SharePoint Document Management Features

by Megan Sproles

If an army runs on its stomach, then a business runs on paper. Many organizations focus on the numbers of their business. To be sure, the numbers are very important, and of course they govern the objectives which you use to manage your business. Unfortunately, there is always a layer of paper between the people that need to do the work, and the outcomes that need to be measured. Managing this “paper layer” may not contribute to the bottom line directly, but just as axle grease doesn’t make an F1 win the race, the car won’t make it to the finish line if it’s not in place and taken care of. With the ​exception of some knowledge-based businesses, documents are generally a necessary evil. They are emailed or printed and filed, and once they do their job they are forgotten. This type of thinking ignores a huge opportunity to improve your business without a major investment. This is especially true if your business is running SharePoint.

Growing Beyond Lists and Libraries​

Groups that adopt SharePoint generally (and often grudgingly) will store some documents there, and perhaps make some lists. For them it’s a digital filing cabinet. Just like anyone who has a filing cabinet at home, finding older or arcane information is a paper chase through reams of documents. If the business is really lucky, then the person who set up the filing system is still around and knows how to find it. The first set of benefits is reactive, and most folks will see it coming. By taking better advantage of SharePoint’s enterprise search capabilities, you will find it can be much easier to discover the information you’re looking for. If you have even rudimentary tags on your documents, then search refiners can help you drill down to what you’re trying to find fairly quickly. To really see benefits from what SharePoint can offer, one should embrace document types, document sets, metadata, and routing rules. These “out of the box” tools in SharePoint can go a long way towards automatically organizing the paper that drives your business. Once your paperwork is under control, then there are ways to get business value out of it.

Understanding Document Types

For example, every business should adopt the idea of document types. In the real world we understand this implicitly. We talk about “invoices,” “purchase orders,” “work orders” and so on. It’s only in the digital world that we address documents by their file type: Word document, spreadsheet, PowerPoint, PDF… Even something as basic as an image will be called “gif” or “jpeg” instead of simply “image” or “photo.” SharePoint enables you to tag documents stored in sharepoint with what are called “content types” so you can focus on what is in the document instead of what kind of container it is. For example, you could have a “Purchase Order” content type that you tag on to whatever format your POs come in. Whether you are emailed a Word or Excel file, get a PDF from an efax service, or scan paper yourself to a TIFF you don’t have to care – they can all be purchase orders. Content types can have specific properties, so each purchase order could be tagged with the buyer, total purchase value, tax, fiscal year, and status. Now it’s trivial to look at a library full of purchase orders and filter out “orders from Customer X over $5000 last fiscal year” and get the actual documents that drove the orders​.

Document Sets

Often business documents aren’t self-contained in a single file. In the real world we may have a folder that contains detail documents, background, history, additional supporting data, and so on. The folder can be routed around and is essentially a “document” unto itself. We can do this in the SharePoint world, too. SharePoint has a concept called a “document set.” It’s a content type that acts as a container for other content. Think of it as a virtual folder that can be moved around SharePoint. In this document set we can add purchase orders (Word, Excel, PDF, etc), images (GIF, JPG, TIFF), maybe background presentations (PowerPoint, PDF), and so on. The document set can have a collection of templates for either required or optional documents that must be in the set, and properties can be copied from the set to individual documents. If the status of the set is “Pending Review” that status can be set on every file, so even if a Word document is stored separately, the status will read “Pending Review.” These basic concepts can enable your business to perform its operations in a more structured manner, and your record keeping will be less dependent on the organizational knowledge of a few individuals. Most importantly, these are “out of the box” features that can be adopted without needing an additional complex document routing system.​

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