Trevor Wilkins – Product Manager – NPS

Trevor Wilkins, Product Manager for Information@Work, knows that document management systems can transform how you work, but warns that going down the wrong route can be costly. Take SharePoint. It’s a great bit of software and getting started is simple. But without experts on hand to build, integrate, maintain and upgrade it, what looks like a quick fix can become a burden. If your goal is to capture, use and share information efficiently, then you need a purpose-built EDM.

Can SharePoint be my document management system?

SharePoint can be a document management system, but that’s not how it arrives. It’s a toolkit, not an oven-ready system. This means you need the right skills from the start. 

Imagine someone’s asked you for a library. SharePoint will clear some space and drop off a big pile of wood, a bag of screws and a pack of labels. You can now build anything you want. But are you sure it’s the right layout? That the shelves can take the weight? That people can find what they need without pestering you for help?

If you’re a council or a housing provider, this matters enormously. Because you can’t afford to call in the professionals every time you hit a snag. 

Five things to consider for your EDM  

If you’re looking at your options, here’s five things to think about: 

  • Will we get a quick RoI? A purpose-built EDM will work brilliantly out of the box. SharePoint needs a team of experts to set it up. You can of course try that yourself. But can you do it to a defined timetable and be 100% sure you’ve got the scope right? For comparison, Sandwell’s  Housing team went from staring at boxes to getting 350 users live in just eight weeks.
  • Will it transform efficiency? You’ll get huge benefits from bulk scanning and indexing documents and emails, which is why a good EDM comes with built-in solutions. It will also integrate on a ‘plug and play’ basis with your line of business systems, triggering actions in the back office and vice-versa. If you know exactly what you’re doing (and have picked the right third party plug-ins) you could achieve the same with SharePoint.
  • Have we got the right skills? Many councils use consultants to set SharePoint up or buy a basic ‘off the shelf’ build. But that’s just the design. It’s so easy for users to create their own file stores that it can become tricky to maintain and get helpdesk-heavy. Even if you’ve designed it with the right record retention and deletion policies, silos are a GDPR nightmare.
  • Can I respond to rapid change? With a good EDM you can plan changes with your provider and switch them on overnight. Given the pace of policy change, that’s a huge plus. With SharePoint, you’ll also be updating any plug-ins and bespoke integrations, often relying on multiple suppliers. Think about the nation’s overnight shift to home working during lockdown; Southwark council relied heavily on the integration and workflow of their EDM to keep things moving.
  • Can we upgrade easily? New versions of a true EDM can be rolled out fast. New SharePoint versions means a new toolkit. So if you’ve built up a complex system over many years you could be opening a Pandora’s box of broken integrations.

Can I use both systems together?

Many organisations with a purpose-built EDM will use SharePoint too. It’s great for managing internal documents that aren’t used in service delivery. But to improve how you work, and have your documents securely tracked, automated and audit-ready, a true EDM is the safer bet. The upfront investment might be higher (particularly if you use MS Office) but you won’t get hit with hidden costs.   

A purpose-built EDM can also be more easily extended into new services. Sandwell council recently rolled out Information@Work Enterprise to their HR department following its successful use in revenues and benefits. They’re now shortlisted for the 2020 Smarter Working Live award for paperless working, having saved more than £6,000 per month by automating manual processes.

If you’ll always have unlimited SharePoint expertise on tap, then you could go down the self-build route. But if you don’t, and you need to capture, route, annotate and automatically delete records efficiently? You need one that’s ready-made.

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