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Enterprise Content Management with Microsoft SharePoint: Content Control

Delivery of content

We have covered a lot of ground so far, but none as important to the people in your organization as the delivery of useful content. Content is useful when it is delivered to you and others in a familiar and consistent manner. The beauty of consistency is getting what you expect, whether it’s your favorite restaurant, a solid relationship, or relevant content. When you don’t get the experience you expect, especially if it is foreign to your common practices, whether it be in daily life or in business, you’re going to shy away from that experience.

In this section, we will build on the Capture and Manage aspects of ECM by emphasizing a strong method for delivering content to your users. You want this to be a fast and effective experience for them, getting them the content they are looking for in a consistent manner. This is very important for user adoption, which is the ultimate factor in achieving success for your SharePoint ECM solution. Searching, finding, and consuming content is where organizations get beyond all the parts of ECM meant solely for the input and management of content and into actually using it for daily activities. It is where the mass of unstructured content will begin to meet all the back office line-of-business systems and processes used in daily operations. We recommend that you adhere to the following three elements:

  1. Consistency Leverage your IA.

  2. Focus For example, focus on the rule and not the exception.

  3. Users Involve them early and often.

Consistency

The benefits of being consistent in your SharePoint deployment have been made clear throughout the book regarding consistency in how sites and IA are set up per department and consistency of content types and libraries. The same is true when you think about the ways you will put content in the hands of users for editing and consuming. The benefits to remaining consistent will be measured in the ease of maintenance, decreased help desk support, happy users, and the ability to expand the ECM solution in repeatable ways that can truly benefit the organization. This will happen by planning for and incorporating consistent file formats based on need, consistent views and viewing, search functions, and web app updates.

Consistency of updates means that when you change the system you change it in repeatable and expected ways. End users fear change; this is a truth that will not go away. You should avoid changing the system frequently or in ways that alter the familiarity or steps required to interact with your SharePoint ECM solution. When you make changes, they should be regular periodic small updates, and any large changes should involve a prior notification. A fair amount of selling the change should be done with the users long before the change is made. Most updates to a farm that are visible to the user relate to consumption of content, which is why change is considered as a topic here.

To interact with content, users have to access it first. Access to content happens in two ways: by browsing or by search. Unfortunately, we find that the current trend is “throw it in the bucket and search for it.” In a traditional line-of-business operation, this is not extremely effective. It is ineffective because search is the most subjective way of accessing content. In search, the burden is on the user to know the proper terms and format of a search query to get the document they seek. We would like to pose this question for you: If a user knows this much about the document, should they need to search? It’s rare to find documents with enough content, or content in the right place, for search to be a highly effective method of accessing content. A single search is usually a 50/50 event, but after multiple searches, the user gets the feel of results and can dial in the results they are looking for much faster.

Therefore, we encourage organizations to consider search as the alternative when browsing does not work, rather than as the initial approach. In content browsing, a user drills down into the document they know they need, and because you have designed a good IA, they will get there very quickly. Indirectly, the more users need to search, the greater indication of poor IA planning.

Browsing and navigation

Browsing for content starts at the web application level. Users have to first identify where the document repository content lives and then the logical location of that content. Fortunately, we have explained why good IA is going to help you make sure that users spend most of their time in a single web application, making the need for extended navigation irrelevant.

The three main ways to navigate content are as follows:

  1. Top link bar

  2. Quick launch

  3. Tree view

The first two are very common, and the last more common than it should be, because it implies problems with IA.

The top link bar, as shown in Figure 3-5, is the navigation at the top of the site. This navigation is generally reserved for physical repositories or subsites. It can be customized to link to any location via URL, but we recommend isolating to other web applications on the farm and subsites within the current site collection. You might also consider linking here to common resources that every employee in the organization can benefit from. As stated earlier, the key here is consistency. This is true for all navigation. Be consistent in how you name and order headings in navigation. Also be consistent about what the headings are. Navigation methods that are regularly changing will result in users finding another way to browse for content.

Figure 3-5

Figure 3-5. Top link bar.

The quick launch pane is on the left side of the browser. It is typically used to show all lists and libraries. Our recommendation is that quick launch be used only for listing libraries and lists in ECM sites, with the exception of cross-functional site links such as extranet/intranet quick access—that is, locations that you know a user will frequent. You can do this by creating a new navigation link, as shown in Figure 3-6. Navigation links can link to locations in the farm or locations outside the farm that are accessible and referenced by a URL.

Figure 3-6

Figure 3-6. Quick launch links.

All the links in the quick launch are grouped by headings. Usually, headings are limited to Home, Libraries, Lists, Tasks, and Calendar items. In ECM, we generally do not see the Task or Calendar item in sites; these are reserved for the team sites discussed previously in the context of the Manage section, so these headings are often removed in favor of just Libraries and Lists. Because headings are also linkable, it’s possible to have the headings themselves be the logical storage—for example, the “docs” library instead of “docs” being under “libraries.” The benefit of this is streamlined navigation, but it becomes troublesome if you mix varied types such as lists and libraries. The primary recommendation, as stated earlier, is be consistent and keep your navigation simple. As a best-practices approach to simplicity, we recommend that your SharePoint ECM solution include only headings that link to libraries such as “Documents,” “Rich Media,” and “Email.”

Tree view is an additional feature that can be enabled on SharePoint 2013 and is a way to visualize the relationship between logical and physical storage to its parent logical and physical storage. Essentially, when you turn tree view on, you get a new web part, as shown in Figure 3-7.

Figure 3-7

Figure 3-7. Tree view.

Another huge aspect of content view is library views, another tool that is either used not enough or in excess.

Many organizations are not aware of the extent that views in SharePoint can be modified. You can change columns by removing and adding which are visible. You can group content based on metadata, and you can create views that essentially filter content. Organizations that tend to use this in excess will have upwards of 10 views for any one library. This is an indication of bad IA. Organizations that are using the out-of-the-box views are using the tool too little and not leveraging the power of sorting by columns and filtering. These organizations will tend to be the same ones that use folders to organize their content.

There is no magic bullet on views, but there are a few guidelines. Every column shown should provide value to the user in the following ways:

  1. If a column is useful only for some automation process or special type of user, it should be hidden or a part of a special view just for those types of users.

  2. Columns should never exceed the right side of the page on a typical browser. Columns that are not visible in a single window are not usable.

  3. Grouping is very powerful, but use this feature with caution and provide adequate user training as to the purpose of grouping. Grouping is used to aid a user who is browsing for content, while lists are used for more robust processes.

  4. Limit the types of users who can create views, and make views consistent in all similar libraries across the entire SharePoint farm.

Site contents

Next on the navigation list is the viewing of site contents. In SharePoint 2010, this is called “View All content,” and in SharePoint 2013, it’s called “Site Contents.” Asking one to “Click View Contents” is a common phrase, but we feel a crutch. It should not be required for the typical ECM user to navigate to lists/libraries or contents that are not otherwise accessible via the quick launch. Typically, if this is being used, it’s a training problem, usually the result of someone far more experienced with SharePoint teaching how they use SharePoint, instead of how an end user should be finding and viewing content. Unfortunately, it is very common for a SharePoint site to have so many places to navigate from that an entire separate window to show all the contents is required. Both situations are not sustainable for widespread user adoption or simple browsing. We recommend keeping this tool a little secret, to be used by your super users only.

When IA fails or bad content somehow gets added to the system, the only option for accessing that content is search. Full-text search enables an index to be created from content stored in the body of a document. The goal is to get the user to the content with as few clicks as possible. With good consistency of content across the farm stored in a well-designed IA, a user is more familiar with content, and users can find that content based on keywords, where it’s located in the farm, and other metadata searching.

Search

We have all experienced light and overloaded search results or getting too few results or too many. To eliminate the problem of having too few results, you want to make sure that indexing across the farm is adequate and that all the content in the farm has the appropriate iFilter activated so that it can be indexed. We can eliminate the problem of having too many results by filtering results using Boolean logic search terms, if/and/else/equal to, or search refiners.

Because Boolean searching is not a common tool, something more is needed. Users are often in too much of a hurry or not advanced enough to use Boolean logic. One way you can help them get to their results faster is by using search refiners.

Search refiners are generated automatically based on a document’s structured metadata. When you do a search for documents that start with “SharePoint” and contain the word “ECM” and you get too many results, you can refine your results by knowing simple things about the document, such as the author or when it was created.

Refiners can be taken even further, by including keywords and tags. Specific terms from the body of the document can also be generated on the left portion of a search panel, as well as their hierarchy. There is some customization required to get this feature to work, but it is one that is well worth the effort.

Farm administrators can do even more to assist the user in finding content. They can do things like visual best bets. This is where a particular document is highlighted at the top of a search based on a keyword. The relationship between the keyword and the best bet has to be established manually. This helps users know what is the most important document for that search term.

The trick with the best bets option is keeping it current and relevant. This usually requires an administrator specializing exclusively in search and who has the relevant operational domain knowledge or knows how to obtain that knowledge within the organization.

Another common feature is linking content to individuals by including people search in the search results. By default, this appears on the right side of the search results and is effective only if you have active MySite pages for your users.

Viewing

After a user has browsed to or searched for a document, they need to have access to view and edit the content.

In SharePoint, there are two options for viewing content: either via the client application or via the browser. Surprisingly, the answer as to which to use is highly dependent on the licenses your organization owns and the makeup of your users’ desktops. For example, if your users have Microsoft Office installed on their PCs, viewing via client application might be very convenient. If you have users accessing content on mobile devices, you need to spend time on a great browser viewing experience.

It also depends on your SharePoint licenses. To get the most robust experience with in-browser viewing and editing, the organization should invest in licenses to the Microsoft Web App server. This is a separate SKU and server on the farm that manages the real-time editing of documents in a browser. This tool allows both mobile users and PC users to have 80 percent of what is available in any client application for office documents.

To help ease your decisions, we recommend being consistent. Supporting various types of clients can be difficult. For example, if your organization is dominated by local network PCs with Microsoft Office installed, it’s recommended to make the “open in client” application the default use case. Additionally, this will help if you have other file formats that are not a part of the Microsoft Suite.

If you can purchase licenses to add Microsoft Web Apps Server, we recommend that you standardize on editing and viewing in the browser, to the extent where you remove Microsoft Office from the users’ desktops or laptop PCs. For unique circumstances for some users, you might allow the client integration with the local version of Office.

Finally, there are third-party viewing tools available that cross a spectrum of file formats. When your users are doing a lot of read-only access to documents, these tools might be useful.