January 18, 2021
Document management benefits, and how to get them
Digital Experience Strategist
Being time-consuming and prone to human error, enterprise document management is traditionally among the processes that organizations want to automate first. As a result, investments in document management software keep increasing from year to year.
The global adoption of remote workflows due to the 2020 lockdown pushed companies to be even more proactive in implementing solutions for digital document management. According to ReportLinker’s Document Management Systems Market — Growth, Trends, Forecasts (2020 - 2025), the document management systems market is going to grow from $4.89 billion in 2019 to $10.17 billion by 2025
Reasons why companies invest in document management software vary, but the global objective is always to minimize paper-based processes and avoid related issues:w
The benefits of document management systems attract many companies. However, to get those benefits, businesses should face a difficult choice and select a solution that will be optimal for their particular document workflows.
Since the IT market is inundated with document management solutions, it’s pretty hard to decide on a system to implement. Logically, businesses turn their attention to the solutions that have already proved suitable for enterprise document management. Microsoft SharePoint is one of them.
When SharePoint first entered the field of enterprise content management, document management was its essential function. Over time, the platform’s focus shifted to a more general notion of the enterprise portal, so today by launching a SharePoint intranet a company can handle numerous tasks, including knowledge management, employee engagement, and social collaboration.
At the same time, the platform’s document management capabilities are well-maintained, too. In 2020, Gartner named SharePoint a Leader in its yearly Magic Quadrant for Content Services Platforms.
Content-centric by nature, SharePoint comes with a handy system of document libraries and folders that allow users to build well-structured document hierarchies. Every document contains reach metadata that represents documents’ unique characteristics (author, date of creation and last modification, topic, format, size, etc.) and allows users to find needed files through SharePoint search.
SharePoint users can also benefit from workflow management features that ensure automated document review, approval, and signing. Putting some effort into SharePoint customization, organizations can build up a fully-fledged document management system with easy document classification, secure storage, and sharing capabilities coupled with a variety of collaboration tools.
Owing to the rich out-of-the-box functionality, SharePoint can cover different types of enterprise document management:
Reviewing Microsoft’s tools for document management, we can’t put OneDrive for Business aside. A Microsoft-owned cloud storage, OneDrive for Business, enables end users to create, store, and edit documents directly in the Microsoft cloud without the need to save them on local computers.
Today, Microsoft promotes their collaboration suites Office 365 and Microsoft 365 much more actively than their standalone products. That’s why OneDrive for Business and SharePoint are typically included in the same subscription that absorbs a variety of Office 365 collaboration tools.
You might ask, “What’s the point of having two document management applications at the same time?’” In practice, OneDrive doesn’t support as many document-related activities as SharePoint does. However, it can facilitate users’ work a lot, particularly when it comes to mobile-first document management.
In some scenarios, OneDrive can also be considered as a document repository for employees’ individual needs, unlike SharePoint that comes with document storages shared with multiple users.
Initially designed as a synchronization tool, OneDrive for Business enables users to keep working on their documents even if they signed out of their SharePoint sites or when they are offline, thanks to OneDrive for Business Sync Client that makes it possible to save files to PCs or mobile devices. As soon as the internet connection is back, all files edited offline get synchronized with the OneDrive cloud storage automatically.
Another great perk of OneDrive for Business is files on-demand, allowing users make certain files available on particular devices. This capability eliminates the need to sync large document libraries on mobile devices, thus saving the device storage.
Unlike SharePoint, OneDrive for Business doesn’t support complex document workflows. At the same time, it’s still possible to bring simple automation to the cloud storage using Microsoft Flow. For example, users can get notifications when a new document appears in the OneDrive for Business library.
By coupling SharePoint with OneDrive for Business, organizations can get various document management benefits:
Multi-level document management. With the two applications, companies can streamline document management flows at different organizational levels:
Document management as part of enterprise collaboration. With SharePoint and OneDrive for Business included in larger collaboration suites, document management is integrated into organizational and team activities. Document workflows can be integrated into project management, HR management, marketing and sales management, innovation and knowledge management.
Mobile document management. Both applications are available on mobile devices, which guarantees that employees can access, edit, and share documents using their smartphones and tablets.
Document security. Finally, both applications come with built-in document protection mechanisms that act in two ways. On the one hand, the apps prevent users from spreading sensitive information contained in files without applicable permissions. On the other hand, the Office 365 admin center in the cloud and the SharePoint admin center on-premises enable IT specialists to track users’ document management activities and prevent unsolicited sharing before it leads to data leaks.
While SharePoint and OneDrive for Business provide attractive document management benefits, there are other solutions on the market. Let’s take a look at some of them and analyze their strengths and weaknesses compared to Microsoft document management.
Yet one more stable leader on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Content Services Platforms, Box is a cloud content management and file sharing service that was created as an alternative to Google Drive and Dropbox. However, as soon as the service started to absorb collaboration features, it entered the SharePoint competition area.
The platform provides a variety of cloud-based document management capabilities, such as document creation, review, structuring, and search. It also comes with Box Relay that allows creating basic document workflows. With these features, Box can compete with OneDrive for Business, however its functional gap compared to SharePoint is still big, particularly when it comes to collaboration. Box Notes represent collaboration areas where employees leave their notes and comments related to a document, an event, or a meeting, but they still lag behind multipurpose SharePoint collaboration sites.
As for the solution’s price, the Box enterprise subscription plan costs $40-50 per user per month. SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business as part of Office 365 enterprise plans come at $8, $20, and $35 depending on the package.
The Box integration with Office 365 is also available. Integration with Microsoft’s collaboration tools is what allows filling Box’s functional gaps and making it a useful application within a comprehensive collaboration suite.
Alfresco is an open-source Java-based content management system. In October 2020, Alfresco was acquired by another content management giant, Hyland. However, the platform hasn’t been absorbed by the Hyland suite, so end users can continue using Alfresco as they did before.
The platform’s destiny is similar to that of SharePoint. Launched as document-oriented software, it transformed gradually into an enterprise content management solution with a variety of features. Today, apart from comprehensive document management, Alfresco also support document scanning and capture that aren’t available in SharePoint without customizations. Alfresco also offers enterprise-wide content management, business process management, governance services, and more.
The greatest difference between Alfresco and SharePoint becomes apparent at the technical level. Organizations can embed the Alfresco content application server inside a variety of Java-based application servers, such as Apache Tomcat, JBoss, Oracle, or IBM, while SharePoint requires Microsoft SQL Server. When organizations decide to deploy Alfresco as a hybrid or a cloud solution, they traditionally use Amazon Web Services (AWS), while SharePoint and Office 365 leverage Microsoft Azure. Hence, Alfresco can be an attractive platform for organizations that don’t use the Microsoft technology stack.
Over the years, Alfresco’s open-source nature has been ensuring the platform’s constant evolution through the joint effort of the development community. Thus, it absorbs innovations quickly and covers complex ECM and BPM scenarios. That’s why large enterprises often couple SharePoint with Alfresco to get the best of SharePoint collaboration capabilities while leveraging Alfresco’s strengths to address sophisticated business process management needs.
ShareFile is a file sharing, document management and collaboration service from Citrix Systems. Logically, the fact that it comes from a software company that focuses on information security is the strongest side of the solution. For this very reason, ShareFile is a suitable service for organizations that operate within strictly regulated domains.
ShareFile offers protected on-premises, cloud, and hybrid file storages where users can create, share, edit, and sign documents and collaborate on them. It also comes with workflow and collaboration capabilities, but those are quite basic, allowing only co-editing, approving, and commenting. The solution also provides encryption, data loss prevention, and information rights management features that can be leveraged not only within ShareFile but also within integrated solutions. For example, integrated with Microsoft Outlook, ShareFile ensures enterprise-grade email encryption.
While the solution can’t replace SharePoint, ShareFile can complement it and ensure robust protection of SharePoint-hosted documents. The security advantages come at a price, though. Citrix ShareFile subscription starts with $50 for a standard package for five user accounts with unlimited storage per month and reaches $122 for the premium plan.
Finally, let’s take a look at Documentum, an enterprise content management solution that belongs to OpenText. Today, the platform includes the following products:
As Documentum represents a large set of solutions, organizations need to contact the vendor to define which applications and services will fit their needs best, along with their price.
The available functionality makes Documentum a good choice for large organizations that look for powerful enterprise content management, while SMBs can choose a more lightweight solution to address their document management needs.
We’ve briefly analyzed only four possible alternatives to Microsoft document management. However, you can find many more solutions on the market, including Zoho Docs, Laserfiche, M-Files, eFileCabinet, DocuWare, and others. Technological capabilities and document management scale are the key aspects to consider when selecting an optimal solution.
Thus, if you stick to cloud technologies, consider SharePoint Online and OneDrive, ShareFile, or Box as your potential document management solution. If you run on-premises deployments, SharePoint On-Premises, Alfresco, or Documentum can be the best candidates.
If document security is your top priority, ShareFile becomes a good option, even though it is pricey. If you go for open-source technologies and need a variety of content management features, Alfresco can be your optimal choice. If you need a specialized document management solution that will cover the needs of an enterprise with 50,000+ employees, OpenText Documentum can be a good solution.
If you use the Microsoft product family, you are welcome to build a SharePoint document management system. SharePoint On-Premises will work for a large or medium-sized company with a server-based infrastructure. At the same time, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business can cover the widest range of document-related activities at companies that operate cloud-based tools.
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