Deep Dive: SharePoint Document Management

Versioning, retention and collaborative tools

The first step is understanding SharePoint's many document management capabilities, including:

  • What Is SharePoint Document Management?
  • How do I Design a Document Management Structure in SharePoint?
  • What are Content Types and How do I Create Them?
  • What are SharePoint Document Workflows?
  • What are the Benefits of Document Management Workflows?
  • What are the Key Features of SharePoint Document Center Templates?
  • What is SharePoint Versioning?
  • What is an Effective SharePoint Information Management Policy?

SharePoint offers a variety of document management features meant to help enterprises turn their SharePoint intranets into document retention systems, collaborative suites, and more. At 2Plus2, we frequently assist companies who need to understand SharePoint’s many document management capabilities. From collaboration to organization to security, these features offer far-reaching benefits that can be helpful to any business.

What Is SharePoint Document Management?

A document management system is a digital architecture that businesses use to store, organize, manage, and track their electronic files, folders, and other materials. Therefore, a SharePoint document management is the type of system that enterprises build using the features in SharePoint 2013, 2016, or SharePoint Online.

Though there are many electronic document management solutions on the market, few offer the level of control and customization that SharePoint does while being fully integrated into Office365.

With SharePoint, enterprises can store multiple types of documents, establish permissions-based security policies, build searchable databases with metadata tagging, automate document retention policies, enable teams to collaborate on projects, establish review processes, and more. The sheer number of document management features available in SharePoint makes it an agile solution for virtually any organization.

How do I Design a Document Management Structure in SharePoint?

Enterprises can use SharePoint’s features to develop comprehensive document management solutions without having to use outside tools or services. These features include document centers, workflows, versioning, content types, naming conventions, metadata tagging, permissions, and more. All these important document management features within SharePoint revolved around then Document Library.

The Document Library is the fulcrum for all the document management features in SharePoint.

It is within the Document Library that enterprises can organize documents with metadata and content types, establish naming conventions and workflows for their libraries, and set up permissions to decide who will be able to access individual files or folders.

The first step to designing a document management structure in SharePoint is to determine what purposes a Document Library will serve:

  • What type of documents will be stored there?
  • How many documents does the library need to support?
  • What sort of metadata tagging will be necessary for the organization of the library?
  • Will teams need to use workflows, document approvals, document retention policies, or other processes to manage the files in the Document Library?
  • Is the information to be stored in the Document Library sensitive enough to require different permission levels?

Enterprise teams should answer these questions to get a sense of how they want to organize SharePoint documents. Learn more about getting started with the Document Library.

What are Content Types and How do I Create Them?

Content types are vital to the organization of a SharePoint document management structure, particularly for bulk document storage situations. Content types group reusable collections of metadata, workflows, and other settings based on different categories of documents. They help to standardize the organization of files across document libraries so that all documents in a category are handled in the same fashion.

For instance, a company might have a content type for invoices. This content type would then make sure that all invoices followed a similar workflow, were tagged with the same metadata tags, and more.

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Enterprises wishing to use content types for organization purposes should start at the site collection level, rather than in a particular Document Library. SharePoint site collections break down into different libraries or lists and sub-sties in a hierarchal fashion. If you create a content type at the site collection level, all the libraries or lists and sub-sites included in that SharePoint site collection will be able to access and use that content type configuration. If you create the same content type at the library or list level, though, you will need to repeatedly recreate it if you want to use it in other libraries or lists.

Creating content types at the site collection level simplifies the process and saves you time by enabling your content types across various libraries and lists.

Learn more about customizing content types.

For medium and large SharePoint installations, look at using the Content Syndication Hub to push the corporate content types to all site collections. This special site collection is used to ensure that your customizations are pushed to all the site collections within your SharePoint installation. Additionally, changes / updates you make to your existing content types are also propagated. Update a template attached to your Employee Expense Report content type, and all site collections will receive the updated template. We discuss the importance of content types and the content syndication hub during our Avoiding the Document Tsunami webinar.

What are SharePoint Document Workflows?

SharePoint document workflows are useful for teams that want to institute some level of quality control or automation for newly created documents. With workflows, SharePoint can take standard business processes and make them part of the bigger document management picture.

For instance, if a department creates a client contract that needs to be reviewed and signed by multiple people throughout the organization, they might use a SharePoint workflow to automate and simplify the process. SharePoint can route the document through the company, collecting signatures from each person who is required to sign. Conveniently, the workflow would also allow participants to see a summary of who had signed the document and whose signature was still required. This feature would make it easy for the original creator of the contract to reach out to any holdouts and remind them to sign.

SharePoint provides several workflows that businesses can use right out of the box, such as the example described above (the “Collect Signatures” workflow), as well as various workflows for document review and approval. Enterprises can also build new workflows within SharePoint, or hire a SharePoint consulting team like 2Plus2 to create them.

What are the Benefits of Document Management Workflows?

The freedom that SharePoint provides in letting users customize workflows means that these functions can have a near-infinite number of applications for the SharePoint document management process.

Even SharePoint’s out-of-the-box workflows are powerful. For example, the document approval workflow offers a system where files travel through a chain of different managers or group leaders for review. These approved persons are the only ones who can see or edit a file when it is going through the workflow, which helps with security. They can also make edits and suggestions and work to improve the file before it is approved. The workflow process, in this case, promotes collaboration and communication among teams.

The out-of-the box workflows can also be called by other custom workflows so you don’t have to recreate the approval or feedback workflow processes.

To learn more about document management workflows in SharePoint, we have several articles that can get you started and build on your current successes:

What are the Key Features of SharePoint Document Center Templates?

Companies who are building document management structures in SharePoint will start with the basic document library and add more as they need them to organize their files. However, for enterprises with large-scale document management needs, the SharePoint Document Center may offer more appeal.

In many ways, Document Center site templates are the same as document libraries: they allow teams to set up metadata tagging, implement content types, use document versioning, and more. However, Microsoft intended the Document Center for businesses with “hundreds or thousands” of files to store. Where a Document Library can become unwieldy when used to store too many documents, the Document Center is designed for bulk file management.

Another way to describe a SharePoint Document Center is that it’s a specialized collection of document libraries.

The SharePoint Document Center has two site templates to choose from: the authoring environment and the archival environment. With an authoring site, enterprises can create new files, edit existing files, and by default save up to 10 versions of a single file. This template is for works in progress. The archival environment, meanwhile, saves all files as read-only and is intended as a spot to organize, save, and retain completed files.

Other unique features of the Document Center include document IDs and faceted search. With document IDs, teams can create a permanent URL for each document on a SharePoint site. This URL will always direct to the file, even if its location on the site changes. The faceted search, meanwhile, builds upon the meta data used within the document content types to allow users to enter multiple different search criteria for a document center search. This feature becomes extremely useful for simplifying searches of the thousands of files hosted within a SharePoint Document Center.

We have a great overview of what a Document Center can offer you with our SharePoint Document Center: The Large-Scale Document Management article.

What is SharePoint Versioning?

As a feature of both document centers and document libraries, versioning is a key component of the SharePoint document management experience. Versioning allows SharePoint users to save a file and SharePoint will retain the previous copy of the file in the file history. Teams can then refer to or revert to earlier versions of the file when necessary.

SharePoint lets users create versions of files in two different ways, via Major and Minor versioning. When using Major versioning SharePoint retains a copy of the file with each save, and the most current copy is immediately available to everyone with view or edit/collaboration rights. While with minor versioning, SharePoint retains a copy of the file with each save, and only if you have edit/collaboration rights can you see the most current copy. Visitors with view only rights see the last Major version, and will not see the most current copy until it is promoted to the next Major version.

To learn more about versioning and document publishing in SharePoint, we have a great article on Configuring SharePoint Solutions: Document Publishing.

What is an Effective SharePoint Information Management Policy?

There are two challenges when it comes to creating an effective information management policy with SharePoint. The first challenge is complexity. SharePoint offers a broad range of different document management features, and most enterprises won’t master them all overnight. The second challenge is that creating an information management policy is not a linear process. Instead of working through SharePoint’s document management features in a fixed order, teams will likely need to double back consistently to create new settings and make sure that separate features are working effectively together.

Users feeling overwhelmed by the process of setting up a SharePoint information management policy might benefit from reviewing our webinar Avoid the Document Tsunami Creating Information Management Policies in SharePoint  to learn more about the nonlinear process.

At 2Plus2, we are happy to help businesses map out and implement their SharePoint document management strategies. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.