This is the fourth article in this series “What Is This SharePoint Thing All About Anyway?” In this article we are going to be looking at the concept of SharePoint Enterprise Content Management (ECM).

I want to highlight for you some of the most common ECM features and work through some different ways that you can use them. My hope is that by reading this article you are able to identify some features that you aren’t currently using that could potentially help you work more efficiently within SharePoint.

Records Management

The first concept I want to cover is Records Management. Within SharePoint there are two types of Records Management that can be configured -- Global and In Place.

Global Records Management allows you to maintain a central location to store all company records. The Records Center Template is used along with Content Types to determine how to store and manage each type of document. When a document is declared a record it is moved to the official records center site and then assigned retention policies based on its content type.

There is also a way to configure what is known as In Place Records Management. When using this configuration it allows for items to be declared records but remain in their source location. This approach allows declared records and non-records to be stored in the same central location. This approach is useful if you need to access working content along with records.

And, like most things in technology, if one approach doesn’t work alone you can develop a hybrid approach. An example of a hybrid approach for Records Management in SharePoint could be keeping records in place for two years and then moving them to an official Records Center.

By configuring a Records Management solution you are enabling your organization to track and manage records over time including how they are created, managed, reviewed, published and then ultimately destroyed. This process involves reviewing the lifecycle of your documents and then building a solution that enables users to easily work with their content throughout its entire lifecycle.

There is much to think through and plan when setting up an approach for managing internal Records. Below are some links that I have found helpful as I go through the planning stage. This is definitely one of those topics that you want to have a good plan in place that includes a strategy for maintaining governance over time.

Information Management Policy Settings

Next up, I want to highlight some of the settings that you have access to for Records Management. These are known as Information Management Policy Settings and can be configured with either approach to Records Management. By default these policies are based on Content Types, but they can also be configured based on the Libraries folder structure.

Setting Description Real World Example
Retention Stages Schedule how content is managed and disposed by specifying a sequence of retention stages. If you specify multiple stages, each stage will occur one after the other in the order they appear on this page. These are often used when you need to trigger a workflow based on a timespan. A common example is if you want to email the creator every six months so they can validate the content or delete it.
Auditing Specify the events that should be audited for documents and items subject to this policy. This is used when you need to track very specific details about who is accessing the content. You can track the following actions:
  • Item Edits
  • Check In / Out
  • Moving or Copying Items
  • Deleting or Restoring It
Barcodes Assigns a barcode to each document or item. Optionally, Microsoft Office applications can require users to insert these barcodes into documents. You would configure this whenever you wanted to generate a bar code for each item in the list.
Labels You can add a label to a document to ensure that important information about the document is included when it is printed. An example of this would be if you wanted to automatically print the document metadata on the document. This could include the author, description or data created.

Even if you aren’t implementing an Enterprise Records Management strategy you can still take advantage of some of the In Place methods for various libraries. Retention policies are a common scenario for this approach. Since they allow for you to easily schedule re-occurring process such as monthly reviews or notifications they are a very powerful feature for building solutions in SharePoint.

Many Items Working Together

In this article we have covered at a very high level some of the features that are included with ECM in SharePoint, but there are many things behind the scenes that really bring the power to the solution.

Like most things in SharePoint, the small things make the big impact. The Records Management features allow us to declare records and manage policies for our content, but it all depends on the smaller items that we have configured. They include things such as Content Types, Metadata and our overall Information Architecture.

Without having all these items in place we can’t really implement an overall records management solution. The power in the solution is how it pulls all of the items together into one comprehensive management solution.

Getting Started

Because there are so many pieces to consider, the best advice that can be given about getting started with the concept of records management is to start by planning. Before you ever look at the technology, you should work within your organization to ensure that you have a good set of requirements and an understanding of the overall management strategy. Once that is created, you can look at the various components required (such as Content Types and Metadata) and plan for the various elements you will need.

Along the way, as you identify new concepts you should spend time diving into each of the areas and learning the basics. This will likely extend your planning process, but the end results will be better because of the extra effort along the way.

The links referenced above are very comprehensive and will provide you some great guidance on the planning process steps, as well as referencing valuable templates that will help you through the process. This is definitely one area of SharePoint that touches many of the different technologies available and uses different elements from each one.

Editor's Note: To read the first in Jennifer Mason's series: