Enterprise Document Management: With or Without SharePoint?

9 min.

Being time-consuming and prone to human error, enterprise document management is traditionally among the processes that organizations want to automate in the first place. As a result, investments in document management software keep increasing from year to year. According to forecasts, the document management systems market is going to grow up from $3.6 billion in 2017 to $6.8 billion by 2023.

As the IT market is already overloaded with document management solutions, it’s pretty hard for a company to decide which system to implement. Logically, businesses turn their attention to the solutions that have already proved themselves suitable for enterprise document management. Microsoft SharePoint is one of them.

Now, let’s explore how the platform addresses document management challenges, as well as navigate across several SharePoint alternatives, so that you understand which option is suitable for your document management needs.

Why go with SharePoint?

When SharePoint first crossed organizational borders, document management was its essential function. Over the time, the platform’s focus shifted to a more general notion of enterprise content management as the platform deals with various content items (files, discussions, blogs, knowledge, etc.) equally well. In 2017, Gartner named the Microsoft product family (SharePoint Server, Office 365, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive for Business) a Leader in its Magic Quadrant for Content Services Platforms.

Document-oriented by nature, SharePoint comes with a handy system of document libraries and folders that allow users to build well-structured document hierarchies. SharePoint users can also benefit from workflow management features that support full document life cycles. Enterprise search is another powerful SharePoint component that facilitates content discovery. Putting some effort into SharePoint customization, organizations can build up a fully-fledged document management system with easy document capturing and classification, as well as automated document routing within a secure environment powered by a variety of collaboration tools.

SharePoint DM

Out-of-the-box SharePoint document storages allow to manage documents and their attributes, as well as to collaborate on them with colleagues and external users.

Owing to the rich out-of-the-box functionality, SharePoint can cover all types of enterprise document management:

  • Intense document management. SharePoint supports departments that regularly work with large volumes of documents. For example, accounting, HR, or legal departments that generate and process hundreds of documents daily.
  • Document management accompanying collaboration. Apart from document-centric teams, SharePoint is a good fit for employees who deal with documents as part of collaboration. This can be the case for marketing, PR, and sales.
  • External document management. When an organization sets up an external-facing SharePoint portal, they often offer their partners and customers individual collaboration areas where third-party users can access all the available SharePoint document management features.

OneDrive for Business—the SharePoint Document Management Partner

Once Office 365 started to win its audience, SharePoint shared its document management responsibilities with another member of the Office 365 stack. While SharePoint stays the heart of all document-related activities, OneDrive for Business backs it up in the cloud.

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. 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 and even if they don’t have an internet connection at all. OneDrive for Business Sync Client makes it possible to save files to PCs or mobile devices to continue working with them while offline. As soon as an internet connection is established, all files edited offline get synchronized with the OneDrive cloud storage automatically.

Another great perk of OneDrive for Business is files on-demand that enable users to select documents and files and make them 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. Say, users can get notifications when a new document appears in the OneDrive for Business library.

Currently, OneDrive for Business penetrates deeper into SharePoint On-Premises deployment. For example, the upcoming SharePoint 2019 will enable OneDrive Sync Client capabilities (including files on-demand) for team sites. Another important benefit of OneDrive for Business is that it’s included in Microsoft 365 Business subscriptions. Thus, SMBs can benefit from the advantages of OneDrive for Business without paying for additional document storages.

Several Benefits of Using SharePoint for Document Management

Relying on the capabilities of SharePoint and OneDrive for Business to create enterprise document management solutions, organizations get various benefits.

  • Multi-level document management. With the two applications, companies can streamline document management flows at different organizational levels:
    • Enterprise-wide: to cover document workflows piercing various departments.
    • Departmental: to enable document management within particular departments.
    • Team: to support document management within or between particular teams.
    • Individual: to allow employees to manage their personal document storages according to their working needs.
  • Online and offline document management. While working with OneDrive for Business, users can keep working on their documents with and without an internet connection and be sure that the updates are synced as soon as their devices connect to the web.
  • Document management encapsulated into organizational activities. With SharePoint and OneDrive for Business, document management never exists separately from organizational or team activities. The applications are built with a strong collaboration background, thus, document management makes part of all business activities and accompanies users anywhere they need it, be it project management, research, knowledge management, or external collaboration.
  • Document security. Finally, both applications come with built-in document protection mechanisms that act from two perspectives. On the one hand, the apps prevent users from spreading sensitive information contained in documents and files without relevant permissions. On the other hand, the Office 365 admin center in the cloud and the SharePoint admin center on premises enable IT specialists to follow users’ activities on documents and control them, in order to stop unpermitted shares before they lead to document leaks.

Alternatives to SharePoint Document Management

While SharePoint and OneDrive for Business provide attractive document management opportunities, there are other solutions on the market. Let’s take a look at some of them and define what are their strengths and weaknesses compared to SharePoint and OneDrive for Business. This will help you understand whether you can go with SharePoint document management or have to consider an alternative.

Box vs SharePoint

A current leader in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Enterprise File Synchronization and Sharing, 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.

Currently, the service provides all necessary cloud-based document management capabilities, including document creation, review, structuring, and search. It also comes with Box Relay that allows creating basic document workflows. In its current state, Box can compete with OneDrive for Business, however, its functional gap with SharePoint is still big. The collaboration within Box is totally document-centric, unlike SharePoint where users can collaborate without being stuck to documents. Box Notes represent collaboration areas where employees leave their notes and comments related to a document, an event, a meeting, but they lag heavily behind fully functional SharePoint collaboration sites.

As for the solution’s price, the most used Box subscription plan costs €13.50 or $15.70 per user per month. Both SharePoint Online plans that also include OneDrive for Business come at smaller prices of $5 and $10 respectively.

To sum it up, Box looks like a suitable solution for SMBs or particular teams within a large organization. It still can’t be considered as an enterprise document management solution, as it lacks robust workflow management and offers modest collaboration features. Box integration with other document management and collaboration solutions can be a reasonable step to build up a comprehensive solution.

Alfresco vs SharePoint

Alfresco is an open-source, Java-based content management system. The platform’s destiny is similar to the one of SharePoint. Introduced as purely document-oriented software, it soon transformed into a fully-fledged enterprise content management solution with a variety of features. Today, apart from comprehensive document management, Alfresco also enables document scanning and capture capabilities 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 appears 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 the Microsoft cloud. Hence, Alfresco can be an attractive platform for organizations that don’t use the Microsoft technology stack.

Owing to Alfresco’s open-source nature, it has gained two major advantages. First, it has a democratic pricing policy; second, the platform evolves constantly owing to 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 DM and BPM needs.

ShareFile vs SharePoint

ShareFile is a file sharing, document management, and collaboration service from Citrix Systems. Logically, a software company that focuses on information security, makes it the strongest competitive advantage of the solution. For this very reason, ShareFile is a suitable service for organizations that operate within strict regulatory and industry compliance.

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 both of them are quite basic features such as 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. While companies get SharePoint Online and unlimited OneDrive storage for $10 USD per user per month, Citrix ShareFile business subscription starts with $100 USD for 5 user accounts with unlimited storage per month.

Documentum vs SharePoint

Finally, let’s take a look at Documentum, an enterprise content management solution that currently belongs to OpenText. Today, the platform’s functionality is based on 5 major pillars:

  • Document capture via Documentum Captiva toolkits allowing employees to transform paper files into searchable images and PDF files.
  • Document-centric communication via xPression Documentum features.
  • Enterprise content management via fully functional Documentum Platform, Documentum D2, and ApplicationXtender.
  • Business processes automation with the help of Documentum xCP technologies. 
  • Document protection ensured via dedicated compliance and security features embedded into all the applications mentioned.

As Documentum represents a large family of solutions, organizations need to contact the vendor to define what particular solution will fit their needs best, as well as to define its price. By the way, the price will unlikely be moderate. Even at the times when the Documentum platform was part of EMC2 and Dell EMC offerings, it was the priciest solution in the document management niche. From the platform’s positioning, it becomes clear that Documentum is the right 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.

Which Document Management System Should You Choose?

We’ve shortly analyzed only four possible enterprise document management alternatives to SharePoint, however, you can find many more solutions on the market, including Zoho Docs, Laserfiche, M-Files, IBM FileNet, Samepage, and others. Your technological capabilities and your document management needs are the key aspects you should take into account when choosing an optimal solution.

Thus, if you stick to cloud technologies, you can put SharePoint Online and OneDrive, ShareFile, and Box to the list of your potential document management solutions. If you run on-premise deployments, SharePoint On-Premises, Alfresco, or Documentum can be your document management candidates.

If document security is your top priority, then the price shouldn’t put you away from ShareFile. 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 100,000+ employees, choose Documentum.

If you use the Microsoft product family, you are welcome to build up your SharePoint document management system. SharePoint On-Premises solution will work for a large or a medium-sized company with server-based infrastructure. SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business can cover the widest range of document-related activities at SMBs relying on cloud capabilities.