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File Share Flashback: A Place for Everything, and Everything in its Place

The classification tool we are probably most familiar with is a very basic one—location. The idea is that we create a “home” for a certain type of content, like HR documents, and then store all of the HR documents in that location. In Microsoft® SharePoint® 2010, this “home” resides at a particular location in the SharePoint hierarchy of site collections, subsites, lists, libraries, folders, etc. Because we have created this home for a particular type of content, we can set permissions and configurations that align with our governance policies for the stored content.

What are some of the governance policies we can enforce based off the “container” in which we store our content?
· Security – SharePoint allows us to define permissions on content at any level, from the site collection through to sites, subsites, lists, libraries, folders, and even down to the item or document level.
· Configurations – Powerful content management settings – including workflow settings, content approval, version retention, auditing settings, records management settings – can be defined on each list or library.

By placing content in its designed and configured “home”, our content will inherit the proper governance controls. “Discoverability” – the ability for both users and content managers to find, use, and inventory this content – is also fairly simple as we need to only access the appropriate site, list, library, and/or folder.

This concept of “classification by location” is really a hold-over from our file share days, when we created context for information with folder names, defined a hierarchy with folder structure, and secured the content by assigning permissions to those folders. Planning out a well-structured and effective information hierarchy should be part of every SharePoint deployment project, and the “Continuous Improvement” component of the governance plan should require that we regularly re-evaluate if there are changes or adjustments necessary. Some people refer to this hierarchical plan of where our SharePoint information should live as “Information Architecture” (call it “IA” if you want to sound hip), though in reality IA really is a much bigger subject than just where we put our content. SharePoint MVP and AvePoint Chief SharePoint Evangelist Dan Holme elaborates on IA as both structure AND management of content here.

Location-based classification in SharePoint has similar challenges in SharePoint as the ones we faced in our file shares. Planning and then communicating the “master plan” for what goes where can be a daunting task for organizations that hadn’t previously possessed a structured architecture. Further, there is a great deal of reliance on the individual contributor to know the proper location for the content that she is submitting – content placed in the wrong location will evade the governance efforts that we have tied to the intended home for the content. Once content is misplaced, it can be difficult to locate in an ever-increasing sea of content rushing into SharePoint, so taking corrective action by moving the content where it belongs can also be challenging. A similar disadvantage of tying governance efforts to the container that we place content in is that if and when we need to move that content, it will no longer inherit its permissions and settings from its parent.

So what tools and resources are available to you as you plan your information hierarchy and governance enforcement configurations? A simple web search can turn up quite a bit, but this Microsoft TechNet article is a good start.

Once you have your site structure created and allow users to start adding content to SharePoint, keep in mind that you are usually relying heavily on their willingness to do the right thing. Your tools to help guide users and get the job done include:

Education – Your project plan should already have user training as a component, but make sure that the training includes both conceptual SharePoint knowledge (so the users understand how to use SharePoint), as well as tactical training where you communicate the structure and intended daily use of your specific implementation.

SharePoint 2010’s “Content Organizer” feature – This is a site feature in SharePoint 2010 that is disabled by default. When you enable it, users for a given site upload all documents to a central “Drop-Off” library and are asked about the type of content they are uploading. SharePoint will offer them the ability to select which “Content Type” is appropriate for the document they are uploading (foreshadowing alert: more on Content Type in Part 3 of this series) and will then route that content to the appropriate library. Further, the feature can even route documents to libraries in other sites, as long as you’ve configured them in SharePoint’s Central Admin.

The Content Organizer is a great feature and can certainly help content find its way to where it belongs, but it comes with a couple of challenges you must consider carefully. First, it is available only in SharePoint 2010 and its paid versions – Standard and Enterprise – not in the free version, SharePoint Foundation (Confused? Compare editions here.) Second, the feature may be somewhat confusing to users unless they are trained properly with the expectation that the upload location may not be the place where the document will actually be stored.

Vendor Tools – As with any governance enforcement task in SharePoint, managing structure and placement of content using native SharePoint tools will only take you so far. For example, while Content Organizer can be a good preventative tool, SharePoint is thin on tools that allow you to move content around efficiently and without losing vital metadata such as “created/modified date” and “created/modified by”. Most of SharePoint’s native functionality (import/export, backup/restore, “site content and structure”) lacks the granularity of allowing you to specify exactly what scopes of content to move (e.g. list or library; single item or folder; whole site) and requires lots of manual effort. Exploring third-party tools like DocAve can give you additional insight and control over your information architecture.

AvePoint’s DocAve Content Manager is an example of a third-party tool designed to help you restructure your SharePoint content with a simple Windows Explorer-like source and destination tree. DocAve Content Manager enables you to move or copy site collections, sites, lists, libraries, documents, items—basically any scope of content while maintaining full metadata fidelity. You can decide what to move by selecting it in the source tree and configuring filters to narrow the specific elements that will be moved (e.g. only bring the last 5 versions, only move the performance review documents, only move documents marked as ready to publish, etc.). As you move or copy content, you can do so within the same farm or to a different farm, even to Microsoft Office 365 or other hosted versions of SharePoint. DocAve Content Manager can even promote subsites to site collections (so they can live in different Content Databases and have different administrators if desired) and demote site collections to subsites should business changes or sizing limitations require you to perform this level of reorganization in your environment. In general, you should look for tools that offer fidelity, granularity, and flexibility to scale to whatever scope of content your restructuring needs demand.

Thus far we’ve been talking exclusively about location-based classification of your SharePoint content. In the next part of this series, we’ll take a look at another powerful way to classify your SharePoint content: metadata. We will talk about the value of metadata, how it is defined, and how to centralize your metadata terms so that the whole organization is using a common set of terms to classify content in SharePoint.

John Peluso
John Peluso
John Peluso is AvePoint’s Chief Product Officer. In this role, he aligns product strategy with business strategy, leading the conception and design of software solutions with a focus on product market-fit and optimal customer value. Prior to this role, John has held several leadership roles over his 10+ year tenure at AvePoint, including SVP of Product Strategy, Director of Education, and Chief Technology Officer, Public Sector. Before coming to AvePoint, John held a variety of technology and business roles at New Horizons Northeast and New Horizons of Central and Northern NJ. He earned his undergraduate degree from The New School.


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