How to automate governance

Sometimes a governance policy just isn't enough. Learn how to use SharePoint functionality to enforce the rules.

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Even though SharePoint governance is all the rage these days, the very concept of a SharePoint governance policy is fundamentally flawed. The majority of the SharePoint governance plans are monolithic documents full of technical jargon. The end result is that most people will never read them. Those who do will likely forget most of what they have read by the following week.

So how do you get users to adhere to a policy that they have never read? Simple, you automate your policy.

SharePoint contains numerous options that you can use to automate the enforcement of various aspects of your governance plan. Let’s focus on some of the more useful mechanisms related to document libraries.

Enforcing metadata usage

The SharePoint Indexing process heavily considers metadata that is connected to individual documents. But this metadata is often a shining example of the “garbage in, garbage out” principle.

Most of the time, users don’t even bother to populate document metadata. Worse yet, copying a document and then modifying the copy may lead to a document with completely inaccurate metadata. Thankfully, SharePoint allows you to assign various metadata fields to a document library and then require those fields to be populated for each document.

To mandate metadata fields, open your document library and select the Document Library Settings option found on the Settings menu. When you do, Windows will take you to the Customize Documents page.

The required metadata is assigned on the basis of content type. Therefore, if you wanted to enforce metadata usage for the document content type, you must click on the Document link. When you do, you are taken to the List Content Type: Document page. SharePoint assigns various metadata columns to the document content type. By default, only the name is required, but you can change this behavior.

Only the Name and Title metadata columns are assigned to the document content type. You can easily add additional metadata columns by clicking on the Add From Existing Site or List Columns link. Likewise, you can make it mandatory that users populate specific metadata columns by clicking on the column name and then choosing the Required option found on the following page.

Blocking content types

I once did a consulting project for an organization that was running low on server disk space and couldn’t figure out why. Although implementing disk quotas would have been the easy solution, the organization wanted to figure out where their disk space had gone. To make a long story short, several users had uploaded their entire music library to the server.

SharePoint allows you to control which types of files users are and aren’t allowed to upload to a document library. To do this, open the Central Administration console, and click on the Operations link When Windows displays the Operations page, go to the Security Configuration section and click the Blocked File Types link. When you do, you will be taken to the Blocked File Types page.

The Blocked File Types page contains a large text box with a list of the file extensions that are blocked by default. You can block additional file types by adding them to the list, or you can remove a file type from the list to unblock it.

It is important to keep in mind that this is a global file extension list. There is a separate file extensions list that exists at the Web application level. If contradictions exist between the two lists, then the global list takes priority. The exception is that if a file extension is blocked at the Web application level, that block will remain in effect regardless of whether or not the extension is blocked at the global level.

Setting document retention periods

Although many of the federal regulations about how information systems are handled are known for requiring long-term archival of data, there are also provisions mandating when certain types of data must be purged. You can automate this behavior by setting SharePoint expiration policies.

To set an expiration policy for a document library, go to the Modify All Site Settings page and then click on the Site Collection Policies link. When the Site Collection Policies page appears, click the Create button to create a new policy. Now select the Enable Expiration check box, and set the retention period for the documents to which the policy applies. The retention time is usually based on the document’s creation or modification date, but you can set the retention period programmatically.

SharePoint 2007 is a flexible application that provides numerous ways to automate your governance policy. One easy way is to automate policies related to document libraries, but mechanisms exist for automating policies related to virtually all areas of SharePoint. Don’t forget to check out third-party tools that can also help you to automate your SharePoint governance policy.


About the Author

Brien M. Posey has received Microsoft’s Most Valuable Professional award six times for his work with Windows Server, IIS, file systems/storage and Exchange Server. He has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities and was once a network administrator for Fort Knox.

This was first published in December 2009
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