If I were to ask which two words in SharePoint were the most overused (in conversation) and underutilized (in practice), which would they be? “Business Intelligence?” “Administration” and “Security?” “SharePoint Designer?”

This is a question I ask many of my clients, and you would be surprised by the answers; they typically focus on individual needs and not corporate objectives. In my experience, these two words are “Document Management.”

In my opinion, document management has never been given the respect it deserves within SharePoint’s capabilities. Document management should be looked at the same way an organization does of any line-of-business (LOB) system. LOBs are seen as critical systems that others try to integrate with in order to improve the business. Document management is the same. With a common framework and taxonomy, your SharePoint document management can be seen as the true searchable, traceable LOB that houses documents providing a single source of information.

Document management has long been the scapegoat for SharePoint implementations because of its simplicity. I have yet to meet a company that says they are putting together a complex workflow or a connection to a line-of-business system as a simple way to prove SharePoint competency or to pilot an implementation. Companies have been able to deploy SharePoint through a business-unit release of document management functionality, and thus consider themselves “live” or “online.”

With the release, corporate dashboards may have a line item turn green; however, the company has done a disservice to themselves as an organization. The long-term risk to the business is that they have failed to plan and align themselves as a company, therefore minimizing the value of SharePoint, causing frustration among staff and potentially risking a ground-up change in the future.

I wrote an article two months ago that spoke to the business value of SharePoint and the importance of aligning your corporate road map to your implementation. These next few paragraphs should be a part of that road map.

Many organizations begin their implementation by focusing on document management, search or simple portal functionality, and they believe they can deploy it easily. This may be the case, but the first thing to understand about SharePoint’s document-management capabilities is that you are, in fact, deploying a comprehensive document-management system. There are many on the market, and understanding this at a comprehensive level may greatly aid your project and rollout teams in its use.

My suggestion is to follow these steps to get your collective minds moving in the right direction:
1. Know what’s inside the box: This is a critical first step to ensuring you do not replicate your existing “Q” drive with SharePoint. I’m often told that the catalyst to a document-management implementation has been the existing drive being a mess. Remember, you have to start at the bottom in order to move forward, so dumping data into SharePoint and expecting it to magically act differently is a fallacy. It won’t happen. SharePoint’s document-management capabilities provide the essentials for a robust deployment, including versioning, document sets, records management and retention, holds and e-discovery, term stores, and managed metadata, to name just a few.

2. Understand your users: Individuals understand their current use of Word files and templates, but they do not necessarily connect their knowledge with that of their colleagues. Furthermore, they may not understand the benefit their organization can obtain by standardizing documents, templates and having a defined structure for each. In presentations, I often ask attendees what functionality they believe the average user of Microsoft Word understands and uses on a daily basis. You would be amazed by the answers, which ranged from 5% to 85%. Without having team members on the same page, there is no way to implement document management successfully. For project teams, poll your users and get a sense of their document needs and knowledge. This will be critical intelligence for you as your begin to plan your deployment.

3. Have a plan: You cannot begin to plan for a document-management system deployment until a comprehensive plan is developed. This means planning for roles, document usage, sites, site collections and libraries in order to get started. Ask these questions internally in order to frame your thoughts; each of these all must be categorized and prioritized prior to your rollout:
• How will you plan for the flow of content between sites or site collections?
• How will content types be created and categorized?
• What processes and workflow can be created in order to automate your document-management activities?
• How will you manage governance?

Ensure that the creation of information-management policies and include them in your plan. What requirements does your organization have for information? How will documents be stored, retained, archived and audited? Fundamentally, an effective document-management system must reflect the culture of your organization. If your company is rigid in its creation of data and policies, make sure that SharePoint accurately reflects that state. For companies that create and store information on a whim, your success will be based on users who quickly adapt to SharePoint and its ease of use.

Eric Riz is the Executive Vice President of Concatenate, creator of the RealTime suite of products. You can reach Eric by e-mail at ericr@concatenateinc.com, or on Twitter at @rizinsights. Read his other SharePoint thoughts on his blog at www.ericriz.com, and catch him at SPTechCon Boston August 11-14.