This post was most recently updated on May 3rd, 2022
We’ve mentioned it many times. “Just get started” is not a good principle when it comes to using SharePoint productively. Subsequent corrections in the setup involve a lot of effort and bring user acceptance to a low point. Without the individual concept of company storage, SharePoint libraries quickly become a “black hole”. But what are content types and metadata good for?
What are “Content-types”?
The somewhat cumbersome term (content-type) initially raises many question marks for SharePoint newcomers. Understanding it in practice is a lot easier: settings and attributes that can be applied to content in SharePoint. Explained using an invoice document as an example: Which attributes characterize an invoice? How would you search for this document or filter a list of documents? Date, customer – certainly. The project, the person in charge, department – maybe. But guidelines, templates, forms and workflows should also be included when it comes to content types.
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At this point, we are already at the inseparable linking of content types (invoice, letter, project description, contract, etc.) and their attributes. Surely you know the document properties in Office files. There you will find fields for author, title, company, etc. All of this is metadata. The advantage of SharePoint: You can define the properties you need for each document type (content-type) yourself.
The Site Columns
You can use this metadata to add the information you want to any library, list, or view. This metadata is defined in the form of site-level column definitions (an alternative would be the SharePoint term store, but more on that elsewhere).
SharePoint already comes with a plethora of such website columns. Each element of a document library has the columns “Created on”, “Modified on”, “Created by” and information on the version without any further configuration. All of this is metadata just waiting for your individual extension.
The benefit of these attributes is therefore clear: Keywording makes searching easier and improves the display in lists. But that’s not all. Metadata can form the basis for workflows and processes. Here is a simple example: After a document has been placed in a library, the person responsible for the project should be informed. He has the sole right to set the document status to “checked”. Once approved, a message is sent to the clerk and the document is moved to another library. A simple process that saves a lot of work and helps avoid mistakes.
The Business Context
This example makes it clear that the additional definition of metadata (columns) needs to be well thought out. The “correct” determination of the content types ultimately decides on the best possible productivity of a SharePoint website. Categorization and standardization are required – optimal with regard to the individual requirements of the company.
Planning and Checking
The types of content should be the first step in any website design. On paper. Brainstorming in the team as well as the analysis of the existing document stock are indispensable here. The separate listing of the individual departments certainly makes sense. Different ideas of the end product are foreseeable here. Don’t look for ready-made templates: every company has different requirements here.
However, the planning of the optimal filing system should go one step further. SharePoint consulting services companies are always there to help you to achieve just this goal. After all, the potential of SharePoint should be used to the full. Here we are on the subject of processes and actions. Automation brings the ultimate boost in productivity. Approvals – the classic holiday application – are only mentioned for easy understanding. Filling out Word documents from existing content (metadata) such as project numbers, budget figures, responsibilities, etc. can save a lot of time in everyday life and helps to avoid mistakes. My tip: Also (and especially) involve the employees and clerks when planning automatisms. This is the only way to optimally use the improvement potential of the company or department.
Mind Map And Suggestion Collection
Collecting all the necessary metadata to come up with efficient content types is a challenge that should be taken seriously. Content types are the foundation of any good SharePoint site! It is all the more important to determine the composition before setting up the website and its components. A recommendation:
- Use a digital tool like mind maps to collect all content and workflow suggestions
- Map (in an Excel spreadsheet) each content type to the appropriate processes
- Make a list of all content that is important in the company
- Involve all department heads
- Check existing file storage for document types
- Check which teams/departments are allowed to edit or only view which content
- Check which content is required across the company or only by teams
There is nothing worse for a document filing system than the wrong indexing of documents. In practice, however, “wrong” does not only mean the incorrect selection of a document type or column content. Much more often it is duplicates of the same type that make it difficult to find a document again. What is a “department” for some is referred to as a “team” for others? A third party might assign the document to the “business unit”. The resulting parallel filing of files and content is the beginning of the end of a central document library. If users don’t trust the filing system, they will look for other ways to organize a “private” one. This problem is certainly the greatest challenge for any document system. All the more attention should be paid to it during planning.
Also Read About: SharePoint Look Book: Everything You Need To Know
A feature of sites and subsites that is often underestimated is their ability to be inherited. It is thus possible to define only the basic features of documents as defaults at the top level and to expand them on subordinate sites according to individual requirements. In this way, the metadata of the individual departments – inherited from basic attributes at the top level – could be mapped individually. This means that each department can receive “its” column attributes and at the same time access a basic master.
Rights management and maintenance
The advantage of this system is, on the one hand, the simple maintenance and adjustment in productive operation. A change in top-level data is automatically applied to all sub-pages and does not have to be entered in a large number of places. In this way, the right to make changes can also be distributed to different people or departments. This system not only relieves the IT department but also creates flexibility and thus productivity when using the new filing system.
Good Planning Makes The Difference
The introduction of a new system is always a major challenge – for IT and employees. Hiring SharePoint consulting services providers such as Al Rafay Consulting will introduce you to a new way of managing company documents that provides advantages in day-to-day operations and reduce the additional maintenance effort. The “design phase” of SharePoint should take this fact into account. The positive feedback from users will thank you.