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New SharePoint 2010 features aid in enterprise content management

Organizations looking to improve their enterprise content management (ECM) capabilities should review the latest SharePoint 2010 features as they prepare to deploy the collaboration platform

SharePoint has come a long way since its infancy a decade ago. Over the last 10 years, it has undergone various changes that have helped to broaden the software’s usefulness and business value.

In the latest version, SharePoint 2010, one of the major areas of improvement involved the collaboration platform’s enterprise content management (ECM) capabilities. As organizations deploy the platform and consider using it for ECM, there are a number of new SharePoint 2010 features their content management efforts can benefit from.

One of my favorites among the new ECM features is the “managed metadata” service application. With the primary purpose of providing users with a central location in which to store metadata (commonly defined as data about data), it makes it possible to use a structured metadata model throughout any site within your SharePoint 2010 farm.

Managed metadata, of course, relates to SharePoint site taxonomy, and the new service application enables the formalization of a taxonomy that will be utilized against list items. A SharePoint list (for example, calendar list, announcement list or document library list) is a collection of items with columns that define the item data. For example, a document library might contain a column storing “product type” information handled by the managed metadata service.

There are some key concepts with which SharePoint users will need to become familiar before embarking on the configuration of a managed metadata store. These are the following:

  • Term store, a database in which the managed metadata is stored.
  • Term, a word or a phrase that can be associated with an item in SharePoint Server 2010.
  • Term set, a collection of related terms.

In addition, there are two types of terms supported within SharePoint 2010: managed terms and enterprise keywords. Commonly referred to as taxonomy, managed terms are predefined words or phrases that are typically created and updated by SharePoint administrators or certain managers granted appropriate permissions -- a special group that can be described as metadata content managers. Enterprise keywords, on the other hand, are words or phrases that can be added by any end users and are commonly referred to as folksonomy.

By using the managed metadata service, it is possible to provide end users with a more consistent list of internal terms and keywords, which can be added to specific SharePoint list items. The list can also be tightly integrated into SharePoint’s search function, providing users with more relevant search results.

Document sets
Another new content management feature in SharePoint 2010 is document sets, which I like to describe as folders on steroids.

Document sets make it possible to group multiple work items into a single entity, enabling workers to use shared metadata and providing them with the ability to apply versioning to the entire set for tracking changes to SharePoint content at the metadata level. This is in addition to the versioning that is usually applied at the document level. Document sets can also be collectively incorporated into automated workflows.

This feature will come in handy for many organizations as well as individual departments. For example, document sets will provide the finance department -- responsible for collecting, creating and managing various documents such as Excel spreadsheets and Word documents -- with a better and more efficient method of delivering a related group of documents to the board of directors at the end of each reporting period. The finance team can use either a default welcome page for its report or create a customized page that can display all the documents and properties included for a specific fiscal period. Before final publication of these documents, the entire document set can be routed to the right people for review through a workflow process.

Figure 1. This image is an example of how document sets can be integrated with an organization’s SharePoint 2010 document management system.

Figure 1. This image is an example of how document sets can be integrated with an organization’s SharePoint 2010 document management system.

Content rating
Before SharePoint 2010, it was difficult for end users to provide feedback about content they had accessed within a SharePoint system. SharePoint 2010 now provides users with a content rating mechanism that enables them to easily make an evaluation through a five-star rating system and share it with all other users. This feature aids in the filtering of content; an end user can easily browse through volumes of items on a daily basis. It also creates a visual way for users to choose content that has been vetted by colleagues.

Figure 2. This image shows how the new content rating system in SharePoint 2010 organizes content that has been previously reviewed by end users.

Figure 2. This image shows how the new content rating system in SharePoint 2010 organizes content that has been previously reviewed by end users.

Unique document IDs
Unique document IDs are pretty much standard in most commercially available document management systems, and Microsoft saw the need to include the capability in SharePoint 2010 if it was to drive the software as a document management platform. Document IDs is a service and site collection feature. In addition to activating the feature within a site collection, you can assign a separate document ID prefix for each site collection to ensure that items in different site collections will never receive the same ID.

Figure 3. This screenshot is an example of a unique document ID assigned to a content item.

Figure 3. This screenshot is an example of a unique document ID assigned to a content item.

Each existing document will be assigned a unique ID as part of the process, and every new document uploaded into the system will also automatically be assigned an ID. The main advantage of using document IDs is that it makes it possible to track the electronic version of a document from a printed one. This is easily achieved by inserting the document ID into the document’s footer, for example. Any user can then easily locate the electronic document stored in SharePoint by using a standard SharePoint search or the “Find by Document ID” feature.

Document IDs also will enable faster retrieval of documents, especially if they have been moved to other locations within a SharePoint system.

Microsoft continues to improve SharePoint’s ECM capabilities with each iteration of the product. By integrating the new ECM features in SharePoint 2010 with those already part of previous releases, it seems that SharePoint’s designers are looking for added traction among content management professionals.

George Khalil has more than 13 years of experience in IT with a focus on enterprise Microsoft technologies. He is a Microsoft partner consultant, a Microsoft Certified IT Professional, technology specialist, systems engineer and systems administrator. Read his blog at http://sharepointgeorge.com/ and follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/georgekhalil.

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