This is the third and last of three posts that describe the main elements involved in setting up SharePoint Online to manage records.
The first post focused on the recordkeeping related elements in the Office 365 and Compliance admin portals, including user licences, Roles and AD Groups, and Compliance Admin – Retention labels and policies.
The second post focused on SharePoint Online Admin centre configuration.
This post focuses on SharePoint site collection provisioning and configuration.
SharePoint Online Site collection architecture, provisioning and configuration
Architecture design model
The three primary architecture considerations are as follows.
All new SharePoint Online (SPO) sites are created under the tenant name:
There are only two options after the tenant name element:
- /teams/. This would normally be used for logical organisational business units and projects. It includes team sites created for Office 365 Groups.
- /sites/. This would normally be used for cross organisational business units or subject areas and communication sites.
Site name and naming conventions
The site name comes after the URL path option (teams or sites).
- The URL name for the site should have no spaces (otherwise these are changed to ‘%20’), and should be limited to 14 characters. Common or not obvious acronyms should always be avoided. For example, the name ‘Business Development Management’ should not be ‘BDM’ but could be abbreviated to ‘BusDevMgt’.
- The display name for the site can have spaces, added back after the site is created. For example, ‘Business Development Management’.
The URL name and the site display name should always bear some similarity to each other.
Type of site
Three types can be created (as noted in the previous post):
- Modern. These are directly associated with an Office 365 Group which can be linked to a Team in MS Teams.
- Communication. These are the replacement for sites that were created using the ‘Publishing’ features. Generally speaking these sites store fewer records and contain or display information of an ‘informative’ nature, like the intranet.
- Standard. While this option provides the ability to create several types of sites, but the most common to use here will be a standard team site.
The type of site may be influenced by the type of content and records stored in it. Generally speaking:
- Higher level business units (department, division, with more than 30 staff) may be better as a standard site where formal records are stored. Membership of these sites can be via AD Security Groups.
- Lower level business units, often with fewer than 30 staff, may work better as modern team sites based on Office 365 Groups where all the members of the business units are Members of the Office 365 Group (and Team), rather than using AD Security Groups. These sites are more likely to contain content that is subject to change or be considered ‘working documents’.
Additional standard sites may be created ‘between’ these two levels, to meet the requirements of the organisational business unit hierarchy. The number of people in each business unit, and their need to collaborate via MS Teams, may provide a guide to the best type of site.
Keep in mind however that AD Security Groups are usually maintained by IT, while Office 365 Groups (that provide the same type of access control as SGs) are maintained by the O365 Group Owner.
Higher level standard team sites can have hyperlinks to lower level business units on the left hand navigation or in a links web part on the page. Sub-sites (except perhaps to control access to a smaller group, such as ‘Leadership’ or ‘Management’ of larger groups) should be avoided.
New site provisioning
All new sites need to be provisioned before they made available.
This usually means doing the following after they are created, noting that SPO sites that are created from Office 365 Groups may have fewer options initially in the ‘Site Settings’ area.
- Remove any left hand navigation options that are not required or could cause confusion via the ‘Edit’ menu. For example, consider removing ‘Notebook’ and ‘Pages’. Suggest you don’t remove Site Content or Recycle Bin unless really necessary – the end user can still access these via the cog/gear icon on the top right.
- Removing and adding any webparts on the main page. To do this, click on Edit and use the web part menus that appear on the left of each.
- Users and Permissions. For standard sites (non-Office 365 Group-based), go to Site Information – View all Site Settings, and click on ‘Site permissions’ This is where you add Site Owners, Members and Visitors. You can also add Site Collection Administrators here, if you forgot to do it from the admin portal. For O365 Group-based sites, click on Site Permissions from the cog/gear icon. You will see that the O365 Group Owners are now the Site Owners, and the O365 Group Members are the site Members. You can add anyone else via the “invite people’ option that includes the option to invite to the Group or just the site. You can get to the same other settings as for normal sites by clicking on ‘Advanced permission settings’.
- Look and feel. For normal sites, click here to change the display title and log. You won’t normally change anything else. On O365 Group-based sites you can change the display name from the cog icon menu – Site Information.
- Web Designer Galleries (both types). This is where you set up Site columns and Site content types. There are other options in normal sites.
- Site Collection Administration (do this before Site Actions). The only two things you will modify here are the Site collection features and the Document ID settings (when they appear, after enabling a feature). The features to enable are:
- Document ID Service, Document Sets (optional), Open Documents in Client Application by Default, Reporting, SharePoint Server Enterprise Site Collection features, SharePoint Service Standard Site Collection Features, Three-state workflow (optional), Video and Rich Media (optional), Workflows (optional if you use SharePoint Designer to create workflows).
- Once you have enabled Document IDs, you will see that option in the settings; open this to change the default DocID prefix to be the same as the URL of the site or something very similar, to ensure it is unique (12 characters only). Document IDs are PREFIX-LibraryNumber-DocumentNumber. DO NOT enable the Site Publishing features; this is an old option that was for on-prem sites such as the intranet. It has been replaced by communication sites.
- Site Actions. Click on Manage site features and enable the following (you will see that a couple are already enabled):
- SharePoint Service Enterprise site features; SharePoint Service Standard Site Features.
- Site Administration. Click on Regional settings to ensure the settings there are correct; they usually need to be changed for O365 Group-based sites.
- Search. There is usually no need to change anything here.
Site libraries and metadata
Every new SharePoint site has a default ‘Documents’ library.
Except perhaps for lower-level sites where the content is mostly working documents of little value, this library should be hidden or deleted and replaced with document libraries that have (a) more appropriate names, (b) metadata and if required, (c) either folders or document sets.
Document library names
As with site URL and display names, all document library have both a URL name and a display name. The URL name is the name given when the library is first created (from the gear/cog icon – ‘Add an app’).
- The URL name should ideally have fewer than 20 characters and no spaces (which will be replace by three characters ‘%20’). Consider including the year in the URL name instead of creating folders for each year, especially on team sites that may continue for many years (with a new library for each year). Separate year-based libraries may be easier to manage when it comes to retention and won’t contain an excessive number of items after several years, making it harder to isolate content. The URL name should also not repeat elements already in the site name, for example: https://tenantname.sharepoint/com//teams/tenantnamemeetings/
- The display name can be changed via the Library Settings after it is created. The display name should bear some similarity to the library’s URL name. If the library display name needs to change, consider creating a new library with and moving the content to that new library.
Standard and added metadata (columns)
Every new SharePoint site comes with a very rich set of metadata columns that can be added to each document library.
The standard set of columns available on every library are listed below:
- Type (icon linked to document)
- Modified By
- Label applied by
- Label setting
- Retention label
- Retention label Applied
- App Created By
- App Modified By
- Check In Comment
- Checked Out To
- Comment count
- Compliance Asset Id
- Content Type
- Copy Source
- Created By
- File Size
- Folder Child Count
- Item Child Count
- Item is a Record
- Like count
The unique ‘Document ID’ metadata column will only appear when that feature is enabled from the Site Collection Administration section of the site. Document IDs have the format PREFIX-L-NNNNNN:
- Prefix. This should be changed in the Document ID set up to be the same as the site URL name, so any documents produced on that site have the same or similar name. Otherwise, the default prefix is a random set of 12 characters.
- The library ID (L). These IDs are sequential. As the ‘Documents’ library already exists, the next library will usually be ‘2’.
- The document ID (N). These IDs are also sequential and never re-used. If a document is deleted, the document ID is also removed from use. Accordingly, a gap in document IDs indicates that documents have been deleted.
Added or new metadata columns may also be created as either (a) site columns, which can be added to any library on the site, or (b) ‘local’ library columns. The advantage of using site columns is that the same column can be added to any library or list, ensuring consistency across the site.
Every new metadata column can be anyone of the following:
- Single line of text
- Multiple lines of text
- Choice (menu to choose from)
- Number (1, 1.0, 100)
- Currency ($, ¥, €)
- Date and Time
- Lookup (information already on this site)
- Yes/No (check box)
- Person or Group
- Hyperlink or Picture
- Calculated (calculation based on other columns)
- Task Outcome
- Full HTML content with formatting and constraints for publishing
- Image with formatting and constraints for publishing
- Hyperlink with formatting and constraints for publishing
- Summary Links data
- Rich media data for publishing
- Managed Metadata (open the Term Store Managed Metadata service)
Each of the above:
- Can have a description
- Is optional but can be mandatory
- Can be used to enforce unique values
- Can have a maximum length
- Can have a default value
- Can use validation formulas (for example, must have a certain form or content or an error will be display)
Site columns are added to document libraries manually from the Library settings page.
Metadata columns can be used to group content in a library instead of using folders or document sets, but this concept can be quite alien to users who generally prefer to work with folders.
Note – If metadata columns are made mandatory and a library is synced to File Explorer, the synced library will become read only in File Explorer.
Note also – Only the standard File Explorer metadata will appear in synced document libraries. If there is a requirement to see or enter more metadata, the end-user will need to work directly with the browser version.
Site Content Types
Site Content Types, from a recordkeeping point of view, allow the organisation to define a type of content that will be stored on a site. They usually have added metadata.
The main types of Content Type that are likely to be used from a recordkeeping point of view are document and document sets.
Document content types may also have a standard template attached.
SharePoint also includes the ability to use a Document Set content type. A document set is type of folder which, as the name suggests, is useful for grouping a common set of documents where additional metadata is required for the ‘folder’.
Document sets must be enabled as a feature from the Site Collection Administration section of the Site Settings, and then can be added ‘as is’, or new document sets created (from the ‘Site Content Types section of the Site Settings) based on the basic template.
An example of their use would be to store a set of documents relating to an object where there is a requirement to describe that object in the folder. For example:
- Employee. Metadata might be: name, employee ID, business area.
- Contract. Metadata might be: contract name, contract ID, expiry date.
Note – While Content Types can be very useful to ensure additional metadata is added or to group content (in document sets), end users will be required to choose the correct content type (for example, document type) and then add metadata as necessary.
This process can be off-putting and should, accordingly, only be used when there is a genuine requirement and no other obvious way to identify the ‘type’. For example, instead of forcing users to choose between two content types consider either:
- Including a metadata choice option (with a default setting) to select the option.
- Separating the library into the separate ‘types’, so that two different document types (especially with different metadata requirements) aren’t stored in the same library).
- Using file naming conventions to identify the type, e.g., ‘Contract-WilsonBrosFeb2020Final.docx’.
Every new document library displays content against a set of default columns:
- Type (icon)
- Modified (date)
- Modified by
Each item in the library has a Share option (if sharing is not disabled) as well as a three dot ellipsis menu (see below).
The list view may be modified (via All documents – Edit current view) to display more columns from the standard list as well as the document ID and any other added columns.
Views may be sorted, grouped, and filtered as required. SharePoint also includes a handy option to display all contents without folders.
Multiple views may be saved, each with a URL that can then be added as a link on the left navigation, on the page, or even sent to others. For example, a view might show a filtered view of all contracts due to expire in the coming six months.
Libraries, and views of libraries, can be embedded on the site pages. This could be useful if, for example, there is a need to see the most recent documents at a glance, or documents with an expiry date, etc.
Other document and records management functionality
All SharePoint document libraries include a range of document and records management functionality accessible from the three dot ellipsis menu, including:
- Permission/access control
- Copy to/Move to
- Check out/in
- Version history and the ability to restore versions
Every SharePoint site also includes a Recycle Bin that stores deleted content for 90 days. The Site Collection Administrator can review and restore documents deleted by anyone on the site for the previous 90 days. If there is concern about documents being deleted, any user with access can easily set an alert on the library for any changes that are made.
Retention policies, created in the Compliance Admin portal, work in two different ways in SharePoint document libraries.
Explicit (visible) retention labels
These are published as retention policies and must be applied to each individual library.
It is not possible to delete content in libraries where this type of retention policy has been applied.
If the retention policy has the disposition review option enabled, the person or role nominated will be advised that the records are due for review; they will remain in place until a decision is made to delete them.
Implicit (invisible) retention policies
These are applied at the site level and may delete content when the retention period has ended.
There is no disposition review process, the documents are deleted by ‘System Account’ when the retention period has expired and the 90 day Recycle Bin period has finished.
If you have managed to reach the end of these three posts – well done! There is a lot to take in. Hopefully this information will help you going live with a new SharePoint implementation, a migration from SharePoint on-premise, or a clean up of either.
If you’d like me to write about other aspects of managing records in SharePoint, let me know via the feedback option here.