The True Digital: Documents in SharePoint

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By Hameer Khawaja

Hameer has been working in the field of IT since 2003. Over the years he has helped many clients yield successful business outcomes using technologies such as Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Microsoft .Net and Microsoft SQL Server.  He currently holds many industry certifications including AIIM - Certified Information Professional.

The file system on a PC was based on the notion of a physical filing cabinet. This was perhaps the best way to get users to move from what was a paper based world to a digital landscape. A folder in a cabinet is a folder on a PC, and every section is a sub folder which eventually contains files.

It is a great way to create and save files, but there is one problem. The digital world has so much more to offer which is not being leveraged. Digital files are free of constraints that a paper based file had to live under. It is a free spirit that does not need a cabinet or a folder to have context. People have the liberty to move and change things easily in the digital world. It's time we approach things differently. 

 THE SO CALLED DIGITAL

In order to organise a company's digital files, you would obviously create a folder on the top level and then create even more folders underneath to organise specific type of content. Let's take an example: 

You start with a shared folder structure called My Company. Underneath you create folders like Human Resources,  IT, Finance. Finance for example contains Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable folders.  

Great. We've got ourselves the following structure: 

Now wait. We want to organise financial documents based on calendar year. Let's create sub folders under Accounts Payable folder one for each calendar year. 

The structure now looks like below: 

How do we organise and identify all accounts payable from a particular supplier? I think we need a suppliers folder in there as well. 

The structure now looks like below: 

For the sake of example, let's have some sub-folders under IT as well. IT receives proposals from different suppliers for various projects. One way we can organise the proposals is shown below:

Let's stop here. I know. Most of you are thinking this clearly doesn't stop here. There are so many other folders we would have to create. Yeah. My point actually. But let's really stop here as otherwise this blog will take forever. Why did we create so many folders? Obviously to identify and organise content. Essentially to give it some context. 

Suppose you work in Legal and have just been told to produce all documents (Finance and others)  received from the supplier "State of Matter".  Firstly, you may not be fully aware of how everything is organised. Even if you are, you'll have to go to the "Finance" folder then "Accounts Payable", then calendar year "2016" and then "State of Matter" folder. Then you have to repeat the process for each calendar year. As time consuming and tedious that is.  

THE TRUE DIGITAL  

What if you had a way to associate additional information to your documents and content to clearly identify and organise the purpose and context. Things would be quite different wouldn't they? One thing you would have definitely avoided is all these sub-folders. You'd have a relatively flat file structure instead, with additional information to give files some context and identity. 

Believe it or not, you may already be using the true digital in your personal lives. 

Think about your music collection. You specify Genre, Artist and Album with a music file which helps you organise it. Based on this additional information, you create playlists which help you find and organise without the nasty folder structure. The additional information which can be associated with a file is called Metadata. Metadata is data about data. Simply put, additional information (e.g. Genre, Artist, Album) that is associated with a file or set of files to give it some context and identity. 

If we are to apply the same principle to our business documents and records, we are likely to need a tailored set of metadata for each type of document or function the document lives under. Current operating systems are not generous enough to provide us with a concrete way to have tailored metadata with documents.

This is where Microsoft SharePoint document management comes in. 

The TRUE DIGITAL WITH SHAREPOINT

SharePoint is a business productivity platform by Microsoft.  

"Organizations use SharePoint to create websites. You can use it as a secure place to store, organize, share, and access information from almost any device. All you need is a web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Chrome, or Firefox."  

Instead of going through the extensive list of document management features offered by SharePoint, I'll quickly run through the folder structure example we took earlier. 

We will now save the same files in SharePoint but instead of creating the folder structure, we will give them context by assigning additional information (Metadata). 

The Finance department saved the Invoice document for Project X by tagging the document with following metadata: 

  • Type of document (Content Type): "Invoice"  
  • Supplier: "State of Matter" 
  • Project: "Project X" 
  • Calendar Year: "2016"

 

The IT department saved the Proposal document for Project X by tagging the document with following metadata: 

  • Type of document (Content Type): "Proposal"
  • Supplier: "State of Matter"
  • Project: "Project X"
  • Calendar Year: "2016"

 

At this point in time, SharePoint is keeping track of all additional information and context each document is being stored with. 

Now Legal comes in to produce all documents from State of Matter. 

All they have to do, is to search for the word "State of Matter" within SharePoint and all relevant documents are presented on a single page within a second.

All this, while still being able to organise documents as per preference. 

The following screenshot shows the same documents organised by Supplier and Calendar Year:

Note that many other schemes for organising the same set of documents can be applied.  

Conclusion

The path to becoming truly digital is no longer an option, but a necessity for all organisations. Sooner or later all organisations will have to give up the age old notion of the filing cabinet and use digital files as they are truly meant to be used.  

Microsoft SharePoint helps organisations transition and survive in the digital landscape and lets them embrace the inevitable.