Why I used to think SharePoint sucked as a DM?

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And why do I now think that SharePoint + MacroView is the best DM solution in the market?

You might say that I am a veteran when it comes to Legal Document Management! For the past 18 years I have been implementing and supporting iManage FileSite and NetDocuments in numerous Sydney law firms.

In my life as a consultant, a comment I’d hear often from colleagues and clients was that “SharePoint sucks as a DM system”.

I now know that with software from MacroView you can create excellent DM solutions on a SharePoint platform. I also understand the reasons why my initial opinion of SharePoint as a DM was so negative.

In this blog we’ll look at these reasons and see how each is addressed by MacroView.

  • Lousy integration in Outlook
  • Awkward prompting for metadata
  • Clumsy checkout and version control
  • Searching not user-friendly
  • Difficult to visualize and navigate the document store

Do I Really Want to Work with SharePoint?

Late last year someone suggested that I might like to take a role as a DM Implementation Consultant at MacroView. A quick look at the MacroView website told me that MacroView specialised in document and email solutions based on Microsoft SharePoint!

You can imagine my initial apprehension, but I quickly discovered that MacroView has created software that acts as an interface between the user and SharePoint. The result is a great experience for the user, but no change to the way SharePoint operates at the back end.

My role at MacroView has helped me to understand the strengths and weaknesses of SharePoint, and how MacroView takes advantage of those strengths and shields the user from the weaknesses. I’ve been able to form my own opinion based on the facts, which is that MacroView + SharePoint is the best DM solution I have ever used.

Importantly I now have some good answers when I ask myself “Why I used to think that SharePoint sucked as a DM?”

Lousy Integration with Outlook

I recall that my first negative impression of SharePoint as a DM was when I heard that you could not even drag and drop to save an Outlook email to SharePoint. My reaction was predictable – drag and drop saving is something that end users expect. No wonder people were saying that SharePoint sucked as a DM.

Now that I have joined MacroView I understand the real situation. It is true that with Out-Of-the-Box Outlook and SharePoint – even the latest versions of these products – you cannot drag and drop to save an email to SharePoint. But it is definitely NOT the case if you have MacroView front-ending your SharePoint.

With MacroView DMF or MacroView Message in place you can drag and drop to save an email from your InBox or any Outlook folder to any area in SharePoint for which you have permission. That’s SharePoint Online or SharePoint On-premises. You can select multiple emails and save in bulk – in which case you can go on working in Outlook while the save proceeds in the background. You can also drag and drop to save attachments, or to upload files from any Windows folder.

Awkward prompting for metadata

Something else I heard that contributed to my quite negative original impression of SharePoint as a DM system was the Document Information Panel. In the native integration of Office and SharePoint this panel displayed to prompt the user for metadata. The DIP had an awkward layout and an ‘in-your-face’ position right at the top of the document. OOB the DIP did not support all types of metadata and customising it apparently required use of a forms control product from Microsoft called InfoPath.

I was pleased to see that MacroView had eliminated the need to display the DIP. Instead the dialog that MacroView displays to prompt for metadata looks a lot like the profiling dialogs that are displayed as you save or edit properties of a document in iManage or NetDocuments.

I was even more pleased when I understood the lengths that MacroView goes to record metadata automatically. If I had to pick the MacroView experience I like best, it would probably be how MacroView minimises profiling fatigue as you save emails and attachments to SharePoint. MacroView automatically records the attributes of the email and other attributes such as Client Name, Matter Number, Matter Type, even Document Owner and Document Type. In a typical MacroView implementation there is no prompting for metadata at all as you save an email to SharePoint – all metadata capture is automatic.

Something that had always niggled me as I was implementing traditional DM systems was that usually the same profiling (metadata capture) dialog was displayed whether the user was saving a document for a client matter or for an administration department. The result was that the administration / HR users were forever entering ‘dummy’ client and matter codes (e.g. 00000 or 99999). The good thing about SharePoint, which flows through into MacroView, is that the metadata design can easily be tailored for the different areas. No more need to enter dummy client and matter codes when saving admin / HR documents!

Clunky checkout and version control

Somewhere along the way I also heard about the very clunky user experience that SharePoint provided around checkout, check-in and version control generally. SharePoint uses the same jargon terms, but the OOB operation of check-out, check-in and versioning are significantly different, and at times downright confusing. A good example is the “Do you want to discard the checkout” prompt that SharePoint displays in some scenarios as you close a document that you have been editing. Responding Yes discards not only the checkout, but also all the changes you have made since you checked out the document, regardless of how many times you saved. This innocent Yes response could result in the loss of days of work! Another frustration was that you cannot replace an existing major version after an editing session, no matter how trivial your changes had been.

Here again MacroView has enhanced the user experience so that check-out, check-in and discard check-out are performed automatically and appropriately. MacroView displays the Document ID and current version number in the footers of documents that you open from SharePoint for editing. When you close a document that you have edited, MacroView displays a dialog with the version control options you would see in a traditional DM system, with no surprise discarding of changes.

In summary, MacroView makes these advanced document management features work the way legal users expect.

Searching not so user-friendly in SharePoint, right?

Wrong if you have MacroView + SharePoint! MacroView has done a great job of providing a document search that is at least as convenient, intuitive and powerful as any search experience I saw provided by traditional DM systems.

With MacroView you can search for documents and emails based on their content and / or metadata, and you can do those searches while you work in familiar applications like Outlook and Word. You can also save searches for later re-use. This is also true of searching with big-name traditional DM systems.

But MacroView takes searching much further in two important ways:

1) MacroView searches are performed by the SharePoint Search engine. While its native user interface (which MacroView replaces) is browser-based and awkward, the SharePoint Search engine really is a powerful thing. In addition to indexing and enabling searches of documents and emails in SharePoint, the SharePoint Search engine can index and search all sorts of stores. For example it can index an organisation’s Windows file shares and Exchange Outlook Folders, so that you can then perform searches over those legacy stores using the intuitive MacroView interface running in Outlook or Word. The benefit is that you can avoid needing to do a full migration of all your existing stores as you switch over to SharePoint + MacroView as your DM solution.

2) The MacroView Search interface is readily extensible. By editing a centrally stored XML file you can define additional types of search, which let you specify your search criteria using the metadata attributes that are relevant in your SharePoint DM environment – e.g. Matter Type and Document Type. It makes sense to be able to use these attributes to refine your search results, even if some of those attributes are recorded automatically as you save documents and emails. Adding search panels that are customised to reflect the metadata attributes used by particular business units or practice groups builds a real sense of ownership, which in turn leads to better user adoption.

Difficult to Visualise and Navigate the Document Store

With many DM systems the document store is fundamentally a ‘big bucket’ – you supply metadata as you save into the bucket and use metadata to identify the documents that you want to retrieve. ‘Folders’ have specific values for metadata attributes defined, which streamlines saving and searching by removing the need for the user to supply those values.

SharePoint does things differently. A SharePoint document store is more like a Windows file share in that it is structured as a tree of ‘containers’ – site collections, sites, document libraries, document sets and folders. Having a native structure that is like a Windows file share sounds like a good thing, because it should be familiar to a Windows user. But the user interface that ships with SharePoint makes it almost impossible to visualise the tree structure. Instead of seeing a complete tree as they would in Windows, the native SharePoint user has to key in URLs, click breadcrumbs and use browser favourites. When an organization attempts to move to SharePoint as the new way of storing files and emails, users typically report that they are no longer able to visualise and understand the structure of the new document and email store.

MacroView solves this problem very nicely with its tree-view of the structure of a SharePoint-based document and email store. ‘SharePoint-based’ includes SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business and on-premises SharePoint. MacroView automatically discovers all the areas in SharePoint for which the user has permission, and displays those areas in a complete, accurate tree-view. This tree-view appears in the rich-client applications where the user is working – e.g. in Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Adobe Reader and Acrobat. It also displays in a Windows app called MacroView Explorer, which is popular with users who previously liked to use Windows File Explorer to view, navigate and generally work with a Windows file share.

Indeed MacroView makes the experience for users even better than when they worked with a tree of folders in Windows or Outlook. The Search Site tree command of MacroView uses the SharePoint Search engine to help you to find and navigate rapidly to an area where you want to work – e.g. the area where the documents and emails for a specific Matter are stored. Clearly this is a real advantage in document stores that contain many thousands of Matters.

True cloud PLUS rich client integration

The various traditional DM vendors are nowadays keen to claim that they have cloud capabilities. MacroView + Office 365 / SharePoint Online is certainly a ‘true cloud’ DM solution, but one with the usability advantage of comprehensive rich-client integration.

Like most traditional DM systems, MacroView enables the user to work in familiar rich-client applications such as Outlook and Word. But all the documents and emails saved using MacroView + Office 365 / SharePoint Online are stored in the Microsoft cloud (in the organisation’s Office 365 tenant). Search crawls and indexes are also done in the cloud. When it comes to storage and searching, MacroView ‘stands on the shoulders’ of SharePoint Online and Office 365 generally. This enables a range of user experiences and functionality that proprietary traditional DM systems cannot match.

These experiences include:
• Working with documents that you have recently saved to Office 365 when you are on an iOS or Android mobile device, or on a Mac or PC that has only a web browser.
• Co-Authoring documents – i.e. have multiple colleagues and service partners simultaneously edit a document, with each seeing changes made by the other co-authors in real time.
• Sharing documents securely with users external to your organization

The fact that an organisation running a MacroView + Office 365 / SharePoint Online solution does not need any server infrastructure of its own (or the people to look after those servers) is clearly a big plus when it comes to Total Cost of Ownership.

Summary

I now understand that I had good reason to think that Out-Of-the-Box SharePoint had real limitations as a DM system, but I am glad to have discovered how combining MacroView with SharePoint Online enables DM solutions that provide a great experience for users, while at the same time taking advantage of Microsoft’s massive investment in Office 365.