By Anthony Baratta
When it comes to SharePoint consulting, many businesses—even the ones with high-quality intranets or collaboration software systems—don't fully understand the importance of metadata. The concept of a data catalog about other data – aka metadata - can be difficult to grasp for anyone who works the slightest bit outside of the IT department. Still, metadata is vital for many businesses across many industries, for how it simplifies the process of finding, accessing, editing, managing or tracking different pieces of information. Metadata is critical for the proper organization of digital data.
Microsoft SharePoint provides enterprises with the tools they need to manage metadata in an efficient and effective fashion. Let’s imagine that you have recently uploaded a sizable library of documents to your SharePoint site. Your goal might be to build a website with these documents as the primary content, or perhaps you want your business team to be able to access and use these documents remotely, from anywhere. Either way, without proper metadata management, your document library would be simply a repository of files without any categorization or organization. While the documents may be technically accessible from your SharePoint system, it would be virtually impossible to navigate the library or find a specific document.
The term store: the key to SharePoint organization
The key to being able to retrieve your data, documents and files with ease is to use SharePoint's Managed Metadata and Term Store features to organize your information and make it easy to navigate. The Term Store allows you to create a taxonomic tagging system (e.g. hierarchical terms) for your documents so that your document library is manageable with a consistent naming and tagging system.
Think of your data as the books in a library. Simply dumping your documents into SharePoint would be the equivalent of throwing hundreds or even thousands of books into a haphazard pile on the floor. A Term Store gives you the tools you need to turn that pile into an actual library, with all of the consistency, categorization and alphabetization necessary to find the item you are looking for at any given time. The Term Store is almost like the Dewey Decimal System of SharePoint.
SharePoint's Term Store allows your business to design an effective system for cataloging your data. With a Term Store, you can assign different terms or term sets to different types of metadata. These terms (which are essentially tags) and term sets (which are groups of related tags) can be used to organize your data into different categories.
Understanding managed terms
The heart of SharePoint's Managed Metadata system is the managed terms feature. You can decide which terms you want to use for tagging data and which you don't. Using managed terms, SharePoint users are restricted to a limited number of metadata tags they can use to catalog documents. This restrictive quality makes it easier to build a library where every document that belongs to a department or category ends up in the same place using consistent naming and tagging —instead of half a dozen different places tagged with what may seem like similar or synonymous terms, but which result in inconsistent naming and difficult to find documents. For example, assume you have an Accounting department. Some of your employees may enter data such as “Acct Dept” or “Account. Dept” or “AD”. While these may all refer to the same thing, because people have entered names into the system in different ways, it will be nearly impossible to maintain consistency and retrieve information easily with these naming variations. By using the Term Store, you can enter the term as “Accounting Department”, and in every place within SharePoint that uses that field, that term will be entered consistently when referring to that specific department.
Essentially, managed terms (and the term sets into which you organize them) are the term store. By choosing the terms that your employees and site administrators can use to tag files or website content, you essentially map out the taxonomy of your entire SharePoint site. Since Term Store administrators control the managed terms, they can tailor these terms to the unique vocabulary of your business. Users of your SharePoint site can then choose these managed terms from a column when deciding how to tag and organize different documents. Managed terms lend consistency to your metadata that makes it easier to organize and find everything. This applies to employees who are searching SharePoint for a particular document as well as users trying to find a specific piece of content on a SharePoint-powered website.
Term Sets: the difference between local and global
The other key to using SharePoint's Managed Metadata system is learning to understand how term sets work. Term sets, in the general sense, are just groups of managed terms that are related to one another. However, there are two different types of term sets that you can use for your site: local term sets and global term sets.
Think of local term sets as the team or department-level term sets for your business. SharePoint is made up of different site collections and your individual departments might use their own site collections to catalog information. Local term sets are metadata that apply only to one site collection. For instance, you might have two teams within your organization working on different projects, and they might need to use entirely different tags to organize their data in SharePoint. Local term sets allow these teams to each have their own tags, without those terms being selectable for other site collections in SharePoint.
You can think of global term sets as enterprise-level metadata controls. Global term sets are managed terms that appear across an entire SharePoint system—regardless of the site collection or subsite. These terms are usually more general metadata tags that would be more useful for organizing information on a large scale. For instance, different departments or teams that have their own site collections (and their own local term sets) might be identified across a SharePoint site by a global term set. These global tags can help to categorize all of the data related to those groups.
This is an introduction of how to design an effective and efficient Term Store for your business. To learn more about Term Store management, Microsoft has a full tutorial on Term Store for SharePoint Online that’s well worth the read. However, if you have any urgent questions or need SharePoint consulting services, please do not hesitate to contact 2PLUS2. As SharePoint experts it would be our pleasure to assist you. For a free 30-minute SharePoint consulting session complete this form or contact us at (510) 652-7700.