SharePoint - Documents and Records Management, Really?

By Liam Cleary posted 03-19-2012 10:00


Having worked with SharePoint for a while now, I often get asked if it is actually any good for proper document and records management, of course I always say "Yes", however this last time I was asked I decided to present a Virtual SUG meeting presentation which you cna view here to help answer this question more fully.

In this post I am going to review why I think the answer is always a resounding "Yes".

Firstly let's ask ourselves what is document management?

In my mind this quote sums up what it is:

"Document management controls the life cycle of documents in your organization, from how they are created, reviewed, and published, and how they are ultimately disposed of or retained as records".

In reality though, document management is the core component of the Enterprise Content Management or ECM nirvana that we try to attain in the many organizations that we visit with/work with. If you were to look at what you do in your daily work you will see that you fit into one of the following three categories for document management:

  • Store Electronic or Physical (locations) documents and images
  • Manage Electronic or Physical (locations) documents and images
  • Track Electronic or Physical (locations) documents and images

You may also be involved in capturing paper based information as part of your role, all of which constitutes the idea that document management is an integral part of what we do each day. Think about how much easier it would be to run a document management platform at home to categorize your bills or even tax details. Even though you do not have a document management platform at home you will however follow the core defining principles of document and records management in the way you save, file and retrieve those receipts, bills or tax details. We are never free from the document management woes, whether at work, school or home.

Secondly let's ask ourselves what is records management?

This is a more complex to define as this can mean many things to different people and organizations. For me it comes down to the following processes:

  • Creation
  • Receipts
  • Maintenance
  • Use of…
  • Disposition of…

It is all about the end game of the documents and files that we work with. It is about the time that we retain these, so for example I am sure thinking back to your home, that you have wage slips from many years ago, bills from a year ago and of course tax return copies etc. that you store. This is what records management is, the final process of the document lifecycle process and really the storing of them based on some kind of retention logic.

So now we know what document and records management are, how can we be successful with whatever the platform is? For me I work as a Solution Architect, so I am involved directly inside organizations assisting them in this exact question. Based on this the following is a list of core items that will bring about success irrelevant of the technology platform you may decide on.

  • Map Document Management Requirements to Business Objectives
  • Setup a reliable Document Capture process
  • Secure access to the sensitive documents
  • Optimize the use of Workflows
  • Maintain Document Life Cycles
  • Use guidance from the core Standards
  • Ensure retention Hold process is followed
  • Communicate and Train the records staff and end users who will be declaring records
  • Monitor the content, ensure compliance is met
  • Automate the "destruction process"
  • Ensure a "destruction log" is kept

This is not everything that will make your implementation a success but will go a long way into helping you as a business to refine the processes and platform you choose so it can be a success.

Now we understand the core objectives and how to be successful now we are able to take this list to the platform of choice and apply this. In my case SharePoint is squarely at the top of the tree, not that it does everything but it is a great platform to use.

So what does SharePoint bring to the table for both Document and Records Management?

Document Management

  • Check In / Check Out
  • Versioning
    • Comparison
  • Managed Metadata
    • Structured
    • Folksonomy
  • Content Types and Site Columns
  • Metadata Navigation
  • Folder Structure and Filtering
  • Item Permissions
  • Document ID Service
  • Social
    • Ratings
    • Tags and Notes
  • Rule Based Submission – Content Organizer

Records Management

  • Full Document Management Capabilities
  • Document ID
  • Multi-Stage Retention
  • Per-Item Audit Reports
  • Hierarchal File Plans
  • File Plan Report
  • Taxonomy and Centralized Content Types
  • Content Organizer
  • Virtual Folders – Metadata Navigation
  • In-Place Record Declaration
  • Support for tens of millions in a single record center
    • More in a distributed archive scenario

Each of these features has been built to assist you in "building" the right solution. Yes I said "build" the right solution. SharePoint is too big a platform to be a single point solution. It has many capabilities and as such, it means some areas are strong and others are not so strong. For an organization moving to a new intranet for example and who has a document or records management requirement, SharePoint fits the bill completely.

So let's look at some of the core features that are baked in to SharePoint. For the following four are great enhancements that make the document management process easier to use.

Document Sets

This is a great addition to SharePoint, finally the ability to group documents into a single logical component that can also be declared as a grouped record.

To create a document set, first ensure that the document set content type is available on the library. Then you are able to select the "New" option and select it.

I have completed the base name as follows:

You will notice now that a document set has a very unique landing page.

If we wish to add files you can use the standard approach and then they will be listed as shown below:

You will notice that there a custom ribbon bar available for management of the document set, one of which is the "Send To" link. If I select this I am able to send the entire document set over to a records center (this was configured previously).

Once the send to option has completed you get returned to a page letting you know it has been processed and moved. Notice that the document set has actually be zipped up automatically.

Over in the records center where I chose to send it we can see the new zip file.

This is a great feature of SharePoint for both document and records management.

Metadata Navigation

SharePoint is a fantastic platform for supporting large amounts of documents and files however it is not always easy to filter and find the files you need when inside a document library. Yes we can use folders, views and the filtering capabilities but one feature that is extremely useful is the metadata navigation. This can be enabled in the settings for the list:

This will then render like this:

This allows for dynamic filtering of the content by either content type, or specific values from the content type. Great addition, especially when you perhaps want to declare specifically tagged documents as records.

Content Types

We could write many blog posts about this, but this is really the key. Define the site columns (metadata columns you wish end users to complete), assign the, to content types and add those to your libraries for use. A great feature in SharePoint 2010 is the Content Type Syndication ability. This really helps when working with record centers etc. as the content types you wish to use need to also exist within the records sites and be associated to the record libraries. Content Type Syndication does this really well, where a single site is used to create all the content types and then timer jobs within SharePoint push those that are set to publish down to the subscriber sites.

When these are pushed down they appear as shown below:

However if you try to edit them all of the core options are removed.

The same option performed in the content type hub would allow for full modification of the content types.

This a great option to consider when using multiple web applications or site collections. The content type hub will also push down the retention polices that are configured.

Content Types in general are the key to tagging content.

Social Tags and Notes

In my mind joining the collaboration and records management processes with social networking is how the content will get better and better and the system will almost maintain itself by the extra metadata that gets applied such as tags and notes. The logic here is we are in a document library I can select a file and tag and add notes to it that others can review. This document for example has been reviewed by two users who added further "folksonomy" tags.

The note board option allows for other comments to be added also.

Single or multiple files can be selected which will then enabled the "I like It" and "Tags & Notes" options.

A side effect of this is that these tags and notes etc. are surfaced directly onto the activity feed of the user's profile.

Records Management has some great enhancements also that go above and beyond the document management ones. The essential ones are the following:

Records Center

The records center is really just a custom site but has some hidden gems for configuration. The base site when accessed does not really walk you through what you need to do, so you will need to access the site settings link.

Now you are able to follow the list of what to do

Firstly create the Content Types, (content type syndication helps here), then create records libraries, this is just as simple as creating a regular document library.

NOTE: Ensure the content types you wish to allow, are added to the library at this point.

I created the following base record libraries:

Now we need to tell the record center how to route the types of content into the correct locations. The content organizer helps us here, will discuss this a little later.

In reality the records center is the core engine of storing the records and gives you a great simple interface to access them from.

In-Place Records Declaration

This is a great feature to allow documents to be declared as records in the location they currently reside.

Or using the compliance details screen from the item menu you can perform the same option.

Once declared it is displayed as shown below:

A great feature with in-place declaration is the ability to un-declare a record back to a document, so this helps in environments where you need to control documents and records lifecycle and often change the process.

Content Organizer

The content organizer is great new feature that can be used across the site not just in a records center. To use in the records site you simple add rules as if you are adding list items. In my site I have the following:

If we look at the first rule:

We can see that I am checking the content type, checking a specific condition which is then routing into a record library and then a subfolder. If we edit the rule we can see the user interface for this:

Routing rules are very clever in respect to understand the base content types and then for example fi you had the following:

Site Collection 1: Sales Proposal Content Type

Site Collection 2: External Sale Proposal Content Type

Site Collection 3: Internal Sales Proposal Content Type


All of these when sent to the records center can be sent to the same location based on selecting the checkbox to allow other names from other sites.

Once these are defined then the actual storage location can be configured:

This is a great feature as the end user can simply create a document tag it accordingly and then send it to the record center knowing it will be routed to the correct location.

Based on the type of content and this condition we configured earlier, this document should be routed to the Invoice record library and specifically the 2013 folder.

Retention Policies

The real key to records management is the retention polices. SharePoint supports multi-stage retention policies applied using "Information Management Policies". These can be added at the content type level and this works really well, ensuring that a consistent approach is used. AN example is as follows:

Clicking the "Add a retention stage" displays the following wizard:

Event Trigger:


You have great flexibility in configuring these for specific content types. Once this applied to a content types, irrelevant of where this file resides it will also have the retention policy applied unless it is on hold.

The compliance details for the file display the current event and when it has passed and where it currently sits. SharePoint 2010 is very flexible and gives us great features that are fairly easy to configure.

So based on some of the core features where does that leave us?

For me SharePoint 2010 has been and continues to be a "game changer" bringing document and records management to the masses. Great investments from Microsoft for both are what make this a great platform to use. If I were to rate out of five both feature sets I would say the following:

Document Management

Records Management

I think that both areas can be updated but for now to give you the extra level up for Records Management I would suggest looking at a 3rd Party solution such as these, I know there are more but these ones stand out:

  • Autonomy ControlPoint for SharePoint
  • OpenText Application Governance and Archiving fir SharePoint
  • Laserfiche Records Management for SharePoint
  • GimmalSoft Compliance Suite for SharePoint

All in all for a base implementation I would suggest to use out of the box first and scale and update later. Now the core things to remember:

  • SharePoint is not a "dumping ground"
  • Solution is only as good as it is implemented
  • Records Compliance such as "DoD 5015.02" will a 3rd Party
  • SharePoint is a Web Based Solution ONLY, no real client application as such
  • Train, Train and then Train your users again

These items if followed along with the best approaches for success will enable you as an individual or organization to implement a great document and records management platform.

#SharePoint #documents #sharepoint #records