Microsoft SharePoint 2007 can be a very effective document management platform – popular with users, efficient in operation and able to handle very large volumes of documents.
But it’s not just a matter of deploying Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. Indeed many organisations experience significant frustration with their attempts to use SharePoint for document management.
This article looks at the common frustrations and misconceptions and how they can be overcome.
Interest in SharePoint for Document Management
At first glance, the idea of using SharePoint for document management appeals to many organisations. SharePoint 2007 has native document management capability – its document libraries can be used to store all types of files; SharePoint supports Check In / Check Out, Version History and Retention Policies. SharePoint document libraries can store additional classificatory or meta-data related to the files and provide an intuitive means of viewing and working with that meta-data. SharePoint offers Search functionality and of course SharePoint is web-based, which opens up the prospect of simpler remote access to and sharing of documents and files with key clients and business partners.
News of these document management features in SharePoint is motivating many organisations to look to SharePoint as a way of improving on existing File Shares (e.g. G: or P: drive) for managing their documents and files.
SharePoint is relatively inexpensive; it has other potential applications beyond document management (such as maintaining the intranet and collaborating on project-related data) and SharePoint allows users to continue with the familiar approach of naming files and choosing a location for them as they are saved (which helps to reduce the cost of re-training staff who are accustomed to storing their files on File Shares).
These cost-of-ownership factors are even leading some organisations that have licenced a traditional DM system (such as Hummingbird DM or Interwoven Worksite) to consider whether they should be replacing their traditional Document Management systems with SharePoint 2007.
A Common Mistake – Reproducing the Folder Hierarchy
SharePoint document libraries can contain Folders, and SharePoint 2007 supports a hierarchy of folders in a document library. This leads to a common mistake as organisations switch from their File Shares to SharePoint – they reproduce the folder tree structure that was present on the G: or P: drive with a folder tree in a single SharePoint document library. Migrating existing documents is easy because SharePoint allows you to cut and paste from Explorer View or when a document library is opened in Internet Explorer.
However this approach of reproducing existing File Share folders with SharePoint folders leads to frustrations down the track with searching and volume handling. The names of folders cannot be used to refine a SharePoint Search. In order to take advantage of SharePoint’s capabilities a preferable approach is to make use of meta-data columns, which are defined at the document library (rather than folder) level. Storing large volumes of documents is best done with a tree of sites, rather than with a tree of folders in a single document library. For these reasons Folders are used sparingly in best practice SharePoint document management environments.