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Sharepoint as a DMS, security and other stuff

With the debate about the merits of Microsoft Sharepoint as a document management system continuing to rumble on, here are a collection of readers' emails and comments that have arrived over the last few days, particularly with regards to security and search…

Karl Swartzedruber, the applications developer with US law firm Dickinson Wright says “I have no stake in any SharePoint or DMS cause, I’m just a small-time developer and financial systems guy at 250-attorney firm that adopted SP in the last 3 years, and is still struggling to get up to speed with SP2007, let alone SP2010. We transitioned from Lotus Notes, and the cultural adjustment to Microsoft is far from complete. My interest in this is long range – there is no chance we will abandon DM5 inside of 3 years although we’d make the leap to a SP-based system if it becomes feasible to do so.
“A couple years ago we bought a 3rd party product to integrate SP search with DM5. I first confronted the security chasm between SP and DM5 when I tried to understand why SP Search wouldn’t give me the same results as DM5 gave me. I did enough homework to realize that SP Search security couldn’t possibly follow DM5 security, and it was this experience that predisposed me to be a security skeptic on these SP-DMS announcements.  I am by no means an expert or veteran of DM or SP, which is why I’ve not been eager to come out of my foxhole – when I found this blog I was hoping that someone with actual credibility in SP and DM would step forward and pick up my cause, leaving me free to lurk!”

Meanwhile Luigi Salzano, senior manager – systems development at Pannone LLP, says “2010 is an evolutionary progression of the Sharepoint document management proposition. The fundamental weaknesses of MOSS have been addressed – we now have useable document numbers, persistent links to documents through document numbers, and a high-quality managed metadata capability and user-definable taxonomies through Enterprise Keywords.
“As in MOSS, searches can be done at library or site level and return accurate result sets quickly. Further, Sharepoint search centre allows document management features to come into their own, allowing easy visual filtering by managed metadata as well as standard methods. Standard searches don’t include reuseable search templates, but most people would struggle to find a use case for these in legal document management. To do search properly there is a sizeable overhead in terms of infrastructure. For those with larger budgets, FAST takes searching to another level.
“Security is a strong area. Sharepoint provides out of the box granular security, configurable at farm, site collection, site, library and document level. Only real criticism is that the UI is a little tortuous.”

And his colleague Jon Taylor, who was responsible for the architecture of the Sharepoint DMS at Pannone adds “SharePoint security is a huge area. I have tried to give a brief over view of some of the main considerations however I will be happy to discuss any aspect in great detail if required. In relation to security, SharePoint out of the box handles basic user and group security and for a DMS this would usually be achieved through security directory synchronisation with the Windows Active Directory, however 3rd party LDAP security integration is also well supported. If you require anything more than basic permissions (similar to basic file store permissions) then there are a variety of tools and strategies which can be adopted.
“Permissions can be set on objects or content types (such as folders or documents), at document library level, site level, web application level and against users via SharePoint groups and policies. One problem with SharePoint is that there is no clear right or wrong way to implement security as the requirements and availability infrastructure and administrative skill changes from organisation to organisation. It does not take long to work out the best case solution as long as you have a clearly defined security policy.
“Security trimming is a great feature within SharePoint and links to content users do not have access to are not usually shown. Information Rights Management is also well supported in Sharepoint 2007 and 2010 meaning that the security of a document can travel with it. This is usually configured at Document Library level. In addition to this Microsoft Forefront User Access Gateway has excellent control  and auditing support for external users to the domain accessing SharePoint content. With a purchased DMS the security is usually taken care of via a predefined control mechanism of basic groups and policies.
“In relation to Search, I could probably take up the best part of my day running through the huge variety of options and technologies available within SharePoint. There are three version of Microsoft search which are built specifically for SharePoint which are Basic Search, Enterprise Search and FAST Search Server. In addition to this there are a variety of other excellent search enhancements and integrations such as Coveo, BA-Insight and many more.
“In my view to make a SharePoint search truly effective it needs to understand what objects and types of information people are looking for and be able to distinguish between each. Information Architecture has a great part to play in creating the best possible search. In SharePoint there are again a variety of options available to assist with the architecture, definition, organisation and tagging of information to help us create the best possible search. SharePoint 2010 has wonderful features such as Enterprise Content Types, Managed Metadata (taxonomy) and Enterprise Keywords (Folksonomy) which can be applied to documents. Even better these content objects are directly supported in the client applications such as Word 2010 without any expensive customisation.
“If we create a folder content types called Client and another called Matter we can easily control security down to matter level. We can create Columns in the Client folder type such as Client Name, Client Number and similar contextual columns for the Matter content type. We can then point out search scope to look at just Client folder type to search for a client either by name or number. We can then see it would be easy to create a client and matter search.
“In addition to this we can add columns to the document library however this is where document management in SharePoint becomes quite a sophisticated discipline and possibly unique to each organisation. We can create Managed Metadata types for document type description such as Letters, Bills, File Notes which means we can control the definition of the documents within the system creating management of the enterprise content.
“SharePoint is a platform which needs to configured and implemented correctly however it offers a huge array of potential as an Enterprise Content Platform. It does however require the correct business and technical skills to get the best out of it. A purchased DMS has a more specific purpose and possibly less of a risk to organisations willing to spend the money for an off the shelf product.”

Finally, the IT director of a top 25 comments “The real story here isn't Sharepoint, it's the motivation behind the desire for a change and why law firms are considering a switch to something else.”

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