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Integrating document management systems into Microsoft SharePoint 2007

Want to make MOSS 2007 your primary document management system and keep your existing content too? Learn how with these three approaches for document management system integration.

If you use SharePoint, you're probably familiar with its document management functions: opening, creating and uploading documents, version and permission management, content types and so on. Because of its document management capabilities, many administrators are looking to make Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS 2007) their primary document management system.

If you are one of them, be sure to conduct a business system analysis before you deploy a MOSS 2007 document library. The analysis will tell you what to do with your previous document management system (DMS).

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 Perhaps you should migrate all of its content, or perhaps you want to leave the old system in place and integrate its content in the new SharePoint environment. While migration is a valid option, this tip will focus on the integrated option.

When choosing integration, first ask yourself what you'll need to integrate. Documents are more than simple files. Their file format (.doxc, .txt, .pdf, etc.), content and metadata are also important. Decent DMS software handles those parts and makes them available to end users. Also determine what type of integration will best meet your business needs.

In my experience, document management systems integration methods fall into one of the three the following categories:

  1. Documents and metadata are stored in the external system, and you just need a way to present them within the SharePoint interface.

  2. External documents come from different places (for example, from file sharing or an external database) and its metadata is stored in SharePoint lists.

  3. Documents are stored in SharePoint libraries, but there's an external database for metadata.

Frame integration method

Sometimes you just need a simple way to present your Web-based document management system within Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. If that's the case, use the "frame" integration method. To do so, insert a Page Viewer Web Part that has an iFrame, and have the source point to your old (integrated) Web-based document management system. While not an official methodology, using frame integration allows you to integrate systems without any custom development. Nevertheless, be careful, because in this case you have to maintain at least two systems simultaneously (SharePoint and the external DMS), and you may encounter some issues with, for instance, permission management.

Integrating external documents with metadata stored in SharePoint lists

There are many document management systems, but all of them are built on several document storages: file system, custom database, etc. These storages are responsible for storing, organizing the documents and making them available to the DMS systems. If you decide to keep your external document management system in place, use its external document storage, and connect it to SharePoint list items that contain the metadata. The documents and the metadata in SharePoint lists are linked to its external data source. The simplest way to connect documents to an external data source is to choose the Hyperlink column in the metadata list that links to the related documents. However, if you need much stronger integration between the documents and their metadata, third-party SharePoint products can help you.

Integrating SharePoint document libraries with external metadata

Since MOSS 2007 has strong document management capabilities, many IT departments use it as a full document management system. But, if you need complex data connections, try installing a relational database and integrating it into the document libraries. This approach is much easier than using lookup fields and other SharePoint tricks to integrate. To connect documents with their complex external metadata, try using Business Data Catalog columns to integrate. You can also apply some custom code, such as custom fields or Web Parts, if needed.

The more SharePoint-based products you deploy, the more benefits you'll have. When it comes to DMSes, the document libraries are much stronger than external solutions for the following reasons:

  • When using content types, you can differentiate your documents from each other and make your system easy to extend.

  • SharePoint's out-of-the-box version management capabilities provide an easy way to manage every minor and major item.

  • The built-in Document Information Panel lets you manage document properties in the Office applications (e.g., Word, Excel). You can also customize the information to fit special requirements. You can, for example, divide the fields into separated groups or insert a company logo into the panel.

  • SharePoint's workflow capabilities let you implement even complex business processes related to the stored documents.

With document libraries, SharePoint's built-in permission management capability enables you to administer all content accessibility.

Whatever integration method you choose, know this: There is no silver bullet, no one right answer to all document management systems integration issues. The three methods outlined above can work in several business environments and meet different business needs. Conducting a thorough business analysis shows you which one method to use.

Agnes Molnar, is a MOSS MVP and has been working with Microsoft technologies and SharePoint since 2001. After releasing MOSS 2007, she founded L&M Solutions, her own SharePoint consultant company in Hungary, Central Europe. She's been working as senior consultant and solutions architect, and has led numerous Central European companies' SharePoint implementation. Visit her SharePoint blog:

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