SharePoint is all about collecting, managing, storing and sharing information. It’s easy to use and accessible through a browser and most Microsoft desktop applications. Because of this ease of use (and a great marketing job by Microsoft!), its deployment has spread faster than a wildfire, and just like an unchecked wildfire, it can quickly cause chaos.

Why do I say this? Because SharePoint has evolved from an intranet portal most often used as a “better fileshare” to a true enterprise-class business platform. Unfortunately, our methods for deploying it haven’t evolved, and we suddenly look around one day and find we’ve been overrun by the resultant chaos, and we’re fighting fires left and right.

As always, success is found through sound strategy and tactics. We’ve seen the damage that can occur if the fire is left untamed, but we have the upper hand. We know what it will do and we can plan for it. From the moment that errant spark hits a dry patch of grass, or the moment a business-critical piece of content enters the organization, we need to have a plan and structure in place for what will inevitably ensue. So what is that plan, that structure we need to ensure success?

This article is titled “Content in context” for a reason. Content with no context is no more effective in SharePoint than it is in a fileshare. Effectively capturing, managing, using and governing content in the enterprise requires a strategy that involves people, processes and technology. When deploying a content-management solution, you have to design a solution that ties together your entire technology ecosystem, including SharePoint. SharePoint doesn’t live in a vacuum, and its deployment needs to be planned as carefully as any other IT deployment.

SharePoint delivers a great user experience, provides strong content-management capabilities, and can provide a single view of information from across the enterprise, but it requires planning and forethought to get the most from your investment in it. Plus, to meet your specific requirements, often SharePoint by itself isn’t enough to deliver the entire solution. That’s where the SharePoint ecosystem comes in, with companies like Gimmal and Kofax to provide capture, process and dynamic case management, governance solutions and business system integrations that compliment SharePoint.

And that’s not the only challenge. Today’s business environment is rapidly changing. Companies are looking for new ways to engage their customers faster, easier and more effectively using a variety of devices or engagement “touch points,” including mobile apps, social media, and the Internet. We refer to this as the business-critical “first mile” of customer engagement. If I allow my customer to use a mobile application or a Web-based interface to initiate a business process, I can capture all the information I need and any documents required to kick off the process, or any trailing documents that may be required. The process becomes interactive and the customer feels engaged and a part of the process.

The benefit is that I can capture the information I need and process it faster, eliminating latency from the process. I can respond to my customer in a shorter timeframe. The result: better customer engagement, higher customer satisfaction, and a competitive advantage in the market.

But how do we control this interaction? Just capturing the information and dumping it into SharePoint isn’t enough. We have to provide the context for the information. Today, this is often a manual process where users capture and upload documents in an insecure fashion and key in the column data by hand. This leads to errors, misplaced documents and lost information, and there are studies related to the cost of misplaced or lost documents.

What we want to do is automate the entire process. Wherever information is captured, at the point of origination or in the back office, there are a series of steps that need to happen. The information is perfected (image enhancement), relevant data is extracted in a touchless fashion, and the document and data are delivered into SharePoint in a well-defined and automated fashion. It should be routed to the correct SharePoint site or library based on business rules, and the column data should be applied, automatically eliminating any manual data entry. This provides the context of the information.

SharePoint excels at using the data (or context) to surface content in a variety of ways, search for content, associate it with other data, generate reports, and a number of other uses. The more accurate, consistent and complete the column data, the more valuable and usable the content is. Once it’s in SharePoint, we can trigger and manage the business process, or associate the content to an existing process or case file.

So now we’ve captured our content, put it into SharePoint, wrapped it with metadata, and associated it to a business process. So we’re done, right? Nope. While adding context to content is good and adds a lot of value, it’s not enough. What? Not enough? Why not, you ask?

Well, getting it into SharePoint, giving it context and connecting it to processes is how we make the most of the content, but we also have to understand that this content will not always live an active life. Once the business process ends, the content assumes a new life. So how are we managing the content throughout its entire life, from creation to destruction? The best solution is to make sure that the moment the content comes into an organization, we are aligning it to a life cycle. That way we can manage it in the best fashion from the very beginning right through to its end.

In the world of SharePoint, one of the best practices that has risen out of the fiery chaos of past poor implementations is that of site provisioning: connecting a SharePoint site to a life cycle at the moment of its creation. If we have site provisioning, that means any content that is directed into the site will inherit the life cycle. In turn, all sites and content will be managed within the purview of IT; it will all be centrally managed under unified policy or rules.

But what of the “end of life [cycle]”? Once content has been leveraged through business processes and has shifted from active to inactive, a new process begins. Inactive content actually costs us a lot of money if we’re not smart in how we manage it. We want to make sure our Big Picture strategy includes storage optimization, so when a piece of content (or an entire SharePoint site) is no longer involved in active processes, we can execute an action to move it to a long-term preservation environment or archive.

By taking advantage of a tiered storage infrastructure, we can reduce costs five to tenfold, archiving content on cheaper, more cost-effective storage. If you further enable your SharePoint environment to be compliant, then you will ensure that all the content will live protected against its regulatory obligations forever (or until you are legally allowed to destroy it). This could all take place in a SharePoint Records Center, which would provide that compliant environment and ensure that access to the information is always available—permission granted, of course!

A pilot’s guild
In Europe, a pilot’s guild received more than 100,000 invoices per year from its pilots. Each invoice had to be signed by the ship’s captain and the pilot. Once approved, the invoices were paid from the guild’s SAP system and an invoice was sent to the ship owner. Government regulations dictated special procedures for handling the invoices. The guild has to maintain a digital copy throughout the life cycle of the invoice. At some point in the life cycle, it must be moved into a “hardened digital records archive.”

The solution was to use Kofax Capture to capture all incoming invoices, then route them and extracted metadata into SAP. SAP set and managed the retention period for the invoices. Once the retention period expired in SAP, the invoice and associated metadata was moved into the Compliance Suite library in SharePoint using Gimmal ERP-Link. Once the legal requirements were met for archiving, the information was automatically destroyed.

Mining and engineering
A Fortune 500 mining and engineering company implemented a new SAP system to manage Accounts Payable processes, among others. At the same time, they decided to implement ECM underneath SharePoint since it was already deployed across the enterprise to more than 3,000 users.

The company processed more than 1 million invoices per year, each around four pages in length, along with credit and debit notes and advance payment claims. Retention policies were defaulted to “forever” in SAP, and the company wanted to implement a true records-management policy.

Kofax was used for document capture along with automated document classification, separation and data extraction. Upon completion, content was automatically routed to SAP along with the extracted metadata. Gimmal ERP-Link was used to connect SharePoint to SAP and provide the ability to search, view, and retrieve the documents from SAP. Retention policies were defined in SAP to manage the length of time information was kept.

Dave Martin is currently responsible for Gimmal’s go-to market strategy and relationship with Microsoft. Dean Misenhimer is responsible for supporting the global product development process including market development strategy, go-to-market planning, product launch, and content generation for a variety of Kofax products.