These are my quick tips for managing documents as records using SharePoint 2010.
Keep it simple
- End users will not use the system if it is hard to use or requires too much extra work. Keep the UI clean and simple (and common). Make it intuitive.
Promote the benefits of the application, not the application
- Users want to know what’s in it for them, how it will make their lives more simple, not what they HAVE to do or HOW they have to do it. Sell the benefits and, if it’s intuitive enough, the system will sell itself. Benefits include document IDs, versioning, hyperlinks, single source of truth, access controls.
Create a repeatable deployment model
- A repeatable deployment model is easier to manage and maintain consistency across the farm.
Create and maintain re-useable metadata
- Use the managed metadata service to establish and use common metadata terms.
Establish a common model, minimise customisation
- Common models mean common user experiences and better take up. Customisation is a yoke that should be resisted as much as it is tempting.
Use the application as it was intended to be used
- Documents are commonly stored at the bottom of a team site hierarchy, in libraries and maybe in document sets. Understand (and convey to users) that SP folders aren’t the same as network drive or email folders.
Paper based ways of doing things don’t always convert into electronic ways
- Look carefully at ways to change or enhance the process. For example, a spreadsheet could become a list with a form.
Performance is a killer
- Make sure the system is architected to maximise performance. Slow loading pages will kill the user experience.
- If there is a problem address it as quickly as possible. If there is a bug or a problem with the application/UI, fix it quickly.
I am often asked, or asked to justify, why users should use SharePoint 2010 instead of network drive folders (shares), which they love and have been using for 20+ years, to manage their documents and records.
Here is a summary:
User interface & naming
- Network drives: Nested folders. Users will give a document a name that makes sense to them. Not necessarily anyone else.
- SharePoint: Users access their information via browser based ‘sites’. Sites not only store documents but also include a wide range of other functionality, including information about (or for) the business area storing the documents, calendars, tasks, discussions, announcements etc (the range is more or less unlimited). Users will also give a name that makes sense to them.
- Network drives: Although additional metadata options are available, very few users use it.
- SharePoint: Business areas can define what (unlimited) metadata, in addition to the name, is required and can make some of it mandatory. Metadata can be pre-defined centrally, automatically attached to documents, control how a document will be used, or it can be user-defined (‘folksonomy’). Metadata fields can be displayed in a document (e.g., as a template), and can be used in various ways to search for and display information.
- Network drives: Business user (or user) defined folders with no control over naming of folders. Frequent duplication.
- SharePoint: Documents are stored in browser-accessible sites, in document ‘libraries’ or document sets in libraries. (Document sets are similar to folders but with unique IDs and their own, inheritable, metadata and access controls). User defined folders are available but not recommended (as it is hard to navigate). Document Libraries can be displayed as network drives, allowing drag and drop from drives.
Single source of truth
- Network drives: Copies of documents everywhere (including as attachments to emails), hard to identify the single authoritative version.
- SharePoint: Single copy, with a unique ID, accessible by anyone with permission.
- Network drives: Documents do not have unique IDs.
- SharePoint: Documents have persistent, unique IDs. This aids in identification and retrieval.
- Network drives: Documents do not have hyperlinks. As a result, to let someone know about a document, common practice is to attach it to an email (rather than send a description of the folder location). Copies of documents are everywhere.
- SharePoint: Documents have hyperlinks. Users can include the hyperlink in other documents, and send the unique ID hyperlink to the single document that anyone can access. Reduced duplication.
Version controls and history
- Network drives: Version controls exist (in Windows 7) but are generally not used and not visible. ‘View previous versions’ is an option.
- SharePoint: Minor (0.1, 1.1) as well as major (1.0, 2.0) version controls. Version numbers are visible (as is ‘Last modified by’). Previous versions are all accessible and can be ‘promoted’.
- Network drives: Documents are editable by anyone, at any time.
- SharePoint: Check out allows a user to lock down a document while it is being edited; the user to whom the document is checked out to is clearly visile. When checked back in, the user can choose to create a new version or override the existing version.
- Network drives: The only ‘workflow’ available to most users is to attach the document to an email.
- SharePoint: Includes simple ‘approval’ workflow out of the box, as well as a couple of other simple workflows allowing, for example, the user to request anyone else to review a document, with that approval recorded in the workflow. Visual displays of the current status of a workflow.
- Network drives: Access controls are difficult to maintain and not easily visible.
- SharePoint: Access controls are easier to maintain by business areas, and are ‘inherited’ downwards (and can be restricted/widened at any level).
- Network drives: No audit trails to show who saw, or did what, to a document.
- SharePoint: Audit trails can show (if enabled) everything that was done to a document, by whom.
- Network drives: No alerts when something changes.
- SharePoint: Extensive alerts available, including at the document, document set, library or site level.
- Network drives: No records management capability.
- SharePoint: Incorporates records management capability (including records retention requirements), mostly invisible to end users.