Content Types: One of SharePoints hidden gems
If you use SharePoint to manage documents across your organisation, you may have heard the words ‘Content types’ being exchanged in conversation at some point, and the power they possess to catalyse SharePoint document management systems processes for an entire organisation.
You may already familiar with content types, so you’ll probably know how these ‘content types’ enhance SharePoint’s ability to search, sort and filter important files you need to be able to access, at your fingertips. However for most users of SharePoint, you will have never heard of a ‘content type’ or what they can do. So, what are they, and why should you care about this SharePoint hidden gem?
What is a 'content type'?
A ‘content type’ essentially pulls information about an item and the item itself together seamlessly for end users. An item in this instance could be a specific Word document, PowerPoint presentation or even a list or a folder, and then the information about the item would be the metadata for the document.
Just for those of you who don’t know what metadata is, metadata is just information about something. For example, if I pick up a rock from the ground, the colour, shape and texture would all be the rock’s metadata. This ‘metadata’ about the rock would help you describe the rock to someone else who’s never seen it before, would help you categorise the rock within a rock collection (if you have one) and allow you to search for that specific rock again.
In a business context, the rock would be a file and the metadata would be information about that document (for example, who owns it, when it needs to be reviewed and what project and client the document is for) that sits in the document library with the document.
A content type in action...
Here is an example of using a content type. Firstly, you’d make a Purchase Order content type, and then add it to the library that the team would use. Then, whenever someone wants to create a purchase order, they’d choose the ‘Purchase Order’ from the ‘New Document’ menu. This would create a document along with the relevant metadata fields for the user to populate. Documents created from content types can take the form of a template, so that every time a Purchase Order is created, the content of the document would match that specific template every time.
Metadata that’s attached to these content types unlock the ability to view, filter and sort specific files at an instant within SharePoint. For instance, if you or a senior member wanted to be able to pick out all PIDs for a client, search for all documents in a project that may need reviewing by a senior staff member or even group all documents in a project library to see Joe Blogg’s file contribution to a project, you can do that using simple SharePoint built-in tools that harness the power of Metadata.
Content types can be rolled out across an entire organisation using the Content Type Hub, which is where all these content types and templates would be stored centrally. Instead of an end user trying to find a template for a specific document from somewhere deep in their OneDrive they’ve used before (that may now be out of date), then deleting the content inside of the template and reusing the document, the Content Type Hub provides that centralised location where all your templates can be added, modified by authorised users and stored. So you can rest assured that when a user creates a new document from the ‘New Document’, the documents based on templates you are creating will always be up to date.
In essence, using content types will provide the tools needed to search, sort and filter the files quicker and more efficiently whilst streamlining the document creation process simultaneously for all your employees.