SharePoint capability of managing content and the Content Organizer

By Carl Weise posted 07-28-2012 16:12


A SharePoint capability to look at is managing ‘content’.  ‘Content’ is used here as a shortened form of “enterprise content and records management” which is often referred to by the acronym “ECRM”.  Enterprise content and records management covers a wide variety of types of content and content management.  These include document management, digital asset management, web content management, and records management.  Despite the different forms of content, and their many different uses, the management of content – no matter what its type – is substantially similar.  As a general rule, content exists to serve a particular purpose, and goes through a definable lifecycle as it is created, put to use, and then disposed of.

At AIIM, we define five components of an enterprise content and records management system.  These are: capture, manage, store, preserve and deliver. 

SharePoint uses document libraries.  A document library, like most other libraries, is a place where documents are stored and managed.  These include a listing of the files with the name and type of content along with the metadata associated with the content.  This metadata will include the ‘modified’ date and ‘modified by’ information.  SharePoint provides a ribbon that shows Actions that can be performed on the document library. 

SharePoint supports versioning of content so that we can preserve a copy of the content at particular points in its lifecycle (a “snapshot” of the content at a specific time), but also, to manage all of those copies (or snapshots) as a single entity.  The user can compare different versions of the same document to see what has changed.  SharePoint uses numeric values to distinguish between versions, such as 1.0, 1.1 and 2.0.  Major versions always end with “.0”, while minor versions never end with “.0”.  Major versions are considered “public”, and are available to any user with permission to read the content.  Minor versions are considered “private”, and only available to users with permission to update the content.   This usually includes content authors and may include content editors or reviewers. 

Strictly speaking, SharePoint content types do not define the ‘type’ of content – the format - of a particular document.  That is, it is permissible and possibly desirable to allow both Word documents and PowerPoint presentations to be managed as the same SharePoint content type.  SharePoint content types define the set of information that is associated with a piece of content – its metadata – and also define how the system should manage it.

SharePoint has a large set of built-in metadata types, which range from the simple - a line of text – to the more complicated – a value that is looked up from another object in the repository.  This set of metadata types is extensible by programming.  The particular set of metadata values – often called field values – that are associated with a particular piece of content help to define the object and place it into context.

Workflow is a major topic in file sharing and collaboration with SharePoint.  Of course, the term workflow is used to describe the automation of a business process, in whole or part, during which documents, information or tasks are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules.  The key features of a workflow capability are state definition, task assignment, alerts and notifications, conditional branching and parallel execution.  SharePoint supports a number of workflows that may be applied to all Documents – and Document, in this context, is a particular content type.   For example, SharePoint has an approval workflow.  This approval workflow allows a document to be sent to a set of users for review.  These users may choose to reject or approve the document and also may provide feedback.  If all of the users approve the document, then the document is marked as ‘Approved’. 

Records are a particular subset of content that an enterprise may have.  They usually provide evidence of the activities of the enterprise, and so are subject to more stringent management than other forms of content.  This management may require that the content be available, but immutable and that the content be removed from the system and destroyed after a defined interval of time.

SharePoint 2010 represents a significant step forward from previous SharePoint versions.  It allows records to be managed ‘in-place’ – without requiring a separate Record Center, as well as, allowing other management styles, such as ‘copy’ and ‘move’. 

The ‘move and leave a link’ style keeps the actual record content and information in a Record Center, and replaces the content in the original location with a link to the record.  This keeps the content available, but manages the access to it according to the approved policy.

‘Copy’ takes a copy of the record content and information and places it in a Record Center, but retains the original content where it used to be in the repository.  ‘Move’ simply takes the record content and information and places it in a Record Center.  The information may still be found through searching, but the original content is removed from the repository.

SharePoint 2010 supports multiple Record Centers, where SharePoint 2007 supported only a single Record Center per site collection.

Several of the elements of an enterprise content and records management system concern the storage and preservation of content.  Almost invariably, this requires some form of organization to be applied to the content so that similar objects are stored together.  There are many ways of achieving this organization, and this can present a challenge.  That is, in an ideal world, every user would follow the same set of rules to work out where a piece of content should be stored.  There are two issues with this; how to communicate the rules and how to ensure that the users follow the rules. 

The SharePoint content organizer provides an answer, since it performs the task of working out where to file content so that the user does not have to.  When documents are sent to the record center, or any other library, the record routing capability will put the content into the correct location, document library and folder, based on the content type and metadata.  The user submits content into a predefined “drop off library”. With the Content Organizer, you can specify that folders in the target location be created automatically.  For example, you may want to create folders automatically if the volume of content in the target folder is growing too large.  Alternatively, you may want a new folder to be created for each new instance of a particular metadata value.  For example, if you are using your SharePoint site to maintain student records, you may have a Content Organizer rule that routes uploaded documents to a folder that matches the Student Name column on the documents.  If a document is uploaded for a new student, the Content Organizer rule can automatically create the new student’s target folder.

SharePoint can also be configured to run the content organizer against all content. If you have a well-designed metadata model, the efficacy of the content organizer is improved as metadata columns and values are more accurate.

Tell us about your success in managing content and records within SharePoint.

What has been your success an implementing Information Governance with SharePoint?

For more information about SharePoint and managing records, check out our online training course.

I will be speaking at the following events:

August 14th – 17th, 2012  AIIM ERM Master class in Chicago, IL

August 21st– 24th, 2012  AIIM ECM Master class in Dallas, TX

September 18th– 21st, 2012  AIIM ECM Master class in Amsterdam

September 25th– 28th, 2012  AIIM ECM Master class in Silver Spring, MD



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