Defining the Oft Underused SharePoint Document Center

Turning attention to SharePoint's Document Center, we start with definition and discuss major uses and benefits of Document Center sites. More to come.

By Cathy Dew

When it comes to organizing files in SharePoint, most businesses rely on document libraries. However, SharePoint also has another file storage solution—the Document Center—that is widely underused by enterprises. In this post, we are going to look at the Document Center definition, as well as the major uses and benefits of Document Center sites.

Understanding the Document Center Definition

The first big question to answer about the Document Center is why it exists. After all, if document libraries are already in place to provide a content storage and management solution, what unique functionality could the Document Center possibly provide?

The simplest answer to this query is “scalability.” A good Document Center definition is “like a document library but on a larger scale.” When you have hundreds of thousands of files to store—from Word documents and PDF files to videos and photos—you would use a Document Center to manage them. The Document Center is a site template within SharePoint, while document libraries are list templates. As such, the Document Center is inherently the higher level, preferable for—in Microsoft’s words— “large-scale document management.”

That doesn’t mean that you can’t use document libraries. After all, any given SharePoint document library can reportedly hold 30 million documents—probably more than you will ever need. What you might do, however, is use the Document Center to manage a collection of document libraries. The Document Center, in other words, becomes the root site for all your document storage needs, while the individual libraries can break things down further into categories.

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A good Document Center definition is “like a document library but on a larger scale.”

The Document Center itself can be either a site collection or a sub-site. Neither option is inherently “superior.” If you want to have an entire site collection for document storage and management, you are welcome to do so. This option can be optimal if you want to make sure that all your document libraries play by the same managed metadata rules. If you have an enormous number of files, putting them all on their own site collection can also help you avoid bogging down other sites and site collections with the sheer resource demands of having lots of content.

On the other hand, if you want document management to be just one part of your SharePoint site, use the sub-site configuration. For instance, if departments mostly work separately and each has its own document repository, it might make sense to have multiple Document Centers spread out as sub-sites on different collections

Ultimately, the best option will depend on your organization, your file management needs, and your overall SharePoint environment setup.

Document Center Environments

Speaking of environments, the Document Center itself has two for you to choose from: the authoring environment and the content archive environment.

The authoring environment is good if you want to use the Document Center for file editing and general team collaboration. This environment makes it easy for users to create, edit, and store new or existing files. The Document Center itself acts as a repository that users can go to whenever they need to author a file or work on a project.

The content archive environment is used more like a long-time storage and hosting spot for files. The documents stored in this kind of Document Center typically don’t need to be worked on or edited and are usually set up as “view-only” files. Content archive environments are often used to create “knowledge bases,” or resource archives that users can access to find FAQs, technical support guides, or other useful documents. You might also use a content archive as a long-term archive for all your files—for document retention and similar purposes. However, in most cases, you would be better off using a Records Center template for that kind of application.

Extra Site Features Available on the Document Center

One of the big perks of using a Document Center is that the site template comes with multiple features that are meant specifically for large-scale document management. These features are not necessarily available in document libraries. Even if they are, they aren’t always enabled by default. Here are a few of the key features to expect when you start using your Document Center:

  • Document IDs: At the site collection level, SharePoint lets you configure what are called Document IDs. A Document ID is meant to make it easy to find and track a document, no matter where you store it in your site collection. Even if a file gets moved from one library or folder to another—whether on purpose or by accident—it retains the same Document ID. Because the Document ID always stays with the file, it simplifies the discovery process and cuts down the time that you spend digging around SharePoint for a specific document.
  • Document Sets: In most cases, you aren’t going to have a file in your Document Center that isn’t related to anything else. A project group might be working on multiple files simultaneously that are all related to one another, or you might constantly be creating new documents that relate back to the same client account. A Document Set helps you keep these files connected with one another without having to segment them off into their own folder. The Document Set works like a folder, but it’s actually a content type. The Document Set pulls all specified files into one central view, making it easy to see and manage related documents.
  • Meta Navigation: Of course, the Document Center site template supports managed metadata navigation. You can apply relevant metadata terms to different documents and then use that metadata to search, filter, and find what you need. You can even specify metadata terms for Document Sets. Once specified, these meta tags will be applied to every document in the set. Document Center sites also allow you to configure content types, to ensure that each new document is tagged with the proper metadata before it is saved and archived.
  • Document Versioning: In any SharePoint document library, you have the option to enable file versioning. With the Document Center, versioning is enabled by default. Versioning, of course, allows you to keep track of all the changes made to a document. You can view older versions of a file for reference, or you can restore an older version of a file if it was saved over by accident. Having this feature enabled automatically is a small thing, but it can be beneficial in certain situations where you absolutely need to salvage an earlier version of a document. In a document library, you might be out of luck if you never thought to enable versioning. In the Document Center, you always have a failsafe in place.
  • Document Check-in and Check-out: Another feature that is automatically enabled for you in a Document Center template is document check-in and check-out. Requiring users to check a file out before they start working on it eliminates situations where multiple people are editing a document at the same time. When the user checks a file back in, he or she needs to include notes or comments about any edits or changes. These notes are then included in the version history, making it easier to tell different versions of a file apart.
  • The Content Organizer: The Content Organizer is not enabled in the Document Center by default. However, it tends to be an extremely popular added configuration for enterprises that use the Document Center for mass document management. That’s because the Content Organizer automates certain parts of the document management process. When you configure the Content Organizer, you give it a set of rules that it can use to recognize and organize different files. In the future, when you upload new documents to your Document Center site, the Content Organizer will use those rules to determine where it should store the file. It can then route your files to the document libraries or document folders where they belong. When your users are uploading hundreds of new files to the Document Center every single day, this automated functionality saves precious time. Content Organizer can also keep track of folder sizes/capacities, flag duplicate submissions, and more.

As you can see, the Document Center has the potential to simplify a lot of things for your enterprise. For businesses that go through a lot of files on a regular basis, building a Document Center and taking advantage of these features can provide a big boost in efficiency, productivity, and overall usability.

Get Help with Your Document Center: Call 2Plus2 for a Consultation

Maybe you aren’t sure whether a Document Center is right for your business. Perhaps you don’t know whether to go with a site collection or sub-site configuration. Or maybe you just need help configuring features like the Content Organizer.

In any case, if you need a hand with your Document Center, or if you simply want to learn a bit more about the pros and cons of using one, give us a call at 2Plus2. We’d be happy to set up a free consultation to tell you more about the Document Center definition and learn more about your needs. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.
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