By Cathy Dew
"Where do I find that document?" Finding the intersection of corporate knowledge and usability in your intranet platform through metadata
Microsoft SharePoint is one of the industry-leading intranet platforms, filled with powerful tools to manage data and help businesses become more efficient. Too often, companies set up their intranet and it either remains empty, or worse, filled with duplicative and unfindable data. To prevent this common fate, companies should take time to develop robust plans for managing data, so that data may eventually become usable corporate knowledge, accessible to everyone in the organization for years to come.
To turn unstructured data into corporate knowledge requires a few key planning steps. The first is to develop an information architecture (IA). IA has two distinct pieces—the physical structure of sites and subsites within a SharePoint intranet and the taxonomy. A taxonomy is the terms and phrases used to organize data. In file shares, this is accomplished via a folder structure. In SharePoint, this is best accomplished via metadata.
Metadata is "data about data," or the descriptive features about a particular file. Most files created on your desktop have a Created Date, Modified Date, and Title. These are metadata fields. Within SharePoint, administrators can create additional fields for any other kind of data that needs to be collected. It can be as broad as a type of document (Briefing, White Paper, Report) or as specific as the project the document relates to. The more metadata a document has, the easier it is for users to find it. And if the document moves to a different location, the metadata moves with it.
This is one of the main reasons why adding metadata to a document is preferable to storing them in folders. Too often, users are unable to find a document buried within a hierarchy of folders, and so will add a duplicative document to the same library in the intranet. Or users will fill subfolders with hundreds of documents, and no one is able to locate them because of the number of subfolders. In both scenarios, information is no longer usable—and therefore, it remains data instead of corporate knowledge.
Metadata, on the other hand, allows a much more flexible management of data. Instead of file folders, files are grouped and sorted by the metadata attached to it. For example, an organization dealing with international affairs may have a metadata field indicating the country a document pertains to. A "view" of the data may have the documents grouped by country, allowing easy location of a report on China. But if another user needs to see all reports, across all countries, they can change the "view" to show all the documents grouped by the type of document. Then reports on China, Thailand, Japan (etc.) will be visible together.
Beyond local organization, metadata improves the search functionality. Users can search across a SharePoint intranet and refine their results using metadata. Using the example above, if someone were to search on the term China, they would be able to refine their results to Chinese provinces or even by the type of document. This is crucial for corporate knowledge retention because not everyone will search by the same criteria. Therefore, it's essential that the content management system be agile enough to help users get to the right location.
Before any document is added to a site, organizations should have a clear plan on what kinds of metadata are important to capture and how that metadata will be structured. The Managed Metadata Service is a SharePoint feature organizations can use to create a taxonomy in a hierarchy, and have those terms available not only across a single site collection, but across the SharePoint intranet. Hierarchies can be flat, or as many as seven layers deep, depending on the need.
In the table below, two example term sets are used. The Category Term Set depicts the organizational hierarchy broken into departments. Under each heading (Administration, Billing and Finance, etc.), sub-terms may be added. This term set might align very closely with the site structure, where each heading refers to a specific site, although it does not have to.
Category Term Set
- Billing and Finance
- Human Resources
- Technical Support
- Department A
- Project 1
- Project 2
- Project 3
- Department B
- Department C
Document Type Term Set
- White Paper
- Form 2875
- Form 5510
- Form 8570
The second box depicts a different set of terms—these much broader. Where Technical Support and Department A terms might only be used on those particular sites, the Document Type term set would be used in every site across the environment. This term set might replace the need for document naming conventions, or it could help users refine searches, as mentioned above. Working together, it's easy to see how identifying the organization and document type can help users find the documents they're looking for.
These are but two examples of how metadata may be used. There are countless other fields that could be added—from dates and times to comments to even the draft status of the document. But a word of caution: in order to utilize metadata, users must be willing to add it to every file uploaded to the system. Having too many fields for users to enter might deter some from using the system because it is too cumbersome.
SharePoint's ability to not only add custom metadata fields, but manage documents with it, is one of its most powerful features. Taking the time to develop a robust IA and taxonomy will help keep your environment running smoothly and your users happy.
Are you ready to put a robust plan in place to manage your company’s data? Then do not hesitate to connect with us for a complimentary consultation. Or, if you have a few questions you need answered first, please contact us at (510) 652 7700.