By Anthony Baratta
In previous blogs, we've spent a fair amount of time discussing the solutions that SharePoint provides for storing and managing documents. These solutions include SharePoint document libraries (generally ideal for small collections of documents) and the SharePoint Document Center (typically perfect for massive quantities of files). However, both of these tools tend to be best for active documents—or at least, for files that members of your organization are frequently accessing. Both document libraries and the Document Center can give your team the option of editing and versioning files—perfect for cross-company collaboration. The Document Center also offers a content archive environment, where you might store read-only files like manuals and tutorials so that they are readily accessible to many users at once.
When to Use the SharePoint Records Center
If you want to use SharePoint for more classic "records management" applications, though, then the SharePoint Records Center is for you. In particular, the Records Center is a great place to store your legal and financial documents. Records of this ilk are unique in that you need to hold onto them for legal document retention reasons, but you don't necessarily need to make them accessible to your entire team on a day-to-day basis. On the contrary, in a busy Document Center or an already overloaded document library, a bunch of legal and financial documents might impair the efficiency, speed, and usability of the system.
With the Records Center, you can get those records out of the way of your team, but still, ensure their preservation on your system. The Microsoft support page for the Records Center says that it is similar to document libraries and Document Center templates "in that it serves as a general repository for documents and enables collaboration among site users." (In other words, you could use the Records Center as a hub for team collaboration if you wanted to do so.) However, the site template for the Records Center is pre-configured specifically with document retention policies in mind.
Important Features to Know about with the Records Center
The document retention features that are configured into the Records Center by default are unique from anything you have used on any other SharePoint site. Here are a few of the key features to know about as you start populating the Records Center with documents:
Information Management Policy Features
With the Records Center, you can use a variety of policy features to configure your own data management system. These features can assist with information security, retention, and organization. For instance, the audit feature automatically records who is accessing individual files and what they are doing with them. The expiration feature, meanwhile, lets you automate a deletion or archival strategy for files based on how long they have been retained. You can pair the expiration feature with a workflow to decide what should happen to files once they have been maintained for a period.
The Records Center is useful as a document retention hub largely because of what Microsoft calls its "vault abilities." These features prevent your files from being tampered with or otherwise modified without your knowledge. The system itself doesn't alter the documents in any way, ensuring that they always look the same and contain the same information as they did the day they were uploaded. Auditing and versioning features track users who access files and preserve the original version of the modified document, in case any modifications were made without authorization. The Records Center also has its own metadata management system, so you can tweak the metadata on a file without altering the file itself.
The Records Center includes numerous features that you can use to get files to where they need to be. The center's programmable interface can be configured to accept new files via email, other SharePoint sites, or document management systems. The center also includes a content organizer that can route incoming records to their proper location. The organizer tool can use metadata to file a new document into its rightful place in the Records Center. These systems allow users to archive older files automatically to the Records Center, as just one step of the document retention train.
If your organization is ever involved in court litigation, some of your digital records might be sought as part of legal discovery, or e-Discovery. Files subject to e-Discovery cannot be deleted or archived until they are no longer under legal discovery. Similar concepts apply to some investigations and audits. In such situations, you cannot let your Records Center and its retention schedule accidentally clean out files that are subject to e-Discovery—lest you wish to have trouble with the law. The Records Center allows you to place e-Discovery files on "hold," which essentially exempts those records from the usual retention and archival schedules.
In Place Records Management
One of the most impressive capabilities of the SharePoint Records Center is that you apply the center's document management and retention features to a file without said file being stored in the Records Center itself. Instead, you can store files "in place." This concept means that you can have a file stored on any other SharePoint site—including document libraries or the Document Center—but still have it configured to follow the Records Center's retention policies.
Keeping your organization compliant with all relevant document retention laws can be a complicated process. With the Records Center, SharePoint can make the process easier through automation and organization. To learn more about how to configure the Records Center's many useful features, read the Microsoft support page on the subject.
Or, connect with the sharp minds here at 2PLUS2 for a free consultation and we’ll field your questions on how to configure the SharePoint Records Center’s many features. Have just one question? Then grab that mobile and let us know about it – (510) 652-7700.