Over the last few years, much has been said about SharePoint’s collaboration capabilities. The platform provides a great deal of functionality to help people inside and outside of the enterprise work together. However, what is not discussed as frequently is SharePoint’s ability to help organizations manage content and information at the enterprise level.
With the introduction of SharePoint 2010, organizations using SharePoint have an opportunity to take advantage of new and previously released features that assist in enterprise information management.
Legacy document management systems have long had functionality that could uniquely identify a document, outside of its file name. When a document is checked into a traditional document management system, it’s assigned a unique identifier. This identity can be used to track a single document throughout its lifecycle.
With the advent of SharePoint 2010, Microsoft has introduced a new feature it called “Document ID.” While the concept isn’t new to enterprise document management systems, it is somewhat unique to collaboration-oriented platforms like SharePoint. By enabling document IDs, 2010 assigns a unique identity to each document within a SharePoint library (e.g. SHMSDXVKUEMX-1-13). The new ID is then permanently tracked by SharePoint. If the document is ever moved from one library to another, SharePoint’s companion document redirector service finds the document and redirects user requests to the new location.
The ability to tag content in your content management system is critical. Tagging content improves search and results, allows an employee to more easily find content through navigation and assists in overall content management. As organizations become more sophisticated in their treatment of content, managing metadata across the enterprise has become a critical service.
In SharePoint 2010, Microsoft improved metadata support. First, they’ve created a concept of a “content type hub.” Companies already using SharePoint 2007 know that Content Types carry a collection of metadata field used to describe the content, content template settings and workflow settings. In 2010, SharePoint gives you the ability to syndicate content types across multiple site collections (using the hub concept), ensuring that firms can consistently tag and managed content regardless of its location.
In addition to Content Type hubs, Microsoft introduced a new service for managing enterprise metadata. This service allows organizations to create a proper, hierarchical metadata schema and manage it centrally. The service then syndicates that schema to specific metadata fields across the SharePoint farm. One big opportunity presented with the service is that it could also be used as a part of a master data management service outside of SharePoint (though it was probably not a use case for the service when Microsoft created it).
In many cases, when creating a single document, you start with multiple files. For example, when a consulting firm creates a proposal, they may start with several supporting documents. It may begin with a pricing or financial model. Then a project plan needs to be created to describe the project work tasks. Then, once the formal proposal is created in Word, they may additionally create a summary PowerPoint presentation. While all of the content is stored across these various files, it’s all a part of a larger “proposal” construct that should truly be managed as a single unit. Enter Document Sets.
Document Sets are new for SharePoint 2010. They allow you to manage multiple files as a single entity within the repository. Further, you can define how SharePoint handles the creation of new instances of a specific Document Set. For example, you could define that the “Proposal” Document Set contains a blank financial model, a project plan, a company presentation and a blank proposal template (much like a typical document template in a Content Type). In this way, you define your firm’s best practice for creating a proposal. Further, all of the physical documents are treated as a single package -- the same metadata and information management policies.
Information Management Controls
SharePoint has historically focused on the creation and collaboration aspects of content management. Unfortunately, until the 2010 version, it lacked any automated way to enforce policies that govern the full life cycle -- control from “birth to death.”
A very notable addition to the SharePoint platform was introduction of information management policies. In 2010, firms can create rules at the Content Type level that enforce automated handling of documents. For example, an organization can create a rule that all non-disclosure agreements are moved to a records center after one year or that company memos are simply deleted after 3 months.
Keeping Collaboration at the Center
In addition to all of the other management functions, SharePoint has added a new set of “social” features. These features include document rating, notes, commenting and work streams. It is these features that help create the glue for many of the new information management functionality.
More firms today are relying on employees across the organization to collaborate with others who may or may not be local. As such, the ability to get a perspective on information is an important criteria in finding the right content for your needs.
For example, if given the choice of two documents that are seemingly on the same topic, do you take the one rated five stars or three? If you find a valuable document in your intranet, what other work has the author completed that might be useful? These kinds of questions can be answered through ratings and work streams -- both included in SharePoint 2010.
As Microsoft evolves the SharePoint platform, it has become an indispensible tool in many organizations. With the addition of these features, SharePoint is becoming a true enterprise content management system. This is not to say that SharePoint will help you solve every information challenge; there are more improvements that could be made.
However, if you’re already using SharePoint as a basis for an intranet or you’re considering the platform, the product offers a compelling mix of native functionality that can improve information management within the enterprise. Further, it now includes a great deal of social features that help bind the more traditional information and document management capabilities.
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