Sep 13 2011

A Record Hit

Schools tap SharePoint Server 2010 for enterprise content management needs.

Schools tap SharePoint Server 2010 for enterprise content management needs.

Corralling numerous documents, files, presentations and records so they can be more easily organized, accessed and managed has always been the purpose of content and records management systems. But the evolving needs of organizations to more efficiently and effectively manage these vast stores of documents across departments, user groups, locations and applications is driving new requirements for enterprise content management (ECM) systems.

Central California's Fresno Unified School District chose Microsoft SharePoint Server as the enterprise foundation for managing content related to student information, lessons, purchasing, finances and more. The K–12 school district, which serves more than 73,000 students in 94 schools, has been using SharePoint Server since 2007, says Kurt Madden, chief technology officer. The district initially deployed SharePoint as a collaboration solution due in part to the product's capabilities for building and hosting public websites, as well as enabling teachers and other staff members to share information.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, principal with the analyst firm The Real Story Group, says that ECM aims to “bring some order to the chaos that electronic and paper documents are typically in.” As organizations continue to struggle with duplication, redundancy and a lack of formal workflows across the enterprise, ECM systems can help. Pelz-Sharpe says SharePoint Server now offers a user-friendly solution that provides a broad level of functionality.

SharePoint Server is gaining ground as a full-fledged ECM solution, progressing from its early roots as a web content management system used for intranets, portals, web pages and other web-based content. In late 2009, Microsoft unveiled SharePoint Server 2010 with new features and functions that have boosted its position as an ECM solution. In fact, a survey by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM) found that more than one-third of organizations are using SharePoint to manage content across the enterprise, and over half intend for SharePoint to be their primary ECM system. AIIM focuses on helping users understand the challenges associated with managing documents, content, records and business processes. The 2011 survey, “Using SharePoint for ECM,” is based on responses from nearly 675 AIIM members.

Upgrade Underway

Fresno Unified School District is migrating from SharePoint Server 2007 to 2010, and Madden expects the upgrade to be complete soon. He says SharePoint Server 2010's more robust ECM capabilities fit well with the school district's student information system. Dubbed the Achievement Technology Learning Assessment System (ATLAS), the system may eventually serve as a one-stop shop for teachers to accomplish all their administrative and teaching duties. ATLAS is built as a Microsoft .Net app, and SharePoint Server provides the framework, he says.

SharePoint Server 2010 has proved more robust than the previous version, according to Madden. “We have a large site with multiple front ends and multiple servers, and 2007 would perform more slowly. It would take maybe a minute to bring up a page,” he says. “With 2010, response time is much better.” The IT staff also appreciates the enterprise security features that make it easier to integrate security and access controls into the websites.

Security, availability and performance are important, particularly because FUSD's purchasing department uses SharePoint Server as a platform for managing hundreds of bids and contracts. The district's financial department uses the tool to manage budget documents for each of the schools as well as budget documents pertaining to individual departments within the school system.

Like Fresno Unified School District, West Fargo Public Schools initially implemented SharePoint as a collaboration tool and is now exploring the product's content management capabilities, says Robert Kaspari, director of technology for the district in West Fargo, N.D. The school system, a smaller district with 14 schools in the eastern part of North Dakota, began using SharePoint Server 2007 and has since upgraded to 2010.

Kaspari says the software has evolved into a system for sharing and managing documents. “SharePoint Server is an electronic way of managing day-to-day operations of what teachers do and how they work with the students,” he says. It also supports grading tasks and sharing grading content with the district's administration.

35 zettabytes
Estimated volume of digital content that will be created worldwide by the end of the decade

SOURCE: “2011 IDC Digital Universe Study,” EMC (June 2011)

“There is a lot of information that needs to flow between buildings and collaboration among buildings and within different departments,” Kaspari notes. “Our vision is that SharePoint Server will support that.”

Students of West Fargo and FUSD also directly benefit from the content management deployments. For example, Kaspari says that as the West Fargo students use SharePoint Server 2010's My Sites feature and work with SharePoint Server in other ways, the experience will improve their learning and better prepare them for a technology-driven future.

FUSD has tens of thousands of pages on SharePoint Server, and it features My Site websites for students that form a record of students' class assignments and project work all the way from kindergarten to Grade 12. “When they graduate, we give them a flash drive of all their school work,” Madden says.

Tips for SharePoint Success

To succeed with SharePoint, IT workers need to plan smartly and think strategically. Here are a few tips that will ensure your organization gets the most out of SharePoint:

  • Infrastructure matters. Plan for growth and server availability. Consider mirroring or clustering database servers, and installing at least two web front-end servers.
  • Set policies and guidelines before going live. For example, if you want to run your SharePoint records center as an independent service, consider implementing the record center as a completely separate SharePoint instance and link it back to your SharePoint portal.
  • Don't skip security. Be certain that you have set security parameters and access controls so that you don't inadvertently expose private information.
  • Put user needs first. Without an intuitive system and robust training and support, end users won't use the software to its full potential, and you won't get a solid return on your investment.
  • Tap peer knowledge. Find a user group or follow SharePoint bloggers.

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