By Anthony Baratta
A content type is a vital part of any SharePoint organization system. Content types are essentially collections of metadata that help determine how you will manage the documents that people store on your SharePoint sites. Read on to learn a bit more about how and why you might implement content types to make life easier for your team.
Using Content Types
With a content type, you can configure metadata columns that you can repeatedly reuse to organize information. You can also set up SharePoint workflows and other settings. The goal is to create habits or standards for how your enterprise will handle a specific category of documents, items, or information.
The types of documents that companies upload to their SharePoint sites vary quite a bit depending on niche and industry. However, no matter your industry, you probably have several different types of documents that you are using SharePoint to store, share, organize, etc. These various documents, in turn, have their own metadata requirements, document templates, document retention standards, workflows, and other behaviors.
For the sake of conversation, let's say you are adding three new documents to your SharePoint library: one is an invoice, one is a client contract, and one is a new marketing concept. You need to tag each of these document types with different metadata tags to make sure they are surfaced by search results and views/filters in the right place. You might also need to adhere to specific templates for each type of document, to make sure that it's consistent with other documents in that category. Further, you might have to configure workflows for the approval of each document, or set up retention timelines for the eventual deletion or archival of the file.
Saving Time and Avoiding Mistakes
Obviously, making all those configurations every single time you add a new file to SharePoint is a frustrating process. It's also a process that seems destined to bring about errors or inconsistency. We've previously talked about using the term store for managed metadata in SharePoint. With the term store, you can establish consistent metadata taxonomies for different types of files. Content types take that idea one step further, by setting up metadata columns and reminding users what types of metadata tags they need to add to each file they upload or create.
Content types can also pre-configure workflows, templates, and other behaviors and apply them universally to a whole group of files. Since setting up a SharePoint workflow can be rather complicated, the content types feature expedites the process while keeping approval standards and retention compliance in place.
As for templates, imagine building an invoice or contract from scratch every time. With an invoice, you'd have to draw up tables, get the billing information for the recipient, and essentially set up a template yourself—all before you could start creating the actual invoice. With a contract, you'd have to go through tedious legalese repeatedly. Sure, contracts need to be amended and rewritten for each new client or customer, but working with templates cuts out a lot of extra work.
You can even set up tiers of content types, where one general content type is featured at the top and several other more specific and specialized content types are situated below it. Microsoft's example for this kind of configuration is a situation where you have multiple categories of financial documents. All financial document categories have things in common, but they also have unique characteristics. To simplify matters as much as possible, you could configure an overarching "financial documents" content type and then have individual content types for stuff like invoices or purchase orders on the next tier down. The second level of content types would inherit all the settings of the first, but would also be able to have its own unique settings.
As you can see, working with managed metadata, smart workflows, and document templates can help to simplify things significantly for SharePoint use and organization. All of these features as standalones would be useful. Being able to put them all together with content types is nothing short of invaluable—especially for larger enterprises where a lot of different people are uploading a lot of different kinds of documents into the system.
A Note about the Content Type Syndication Hub
In the spirit of maximum simplification, SharePoint also has a feature called the "Content Type Syndication Hub." If you have multiple SharePoint site collections, but store similar data and document types across them, you probably don't want to go through each site collection and re-program the same content types more than once.
Using the syndication hub, you can share, publish, and manage content types across multiple SharePoint site collections. This feature ensures that your document organization, metadata, workflows, and retention standards are the same across the board.If you want to know more about the syndication hub, please complete our Free Consultation form or learn more here.
Do you need help configuring the content types for your SharePoint library, site, or site collections? 2 Plus 2 is happy to consult and show you how to set up this complicated but extremely helpful feature. Call us at 510-652-7700 to set up a consultation with our team.