enterprise Search was and is a key area of concern for many firms, will they continue in the future to store data in application specific silos with their own indexing and searching capabilities or will there be one Enterprise Search function for everything that enables users to find anything anywhere from their Sharepoint portal?


•    Some felt quite strongly that Sharepoint is and will continue to enable them to reduce the number of bespoke and niche applications they need

•    From Microsoft’s perspective Sharepoint is their number one business application in terms of sales, with over 100 million Sharepoint licenses, that’s one in 20 MS licensed PCs in the world using  Sharepoint!

•    One prominent IT Director guaranteed that in 5 years there would be no DMS as we know it today instead this would all be done through and using Sharepoint.  Neil Cameron Predicated that fairly soon any enterprise portal/intranet will be run with Sharepoint

•    The biggest issue for Sharepoint to be used as a DMS or any other document related application is version control which out of the box is totally unworkable for the Legal Sector, yes 3rd parties are starting to address this but right now it is a big issue for firms. A few have had to write something themselves to address this issue

•    Microsoft defined SharePoint as an Information Management Platform – it is a toolset with which a firm can create a multitude of applications.

•    It was generally agreed that the vendors to have/are/will suffer from SharePoint are: 1) Portal vendors 2) Web Content Management solutions 3) Workflow solutions

•    There are no (or no good) Blackberry integrations with SharePoint at the moment.

•    A key reason many firms were looking so closely at SharePoint was because it can significantly reduce their ongoing software maintenance costs.

•    In addition to the point above recruiting staff with SharePoint skills is and will continue to be easier than recruiting people with specific application skills.

9 replies on “Roundtable sees Sharepoint as the future”

In response to the discussion points around the future of SharePoint as a DMS; Open Text launched Legal Information Management, SharePoint Edition at LegalTech last month. This has been developed in conjunction with Microsoft and is not an extension of its eDOCS platform, but a system built on SharePoint for core DM functionality.
Open Text believes that one single solution is not necessarily appropriate for all law firms. For this reason, it offers the market the choice to select best fit for firm’s enterprise content management needs, in line with its IT initiatives.
With regards as to how Legal Information Management specifically addresses version control, it features an advanced document referencing capability that associates each document with a unique identifier. Essentially, documents can “live” in a single place, but allow a reference to that document to be shared across matter sites and systems. Any changes to the document are reflected across all references, thereby eliminating the problems of collaborating on multiple instances of a document and ensuring that all parties have the latest version of a given file. Additionally, individual versions of documents can be classified separately to help maximise the accuracy and effectiveness of the firm’s records management program.
Microsoft and Open Text have published a joint whitepaper on Legal Information Management. It can be found at
http://www.opentext.com/download/userinfo.html?guid={ABC56924-F06D-4D5F-8874-45F13FE2F314}&sfc=&path=product/legalkey/sharepoint-legal-information-management-whitepaper.pdf

Now now ! If you are having a pop put your name so they can shoot back ! Its only fair !
All I know is that I can't wait to bring Handshake software's DM Director for SharePoint to the UK market on 1 May this year. It's been though its beta in the USA and launched there with great interest.
At £99 a seat I was expecting it not to compete with Interwoven and Opentext – but I am being proved wrong by the techies in Tallahassee! See http://www.handshakesoftware.com for more.
To be fair, (espicially with Charles vetting posts) I have to say in true BBC fashion, that there are other offerings that extend the use of DM in sharepoint at this price point, some from as far away as Canada and Australia ; but HS in my view has the best client and matter centric approach.
David Gallagher
http://www.Saturn27.com

“Open Text is one of our premier content management partners and together we are delivering solutions that enable organizations to use business information to achieve strategic advantage. I expect that Open Text will continue to play an important role in our product development efforts aimed at creating new content management technologies that will help our customers optimize business processes, reduce costs, and utilize information in increasingly powerful ways.”
— Bill Gates, Chairman, Microsoft
Probably no old BBC news quote available as to how he communicates…

I suppose someone from Interwoven will now reply that Microsoft has more premier content management partners than there are stars in the sky but the sub-text seems to be that the long term future for companies like Open Text is as resellers/customisers of Sharepoint.

I agree with the impression that SharePoint is perceived as all things to all men and I believe that this is largely attributable to the diverse range of capabilities it encompasses. In my view, asking “what is the business solution SharePoint provides” is like asking “what is the business solution Windows 2008 Server provides”.
It certainly has some major shortcomings in the DM context, but it has to be said that the vast majority of those (unique referencing, copying/linking, deduplication, and metadata profile inheritance) are actually fairly easily resolved within its customization framework.
I only know Handshake reasonably superficially, and it certainly seems to provide some interesting capabilities to *integrate* with existing DM systems. But if your objective is to use SharePoint for DM and you have more than a couple of hundred users, even at £99/seat it starts to look expensive compared to just solving the limitations directly. I know that there's the maintenance questions, but TCO-wise DM Director does seem to be exploiting a lack of understanding and expertise – very wise and intelligent of them, but not so great for the customer.
I wish the “techies in Tallahasse” good luck – their first mover advantage deserves credit. But I think that soon customers will find the people who know how to solve the real business problems with SharePoint and many of these technical limitations will be put into context.

On the whole, and looking at a technical level, I do tend to agree with Chris Lee – there will come a time when knowledge of 'what lies behind the curtain' in Sharepoint 2007 a.k.a. MOSS will become more widespread, and the understanding of how to use customisations to address the gaps in Sharepoint for legal DM will allow more and more of the most technically astute folks to address these issues.
However we are seeing that 'Sharepoint DM' has a large appeal to law firms who are not 'magic circle', 'chasing pack' or 'regional giants' and do not carry the kind of technical expertise in house to address these issues. In the same way that law firms (of all sizes) have shied away from writing and maintaining their own unique custom web parts for information retrieval and consolidation into Sharepoint, then we will see that they will want a solution to Sharepoint Legal DM without paying internal IT staff or others to re-design the wheel when they can already buy a ready made bicycle.
And the reason that firms want a bicycle rather than a wheel is that they want to get somewhere and address real needs in order to deliver real benefits.
The main issues we have faced in the past are the consolidation of diverse document sources into one collaborative space where functionality is not restricted to just working with documents.
Sharepoint obviously adds huge benefit to non-DM collaborative working, but without large and expensive customisation and duplication it ignores the large amount of DM assets and knowledge already in place in existing document libraries and also the existing hierarchical metadata within organisations.
Some of the real issues that things like Handshake can already address include:
1 – Consolidation of document sources. Combination of document libraries from existing DM systems and geographically and logically seperate Sharepoint libraries into one collaboration environment within Sharepoint. This tackles the need to combine existing DM and Knowledge assets with work-in-progress collaboration documents; ideal for deal rooms and extranets. And you get all the Sharepoint non-document collaboration features as well.
2 – Creation of logical library structures and security layers by re-purposing existing data (something Handshake has always been good at). At present Sharepoint document libraries have no logical layers; Handshake brings logical library layers to Sharepoint from existing data in law firms other systems (PMS, CRM etc) as well as applying appropriate security based on such metadata. For example a Sharepoint library may be created at matter level, but this approach allows logical grouping at client level (or the other, or any, way around) with appropriate security, but without having to create a new 'physical' Sharepoint library or having to create new security groupings to cope with things like ethical walls.
We all know these things are technically possible. After all 'the boys in Tally' have done it.
But I'm not sure law firms will wait, and pay, for their staff to chisel away at a block of stone to make a wheel when the firm next door is cycling down the road with the client on the handlebars.

Mixed metaphors are fine – human beings can be flexible … now mixed metadata is another question!

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