We recently started working with a small group of people who are managing a very important project within our company. Most of them are familiar with SharePoint, but they aren’t comfortable designing a solution for themselves. That’s OK with me, they are doing the heavy lifting on this project; I am trying to prove that the “services” in Information Services, a.k.a. the department I manage, is there for a reason. We started off with a pile of documents in the Shared Documents library. Then I explained that
“absent some organization and metadata, the Shared Documents library is nothing more than a browser-based K: drive.”
The conversation that ensued was typical of many that I have had with people who are either new to SharePoint, new to Content Management (ECM) or both. It went something like this:
Me: “Why have you decided to save these particular documents?”
Group: “Some of the documents are things we need for reference as we complete the project. Some are documents that we think may be important in the future when the next group that has to revise this process begins their task.”
Me: “How would you or others want to search for or find these documents? I.E. how do we make sure that we put them in the place where you will expect to find them.”
Group: “We don’t know.”
These are talented, thorough and forward-thinking people, but they don’t have a crystal ball. We have been in business for over 50 years, and some of the plants that we started insuring in the early days, are still operating today. We are trying to decide how to organize information that may not be used again for 10 – 15 years; a point in time long after today’s group has retired. I recommended that we start slow, and I recommended that they come along for portions of the ride.
We met on Wednesday to pick a category that would be a logical place to put a bunch of documents that we know we want to keep – minutes and notes taken during meetings and events where the process they are revising has been discussed. I have to give these guys credit. In the absence of a well-organized library, they fell back on embedding information into the document titles, for example: “Minutes-fema-june-24-2012.” That is about the best you can do in a share drive, and it’s not a bad idea in SharePoint either, (if that document is removed from SharePoint, it still retains some metadata). Their concern was that they don’t know all the people and groups that they will have to meet with during the course of this project. I explained the three most obvious options:
- A Choice column that they maintain
- A Choice column that they maintain for important entries but also allow fill-in responses
- A Look-up List that they maintain
We opted for the Look-up List for two reasons. One, it is easier for a non-technical SharePoint user to add items to a custom list that it is for them to remember how to edit Library Settings. Two, the custom list driving the Lookup process can be used in other libraries.
Their next question stemmed directly from their previous experience with share drives; “should we create folders for different document types?” Unlike some people in the SharePoint community, I don’t think that was a bad question, and I don’t think the answer is always no, but in this case it was. There are only a few types of documents in this library, so a choice column will be easy to maintain and being able to filter the entire library will be helpful.
The other bit of metadata that they want to associate with these documents is critical, but optional and problematic. When the documents are related to one of our insured facilities (a nuclear power plant), they want to identify the name of the facility and the operator / owner. The problem with this is that these facilities have a long life, and their owners, and to a lesser extent the facility names, change over time. This one was easy. We already have managed metadata columns established for both of these attributes. The aliases associated with the metadata terms include all the current ways people refer to these facilities: e.g. “Cook” “DC Cook” “Donald C Cook” etc. and we include both current and previous owners in the list of aliases.
On Monday, we are going to build this library with this group in the audience of a Lync meeting. I want them to see how easy it is to build. I hope that someday they will be able to build libraries like this for themselves, but I also want them to realize that building them isn’t a burden for us; it’s that whole “services” thing.