By Cathy Dew
When it comes to using SharePoint as a file management system, you need both a way to store active documents and a way to manage archived files. The active file repository is important because it’s where your users will upload, author, collaborate on, publish, and store documents that are relevant to current projects. The SharePoint archive, meanwhile, is vital for document retention, legal compliance, posterity, and reference. Your document management strategy is not complete without either piece.
Using a Document Center as a Standing Archive
A Document Center can serve as either an active file repository or a content archive. Some enterprises might even opt to use it as both, just to keep everything in the same basic place. You can set your Document Center site up as either an authoring environment or a content archive. The former is ideal for active file creation, while the latter is good for storing documents that don’t need editing.
Just because you can use a Document Center as a standard archive, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. While you can configure a Document Center site as a content archive, that use is typically meant more for something like a knowledge base or resource center than as a spot for document retention. If you need to create a standing archive for retaining older files, your best bet is probably to use the Records Center Template.
Using the Records Center
The Records Center is the go-to SharePoint archive for various reasonsFirst, it gets outdated or no-longer-relevant files out of the way of other operations. When you have old documents clogging up your active document libraries—or even your Document Center site—they can make it harder to search and find what you need.
Secondly, the Records Center template includes multiple features that are geared specifically toward smart archival and document retention policies. The most important of these features is multi-stage retention, which allows you to specify review, audit, expiration, and file deletion dates/policies for different files or content types. This feature essentially allows you to map out the entire lifecycle of an archived file, even years after you move it to the Records Center.
There are other useful features, too. The Records Center has Document IDs enabled by default, allowing you to track and monitor a file no matter where it gets routed. It can also automatically create audit reports about individual files, to keep track of reviews and retention compliance. The Records Center also comes with the Content Organizer, which automatically routes incoming files to the right folders or locations based on metadata. Speaking of folder structure, the Records Center template has a hierarchal file plan that lets you easily manage retention policies (and policy inheritance) for groups of related documents.
Other Options for Document Archival
All told, if you need a SharePoint archive solution, you really can’t go wrong with the Records Center. However, that doesn’t mean the Records Center is the only game in town. There are other strategies you can use to achieve effective and compliant document retention practices within SharePoint.
The first of these alternative strategies is in-place records management. When you manage records in-place, you don’t have to move them out of their native document libraries or lists. Instead, you simply declare the document in question a record. A file tagged as a record is technically considered part of your SharePoint archive. You can even apply special security, retention, auditing, and disposal policies to the file—just like you would in a Records Center. In other words, the document is still treated like something that is part of your company’s document retention strategy; it’s just in the same place it’s always been.
The main perk of in-place records management is that the file location doesn’t change. If an end user needs to find and reference an older document, but a colleague has moved the file to the Records Center or some other content archive, it can create a lot of confusion. The user goes to find the file where it has always been, only to realize it is no longer there. In-place records management can save time and frustration in these types of situations, by keeping the file searchable within your Document Center or document library. In-place records management also provides this benefit without adding any inherent limitations to the archival process. With in-place records management, you can apply a variety of archival rules to any file you want—including auditing, reporting, retention, workflows, eDiscovery, legal hold, and expiration.
The second alternative strategy is to set up an “Archive Library” (or several) within your Document Center. This type of SharePoint archive is just a document library where you move files once they are no longer active. You can use workflows and retention rules to route documents to the Archive Library once they have reached certain criteria. For instance, you might archive a file after it reaches a certain date. (You can also use workflows to route documents to the Records Center or to declare them as records for in-place management.)
The Archive Library tactic can sometimes provide the best of both worlds. On the one hand, it gets inactive files out of your active, collaborative document libraries. Extracting those files from an authoring environment means they aren’t cluttering up searches or views of that document library. On the other hand, keeping those files in a different document library on the same Document Center site means that they still show up in a global site search.
Choosing the Right SharePoint Archive for Your Business
So which type of SharePoint archival solution is the right fit for your business? The answer will depend on a variety of factors, ranging from preference to legality.
First, think about legal compliance. Some industries face much stricter regulations for document retention than others. Specifically, your industry could have a regulation that requires you to keep active documents separate from archived documents. Such a policy makes your path clear, as a Records Center is really the only solution that will keep files separate from your active document libraries or Document Center sites.
If you aren’t under such extreme regulatory mandates, you have more freedom to decide things based on your business and situation. One big question to ask is how often your end users will need to access or reference files bound for archival. The answer here might differ depending on content type or project or might even vary from file to file. If you don’t need most of your records for much beyond retention and compliance, a Records Center or Archival Library is smart. Document libraries get cluttered as is, so whatever you can do to diminish the clutter will aid searchability and discoverability. If users will consistently need to reference archived documents, though, then in-place records management is going to be the more convenient option.
You should also think about the document library that you are thinking about using for in-place records management. Some businesses make document libraries for each department, while others create libraries for individual projects. If your document library is a project library, you are probably going to want to send the files to an Archival Library or Records Center for retention. Once your project is done, there isn’t any reason to keep that document library. However, since legal compliance might still demand that you hold onto those files, you need a place to keep them. In-place records management won’t work if the records themselves are going to outlive the usefulness of the document library.
Finally, think about security. You may well want to restrict access to archived documents more than the permissions for a specific document library allow. While you can break permissions and set custom security measures for files once you have declared them as in-place records, it might be easier just to move them somewhere else. That way, you can set up stricter security measures for your Records Center or Archive Library, keeping those older files safe from prying eyes.
As you can see, there are a lot of different questions to think about before you pull the trigger and build your SharePoint archival strategy. When in doubt, consult with department heads, records managers, and end users to learn more about how people in your organization use active files and records daily. You should also speak with your company’s legal department, to figure out where exactly your document retention obligations lie.
Consult with 2Plus2 about Your SharePoint Archive
If you aren’t sure which direction to choose for your SharePoint archive strategy, give us a call at 2Plus2. Over the years, we have helped countless organizations develop smart, convenient, intuitive, and legally compliant plans for archiving old documents. We can look at your situation and help you choose the best plan based on your business, your file structure, your industry, and several other factors. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.