SharePoint as a DMS? A comparison of classic and O365-based DMS solutions

In O365 and SharePoint, Microsoft offers a wide variety of functions for implementing DMS solutions. How can you better make use of them? The success of SharePoint/O365 has opened the door to a completely new type of DMS solution.

O365-based or SharePoint-based (both are referred to below simply as O365) solutions offer an alternative to conventional DMS solutions and enrich the market for DMS solutions substantially. One common feature of classic DMS solutions is that they offer a highly specialized set of functions and applications.

Companies and organizations that require strategies to digitize their primarily document-based processes use these solutions. Classic DMS solutions focus on increasing speed and productivity in paper-based business processes and reducing costs.  

O365-based DMS solutions are designed to achieve similar economic and efficiency-enhancing benefits as stand-alone DMS products. However, their real strength is in collaboration and the sharing of information in a variety of different facets. These solutions are especially beneficial for companies that already have a clear O365 strategy as part of their collaborative goals (for their intranet, for instance) and that now also want to incorporate DMS solutions.  

The multifunctional alignment of O365 is beneficial to corporate IT strategy

In terms of collaboration, O365 constitutes a multifunctional platform with tools such as OneDrive, Teams, Skype, and so on, that reach into practically every corner of a company. It serves not only as the basis of a DMS solution, but also incorporates a multitude of other applications.

The overarching idea is to make information easy to find, easy to exchange in a transparent way, easy to edit together with others (“co-authoring”) and easy to communicate directly (Skype). The information does not have to take the form of documents. It can be appointments, tasks, reports, blogs or wikis within a project space.

This multifunctional alignment of SharePoint is helpful for IT strategists, because separate costly systems do not have to be implemented and operated for individual requirements. Instead, existing platforms and, for instance, platforms such as O365 that are already in use through the enterprise plan can be utilized.

The cost savings associated with reducing the number of standalone solutions to be operated and the greater flexibility for leveraging notoriously scarce personnel are an important factor in the choice of an O365-based strategy for establishing DMS solutions.  

IT strategy is crucial to DMS solutions

If a company is only considering introducing a digital dossier/archiving application, they can do so by using either a stand-alone DMS solution or one based on the O365 platform. The decision to introduce one or the other of these two options is usually not fundamentally about the product features, but is generally driven by  the higher-level strategy.  

In terms of the aspects of a DMS solution that are relevant to the user (e.g. speed, click sequences), the user may be better served with a classic, stand-alone DMS solution. For instance, developers of a classic solution know exactly how to make special functions that are required in a DMS available to the user in just a few mouse clicks, whereas these functions may be a little more difficult for the user to access in the O365 (SaaS) version.

Think of a Swiss army knife: it has an all-purpose use, serving as a knife, a scissors, a corkscrew, a screwdriver and more. However, its individual functions do not have the same quality as their equivalent standalone tool. This example is similar to the comparison of a multifunctional platform such as O365 with a specialized DMS solution. Essentially, the question here is how often does which user require which special function and how much money are you willing to spend for this special function?  

In addition to the basic DMS functions covered by O365 (check-in/check-out, versioning, sharing), more advanced requirements (dossier management, scanning, Outlook integration, ERP integration, workflow/forms) call for solutions from third-party providers that turn the basic functions in O365 into a full DMS solution and make them easy to use.  

No matter whether a company uses an O365 SaaS infrastructure or an on-premises infrastructure for SharePoint, with security concepts including a backup, the level of investment in system technology for operating the DMS solution with these add-ons is much lower. Furthermore, the expense involved in training end users is significantly reduced by integrating the solution into the Microsoft environment, which dominates the desktop and is familiar to most users. The rollout is also much quicker.  

A comparison of a classic and O365-based DMS solutions

What are the differences? Should a company choose one version or the other for their DMS system?

The following aspects are helpful when comparing the two options:

  • Strategic alignment
  • Target groups
  • Functional performance profile
  • Access rights
  • Usability
  • Implementation effort
  • Effort for DMS operation
  • Integration capabilities
  • Scalability
  • Further development
  • Community/ecosystem

A comparison of O365-based and classic DMS solutions

AspectsO365-based DMS solutionClassic platforms for a DMS solution
Strategic alignmentCentral platform for exchanging and sharing information and documents with web-based communication.Special DMS solution with archiving, document management and workflow support, etc. based on a specialist client (WebClient or RichClient).
Target groupsCompanies/organizations with a collaboration and O365 strategy for their Intranet and Extranet.Companies/organizations with strategies for digitizing document/content-based processes.
Functional performance profileManagement of different types of information, such as documents, calendars, blogs, wikis, etc. with various basic functions. Full DMS functionality requires products from third-party providers that bridge the gap between DMS technical process/integration competencies and the O365 environment.High-performance and process-oriented platforms with a variety of turnkey solutions such as archiving, personnel records, invoice processing, contract management, etc. and numerous interfaces for integrating applications and extensive search functions.
RightsHierarchical rights model that can be “broken through” individually at object level taking limitations into account. O365 does not have rights control mechanisms based on properties. A clean design based on the requirements is therefore required for the logical systems architecture.Generally very flexible and granular rights control system based on properties at object level; that is, the logical system architecture is very easy to design with no need to take limitations into account.
UsabilityHomogenous and consistent feel with the Office look and direct integration into the Office environment.Provider specific user interfaces, sometimes with innovative approaches to handling content.
Implementation effortBelow-average implementation time for setting up a DMS system because O365 is usually already available.Dependent primarily on the individual DMS requirements, but also on the product provider software concept.
Effort DMS operationBeneficial in terms of effort because Microsoft SharePoint, including security concepts, etc. is operated anyway or is available as an SaaS solution.The operating effort depends on the scope of the DMS solutions and the specific features of the DMS software.
Integration capabilitiesExtensive integration capabilities for content from mission-critical applications such as Microsoft Outlook, ERP and CRM as standard. A wide variety of integration interfaces are usually available.
ScalabilityThe scaling is usually arbitrary but there are restrictions on different levels that must be taken into account when setting up the system architecture.There are usually no scaling restrictions.
Further developmentO365 is becoming the tool for providing everything that the digital native needs from a modern information management system, social networking/collaboration and business contact networks such as LinkedIn.Niche markets with intensive competition will continue to challenge every manufacturer, against a backdrop of company mergers and acquisition. In addition, classic DMS suppliers will continue to face a high risk of disruption from infrastructure and ERP providers and dedicated microservices in the cloud.
Community/ecosystemWorldwide community with extensive sources of content, tools (e.g. Powershell) and platforms and groups for exchanging information and obtaining knowledge and help free of charge. Community or user groups restricted to the installed base of the producer.

Do you want to know how you can turn your SharePoint/Office 365 into a real document management system? Read our whitepaper or watch our webinar to see what DMS possibilities SharePoint and Office 365 can offer you.

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