Greeting and welcome to the Microsoft Enterprise Content Management (ECM) Team Blog! On this blog, you will learn about Microsoft’s vision, features, and technical details for the ECM capabilities that are provided by the 2007 Office system. Multiple people, both inside and outside of Microsoft, will be posting on this blog, so some posts will read like the veritable conversations at a geek fest while other posts will cater to ECM practitioners. Either way, we hope that you will find this information useful.

 

For starters, what is ECM anyway? AIIM defines it as “the technologies used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM tools and strategies allow the management of an organization's unstructured information, wherever that information exists.” Wikipedia has a lengthier description, which essentially conveys the same thing: “software technology that enables organizations to create/capture, manage/secure, store/retain/destroy, publish/distribute, search, personalize, and present/view/print digital content such as pictures/images, text, reports, video, audio, transactional data, catalog, code. ECM systems primarily focus on the capture, storage, retrieval, and dissemination of digital files for enterprise use and their life-cycle management.”

 

At Microsoft, we define ECM as a set of key functions enabled by Document Management, Records Management, Web Content Management, and Electronic Forms Management capabilities. Of course, any ECM solution requires a user interface, and in our model, that’s provided via a Microsoft Office client program or a Web browser. Then, there are the common services such as Search, Workflow, Collaboration, Security, Rights Management, and Auditing that all of the key functions utilize. Lastly, there are the data repositories in which content is stored. For more information on Microsoft’s approach to ECM, review our whitepaper.

 

Not surprisingly, ECM is attracting the attention of people in companies that are trying to get a grip on the growing volumes of unstructured content as well as those who have to deal with the seemingly hundreds of regulations on how long or short particular types of content should be retained. Then, there are those who have to deal with finding documents, e-mails, and other content to support litigations and other legal actions. Hence, practically everyone within a medium to large size business enterprise has come to appreciate the benefits of having a good content management solution.

 

However, while ECM solutions have been around for many years, organizations have not been able to realize sufficient benefits compared to the cost and effort they had put into implementing these solutions. To a large extent, this problem is due to the “if we build it, they will come” approach that most IT departments have taken. The reality is that end users, those who actually create much of the content in an organization, are typically very reluctant to adopt new technologies either due to a general apathy in learning new tools (because they’re already too busy) or a more active intolerance of changing the way they are used to working.

 

At Microsoft, through our many customer and partner interaction, we have identified this as a key blocker to the success of ECM, so making the solution much simpler and seamless for end user adoption has become a key tenet in the design of our products’ ECM capabilities. With the 2007 Office system, we have accomplished this in a couple of ways. First, all of the ECM functionality in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 can be accessed via popular Web browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Safari, which provide a familiar user interface for most end users. Second and perhaps more importantly, SharePoint Server has tight integration with the familiar Microsoft Office client products such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, which allows the user to initiate, complete, and track ECM tasks without ever leaving the application.

 

For example, with embedded forms in the new Office Professional Plus 2007 and Office Enterprise 2007, a user can (and may be required to) enter the document properties into the new Document Information Panel while he/she is authoring the document rather than having it be an afterthought (which is usually forgotten anyway) or a separate task to be done only after the document has been saved and closed. Similarly, once a document is authored, it can be sent for review and approval directly from within the Office application, and the approver can use the new Document Action Pane to approve the document from within the Office application immediately after reviewing it. All of this workflow processing is being handled by SharePoint Server on the backend, but the user doesn’t need to know (and really shouldn’t have to care) that he/she is interacting with a server application!

 

Another key tenet in the design of our ECM capabilities is that the functionality must be well integrated and flexible enough for managing all kind of content and automating a variety of business processes. Hence, we took a platform approach in the development of common services such as Search, Workflow, Security, Storage, and Auditing, and we’ll provide details on each of these in subsequent entries in this blog. We believe that by enabling organizations to deploy and leverage these services in an integrated and consistent manner, the cost and complexity of the overall solution will be significantly reduced.

 

Last but not least, while the 2007 Office system includes plenty of built in ECM functionality, we have provided extensibility mechanisms and well documented APIs for developers to extend the functionality we provide and to implement new features that may be specific to an industry standard process or a government regulation. In fact, we have a number of ISV partners who are already doing this, and you will hear from them on this blog in the near future.

 

If you are at the AIIM Expo in Philadelphia this week, be sure to come by booth #1001 to talk with us and our partners. We also have several sessions that you should definitely attend.

 

 

Manish Sharma, Senior Product Manager and ECM Marketing Lead for Office SharePoint Server 2007