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Why not just use SharePoint as a Document Management System?

shutterstock_153751445 (1)What’s wrong with SharePoint, anyway? Why shouldn’t it be used as a document management system for a growing business?

The truth is, if you have infinite time, money and IT resource you can configure SharePoint to do a whole bunch of things. With patience and a hired consultant, it can be built out into an adequate resource for document management that you can maintain and update over time.

The real question is why would you want to?

If you are doing business in an agile way, you need a DMS that is as responsive and agile as you are - straight out of the box. Why would you want to spend time and effort building a bespoke platform when you really need to spend time building your business?

But my business needs are very specific

That is understood. Most businesses have specific needs. Then again, most Document Management Systems are configurable to a greater or lesser extent - and sometimes they are easier to configure than SharePoint.

Some may even have been developed, specifically, to serve the sector you work in, so may already include the unique solutions you require.

For those developing medical devices, imagine a DMS configured to deal with the complexities of document handling required by ISO13485 certification, or smooth the way for compliance with FDA 21 CFR Part 11. Or, imagine one that helps you meet the Risk-Based Thinking (RBT) requirements of ISO9001:2015.

Why not just use Google Drive as a document management system?

Document Management Systems like this do exist, and they are already helping growing companies in niche sectors respond quickly to regulatory challenges with their product development, business process and QMS tools.

But apart from that - what’s wrong with SharePoint?

It’s worth thinking how other specific use cases will impact upon the overall success of any proposed DMS as a business and quality management tool. SharePoint has specific limitations that many companies only properly register when the realities of everyday use kick in.

5 potential issues with using SharePoint as a DMS

  1. In general, SharePoint has fewer finer grained review options than most high-quality DMS. For example, it has no ‘shared notes’ functionality. But on a deeper level, the kind of control it gives you over areas like external collaboration is much less nuanced. A good DMS will give companies the ability to publish documents to an extranet where third parties can access them, rather than grant selected users direct access to their servers. Minimising the amount of direct third party access to your DMS is the smarter way to enable collaboration while keeping your infrastructure and Intellectual Property secure.
  2. In certain sectors, complete control over the approval of documentation at every stage of a design or build process may be integral for quality assurance, regulatory reasons, or both. A SharePoint solution is not capable of the kind of sophisticated phased gate control based around ‘document holding’ that many high tech businesses require. A smart DMS should be able to hold documents in a single place and only release them to the next phase of a development process when key stakeholders have approved them.
  3. SharePoint is not the low cost/no cost solution of popular mythology. There are licensing fees and per seat costs to factor in, and they may soon start to escalate depending on the size of your company. Not to mention the initial outlay for a consultant to come and set it all up in the first place. And what if you spend all that time and money configuring your solution and then a new version of SharePoint is released, or your operating system is updated? You will be responsible for making sure the platform remains stable or, at least, bringing your consultant back in to do so.
  4. How good is your in-house IT support? The day to day realities of running a self-build document management platform could be more than you think. To be an effective SharePoint Administrator, you have to know Windows Server, IIS management, C# development practices, Active Directory, and, of course, the SharePoint platform itself. Who is going to helpdesk the solution? SharePoint, it seems, makes it very necessary for IT departments to exist.
  5. And what about support for third-party software that you need to use? Particularly specialist product development tools such as JIRA, OTRS and the like. Who will be able to successfully integrate these tools into your platform? Who will be able to ensure the tools remain stable on the platform following any future updates? With a proprietary solution, maintaining these solutions is part of the package; with SharePoint, you’ll likely be doing it yourself.

A live demo of any Document Management Systems you are considering purchasing will certainly help you work through these kinds of scenarios. It will help you measure any potential solution against your business needs, deciding what functionality is essential to you and what kind of compromises you're willing to make, if necessary. It may even help you uncover problems with your specification or introduce new items to your wish list.

Why reinvent the wheel?

To operate effectively, a growing business needs to establish a secure Document Management System as soon as possible in its life-cycle. Ideally, it will sit on a stable platform and provide comprehensive task functionality, including an intuitive, configurable dashboard sitting above the database.

The platform needs to be able to scale with the business, responding to your needs as you grow.

Your DMS should bring structure and organisation to your product development process; making regulatory compliance more straightforward, ISO certification easier to achieve and their audits less challenging.

Above all, it should allow you to focus on your business goals, not distract you with an ever growing list of performance issues.

When all this can come out of the box, why push yourself to create a solution that already exists?

There may be a few compromises involved in using a proprietary DMS, in terms of navigation, look or feel. But the effort required to reconcile these compromises with your business needs may be nothing compared to the effort of building out and maintaining a solution in SharePoint.

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Tags: SharePoint, document management system