Here at Gloria we spend a lot of our time thinking how we can help companies improve and grow. Often this involves the design and implementation of Intranet and collaboration systems. One of the big features of these types of systems is often document management. Indeed we have lost count of the amount of workshops we have sat in discussing how we can improve a company’s document management processes. Lucky we are so passionate about it.
It is easy to understand why so much of our time is dedicated to this area. A good Document Management System can free a company from the shackles of the dreaded file share. It can give employees the freedom to create and share work, the security to know everything is protected and audited, and the ability to think and work in innovative ways. Good document management removes barriers, allowing companies to get on doing what they do best.
But good document management is actually very difficult to achieve. Sure, putting in a new SharePoint system doesn’t sound that hard on paper, but fine tuning such a system can be challenging. Getting employees to consistently use such a system can also be tough. End to end, moving a company from ‘My documents’ and network drives to a new way of working is actually a significant piece of work.
Over the years we have had a good number of successes in this area and we actually count ourselves as SharePoint document management experts. So we thought we would share with you our top five tips for effective document management.
This might seem like an obvious one, but selecting SharePoint as your document management system of choice is the first step to success. Since its early incarnations SharePoint has placed document management at the very core of what it does. The very latest version builds on this with a number of very useful features:
- Drag and drop: Users can now simply drag files to upload them to libraries. This is a simple and elegant user interface development that puts SharePoint on par with the latest web techniques
- Live document previews: SharePoint 2010 supported previews when used in conjunction with Microsoft FAST search add-on. In 2013 this feature is much improved and available as a core feature.
- Simple sharing: It is now easy to see who an individual document is shared with, and add additional external users.
2. Understand your current processes
Our consultants, in all of our projects, put a huge emphasis on the requirements gathering phase. In document management projects we spend a lot of time understanding how documents are currently created, used, and managed. How do people share documents, what are the processes that have been developed, what are the workflows people use? Most companies have surprisingly complex, if often manual, procedures in place for their documents. We work hard to understand the nature of this problem space.
3. Content classification
Once there is a clear picture of how documents are currently used and managed, we advise our customer to try to classify their documents and the relationships between them. Before even thinking about implementing a new system it really helps to have a clear idea of how documents should be organised. This can be done on paper, or in a hands on session on a big whiteboard. We run many sessions like this. Think about documents in terms of:
- Are they mainly grouped by project, by client, by date?
- Who has permissions on what content and why?
- How are related documents referenced, if at all?
Taking the time to complete this often complex and time consuming task really helps later on when it comes to migrating content. Remember a new document management system will likely be in service for years, if not tens of years, so it is worth putting the man hours in at the beginning to get things organised.
SharePoint offers really powerful metadata features. Documents can have all kinds of data and properties assigned to them:
- Long form descriptions, using rich text
- Reference numbers or IDs, often auto generated
- Data from dropdowns, including multiple choices and values pulled from other sources
Ensuring documents have the appropriate metadata applied has a number of benefits. It makes finding documents much simpler (either via search or navigation). It also makes identifying a document, without opening it, much more straight-forward. Good metadata can also go a long way to applying record management and retention policies, should your files require it.
Useful as it is, don’t bite off more than you can chew with metadata. Each file doesn’t need ten separate properties, and likely users simply won’t fill in this many fields anyway. Balance the need for description with practical thought around usability.
5. Think about user adoption
User adoption, or change management, is a vital ingredient to think about when getting a system like this right. It simply won’t work if you just launch a new way of storing documents, and don’t really educate anyone about what has changed or why. You need to think about some of the following areas:
- Training: Do users need training on the new system? Do they need classroom sessions, or simply a visual guide to a new interface? Downtime might cost money, so training can be a worthy investment.
- Communication: You need to let users know a new system is coming. Send out emails, put up posters in communal areas, and advertise the benefits early and often. Give people practical dates if they need to complete certain activities in time. When a system goes live, setup advisors in a side room or employ ‘floor walkers’ for a few days to physically go and speak to people.
- Phase deployment: Depending on the size of the project you might want to phase roll out. Test the new system with a small team or department, rollout only part of the features, or run new and existing systems side by side for a while. Another good tip is to keep file shares where they are, but make them read only. This way no one panics they have lost files, and are more gently introduced to the brave new world.
Gloria Solution consultants are specialists in document management systems and they can help you implement all or some of this strategy in order to increase your company’s efficiency. Why not talk to our team today to find out more.