Oct 11 2011

A Record Hit

Federal agencies tap SharePoint Server 2010 for enterprise content management needs.

Corralling numerous documents, files, presentations and records so they can be more easily organized, accessed and managed has always been the purpose of content and records management systems. But the evolving needs of organizations to more efficiently and effectively manage these vast stores of documents across departments, user groups, locations and applications is driving new requirements for enterprise content management (ECM) systems.

The U.S. Army Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM) in Fort Lee, Va., for example, not only needs to manage the numerous documents and files central to its role of training and educating the soldiers and civilians who work for the Army, but it must do so for people who have a variety of roles and who are spread around the globe.

“In the Army, we have a large user population, and these users have many different functions and purposes. Some are in an operational setting, and some are out in force,” says Patrick Conway, CASCOM’s chief knowledge officer. “For content management to work for us, it has to be interoperable in both domains. ECM systems must be able to share information ubiquitously and seamlessly.”

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, principal with the analyst firm The Real Story Group, says that ECM aims to “bring some order to the chaos that electronic and paper documents are typically in.” As organizations continue to struggle with duplication, redundancy and a lack of formal workflows across the enterprise, ECM systems can help. Pelz-Sharpe says Microsoft’s SharePoint Server now offers a user-friendly solution that provides a broad level of functionality.

SharePoint Server is gaining ground as a full-fledged ECM solution, progressing from its early roots as a web content management system used for intranets, portals, web pages and other web-based content. In late 2009, Microsoft unveiled SharePoint Server 2010 with new features and functions that have boosted its position as an ECM solution. In fact, a survey by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) found that more than one-third of organizations are using SharePoint to manage content across the enterprise, and over half intend for SharePoint to be their primary ECM system. AIIM focuses on helping users understand the challenges associated with managing documents, content, records and business processes. The 2011 survey, “Using SharePoint for ECM,” is based on responses from nearly 675 AIIM members.

Robust Records Management

The Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) administers programs aimed at facilitating the efficient, fair marketing of U.S. agricultural products, including food, fiber and specialty crops. The federal agency has been using SharePoint Server 2007 for its corporate intranet and its business-partner extranet. But like all federal agencies, it must follow specific guidelines set by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and, therefore, needed a robust solution that would allow it to enforce those guidelines while providing a user-friendly system that could be leveraged across the enterprise.

AMS is implementing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 for ECM, thanks to the product’s improved records management features. In particular, says AMS CIO Doug Bailey, there are new capabilities that let AMS staff work within already-familiar programs to file documents as official records using the contextual ribbon interface in Microsoft Office 2007/2010. “Out of the box, SharePoint 2010 provides functions for locking down records submitted by users, setting expiration dates by category and dynamically managing records holds,” Bailey says. Other improvements AMS needed from an enterprise records management solution included retention policies, legal holds and managed metadata for tagging records — all new functions of SharePoint Server 2010.

Bailey says AMS will use the ECM app to manage electronic business documents created in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, as well as PDF documents. “Our greatest challenge has been to create a hierarchy of records categories that are tuned to the typical electronic documents submitted by users, but still in alignment with NARA records schedules,” he notes. “Once the electronic records categories are constructed, we will start the rollout with the program users.”

35 zettabytes

Estimated volume of digital content that will be created worldwide by the end of the decade

SOURCE: “2011 IDC Digital Universe Study,” EMC (June 2011)

An ECM solution such as SharePoint Server 2010 also will help federal agencies support the Office of Management and Budget’s 25-point plan to reform IT, which among other things calls for data center consolidation, cloud computing and shared services. CASCOM’s Conway says implementing a unified ECM solution across the Defense Information Systems Agency within the Department of Defense would help the military benefit from economies of scale and more cohesive information management policies. “All the indications are that local instances of software, as in the case with e-mail, are not very efficient,” says Conway. “Centralizing at the DOD under DISA is the way to go to get under the concept of cloud computing.”

CASCOM currently uses SharePoint Server 2007 for ECM, which is hosted at the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) in Fort Monroe, Va. The system has its work cut out for it: CASCOM is responsible for the training, education and development of some 449,000 soldiers, and thus must create and manage training, courseware, lesson plans, programs of instruction, an assortment of publications and even video. “We use SharePoint to manage the production and issuance, if you will, of all those documents,” says Conway. It is presumed that CASCOM will move to SharePoint Server 2010 when TRADOC upgrades, he adds.