5 Ways SharePoint can Improve Document Management

Office 365 and SharePoint can be used for a multitude of different systems, and it is quite intriguing as to the number of individuals who are not aware of this. In recent times I have worked with clients on SharePoint Intranets, whom have requested my recommendation of a good “off the shelf” Document Management System (DMS) and were surprised when they realised they were already paying for one! SharePoint Document Management works for any business.

In a recent consultancy session, I was asked for 5 examples as to why SharePoint should be utilised as a DMS. Therefore, I felt I should share my answers with the Office 365 and SharePoint Community;

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One version of the truth

A problem that is seen far too frequently in organisations, both large and small, is that documentation has been duplicated. From both a quality and business perspective this is a critical issue to resolve, as it could impact and impede upon your employees’ efficiency and any service/product that is being taken to market.

As an example, I have audited departments whom have had approximately 5 individuals who have showcased me “Financial Master Data” all stored in different locations (some even on their Local Machine!). As you will be aware, Master Data refers to a core set of data that will be utilised for all related work. Therefore, 5 different sets of this would, of course, cause issues as it is extremely likely that each one will differ slightly which could lead to incorrect figures being utilised.

Another common issue is that the end users do not understand where to store documents, specifically when folders are being used. It is not always easy to differentiate between a “Specification” and a “Scope”, or even a “Policy” or “Procedure” unless you specifically work with them on a day to day basis. These issues lead to users accessing the wrong folders and thinking that a document they want does not exist, or even worse saving a version in each folder “just to be safe”.

A final example from my auditing days, is seeing printed versions of incorrect documentation on a Production Line. This is a major non-conformance, and causes a massive delay to proceedings for organisations. The use of an incorrect document at this level could lead to a day of products being generated incorrectly and if not captured early these may even be provided to customers and clients (we have all likely been affected by a Product Recall at some stage in our lives!).

A SharePoint Document Management System removes these types of issues, through the use of Version Control. All documents will exist as either Minor or Major Versions (dependant on your specific configuration) which means that all updates to a document are tracked, and all users will be linking to the same documentation at all times. This is also enhanced by the next way that SharePoint can improve Document Management;

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Easy to find documents

SharePoint provides the concept of Metadata (information about information) which enables users to easily Sort, Filter and Search for documents within the DMS.

Please take a look at some of my other articles which address Metadata in further detail.

Being able to locate documentation easily, ensures that users are aware of the single version of the truth, where it is stored and who has ownership – if modifications are required.

Having a core strategy of where documentation is stored within the SharePoint Document Management System, then allows for users to understand the best place to upload additional documentation without the risk of creating duplicates.

SharePoint Search also performs a full search of all content within a document, which is much more beneficial that existing file shares. Additional functionality, such as being able to refine results by Metadata (e.g. I am looking for a “Contract” as opposed to an “Invoice”) and see a preview of the documentation before opening it also allows for a much simpler and efficient user journey.

With new and exciting third party tools, the addition of automatically tagged documents through both discovery and enrichment phases add a much deeper level of understanding around your documentation. Furthermore, identification of documentation that stores sets of Personal (Name and DOB) or Special Category (Gender and Religion) data can assist with the introduction of GDPR.

Finally, you may also find some interesting information that you were not aware of, which leads me nicely onto my next point;

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Knowledge sharing

SharePoint uses the word “Share” for a reason, as the system is in place to improve communication and collaboration within the entire organisation.

It is common for a DMS to be extremely locked down just because the options are there. However, I like to advise companies to only utilise this behaviour where it is actually required e.g. HR Personnel Records and Financial Accounts.

I strongly believe that both Office 365 and SharePoint should be kept as open as possible. This means that controls would still be in place as to whom can make edits to documents and can upload to specific libraries, but, the ability to read documentation would not be restricted.

During my working career there have been many occasions where reading another individuals document (who may even sit in a completely different part of the business to me) has actually provided me additional knowledge to help me on my own project. I would like to hope that my documentation also does the same for others. This is even as simple as seeing the way someone else has laid out their documentation, or utilised a nice infographic or diagram.

The use of Microsoft Delve also enhances this as I am able to quickly identify what my team is working on, and see where I can gather additional knowledge. This concept is a large cultural shift for a majority of organisations that I visit (although more and more are becoming open to it) as it is a natural approach to want to keep your documentation fully locked down.

Microsoft Teams and Yammer, are tools that are in place to improve communications. This allows users to converse about documentation, and be more open with one another, adding further functionality to your DMS system straight “out of the box”.

I am a strong believer that all documentation should be visible to the entire organisation unless there is a core business or legal requirements for it to be confidential, as you never know when documents may help out, long after they have been created.

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Process Automation

SharePoint provides the option of using SharePoint Designer Workflows or Microsoft Flow to automate business processes.

For example, processes can be as simple as ensuring that a contract owner receives an email in preparation for contract renewal, as long as the contracts have been uploaded to a library that defines a Notice Period and a Contract Termination Date. This simple process now ensures that notifications can be sent at the correct time, to avoid the risk of missing termination of a rolling contract, forgetting to review better contract deals or losing a service as renewal has been missed.

Lots of minor automation can assist in ensuring the organisation remains efficient in its control of documents and services.

SharePoint also provides some globally reusable workflows to allow for the tracking of document feedback and approval. This functionality can be utilised to ensure that libraries that contain controlled documents, such as policies and procedures, can be modified without impacting the version that is seen by all staff and can be reviewed and released when all parties are approving of the content. Removing the need to control additional documentation, such as an Excel Sheet to manage this.

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Self-cleansing

SharePoint provides the option of utilising Policy Labels and Retention Rules to ensure that documents do not remain longer than necessary. It is common practice that documentation should be archived and/or deleted after a set amount of time, frequently 5 – 7 years depending on its usage.

I have visited numerous organisations that have these rules in place, however, they are dependant on the user accessing their file shares and manually deleting the documents. It is highly unlikely that this will ever happen, as most organisations do not have the time to spare for these sorts of tasks.

The benefit of a SharePoint Document Management System is that this can be set up from the start, with rules and policies pre-defined. Therefore, users need only worry about uploading documents to the correct library and inputting the correct metadata – allowing SharePoint to handle the rest.

Rules will trigger based on specific events, e.g. the current date being equal to the Last Modified Date plus 7 years. Once a rule is triggered an action can occur, such as emails for approval to delete, automatically deleting or automatically moving to an archive location with an email sent to confirm this action has been completed.

Ensuring that our DMS is self-cleansing removes the need for too much manual interaction, and also removes any risk of holding data longer than legally required. Once again this is of a great benefit with new laws being introduced about data, like GDPR.

Overall…

If you are looking for a new Document Management System then I would advise that Office 365 and SharePoint are strongly considered, especially if you are already utilising some of the services and are paying license fees.

This article contains just 5 thoughts as to how SharePoint and additional Office 365 applications can assist in the creation of an excellent Document Management System, but, there are plenty more benefits. Please do add your own thoughts and benefits into the comments box below for further discussion.

Do get in touch if you wish to learn more about SharePoint, Document Management Systems, Metadata and Intranets.

AMT Steve Glasspool

This article was written by Steve Glasspool, our Senior SharePoint Consultant.

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