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The evolution of SharePoint
Wednesday, 27th June 2012
Many speculate that Microsoft's purchase of Yammer as well recent influx of search-centred add on products for SharePoint will improve the user-experience of this tool. Certainly, one wonders if these changes will really make a difference in how SharePoint is perceived amongst law firms, where SharePoint usage has become almost ubiquitous.
I just wrote about how Microsoft was looking at purchasing Yammer and the difference this might make to SharePoint. As the purchase is now official, we'll have to wait and see if Yammer – along with a recent influx of search-centred add on products for SharePoint – will improve the user-experience of this tool. And one has to wonder if these changes will really make a difference in how SharePoint is perceived amongst law firms, where SharePoint usage has become almost ubiquitous.
There are a number of compelling reasons why many law firms use SharePoint 2010 as a collaboration tool and in some cases as an intranet. Ease of use, strong document management tools and a powerful search are just three of the reasons. Others include bigger and better document libraries with SharePoint 2010 able to support millions of documents and incorporate enhanced tagging and reporting capabilities.
SharePoint 2010 also offers easy to use workflows, with a new interface, workflows (automated processes for opening a new client/matter) can be easily created without programming experience. There is also much improved document editing so users can easily edit documents without the help of IT or system administrators.
However, SharePoint has its problems, most notably with the collaborative features it provides, as discussed in my previous article on SharePoint, but also with its search features. Law firms tend to have very specific requirements when it comes to search and their information needs. In particular, law firms are interested in surfacing content about individuals and specific clients/matters they might have worked on alongside any documentation ("know-how") they wrote about the client/matter.
Most law firms refer to this type of search as an experience search, where an individual isn't looking for a specific piece of information but someone who knows something about a particular subject. Making this type of internal content available in SharePoint is a challenge as the content itself might not "live" in SharePoint. This is why a number of vendors including Recommind have produced search add-ons.
Recommind's add on, called Content Delivery for SharePoint delivers into SharePoint content that has been created outside of SharePoint. Thus, the tool provides users with a single view of all content that is being created. Recommind's solution can according to their press release "index any content type in SharePoint…any content that is indexed by the underlying Decisiv Search engine can be presented within SharePoint, combined with content that is native to SharePoint".
This allows users to work in a single environment in which they are presented with comprehensive content, rather accessing and searching several different sources for information. Given that these users that are, for the most part, strapped for time and reluctant to leave Outlook, an add-on like Content Delivery for SharePoint combined with SharePoint seems like a great way to encourage adoption.
Another add-on that has recently been launched is from Colligo. Its new module allows SharePoint to import content from other servers, including Microsoft Outlook. According to the Colligo press release "this new module makes it fast and easy to file, tag, find, view, and share email and attachments in SharePoint, from within the familiar Outlook interface". So what do these and other add-ons that have been created mean in terms of the evolution of SharePoint?
Certainly many law firms are using SharePoint out of the box, but given these and the other add-ons that are being built for SharePoint, I expect organisations, including law firms, to use a “best of breed” approach where a number of add-ons are bolted on. These will likely include search adds-on like Recommind's and FAST.
In this way, organisations and their employees get the best of both worlds: the best features of SharePoint combined with the powerful search features developed by Recommind, FAST and other vendors making information that has been created both inside and outside of SharePoint much easier to find.
If you're interested in reading more about how law firms are using SharePoint the links below will be of interest.
By James Mullan
James Mullan has worked in the legal sector since 2001. He is an advocate of social media tools and has been talking about how these tools can be used by information professionals and organisations since 2005. James is currently BIALL President and in 2009 won the Wildy-BIALL Law Librarian of the year award for his use of social media tools. Outside of work James is a keen runner and maintains his own blog called "The Running Librarian" Follow James on Twitter @jamesmullan6, friend him on Facebook, or connect with him on LinkedIn.
James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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